All posts by robyntrask

An Adventure in Polyamorous Love and Personal Growth

Romantic relationships come in many forms; some are magical brief encounters while others are deep emotional bonds that last a lifetime. Yet often relationships are judged and valued based solely on how long the relationship lasts and not the quality, lessons and growth we take away. When a relationship is short-lived people tend to trivialize it and even sometimes demonize the relationship or person as a way to cope with the pain they feel. Why is it that we deem an intense short-lived relationship as a failure and a 40 year loveless marriage as a success? Can we move away from the black and white definition of failure or success and enjoy the ride while growing and learning? This is my journey and experience of an intense yet short-lived relationship.
For nearly six years I had no interest in dating outside my three existing relationships, my partner I live with, Chuy, my long distance love from New York, Ben, and a college sweetie who is on the other side of the world and I rarely see in person. Ben and Chuy, who I consider central partners in my life, are both amazing people. I love them deeply and I am blessed to have them in my life. We all three share a love and caring for people and for making a difference in the world. We are all activists and all three of us will gladly spend time counseling someone in need. We have been through our ups and downs, but along the way I have built a trust with both these men that fills me with a sense of well-being. I know I can count on them both and them on me. With these wonderful connections with men I love deeply, it is not surprising that I was not looking to start a new relationship. Of course it seems this is when someone shows up and we are caught off guard.
I met John right after our fire evacuations were lifted and we were allowed to go home last summer (2012). He came to a discussion group, new to polyamory and curious. I invited him to a potluck at our home and a couple of weeks later he offered to help us retrieve our livestock that had been evacuated in the fire. At first it was just nice to meet someone new in the community but to my surprise I found myself attracted to him. A couple of weeks later we went out on a date and I was caught up in major NRE (new relationship energy). The relationship grew hot and heavy very fast. I was really crazy about him and we were seeing each other two to three times a week. This is a lot for me with kids, a farm and a nonprofit to run. I wanted to spend more time with John but I felt it might be too much and I was really behind on Loving More work from the fire.
Chuy encouraged me; he liked John and was really happy for me. He kept suggesting I spend more time with John but as much as I wanted that time, I was not sure that John wanted that. I also needed to balance my family, my relationship with Chuy and my work.
For me it had been years since I had really felt NRE in this way. Not since Chuy and I met in 2005 had I been this crazy about someone. I was caught up in the energy and euphoria and at the same time constantly reminding myself it was NRE and I needed to slow it down. I found myself in a kind of war with myself; on the one hand I adored John and on the other I was afraid of getting too attached. I was essentially out of practice in allowing relationships to seek their own level, something I learned long ago from the Ethical Slut and believe strongly in. The fact that I had not dated someone new in more than six years meant my skills in relationship building were rusty.
This for me was the first time I had been with two partners who were both local in over ten years. Many of my relationships have been long distance. No matter how we may love someone, there is simply a different dynamic when they are far away and we only see them a few times a year or a few times a decade. John was relatively local (an hour drive away) and he and Chuy got along well. John started coming over about once a week to hang out with the family. To my surprise, John and Chuy really seemed to enjoy each other’s company and the three of us grew closer. I really loved when the three of us would go out together or stay home, cook dinner together and hang in the hot tub. John, Chuy and I took a romantic weekend getaway together and had a wonderful time. My kids really liked John as well and looked forward to his visits. Chuy and I realized that I was not alone in feeling NRE with John, the whole family was, though Chuy and I felt it more intensely.
Chuy and my kids were supportive and encouraging, as was Ben. I was checking in with Chuy and always considering how he was feeling and how John was feeling. I knew this was all new to John and I wanted to make sure he was getting his needs met as well. I was trying to balance time with each of them and time with the three of us together.  It can seem exhausting but the new relationship provided plenty of energy.
It was all so amazing to me and the timing perfect. John was quickly becoming a part of our family and I was experiencing many wonderful things I had not before. I found myself growing deeply in love with John and my feelings for Chuy deepening as well. I missed John when we were not together and treasured the time we did have. When John started dating another poly woman, I was concerned I might feel some jealousy but I was actually happy for him. Things for me felt easy going and I was enjoying the expansion of love and compersion in my life.
Underneath the euphoria there were challenges. John is a wonderful person, he is a brilliant man and I was attracted to his intelligence and sense of humor. John had been recently divorced and was newly single. Chuy and I are part of a family that includes my children and we run Loving More Nonprofit. which can be very time consuming. As a family we have a strong interest in sustainable living and polyamory activism and our social life often takes a backseat to our work for the poly community. In all honesty we are often out of balance not making enough time for fun. John was like many people new to polyamory; he was exploring a new realm of relationship and sexual freedom. John wanted to explore and play with all the new possibilities. I wanted to support John in his exploration and did my best to be mindful of his time. I was not interested in much of what he was exploring personally. I did ask for communication and honesty. Over time I started to feel John didn’t really want to spend much time with me so I did my best not to push.
In January John ended his relationship with me. I was caught off guard and yet not surprised. He was seeing someone new but he assured me his involvement with this new woman, who was not polyamorous, had nothing to do with ending our relationship. I have been down this road on several occasions in the past. I meet someone new to polyamory, we get deeply involved and then they meet someone new who is monogamous and poof they are gone. Many times newbies can struggle when they have strong feelings for more than one and feel they have to end one relationship for another. I did not know if this was the case or not. The relationship, I felt, had been becoming uneasy as soon as I started communicating and opening up about some minor issues I was having and my feelings of being an afterthought with his time. I was only expressing my emotions and I certainly didn’t expect John to change or to fix it but I am not sure he really understood that.
To my surprise I did not have the outward emotional reaction one would expect when someone you love deeply ends a relationship.  I just told him I thought he was making a mistake and left it at that. John and I had what I thought was a rare and wonderful connection. On the inside my heart was breaking. We had fun together and could talk about many things. John had made his way deep in my heart and losing him was painful. Sexually we were very compatible and this is always great for me. If he had wanted something different, felt things moved too fast or felt I was asking too much, I don’t know as he never really talked to me about why he had the change of heart. My experience was that one week things were good, and the next it was over. I am not one to hang on to someone who does not want to be with me and I had a conference to produce as well as a website to finish, so I simply focused on my work. I did feel a great loss because this kind of intense connection for me is rare but perhaps it was not the same for him. I did what I needed to let go and allow the relationship to seek its own level.
There was one issue for me and my family that I did find challenging, John did not talk to Chuy or to the rest of the family, he was simply gone. He had said he wanted to remain friends and be close but he kind of disappeared. It struck me as a bit ironic that I worked so hard to be inclusive of John and to help him feel a part of things, not secondary or disposable (because to me relationships are not disposable), yet now I felt disposable. Despite the feeling that this was an important and deep relationship and John telling me he loved and adored me and loved my family, within two weeks of meeting this new woman, we were all gone from his life. We as humans can be so programmed toward a monogamous mindset we forget the other people that are affected by a relationship ending.
We have seen him at a few times since then and are slowly building a friendship. We had previously set up the documentary viewing for Our America with Lisa Ling which we are in together at his house before we broke up. Watching the documentary was difficult for me and for Chuy as I am sure it was for John. Many people have sent me feedback about what a fun triad we make and it hurts to know it is gone. I do my best to put on a strong face and pretend it doesn’t hurt when I see him; I want it to be true. Yet with all the pain and confusion, I have no regrets at all. I still feel strongly for John and love him. I really hope he finds what he is looking for and I remain open to whatever the future may bring.
I ask myself what happened or why did it go south so fast? I can read all kinds of things into it and cast blame on John or NRE. The truth is I took a chance with someone and it did not work out. I knew he was new to polyamory and in my experience these can end up being short term relationships. I wonder if I or we (my family) overwhelmed him, if my fanaticism about polyamory was too much or if he simply is afraid of commitment in any form. In the end it doesn’t matter. Loving someone does not mean we will be together or that we want the same things, it just simply is.
I can look at my NRE and diving in to love as reckless or I can see it as an adventurous possibility. I took a chance and, yes, I was hurt and I grew. I could close my heart down and be afraid to open to love but I choose to see the pain as part of the risk and part of being truly alive. I choose to remain open and to celebrate the amazing ride I shared with Chuy and John. For a few delightful months we enjoyed an intense and loving connection of three. I look forward to taking a chance again, to seeing where NRE can lead and learning about me as I work to balance my needs with my family and my passions.
heart-ballons-clip-artI am glad John came into our life and for the short time he was a part of our family. I grew and can take away many lessons. His presence enriched our lives and made both Chuy and I realized how much we want to expand our polyamorous family to include more primary partners. I learned for me that sharing my life with two partners actually helps me balance and manage my life much better. Mostly I learned from my relationship with John that I need to be more communicative about what I want and not be afraid of scaring someone away.
John helped bring our life back to a sense of normalcy after the fire and helped us let go of the disaster we dealt with all summer. He inspired me, and my passion for Loving More was invigorated. In the end a relationship that most of the world considers a failure, simply because it ended, to me was an amazing success and gift. I know what is possible, I know I can still fall in love and I know I want expand my life to include other loves that are a part of our everyday life. I am grateful to whatever brought John into my life and even in my sadness at losing this love, I am grateful that I can feel so much for another human being.

