What I Learned About Polyamory From My Happily Monogamous Parents

Rear View of Friends Standing on Stone Wall

They taught me that the more you love people, the more love you have to give.

My parents (to my knowledge at least) are about as monogamous as you can get. They met on the playground—11 years old, my mom turned to her friend and said “I’m going to marry him.” She did. And to this day my parents are best friends, lovers, companions, co-parents, who are socially, economically, spiritually, and politically tethered to each other.

Though they’re left-leaning, and accepting of their anarchist, queer daughter—who’s thrown a lot of shit in their direction in the last 30 years—there’s still one place that we just can’t seem to come to an understanding about: my choice to be in polyamorous relationship structures.

They are kind enough to mostly stay silent about it. And I offer them more ease around this—I introduce them to one date, and not any of my other dates. They know I have them, but I don’t try to integrate it into my family life. It’s a compromise I feel comfortable with at least for now, and if that ever needs to change, I feel confident in our ability to navigate it.

In the conversations we’ve had about polyamory, what I take away from my parents is that their relationship has been a source of nourishment, protection, and is a loving container—and they want me to have those things—and can’t imagine a different structure doing that. Which, while I don’t agree with, I can understand—lived experience is powerful and not something to negate.

Regardless of how you measure the success of a relationship, my mom and dad are winning at life. They are best friends, there is no one they would rather spend time with (well, with the exception of their grandchild maybe), they love each other, are attracted to each other, they have been married for 35 years, and in moments of struggle, crisis, joy, and celebration they always find each other.

Often, when I hear people talk about couples who are in non-monogamous or polyamorous relationships I hear language like “Oh, couple X is really good at poly.” I’m not sure I know what “good at poly” means. But often, people tell me that I am “good at poly.” I’m always curious about this. I fight. I’m jealous. I ask unreasonable things of my dates. I’m insecure, and when my relationships shift or grow, there is a time of adjustment that often includes tears, tantrums, and lots and lots of processing. Through these moments my dates and I find each other.

When I think about the two practices that I fall back on most often in my polyamorous relationships, all the credit goes to my monogamous superstar mom and dad:

The first practice: love multiplies love.

Going to sleep as a small child, when mom and dad would say to me “love you,” I’d respond with “love you more.” They would always reply “not possible” while kissing me on the head.

One night, I asked why it wasn’t possible. They told me that it was because with age comes more life experience—they had been able to love more people than I had in my six years. They said the more you love people, the more love you have to give. It was a simple love ritual between us every night. But it left a deep imprint in how I approach and view the world. I truly believe and trust that love multiples love.

So when my partners and sweeties and dates find new loves or deepen current loves, with all the hard feelings of insecurity, fear, and jealousy lives a backbone of trust—that this love in their life is creating a greater capacity for more love.

It’s easy for me to access this trust because of the simple love ritual my parents shared with me nightly, but as an adult I’ve also built trust in this practice—because when I fall in love, I walk through the world with my chest open. With more love in my heart for everyone in my life, I’m more generous, kind, and confident. And I fall even more in love with all my dates and partner—we find each other with hearts open, bursting in love.

The second practice: different kids, different rules.

My youngest sister and I couldn’t have been more different as kids. She was all earth and fire—physically focused with a bright fiery passion that filled every space she entered. Loud, crackling, and strong she knew how to play in a way I don’t think I ever have. My watery-air self would quietly sit at the grown up table listening. School classrooms were much more comfortable than the fields and playground.

While we were not a rule-heavy house, I do remember that regularly when one of us would complain that it wasn’t fair that one of us was getting something the other one wasn’t, my parents would respond “different kids, different rules.” The meaning behind this was much greater than the four words and simple saying. They saw us. They knew we were different, and would need different boundaries, different support because of who we each were, what our struggles were, what our passions and interests and strengths were. Their expectation on our grades, friends and activities were different and tailored to each of us.

I carry this with me. What I need to feel cared for and safe, to stretch and to grow, is usually pretty different than what my date needs (that whole, different people, different experiences thing). Instead of creating a set of rules that we both follow, I work with my sweeties to learn what care and love and safety feels like for them and together we come up with ways to have those things met. We find each other.

Sometimes that means that I disclose way more information to them about my other dates than I would ever want about theirs. Instead of us having to both disclose the same information about our dates to each other, we disclose what the other needs (with the consent of the other dates, of course). This has been particularly useful when jealousy is present for me. I often hear my kid voice in my head when I feel jealous saying things like “but that’s not fair!” I return to the lesson from my mom and dad, that fair isn’t the same, even when it comes to rules and expectations.

I’m not sure I’m “good” at poly, but I am sure that many of the practices I fall back on are rooted in the love and security I was privileged enough to have in my family as a child. Because of this, I’ve been lucky that my loves (romantic and family) and I always find each other.

Leah Henderson is a community activist living in Toronto, Canada. A trainer, facilitator and mediator, she works with Queer and Trans communities committed to anti-racism, and decolonization work. Politically active, and focused on supporting the development and skills of people interested in living and creating alternative structures and lifestyles to the capitalist, patriarchal dominant culture she centres freedom, justice and accountability in all of her work. 

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