In this essay I share my thoughts and insights about love, monogamous and polyamorous/open relationships, exploring the reality of how love is restricted and controlled by our society, and what can be done to open to love and finally, how to meet most of you needs by being open to love and be loved by more than one person.
Table of Contents
One of the most important human experiences and needs is to love and be loved. It is meaningful. It is healing. It is joyful. It is inspiring. It is supportive. It is surrendering. It is many other things.
Unfortunately, the way our society designed monogamy, until recently, the only Western socially-accepted type of a relationship, this need is only partially supported. As soon as a couple enters into a monogamous relationship, the decree is that they are allowed to love each other, but not anybody else. Plus there is the familial love – love for siblings, parents and children. Finally, there is love for God.
In my experience, when I have to shut my heart to others, I cannot help but to shut my heart to the one I’m sanctioned to love. My heart doesn’t know how to differentiate who it is allowed to love and who not to. If I allow it to love and if I don’t let my mind to get in its way with its judgments, it’ll love everybody and everything that it encounters. Therefore in order to keep my love limited to one person, I have to constantly keep my mind controlling the heart. And it works to a degree. The problem is that my mind likes control and it then slowly slowly starts inhibiting even the “permitted” object of love. Over time, and more so once the Oxytocin starts wearing out, my mind tends to find more and more faults and problems with the only love channel it’s supposed to keep alive and it starts narrowing it down more and more, until there is little heart left in it. At some point I can still utter ‘I love you’, but I don’t really feel it as the heart has been shut down.
She: “Do You Love Me?” He: “When?”
Most of you are familiar with a typical couple’s phone conversation, where they always conclude it with an exchange of “I love you”*. Do they really feel that in the moment of them uttering these words? Most of the time, unfortunately, they don’t feel it.
footnote *: This is one of those social patterns similar to the greeting exchanges that almost nobody really is present for: “Hi, how are you”, “I’m fine, and you”?, “I’m fine, thank you”. If you’re not really fine, try to answer with an honest: “I feel really bad” and go into sharing your experience. Most people will get a very puzzled look on their face or might even not register your words and move on, since they didn’t expect you to speak your truth.
Marshall Rosenberg (MR), the founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), was once asked by a participant (P) at his training about love as a feeling. Here is the dialogue that ensued:
MR: Ask me
P: Do you love me?
P: Well, what about right now?
MR: No. But try me again in a few moments, I might then.
Here is an full version of it, where MR talks about love as a feeling versus love as a need and how to meet that need:
Some years back, after realizing that I don’t want to participate in fake exchanges, I decided to only say “I love you” if I experience that feeling at that moment. So if my lover tells me: “I love you”, I don’t reply with the same if I don’t feel it at that moment. For example, if you were to catch me working on my computer and being immersed into deep thinking, and you were to ask me if I love you, I guarantee you that at that moment I will be in my head and not love you or anybody else for that matter.
Moreover, I realized a second very important thing, and it’s that I need a few moments to receive before moving on with giving. If someone tells me “I love you”, I now take time to hear that, feel how it affects me and appreciate the receiving. I may respond with a facial gesture, putting my hand over my heart and a little happy purring sound. The interesting thing is that more often than not when I do that and I wasn’t quite in my heart and feeling love a moment earlier, this pause takes me into my heart and suddenly I do feel love and happy to vocalize that with “I love you”.
Jiddu Krishnamurti, who was an enlightened philosopher, used to say that you can’t think and experience at the same time. And when you think, you only have a memory of an experience, and as such that experience is no longer real. So even if you are feeling love and you are verbalizing that experience, in the moment of verbalization you’re talking about a moment that has just passed and chances are that your heart is no longer open, since you had to move to the domain of the mind to speak your experience. Therefore the best expression of you feeling love is by saying no words, but letting your face and body to beam its loving radiance. And hopefully the ones that are being loved can receive that non-verbal communication.
My commitment to say “I love you”, only when I feel it, led to some other interesting outcomes. For example, I now feel comfortable to say “I love you” on a first date if that’s how I feel and not worry about what that means. In the past I felt comfortable to say “I love you” only after quite a few dates, and repress sharing that feeling if it were to arise too early (a manipulation). I also now feel comfortable to say “I love you” to a man, and I no longer make any connection with an implied requirement for love to lead to something sexual. The latter has been so liberating, as for years it has been a self-imposed I am not interested in sex with men = I shouldn’t feel love for men.
