February 13, 2020

Why My First Poly Valentine’s Day Might Be My Best One Yet

Cupid must be keen on me this year.
Written by
Shelby Sells
Published on
February 13, 2020
Updated on
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Cupid must be keen on me because I have two valentines this year. As a diehard romantic, I enjoy any excuse to celebrate love in its entirety. My experience with Valentine’s Day has varied over the years, from committed monogamous relationship staycations to single mingling at my favorite dance parties, and even after-dinner hookups with friends-with-benefits. But never have I ever experienced a polyamorous Valentine’s Day. 

As a person who has participated in mostly monogamous or casual relationships, I’ve found myself exploring alternative methods of dating over the last few months. Currently, I’m dating two wonderful cis men who couldn’t be more different from each other. 

Honestly, that’s part of the attraction — I celebrate their differences and how they each honor my needs as a whole. Although I consider myself open-minded to love in all forms, when I started seeing both of them (oddly enough around the same time), it took some time for me to acknowledge the validity of these relationships simultaneously. 

Cis heteronormative society tells us monogamy between two heterosexual people is the only recognizable kind of relationship. I’m just going to reiterate how untrue that statement is. As a sexually fluid woman, I’ve had to unpack this patriarchal narrative in order to maintain equilibrium in my sexual and romantic relationships. It was extremely liberating to let go of these puritanical ideals — people questioning my dating women as a “phase,” people thinking it’s threatening for me to be more successful than my male partners. It created space in my life for more love and pleasure than I could ever dream of. Still, I found myself drawn to the extremes, solely participating in either monogamy or very casual relationships. 

A few of my friends and colleagues are in open and/or polyamorous relationships, and they encouraged me to explore these designs. One friend, who has been in a poly relationship for 27 years (and is happily married with children), thought it would be specifically beneficial for me to help broaden my perspective on what it means to love and be loved in return.

I’ve been invited to join these types of unconventional relationships in the past, but I found that, most of the time, they don’t work for me. The main deterrent being the hierarchies that tend to exist within these relationships: Being categorized as either “primary” or “secondary” in a relationship doesn’t sit well for me at the moment. (Of course, this isn’t an issue for everyone who is poly or open.) Being identified as a secondary partner brings up feelings of inadequacy for me, which is my emotional baggage, and these triggers tend to complicate my romantic relationships. 

I began exploring the possibility of a polyamorous relationship without hierarchies at the beginning of the year when I started dating my partners — an art director and a punk rock musician. 

For me, poly dating without a base relationship, or a relationship that is the foundation of my love life (ie cohabitating with a partner), means showing up in every relationship equally, as if it were a primary relationship. Essentially, it looks like having multiple monogamous relationships simultaneously. This aspect of equality means we have to be more responsible in terms of having healthy communication, spending quality time, and establishing intimacy. The level of accountability is as high as it would be in any committed partnership. It’s important to me to set a boundary in my partnerships that clarifies the fact that seeing other people isn’t an excuse to not show up as our best selves for each other.  

At first, I was nervous about how each partner would respond to this request. In the past, it’s been difficult for me to be honest about my wants, needs, and desires in romantic relationships because of unhealthy, sometimes abusive reactions I received when asserting myself. Luckily, I’m now in a place where I’m not attracting those types of people anymore, but sometimes your past acts as a mirror of where you’ve been, impacting where you want to go. What's important to me is designing the love life that works best for me: secure partnerships that uplift me and make me feel alive. I figured the worst case scenario in this situation would be that one of my romantic interests would decline to continue dating me, and I decided I could live with that if it meant prioritizing myself and my needs. To my delight and surprise, both partners heard me and agreed to approach this new dating style with an open heart and mind. 

Because it’s new territory for all three of us, we set down some ground rules in our individual relationships to make each experience comfortable for us. 

That looks like practicing safer sex and deciding how to communicate when we’re seeing other people. I care for them both and am happy to continue developing our relationship organically without rushing into anything (dating in New York usually looks like moving in with someone after three months as a means of survival). It’s important for me to take my time getting to know someone and developing trust before taking the next step in a relationship. Oddly enough, because I started dating my two partners around the same time and we all hang out in the same neighborhoods, they’ve met each other and are fairly comfortable when we all occupy the same space. It’s a blessing it worked out that way.  

It’s been a really exciting time for me, and I couldn’t be happier exploring this new avenue of love. My punk partner is three years younger than me and has been extremely receptive to this concept of ethical non monogamy (he also has another partner he’s dating). In fact, he’s been a catalyst for radical honesty by pushing me to be clear about my feelings and my boundaries. It’s inspiring to find a partner who is so outspoken and fearless in their communication. The art director is eight years older than me. His openness comes from a place of inner security and trust. He’s confident in how he feels about me, and because of that, he is supportive of my romantic curiosity. That trust and security has laid down a foundation for me to feel safe being my authentic self in our relationship.  Although everything is fairly new, both relationships have been developing in a natural and loving way. 

However, when I realized Valentine’s Day was coming up, a spark of anxiety lit up inside me. What was I going to do? Who would I spend it with? 

I didn’t want to make anyone upset (or end up alone on the holiday). There was only one thing to do: communicate. Besides, I didn’t know how either of them even felt about the holiday or their inclination to celebrate. A few times, the art director had mentioned that he wanted to get out of the city with me. He proposed the idea of a lovers’ weekend retreat that sounded wonderful. The punk also expressed that he wanted to take me on a surprise date on the evening of Valentine’s Day, which sounded exciting. 

I was overjoyed by both ideas (and felt so spoiled!), so I wanted to clarify my intentions of spending time with both of them. Instead of leaving Friday night with the art director for our weekend getaway, I asked for a small compromise: lunch on Valentine's Day and a departure on Saturday morning. My punk beau, who works weekends, was only available Friday night, and it’s important for me to spend quality time with both partners. The art director couldn’t have been more understanding and agreed to my compromise. I communicated with my punk partner that I was available for our date, but had to leave early the next morning for my trip. He is also very supportive in making sure I will be set for the weekend. 

So, as of right now, my first poly Valentine’s Day might be the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had! I couldn’t be more grateful for my partners’ willingness to come on this adventure with me. That is the best gift I could’ve asked for.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Shelby Sells is a sexologist, writer, and artist based in NYC. Her work centers the intersectionalities of love, sex and relationships. She aims to liberate sexual prowess through these mediums and educate her audience through emotional intelligence and self awareness.

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