Last week, I went to my first-ever play party or orgy and then wrote about it here in exhaustive detail. One big omission I made, however, was my interaction with a guy we’ll call James. James was at the party with his longtime female partner, as well as said partner’s boyfriend.
I didn’t write about James then because I wasn’t yet sure how he fits into things. During the party, James and I hit off. I was attracted to him. He was funny, smart, and a good conversationalist.
“Can I take you out sometime?” he finally asked. “I’d love to get to know you better.”
“With your partner?” I asked. I identify as straight. I think the female body is beautiful, but it’s not an object of sexual desire for me. Life is long, and were I to become attracted to a woman, I would be completely open to exploring that, but it hasn’t happened yet.
“Just us,” he replied. “I’d like to take you on a date if you’re interested.”
I’m not drawn to that many men. I wish I had a broader palate, but I don’t believe in forcing that sort of thing. So it’s rare for me to meet someone I feel a spark with, not to mention someone I feel I could potentially trust to respect my health, my safety, and my boundaries.
James, it seemed, could potentially check all those boxes. There was only one caveat, as far as I was concerned: I never imagined myself as someone who would be interested in polyamorous dating or relationships. I had nothing against people who were; if you find something that makes you happy and fulfilled and can do it without causing anyone else distress, my God, go for it. It just never sounded personally appealing to me.
Moreover, I really wanted a long-term monogamous partner and had been dating my face off trying to find one. But when I met James two weeks ago, no one potentially interesting had yet surfaced, which left me with an interesting conundrum.
“I’ve never dated someone in a long-term partnership before,” I said. “To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it for myself. That said, I’ve really enjoyed spending time with you.”
He said he understood.
I thought about it for another moment. Dating, at least in my experience, can be grim. I missed companionship, and I missed sex. Didn’t I owe it to myself to do something enjoyable for once? I never thought I’d enjoy an orgy either, and here I was, having a terrific time. Maybe I would surprise myself in this venue as well.
I gave him my number.
James and I texted back and forth for a few days afterwards. He was witty and charming. He expressed interest in the boring minutia of my life that only people who really like you have patience for. We discovered we had a lot in common, including a borderline obsessive love of college football, but that we rooted for rival teams, which added an extra charge to our flirtations.
I found myself going about my workday with one eye on my cell phone, waiting for his next message. I smiled, thinking about him.
And then, the morning before we were supposed to have dinner, the strangest thing happened.
I had a panic attack.
As I’ve written here previously, I have an anxiety disorder which, thanks to great therapists and effective medication, I’ve had under control for years now. (I can’t even remember the last time I had a panic attack before this last one.) So when I felt the old, scary symptoms—sweating, heart palpitations, a tightening across my chest—I knew my body was reacting to more than just a physiological imbalance.
I called a friend.
“I know it has to be the date,” I explained to her. “I’m really, really nervous about it. And I wish I weren’t because he seems like a great guy.”
“He probably is,” she replied. “But you’ve told me before that you’re not interested in being polyamorous.”
The point she made was a fairly obvious one: the idea of dating a guy in a long-term relationship with someone else made me uncomfortable, so I shouldn’t do it. I knew she was right; after all, I made such a big deal in my essay last week about honoring your boundaries. But to my great surprise, I had difficulty taking my own advice. I was disappointed in myself: There was this great thing in front of me, and I was getting in my own way and not letting myself have it. What was wrong with me? Was I insecure? Possessive? Brainwashed by oppressive cultural norms?
“Nothing’s wrong with you,” my friend said. “You’re just not into it.”
My friend and I talked further. Ultimately, I still wanted a monogamous relationship. That meant that even if James and developed a relationship of our own, I was treating him as a glorified distraction, someone to keep me company until I found the man I was really looking for – at which point, I’d dump him. And that wasn’t fair to either of us.
Fortified by my new clarity, I took a deep breath and texted him: Hey James, as I’ve done some thinking, I realize that it won’t work for me to date someone in a committed relationship (despite your partner’s support). I’ve loved getting to know you, but I don’t want to waste your time doing something that will ultimately not be an authentic choice for me. I hope you have a great day, and I wish you all the best.
He replied that he understood and wished me all the best too.
I felt better immediately.
I don’t regret anything that happened. I’m deeply grateful to my friend for helping me through my momentary freakout and allowing me to learn from it, and to James, for being unfailingly respectful. I’m glad to know now, for sure, that I couldn’t happily be in a polyamorous relationship. I would feel jealous, insecure, and unfulfilled, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just as there’s nothing wrong with someone else understanding that monogamy isn’t right for her.
If anything distresses me, it’s that despite all my posturing at consciousness-raising, I apparently still struggle to honor my own authentic sexuality. Though I’m trying to cut myself some slack, part of the growth process, I think, is sometimes being uncomfortable and sitting with that. At the end of the day, it’s all about gaining self-knowledge and acting on it.
And, to be fair, I really, really hate James’s football team.