After years of practicing letting my heart feel and not letting my mind interfere (not always successfully), I’m delighted to report that my experience of loving others has increased tremendously in quality, flow and depth.
Since we live in a human body, which relies on material sustenance to survive, pure unconditional love is not possible for most of us. Instead we usually experience a mix of conditional (material) and unconditional love. If all our needs were met — at that moment unconditional love becomes possible.
As discussed in an article on the heart chakra sexuality, only starting from the heart chakra (4th chakra) non-material realms become accessible, and that’s where unconditional love resides. The first three chakras are about material things, and they correspond to conditional love, each in its unique way.
Here are some examples of conditional love on the first three chakras, alone and in a combination:
- A baby loves her mother because of food and protection she provides. [survival/chakra 1]
- A man loves his woman because of sex and comfort she provides. [pleasure/chakra 2]
- A boss loves his employees because he controls and feels responsible for them. [control/chakra 3]
- A samurai loves his master and is willing to die for him. [submission (control in reverse)/chakra 3 ]
- A woman loves her man because of financial security and good sex. [survival/chakra 1 + pleasure/chakra 2]
- A pious man loves his God because he gives him hope and salvation, and he’s afraid of his wrath. [survival/chakra 1 + control/chakra 3]
Here are a few unconditional love examples:
- A mother loves her child who is a criminal.
- A man surrenders to God and asks for nothing in return.
Love on higher chakras (5+) is inaccessible to most of us, since it is transpersonal and very difficult to even understand.
As explained earlier, in our daily life we usually experience a combination of conditional and unconditional love. So some aspects of it are material, whereas other are not.
One time when my lover at that time left me, I experienced a great anxiety, until I remembered the cord cutting technique. Once I visualized energetic cords connecting the two of us and that were pulling at my energetic body and causing me emotional pain, and I severed them in my imagination, the anxiety instantly disappeared and I received a great clarity about that event. The pain I was experiencing was due to all the comforts that she was taking away by leaving me. And I could continue loving her even if she never did anything for me again. That was such an eye opener for me, as at that moment I realized that my love for her had the material/conditional and the unconditional aspects. Once I let go of the material aspects, there was no pain left and what remained was only the pure love, that didn’t require her physical presence in my life. Many years have passed since that experience and I still feel that love for her and when I think of her I experience a warm gentle opening of the heart without any emotional turmoil accompanying it.
So, the next time you say “I love you”, it could be an interesting self-inquiry to see what stands behind this feeling. If you would like to take an extra challenge you can express the material aspects of your love to your lover: “I love it when you do… say… etc.”
This discussion on material love brings us to jealousy, which usually is a feeling we experience when we feel the risk of losing something that feeds that conditional/material love.
At the age of 16 when I entered my first intimate relationship I experienced for the first time jealousy when my girlfriend was playful with another boy. I didn’t quite like that experience and I made a mental resolve to not worry about the choices of my girlfriend. Moreover, I felt that if was is a better man for her out there, I’d have liked her to be with that man.
That also opened the door into trusting that I don’t need to pretend to be someone I am not, and that there is a woman out there that will want me as I am.
Over the years that purely mental choice not to look for reasons to be jealous got integrated with the heart, so it was no longer just a control on my part, but a complete mind-heart experience and that I could relax into.
On several occasions my open admission about wanting my lover to be with the best man for her and my lack of jealousy backfired and they left, because without me erecting a familiar “cage” around them was interpreted as not loving them, despite all the other factual experiences speaking to the contrary.*
footnote *: For some of my ex-lovers a promise of “until death do us apart” was crucial for their feeling of security. Understanding the reality of things and having experienced one marriage, which failed miserably precisely due to “death do us apart”, where my wife at that time and I quickly stopped investing into our relationship soon after entering the wedlock. After experiencing that fiasco, I’ve been living one day at a time, constantly checking in whether the relationship is still meets our changing needs. This approach provides no security whatsoever, yet I’d rather be with someone for a very short time while being fully there and us loving each other, than for a really long time without being present and loving.
The first time I had the opportunity to put my jealousy to a real test was when my partner at that time and I discussed open relationships and she said that she couldn’t share me with another woman. Since I was interested in both sides of the experience, I asked her whether she would like to try to have another lover, while I will be only with her. She said ‘yes’. When she went on a date with another man, whom I knew from our common circle of friends, I experienced a bit of a fear, but once I focused on my heart, the fear has quickly disappeared. When she returned home she was glowing. We made an agreement to share fully our experiences and after some first time awkwardness it became an easy process. She continued dating that man. And some time later she started dating another person as well. This happened after us being together for 3+ years. Our relationship has been the best ever during that whole experience. Her other dates didn’t interfere with our relationship and our sex life, but were affecting it for the good. She was very happy. A month later she broke off those two other relationships, since she said she couldn’t allow herself to be free while keeping me in a cage.
