Artwork by Teresa Grasseschi
When I read The Ethical Slut, I didn’t realize I had begun another leg on my deconstruction journey. Deconstruction often follows crises, and I didn’t feel like I was in crisis. It was more like I had discovered useful information that made sense to me, that I resonated with, but I was in a situation that didn’t allow me to investigate. I would simply continue to be who I was, end of story. Of course, nothing is ever that simple.
I tell folks that if they haven’t had at least two major crises of self or faith in their life, they’re not doing life right. My first personal crisis involved both. During my sophomore year in college I learned about the history of Christianity and the Bible, and it blew my evangelical mind wide open. For a period of time I was faithless, and who was I without faith? I grew up believing faith defined me, not that it was an expression of me. My second crisis was an almost near-death experience I found myself in as I attempted to avoid my call to ministry (Ch.2 of my book Rants To Revelations if you’re interested in that tale). The third happened as seminary graduation neared and it suddenly hit me that Unity’s theology wasn’t the right one, but that it was just another flawed attempt in a long line of flawed attempts to make sense of the ineffable nature of All That Is, and could I even be Unity minister, and did I just waste thousands of dollars and four years of my life.
I’m an out-loud processor. My wife Jennifer knew this so she just stood back and gave me space to spiral until I wore myself out. But during one of my rants, I let slip that I also didn’t know if I believed in monogamy any more. Not surprisingly, that caught her attention. She heard it as I didn’t want to stay married and I couldn’t convince her otherwise. Right quick we found ourselves in couples therapy with me saying things like, “I’m not saying I don’t want to married” and “I’m not saying I want to be with other people” and “I’m not NOT saying I’m open to talking about exploring this if you want to” and her saying things like “Oh my god what is happening right now?” and “Who the hell are you?” and “If that’s what you want then let’s just sign the divorce papers right now.”
It was a very scary time for both of us. I had enough self-awareness to know that because I was already spiraling, it wasn't the time to make major life decisions, like blow up my marriage and family. So I gave the necessary assurances. We both calmed down, stayed married, and never spoke of it again. It was easier and safer for us to remain in what we knew. Our relationship was never quite the same again but we made it work.
It was also easier and safer for me to be monogamous even after she died. From mid 2015 to early 2022 I found myself in monogamous relationships ranging from a few months to almost three years, interspersed with a few thrilling yet vacuous “widhoe” phases. When asked why I didn’t jump into non-monogamy during that time, I’d say that I kept falling for monogamous women, as if it was their fault I didn’t take responsibility for my relationship choices (tip of the hat to the internalized patriarchy norm of men blaming women for their discontent). Truth is, I was probably still too scared and too worried about what others would think. What was also true, was that the cultural and religious programming ran deep, and I wasn’t consciously ready to do the work to write and run new code.
I ended the longest relationship of that time in early 2020. As much as I loved my partner at the time, I slowly came to the realization that it wasn’t a good relationship for me. As an Enneagram 9 who really didn’t like to cause anyone discomfort, it was an immensely difficult decision to make, but thanks in part to a coach I was working with at the time, I gained the courage needed to choose myself. I grieved for a couple months with the intention to remain single until at least summer before dating again. Not just dating, but perhaps finally trying non-monogamy. Covid, however, had other plans.
When the pandemic arrived, no-one had an inkling of an idea what lay ahead. We all thought we’d be home for a mere three weeks during that first shut-down. As the quarantine extended, my bachelor pad began to feel more like solitary confinement. As the death count rose, so did my day drinking and pizza consumption. As the loneliness intensified, so did the temptation to seek relief with dates and hookups. Thankfully, my desire to stay alive was stronger. I re-envisioned that time as an opportunity for deepening my relationship with myself. I cut back on the drinking and the pizzas, meditated more, and became well-acquainted with calisthenics. I felt and looked as good as anyone could during a global health and existential crisis.
And as the good book reminds us, “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) I really think it’s more like, “Not good things will happen if man is alone for too long.” What began as more frequent check-ins with a friend of seven years who was recovering from surgery quickly became a long-distance romance. I was in MA, and “V” was in DC, and by the end of summer we were braving the potentially deadly skies to see each other. Before things got serious, I let her know about my interest in non-monogamy. While she was quite happy to be casually dating multiple people, she felt that monogamy was the path when things got serious.
It’s what’s referred to as the Relationship Escalator: casually date multiple people; like one person more than the others; date that person exclusively; fall in love; live with that person; get engaged; get married; merge finances; buy a house; have children; live happily ever after.. or at least try to. The order and steps on the escalator vary from couple to couple, but it’s the well-established and deeply-ingrained cultural relationship norm; a core component of the American Dream. Or as I call it now, the American Gaslight.
My connection with “V” felt like the most fulfilling one I’d ever experienced. We were more compatible in all the ways than anyone I’d been with before. For the first time we both felt safe and brave enough to be 100% ourselves out loud. We accepted and held space for each others’ traumas and ongoing healing. We laughed and cried so much together. And the sex was… otherworldly. We were in an intoxicating combination of New Relationship Energy (NRE) and comfort-food familiarity.
Once again, I found myself not wanting to risk losing something so precious, afraid I would never find it again. Scarcity mentality much? Once again I silenced my curiosities, myself really, and chose monogamy. I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to miss out on something I had never tried before, and that my previous struggles were about not being with the right partner. In early 2021, mostly due to pastoral burnout (I talk about it in this podcast interview), I quit my church job, relocated to DC to live with V, and for almost a year we lived in the kind of relationship bliss we never thought possible.
And then it fell apart… so quickly, and frighteningly, and violently, in ways that I am still continuing to heal from.
The story continues in Poly Notes Pt.3 - On The Brink. Coming soon...