Story Time – How does poly make you feel more connected in your LTR?

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/u/Seenoshadows asks on /r/polyamory…

“I have searched in many places and either my google searching skills aren’t that good or what but I can’t seem to find the answer to the following question.

As I’ve explored polyamory and all it entails, Ive consistently read that polyamory brings you and your partner closer. My question is HOW? How does polyamory bring you closer to your partner?

Some context: my partner and I have been dating for 5 years and have explored some nontraditional relationship models and are tinkering with a poly relationship and all the conversations/tribulations that comes with and our major question is how does this (poly) bring us closer to each other?”

One of my absolute favorite aspects of going on dates.

I love, love, love meeting new people. Most of the time, I have a great time on these dates. I love getting to know people, and that intense presence and curiosity mixes well for mostly great first date experiences. I am a great date. But I don’t always get along with everyone. I have probably gone on maybe one or two truly bad first dates.

One particular bad date remains very memorable.

At this time, I had just come out of a long distance relationship and wanted to jump into online dating platforms for the first time. I had already gone on really great first and second dates with my now-wife/nesting partner. But I figured I could date around a bit now that I’m actually single. My date – let’s call her Jenny – invited me over to her house for our first date, where she promised she’d make us some baked goods for breakfast. I immediately knew something was up when Jenny opened her front door; she looked nothing like the picture. I was surprised, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’s a great cook. Then I walked into her apartment and realized another mistake. She had a cat.

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I love cats. But I am deathly allergic to them. Staying around a cat – especially in shedding seasons – could lead to asthmatic reaction for me. Touching my eyes right after touching a cat (or cat hair flying into my eyeballs) could puff up my eyes to the point that I cannot see through my eyes anymore. Well, because I did not know that my date had a cat, I did not bring my antihistamines or inhalers.

It gets worse.

After I walked in, I sat down on Jenny’s couch and played with her cat while she cooked our breakfast. Jenny was very occupied with cooking, so I made conversation with Jenny’s roommate. Her roommate was very cute, bubbly, and still a bit tipsy from a Friday night out with friends where she consumed a copious amount of alcohol. She had just moved to Illinois for a job and told me a lot about what her childhood in New Jersey was like.

All the while I was innocently flirting away with her roommate, my date was busy struggling with our breakfast. Based on all the smokes and the occasional expletives, it wasn’t going well. I was also busy petting her cat and rubbing my eyes as it was watering from the cat dander. It took about thirty minutes before my eyes started puffing up. And about another five minutes before I realized I was hitting it off with my date’s roommate while my date was totally removed from her first date experience. So I told Jenny and her roommate that my cat allergy was getting out of control, and that I had to get out of there.

The point of the story is this. After I had that really bad first date with Jenny, I realized quickly what a catch my nesting partner was after just two dates. She knew how to hold conversations. She had an outrageous sense of humor that today I still appreciate. Her personality was a great blend of easy-going and stubbornness. Those were all characteristics I didn’t fully embrace until my bad first date. After that experience, the second date with my nesting partner turned into third and fourth dates. Two years after our first date, we got married. A year later, we bought a house. And last week, she gave birth to our daughter.

Lucia, born December 3rd, 2019. Image credit to Bella Baby Photography.

This was a really long way to talk about how I became closer to my partner through dating. I’ve had a couple poly experiences where my nesting partner further showcased her flexibility and friendliness. And each of those experiences reinforced what I saw in my partner when I first fell in love with her. For me, that recognition has given me all the tools to feel closer with my partner. It helped me see in what others are not able to provide for me, what I’ve grown accustomed to over time in my existing partnerships, and what strengths the dust of time has covered.

Another way I grew closer with my partners is through seeing how deeply and passionately they can love another. In the poly world, we call those rewarding emotions compersion. I talked a bit about compersion in a recent column here. When my nesting partner first fell in love with her play partner, I saw in how many different ways she can express her love for another human being. I was able to celebrate her success as openly as she has done so for me in my polyamorous journey. And seeing how deeply but differently she felt gave me validation in the “trueness” of my relationship with her, that it wasn’t just a fluke. I hear the intense and intimate way my girlfriend talks about her girlfriend. I see the fluffy sense of excitement my partner holds in her eyes when she comes back from a promising first date. All of those vulnerable moments make me feel closer to each of my three partners. That my place in their lives are justified and substantial. That they choose to keep dating me not because they have to, but because they actually want to.