For me that experience was truly wonderful. For some weeks I had two other people who helped me create happiness for my partner and who met some of her needs that I either couldn’t meet in the same way or not at all, e.g. the third lover was a woman :).
Which leads us to a simple truth that no single person can meet all the needs of another person. Putting manufacturing and service industries aside, where some needs can be satisfied for a price, this is where friends and acquaintances come in. If your lover doesn’t like dancing, you can do it with a friend. Same goes for reciting poetry, hiking, shopping, moon gazing, etc. But there is one catch to it. That friend must not pose a potential threat to the existing relationship. Which for heterosexual couples usually means that that friend who can satisfy a given need, must be of the same sex. A heterosexual friend of an opposite sex is an automatic threat for obvious reasons.
Instead of you choosing to be with your lover, and letting him/her choose to be with you, you start building cages around each other, trying to ensure that your lover will not want or will not be able to leave you.
For example some of my monogamous lovers were concerned with me having female friends, because they felt that if we were to have a conflict I’d flee into the comfort of being with one of these female friends and which would lead to a break up, because rather than dealing with a conflict I might choose to simply jump ships and swap her with one of my female friends. While this a very valid and logical concern, a relationship doesn’t stand a chance in the first place if the lovers don’t have the courage and tools to face each other and deal with a conflict when it happens and instead choose to seek solutions outside of relationship. And if a couple spends years of hard work to build a relationship that has depth to it, who in their right mind would think that getting a new lover will make things better in the long run. A person, who perhaps is new to the world of intimate relationships, might be tempted for an easy fix of this kind. But anybody who has been in at least a few long term relationships knows that jumping ships won’t make anything better in the long run. I’d rather work on fixing something that’s broken in my current long term relationship, because usually most of the things work really well, or I won’t have been there in first place, rather than going for a new lover, whom I hardly know, and who is almost guaranteed to have just as many issues as the current partner. Moreover, if the difficulty or a conflict has to do with an issue inside myself, which happens pretty often, then moving into a new relationship won’t change anything at all. It’ll just introduce a delay and the issue will re-surface anyway. So it’s much better to work on resolving it in the existing relationship.
After many years of long term monogamous relationships, where I was trying to meet all my needs, in particular for a permission to love, I finally realized that this is not possible. Luckily I became aware that not all people were into monogamy, and that a different way is possible. And I embarked on a new way of life, following the path of polyamory.
My Polyamory Model
Polyamory and Open Relationships mean so many different things to different people. To most people the concept equals having multiple sex partners.
To me Polyamory is not about having more than one sexual partner. It’s about two things:
- to have a permission to keep my heart open and to love without a need to erect cages and putting controls in place.
- to allow me to find people who can meet some of my needs with ease and joy, if my lover(s) can’t meet those easily and with joy herself or if I feel those needs are met better by someone else.
The end result: open hearts and all are mutually engaged in what they are good at and love doing. This, of course, doesn’t mean a rejection of an attempt by my lover to do something new that she’s not yet good at, but is really inspired to get good at and is loving the experience. I’m talking about the simple situation where she doesn’t quite like doing something, but feels she must, because I like it.
For example, I had a lover who likes vanilla sex and also occasional B&D play. I’m not into B&D and not really interested in learning this art. Perhaps I could have tried to give it to her, but I don’t think it’d have worked well for either of us. Instead, she had another lover who was an expert in B&D, yet she really liked the way she and I had sex – so she was getting both of her needs met, since neither of us could give her both ways, that were satisfactory to her and each of us. In another situation, she liked our deep spiritual talks, and she liked that her other lover liked the sleep overs.
Another interesting thing I have noticed about myself is that I’m a rebel in my mind. If you tell me I can’t have something, I will want to have it. I have noticed that once I consciously entered the polyamory world, my desire for having several lovers has instantly vanished. Most of the time I’m very content with having just one lover, and if more lovers come in a natural way and not as a desire/greed to be satisfied, then the experience works out harmoniously to the benefit of all involved.
