The words “I want to be your girlfriend” tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. They didn’t appear out of the blue, though; for about a week I’d been turning the idea over in my mind. Still, as soon as the words were suspended in the air, I wanted to sip them back into my mouth. Even more so when he responded in a way that left no room for interpretation about where we stood with each other: this was supposed to be a no pressure, commitment-free situation.

He was right. That is what he and I were “supposed” to have. At least, that’s what I offered up on our first date. As we grew more emotionally connected, however, I found myself falling into old patterns that I believed I had long ago shed.

Why didn’t he text me yesterday?

Does he really like me?

What’s the next step in our relationship?

All of my monogamous patterns came bubbling up to the surface with this partner.

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Thankfully, I’ve developed a fair amount of self-awareness over the years and was able to quickly reel in these thoughts and see them for what they were: an attempt at giving edges to the intangible so I could better understand and define it. I challenged myself by asking, “What happens when you pull back from that impulse and let things simply be what they are - nothing more, nothing less?”

By getting different things from different partners, you’re not trying to have all your needs and desires fulfilled by one person. That’s an unbearable expectation to place on someone in the name of love, and one I’ve been resentful of being asked to shoulder in the past. By the very nature of polyamory, each partner is going to have different boundaries and expectations. It’s up to you (and them) to negotiate the terms of the relationship so that everyone is happy.

If my partner didn’t want to burden our relationship with a label, that was his choice. My choice, then, was to decide whether I wanted to continue the relationship without one. When I acknowledged that my request for something definitive was simply part of how I was navigating the sticky space between societal conditioning and my actual wants and needs, it stopped being important to me.

Stepping back from that expectation allowed me some useful perspective: he was the first man I’d been with aside from my husband in years. He was safe, comfortable and kind. I fell too easily into default mode with him. We skipped the dating part, save our first, and went right to the part where we watched Netflix and had sleepovers. It was easy. But was he what I truly wanted in a partner, even one with whom I’d likely never have a traditional relationship?

Though I had slowed down my cadence to enjoy our growing relationship, I decided to start dating other people (kind of the whole point!) again. What I realized was that there were so many other people out there that I had an even stronger connection with, whose wants and needs were more aligned with mine. After unraveling the threads in my mind, I now understand that I do actually want to a meaningful, somewhat committed - albeit non-exclusive - relationship with someone other than my husband. Wanting something slightly more than casual dating but something slightly less than the marriage-track has created an even narrower channel through which to navigate the metaphorical ship.

What I have realized is that it is going to take time to unlearn all of the programming I’ve been taught my whole life. Monogamous thoughts happen pretty much every time I meet someone new, which has been a lot lately, and I find myself wondering if they’re a person I could see myself being exclusive with. Most are a hard no, and those are the dates I find myself ending with a quick hug as I hurry off to my car. The guys that I could envision a life with have stuck around far past dates two, three and four, and I’ve had the pleasure of exploring both shallow and deep waters as we all seek out what our hearts are looking for.

We’re three months into our poly lifestyle now and despite the constant work I have to do to create a healthier narrative of love and relationships, I’m really content with how things are progressing. Not only have I met many new and wonderful people who have opened my eyes, mind and heart, I’ve also been learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable: putting people in the friend zone when there’s no chemistry, asking for my boundaries to be respected, holding space for my partner’s budding feelings for someone else, and challenging the way I think about people and about relationships.

It’s not always easy to be non-monogamous. This lifestyle brings with it a whole slew of practical and emotional complications that are largely absent in monogamy. Still, I’m glad we took the chance on it, and that we’re able to push past the uncomfortable bits to get to the endless, glimmering ocean of potential love and fulfillment that sits just past the crashing waves.