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But beneficial comparison and compersion are all very incremental aspects to polyamory. What hit me the most was in the strengthening of our communication skills over time. Polyamory really forces you to be mindful, timely, and impeccable in not just the words you share but also the actions and the intent behind those actions. Both my nesting partner and I had to really hone that ability to accurately deliver our messages in an appropriate and respectful manner. Misunderstanding was common at first, but we both got much better at communicating because of polyamory. And through sound communication, I became closer to my partners.

On one of our first dates, my girlfriend and I arrived to a discussion about how difficult compartmentalization in polyamorous relationships can feel. One of us jokingly made a comment about how polyamory sometimes feels like a “rapid fire self-improvement process” because of how much it forces you to address your innermost vulnerabilities and insecurities. Nothing is more rewarding than working through your vulnerabilities and sharing your progress with your partners. Each day of progress was acknowledged and celebrated with the people I love the most.

And that’s how polyamory made me feel closer to my partners.

Story Time – Wearing wedding rings on dates.

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/u/the_prickly_pair on /r/polyamory asks…

“Thoughts on wearing your wedding ring when on a date with another person? I love my ring and wear it everyday, but I’m not sure if I like wearing it on a date. It is pretty ornate since it is a family heirloom, and for some reason I feel like that could be intimidating to others. I’m interested in your opinions.”

(This is going to be a different format from my standard advice column posts. In these story time posts, I will discuss some of my own personal anecdotes and talk about my own experiences of dating polyamorously as a cis/mostly-het man in his twenties.)

I have gone back and forth on whether I should wear my wedding band when I am on dates with my other partners. At first, I chose not to wear my wedding ring while I am dating my partners because the wedding ring served as a symbol for my relationship with my wife/nesting partner. By taking off the ring, it served as a mental reminder that I was compartmentalizing my marriage with my wife in the power of the ring and the commitments that were symbolized in the ring. It also made more sense at the time because I was dating unmarried partners. I was deeply concerned that by that ring-imbalance that others would judge me and my partner for our extramarital relationship even if it was ethical and consensual.

There was actually an incident earlier this year where I questioned the purpose of the ring. I encountered some of my family while out on a date with one of my partners. At this time, I was not out to my family as polyamorous. I was out to breakfast with one of my partners when this distant group of family noticed me and came over to say hi. They were on their way back home from their Sunday morning Catholic mass. They probably didn’t see me holding my not-my-wife’s hands in my very-ringless hands, but were able to tell that the connection I shared with my breakfast companion was not purely platonic. We didn’t stay that long and left shortly thereafter.

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My partner and I had previously talked about my decision to take off my ring on our dates. So I wasn’t worried about her reaction. But I was so mortified and paralyzed in fear that my distant family might judge me or go to my family about “catching me in the act.” My partner reassured me that she understood why I chose not to wear a ring on our date, and that she too wasn’t out to her family as polyamorous. She further explained that she totally understood that it was a really awkward situation for everyone and that this probably wouldn’t happen again since she was moving into a larger city soonish anyway. And we left it at that.

I kept on revisiting this moment for a couple days after. I thought a lot about what removing the ring before the date accomplished and why I needed to compartmentalize my relationships with the act of taking off the ring on my dates. This was about two years into my polyamorous journey so I already had a pretty good handle on compartmentalizing my own relationships regardless of the status of the ring on my finger. I was also gradually coming out to all of my family and friends as polyamorous at this point.

I eventually arrived to the conclusion that I was going to continue wearing a ring. I decided that the incredibly low risk of encountering someone who is going to recognize the physical status of rings on my and my partner’s fingers were not enough to offset the privilege that I get to wear this ring to celebrate my relationship and commitment to my nesting partner and spouse.

What does a ring signify anyway? It is a mere physical manifestation of the commitment you’ve made. Sometimes, that physical manifestation can look like flowers you’ve planted together in a faraway town. Sometimes, it can look like stones you’ve collected on a beach getaway three years ago. Sometimes, it looks like a ring on your finger. It means exactly that. Nothing more. Nothing less.