I think the vision I have for a structure that will satisfy everybody’s needs is of a group of people that get together through meeting each other’s needs, in the same way molecules form atoms. The science of Molecular Chemistry fits really well here (see the illustration). Depending on the type of the atom some have the capacity to connect to several atoms, whereas others only to one or two atoms. The connections can be weak and strong, they can break and later new connections with other atoms can be created. In Metaphysics there is the law “as above, so below” – so it applies here as well. You can probably easily fit yourself and other people in your life into this model.
And to a large degree this is what everybody would do anyway if they were allowed to form natural bonds without restrictions imposed by society, spouse and self-judgment.
Multiple Sexual Partners
I discussed material jealousy earlier and if it is understood and let go of, so that there is no longer a fear of losing your loved one over material love, the only remaining big issue that prevents polyamory from being easily accessible to all is sex. It’s natural to develop a sexual attraction to several people in a circle of close friends, so if the attraction is mutual why not deepen the love through occasional or steady sex.
Sex with more than one person is only a problem because our society deems sex as a very twisted abnormal activity and sets up multiple mores around it. In reality, the function of sex is not any different from any other bodily function. It’s just there and it’s up to us what we do with it. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, then you can just relax and be*.
footnote *: If you have never experienced it, do yourself a favor and one day make a trip to a nudist beach. When everybody is naked there is surprisingly little eroticism to a congregation of naked people, even if most of them are young and beautiful according to the latest societal standards of beautiful.
Granted, this is not to say that one shouldn’t worry about unwanted pregnancies and STIs, and the latter risk is definitely increased by having sex with more than one person. These risks can be minimized through education and presence of the mind during sex, i.e. acting on the preventative knowledge, and open communication with all involved sexual partners about the sexual health of everybody involved. Moreover, nowadays, there are so many affairs occurring within monogamous relationships, the risk of infecting one’s rightful partner in a monogamous relationship is quite high. So in reality, this risk affects any type of relationship.
At times it is possible to create relatively safe structures of sexual partners. The safest of them all is a closed structure. Similar to a monogamous relationship, this one is limited to a fixed group of lovers, who only have sex within that group (not necessarily with all of the group) and never outside of it (see the illustration). Assuming that all were STI-free when such group started, it is likely to remain such for the duration of this group’s existence. Of course, once somebody has sex outside of that structure, the inherent safety is greatly diminished.
The other approach is of course to use protection and exercise caution. Of course, this is not completely safe either, since a condom doesn’t guarantee a full protection and then there is oral sex and many other nuances which it can’t protect well.
Within this framework, two people may consistently engage in unprotected sex (assuming pregnancy is not an issue), while they use protection when engaging with other sexual partners. This is often called “fluid bonding”.
And of course, there are some other ways to receive an STI without having sex, albeit this is very rare. For example oral Herpes (HSV-1) can become genital Herpes (HSV-2) if genitals are touched by lips during an outbreak of oral Herpes.
Of course, if you’re seriously worried about this potentially harmful aspect of sex, so that it affects your emotional wellbeing, and you can’t arrange a closed group that you can trust, you may still follow a polyamorous path of loving more than one person, but you will just engage sexually with only one person if you can trust that they will tell you if they recently had sex with someone else.
I hope that you found my notes insightful to you and perhaps now you may get inspired to ask yourself some honest questions about what your needs are in this life and how well they are being met, and whether you feel that your heart is open and loving and you’re not feeling caged in or caging others.
If you are inspired to share what parts of this essay touched you, or you have your own insights to contribute please share through the comments section below. Thank you!
Illustrations: Omethoate Molecule 3D balls and 1,3,4-Thiadiazole 3D ball licensed under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
Tags: jealousy, love, polyamory, relationships, sex
Why is there so much concern about getting needs met? Is having BD sex or vanilla sex really a need or just an interest or a preference? I dunno, just all this needs needs needs, I need my needs met–seems juvenile?
wrt idea of meeting one’s needs I’d highly recommend Marshall B. Rosenberg’s amazing “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” https://amzn.to/3k8aqvj – it’s a life-changing mindset if it resonates with you. I personally believe that Marshall’s vision is hugely transformational and empowering. At least it has been for my life.
Now, figuring out what is a need and what is a want is a million dollar question. I don’t profess to have that answer for you, Claudia. Marshall’s book does help with that.
Many years ago I was sitting on the top deck of a streetcar in the city of Sheffield in northern England. I was alone, except for a young couple sitting several rows ahead of me.
She was having a fit of the miseries, crying and complaining. She said rather tearfully “you don’t really love me” to which he replied “Of course I loves you…I fucks you don’ I”. In a Yorkshire accent!