When I met my partner’s girlfriend, it wasn’t “friend love” at first sight. But our love for the same human created a framework for prioritising our own relationship. We were connected by a type of familial bond I didn’t know existed.
I’d been struggling at developing the kinds of intimate platonic friendships I craved. Making friends as an adult, in a new city, was harder than I’d thought. When I tell monogamous people that I am polyamorous, many have a hard time connecting with the idea of it. But once I explain my life is like living in an alternate version of the sitcom “Friends” ― with a queerer, more intentional kind of chosen family ― they get some of the draw.
I was five when I told my mother, in between bites of Shake’n’Bake chicken, that I didn’t want to birth babies (though, then, I thought babies came out of the rear, as I later explained to my parents, aided with a drawing I’d made). “I want to adopt a baby,” I said, “but an older baby that no one wants.” I’d seen something on TV about adoption and how kids older than even one rarely found parents. Even though I didn’t know anyone who had been adopted, it was natural for me to understand that we could build a family with existing humans.
But throughout my twenties, I never heard that biological tick when I saw babies cooing in strollers or kids laughing in the park. I only felt an internal longing when I watched movies with gray-haired characters who had been friends and neighbours for decades and gathered for dinner several times a week. That intuitive ring grew even louder when it was a group of people who were not blood-related but operated as a tight-knit unit, and thundered if that group was intergenerational.
Before realising polyamory was an option, I feared I was broken because I didn’t find comfort in the coupledom centred in romantic stories I’d been exposed to. I dreaded the relationship escalator everyone seemed eager to hop on: exclusivity to moving in, to getting married, to raising babies, to gradually abandoning friends and a sense of individuality. When I moved to New York City after ending a long-term monogamous relationship, I used my newfound anonymity as an opportunity to explore the sides of myself I had previously been ashamed of ― like my bisexuality/pansexuality and my desire for multiple partners.
In New York, going on dates with people open to non-monogamy was surprisingly easy, but making friends wasn’t. When I lived in Montreal, where I grew up, hanging out in each other’s homes and having dinner parties was a weekly affair. But it didn’t seem to be part of the lifestyle in New York. Apartments were too small and people in my orbit often lived multiple trains away from one another. It was a culture of going out to eat and drink, and made me feel like I couldn’t create intimacy with people in the same way I did when socialising around someone’s books, spices and picture frames.
A few months after I arrived, I organised a Swiss fondue dinner with colleagues from the tech startup I worked at. I didn’t let the meager square footage of my studio stop me; I slid my desk in the middle of the narrow room, propped each leg of my square Ikea coffee table on stacks of toilet paper rolls to raise its height, and squeezed eight guests around my improvised dinner table. I taught them how fondue works, and we talked about our personal lives, but none of those colleagues became close friends.
I was craving a network of companions who I could invite over for a last-minute movie night, who would want to drive to Montreal with me for a weekend, who would help me carry home a mustard armchair on two trains and a 16-block walk. The only reliable way to make new connections was to go on dates. No one seemed willing to prioritise close, platonic relationships.
But three years later, after I settled into a happy polyamorous relationship with a partner, we both started serious relationships with new partners. Mine was long-distance, but my partner’s girlfriend lived in our neighbourhood. Everyone struggled with jealousy early on, but we talked (and talked and talked) about it, and uncovered the emotion behind it — spoiler alert: It’s usually fear. We began to see jealousy as a thought, instead of a concrete, unalterable feeling. I learned to dig into the emotions that fuelled that thought: feelings of inadequacy, fear of rejection, and worry that the special things I shared with my partner were no longer just ours. Managing those feelings helped me become more secure in my relationships. It helped that I myself experienced powerful love for a new person, and knew in my body that it had only intensified my love for my existing partner.
“As I got to know my partner’s girlfriend, those old jealousy pangs became more and more sporadic because I realized she added to my life too.”
But one of the most fulfilling parts of my polyamory ended up coming from an unexpected person: my metamour ― my partner’s girlfriend. For the first time in a long while, someone who wasn’t interested in having sex or falling in romantic love with me put time and effort into our relationship. She accompanied me to obscure shows my partners didn’t care for. She sweat and growled with me in the narrow staircase of my building while we pushed an antique emerald loveseat I’d fallen in love with. I held her while she cried on the train when she had issues with a partner. As I got to know my partner’s girlfriend, those old jealousy pangs became more and more sporadic because I realised she added to my life too. Our polycule — the network of my partners and their partners — spent more time together as a group: We went to one’s place for the Super Bowl, to another’s for New Year’s Eve, and a burlesque brunch for a birthday.
Western monogamous and heteronormative culture dictates the prioritisation of the one and only romantic partner above all else. It’s common for friendships to take a back seat when someone finds a long-term partner and builds toward a nuclear family unit.
Marta Kauffman, one of the creators of “Friends,” said the show was about “that period of your life when your friends are your family.” For Kauffman, it made sense that the show would end when the characters start their own families — meaning, when they partner up with one person and have kids.
But to me, they already had a family. In this hypothetical world, I doubted that Monica, Phoebe, Rachel and the others would be happier, scattered into smaller, more insular units. This isolation would also make their families less resilient to sickness, death or financial hardships.
I know this first-hand. At age 51, my father had a stroke that left him paralysed and unable to speak. I often wonder what my mother’s life could have been like had she had another companion to provide the kind of romance that my father no longer could. Or if my father had a girlfriend, who might share the daily caregiving burden with my mother.
I want to live with friends my whole life, and I want them to be my family. Polyamory has given me a way to have romance and love and friendship and companionship, all braided together into a large, happy family. I don’t think polyamory is the only way to achieve this. More and more people — including monogamous folks — are seeking co-living communities as an antidote to the loneliness of the nuclear family model. But polyamory allowed me to crack that model open, and build the kind of flexible relationships that I want to grow old in.
Alex Alberto (she/they) is a French teacher turned tech product manager turned farmer and writer. She grew up in Montreal and currently lives upstate New York, where she’s building a vegetable farm and retreat centre. Their storytelling shows have been featured at Dixon Place and Theatre Row in New York City, and they’re currently working on a collection of essays about polyamory. You can connect with Alex on Instagram @AlexAlbertoNY.