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My Life in a Polyamorous Relationship

"Lou" and I were together for the better part of four years, in love for parts of it, and never once monogamous.

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This article originally appeared on the Los Angeles Review of Books, and is reprinted here with their permission.

Imagine a suburban zoo at night. All the animals asleep, replaced with men in masks and glowing, orange bulbs. It’s Halloween but the air is freezing breath already. The haunted tram ride is the main attraction, but I’ve come for a touring display of animatronic dinosaurs, purportedly the largest collection in the world. They roar limply and I go into the gift shop for the warmth.

My date, a slight girl with glasses, is two steps ahead of me, half-turned and smiling. She is holding an old bag and wearing an outfit thrown together from a half-abandoned Goth phase. Older than I am, she is a graduate of the college where I’ve just started my second year, too cool to know the kids already much too cool for me. I like her cheekbones and her hair. 

She is reflexively caustic, not unlike other girls staring Alice-like into adulthood for the first time — fearful, tinted by disappointment and uncertainty. But now she’s smiling, shaking even. From the cold, most likely, although I hope it might be some kind of joy. Her eyes catch themselves, trying not to let on much excitement. 

She bites her lip. Neither of us speaks.

“Thanks for taking me,” she says after a minute. Her voice has a quality not immediately explicable by accent or other distinct feature; it is neither high nor, despite her origins, discernibly Long Island, unless she gets to shouting. If it is remarkable in any way, it is in lack of affect: sincere without concerted effort, reassuring, like a friend who has long since stopped performing for me. “I haven’t been this happy in a long time.”

We go back out into the cold in search of better dinosaurs . Her name is Lou, except it isn’t really (every name but mine has been changed). This is our third date, but I am still afraid of her. We will stay together, in some form or another, for the better part of four years; in love for parts of it, and never once monogamous.


I’d met Lou six months earlier, during my first year at The University of Chicago. She was a senior, a sort of matriarch to our college theater scene, who brought bourbon in water bottles to parties with inadequate booze and held court with kids I wished I was friends with. Her boyfriend was more popular than I would ever be. We met in passing: I helped her step over a law student’s vomit on a late night bus when she was on crutches; later, we traded names in a group conversation we’d both wandered into. We’d exchange pleasantries at parties. Soon, we were Facebook friends in the way two people can be without really knowing one another. 

One night, near the end of the year, particularly frustrated by a long time spent celibate in the name of a languishing hometown holdover relationship, I sent Lou a message. We’d never spoken like this before, and I was coming on pretty strong with my self-pity. She indulged me; listened to me complain about my girlfriend, about long-distance fidelity, about not wanting to be the kind of man who rationalized his desire to betray, but who still couldn’t understand why love was proved by exclusivity. She listened to all of it, and when I was done she said, “Don’t worry. You’ll grow up one day and find a girl you can love who’s OK with polyamory.” 

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