What Ethical Non-Monogamy Taught Me About Friendship
“However rare true love may be, it is less so than true friendship.” — Francois de La Rochefoucauld
It was my 30th birthday and I pulled up to a club in Hollywood. Four beautiful women and I got out of my vehicle, the valet took my keys and drove my over-sized 80’s Detroit-made car away. A bouncer sized me up, being that at that time I was very obese and not exactly what you would call conventionally attractive, and asked me how the hell I did it. None of these sexy women were my partner but they were very much with me that evening, dancing with me and staying by my side all until the wee hours of the night. They were part of my tribe and they were making sure my birthday was a great one.
So many of the polyamory resources I’ve read, whether published in print or digitally, have focused more on sexual and romantic relationships. However, polyamory can have profound affects on platonic friendships as well. While not everyone is focused on having one best friend, in many regards the platonic analog of a primary partner, it is common to want to find a friend with most of your shared interests. In much the same way many people want a complete partner, this search for a complete friend is often not pragmatic. This is less a polyamory concept but a realistic one, yet life has a curious habit of ignoring your wants.
This brings up curious thoughts about the nature of friendship, particularly platonic friendship or “just friends.” Platonic, romantic and sexual relationships often have points of separation to them even if ideally a true life partner should be all three. Women often share a higher degree of emotional intimacy with their friends than with their heterosexual life partners. The nature of male bonding can baffle the most ardent of psychologists, and even as a man it confuses me many a day. Male toxicity can often mask a deeper need for connection and the fear of seeming less masculine. Being seen as emotionally in touch, as a man, is a often perceived as a negative.Additionally, it’s not uncommon for people to abandon plans and time with their long standing platonic friends due to the addition of a promising new romantic and/or sexual partner. The sad fact is that for too many in this society, friendship for friendship’s sake is considered less valuable than pursuing someone to get naked with.
Polyamory has given me thoughts on to how to approach friendship, as much as potential partners. I find myself seeking out people to have in my life that share sometimes only a couple common interests. Maybe a new person loves to dance, but hates going on hikes. Maybe another loves art, but not eating exotic foods. Maybe still another loves camping, hiking, kayaking and being outdoors but would injure masses of people if ever allowed on a dance floor. I find that the beauty and intriguing things about people I meet aren’t always in the similarities, but rather the differences. Compatibility isn’t always about being a perfect match. Will this person push me out of my comfort zone a bit? Will this person help me face my anxieties? Will this person help me become a better individual, and by extension a better friend to them in return? Reciprocity is everything in being a good friend and by opening my heart and my mind, I’ve met an amazing number of people who are very dear to me, and for whom I give as much of myself as I can.
Relationship anarchy, a much newer take on polyamory and ethical non-monogamy, has even extended this notion further for me. I seek out friendship as the basis of all my relationships and I typically meet new women with this mindset. A platonic friendship is not ranked lower than a romantic or sexual partner, and plans made with any relationship are very important to me. The beauty of this friendship focus is that romantic and/or sexual attraction can and often will develop, but if it doesn’t nothing is lost. If these attractions did occur but inevitably wane, there is a much better chance that the original friendship will keep the relationship intact. How many times have we said or heard “let’s be friends” only to never speak to that person again. I’ve had fairly recent dates where that friendship focus wasn’t established and when the sparks didn’t fly I lost a very cool person from my life, much to my sadness. This loss is still felt in me, very deeply.
Many years ago, I fell out with the previous group of friends that I shared my 30th birthday with. The whys are complicated, as they usually are, but I’ve been seeking tribe again. Tribe, for the uninformed, is a collective of friends, partners, and even exes with which you are able to bond and spend time with together as a sort of extended family. Polyamory and sex-positive communities lends well to this, as the traditional restraints of monogamous couples don’t lend well to the sense of casual shared play and past intimate experiences. More sensually focused gatherings, the sense of comfort being with partners, past and present, and friends in a non-judgmental and loving way is much more prevalent. Compersion can be greatly experienced within a tribe, watching people you love spending time together, having fun and loving one another. I liken it to the concept of a puppy pile, with lots of warm emotional connection and shared happiness. I’ve never felt a stronger sense of love and belonging that when I was within a tribe.
It takes a village to raise a child, but maybe it takes a tribe to nurture a heart. I found a beginnings of a tribe in my life again, which I greatly cherish. Who knows… maybe my 50th birthday night will outshine my 30th.