This is what I learned at the Rocky Mountain Poly Living Conference.
Here’s a secret about sex conferences, they’re actually not very sexy at all.
But, then again, I’ve been programmed to believe “sexy” is a very certain thing and what’s sexy to me is not necessarily what’s sexy to someone else.
In any case, when it comes to learning about sexuality, having real life sex turned out to be the furthest thing on my mind last weekend when I attended The Rocky Mountain Poly Living Conference, hosted by the non-profit organization Loving More.
Loving More is as old as I am, both of us being born in 1985, and it is now run by Robyn Trask, a practicing and self-proclaimed “born that way,” polyamorist.
When I first arrived at the Ramada in Northglenn, Colorado to check out what this group of poly people were all about, the “automatic” doors were stuck. I took it as symbolism on my inability to open up to love. “They won’t let me in!” I thought, “They must know I suck at love.”
See, for the past few years I have been having this back and forth, manic, internal and external debate about the concepts and reality of polyamory, a relationship structure defined as having multiple intimate relationships.
Theoretically this idea is stellar; theoretically the ideas of socialism are stellar too, but in practice both have appeared to work only within small groups of people.
Yes, we live in a mono-centric world, where all of us are taught how to be monogamous from the time we exit the womb. We understand that love is a scarcity and to have it, we must possess it so as it doesn’t get taken away. It’s as if we’re each given a box of love at birth and we must choose who and when to share it, thus we’re very cautious and selfish because what if we give it to the wrong one and everything comes undone?
What I learned at the conference was that people who practice polyamory believe that box has a hole in the bottom and love goes on endlessly—love is not finite, but infinite—and no matter what it’s about, it’s really all about love.
We all want it regardless of who, or how many, we want it from.
But wtf is love anyway?
And if we do figure it out, how do we get it? How do we practice it? How do we make love stay?
“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”
― Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker
Perhaps love is an outlaw, perhaps it won’t adhere to rules, and yeah, maybe people can love for free, but my discoveries on love, regardless of a monogamous or polyamorous structure, are that when it comes to long term intimacy between people, love includes these three important elements.
1. Open Honest Communication
At the conference I took a workshop with Relationship & Intimacy Coach Chas August. He gave us a tool for improving our communication style. The main exercise was learning how to actively listen to the other person’s feelings; this was done by being the person’s mirror: when they were expressing what’s going on, we would respond in a neutral, non-judgmental way while they worked through the issue by talking about it out loud.
Being open and honest with communication means talking about the good, the bad and the ugly, while owning our individual feelings on a consistent basis. It takes practice. Lots of practice. I will admit that I am not anywhere close to doing this well, but all any of us can do is work at it.
The only thing I’m vulnerable about it is admitting that I’m no good at being vulnerable. I’m pretty sure that this is the number one reason why I am terrible at the whole “love” thing. This is also a thing I’m working at improving. It’s a pretty vital element for connecting with others on a deeper level.
People who are vulnerable seem to walk on the planet as if the world is open to them and in a way it is; they are willing to be open to it and thus it opens to them. When I witness other people being vulnerable they seem to take risks with their feelings, they seem to be capable of expressing what they want and need in a completely honest way. They seem to process what’s going on when it’s going on, they are mindful of their present moment, and they leap at possibilities with a near fearlessness (or at least the appearance of).
What I’ve always been drawn to about polyamory specifically is the idea that love is about growth. Not that monogamy is against growth, but that there is sometimes more of a possessive element attached relating back to that scarcity idea that I find unappealing.
Practicing polyamorists see growth as the ability to create intimate connections with multiple people who act as mirrors reflecting the true self of individuals. Obviously this can be done with one or many. It’s helping each other reach each other’s full potential. Having individual lives that intertwine but do not necessarily complete, as we are all already complete even as we continue on our journey to our best selves.
It’s about being there along the way.
When it comes to intimate connections, across the board, monogamous or not, these are the three essential elements that build the deepest relationships. I may not be so good at the love thing yet, but those Ramada doors did open for me eventually, which lead me to a better understanding of what it takes, the work that goes in it and whether or not it’s even possible for me to achieve.
I say yes, it is possible for me and for anyone else who so desires it, anyone who can open up to it and its endless possibilities. I say yes to love—and maybe even loving more.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Mladen Rapaić/Pixoto