The Shame Game: The Reality of Testing for STIs

Annual testing for STIs (sexually transmitted infection) is something I believe every sexually active person should do for their health, not just for people who are in some form of open relationship but anyone sexually active. It is part of being safe and sane with our own health. Unfortunately testing can often be source of shame and negativity for women and men seeking testing.

For several years I chose to go to the Boulder Women’s clinic, a seemingly progressive place in a progressive town. I am a mother of three children, have been sexually active from a young age and while not always safe from STIs when I was younger ( before HIV awareness) I obtained birth control as soon as I became sexually active. Later, after HIV, I used condoms in addition to birth control. I now regularly educate people on safer sex, awareness of STIs, how to talk about sex and safe sex. Despite this and the fact that I am an adult in my forties, every year at the clinic it was the same, “Annual testing is not necessary unless you practice high risk behavior” or “Why do you need testing, does your partner have something?”  And on occasion I was told that I only really needed was an HIV test unless I had symptoms.

I would explain that I am polyamorous, have three partners and that part of being safe for all of us was annual testing (more if we have a condom break or some other concern). That I wanted testing for several things that I, and my partners, feel are needed. This explanation would be met with  a concerned  look, disapproving head shake, a lecture about how having multiple partners was “unsafe, high risk sexual behavior” and the implication that having more than one lover was wrong. I would explain, “Yes, I understand the risks, this is my choice, this is why I get tested,” etc and “please just give the fucking test.” Every year it felt like a fight to get testing done, from a supposedly progressive women’s clinic in Boulder Colorado. I put up with the judgment and the feeling that the doctors and nurses were looking at me as the sex crazed slut because I don’t care what they think .Finding a new Dr/clinic is a pain and this clinic was better than others I has dealt with.  In 2006 the clinic stopped doing testing for HIV and I found another place for testing with essentially the same game in play.

I have heard many stories from other women and a few men of the medical personnel heaping on shame and judgment when a person needs testing and even when needed medical attention requires a medical history. Many folks are much are very challenged by all the hostile treatment and judgment.. This conduct is disrespectful and demeaning. Our sexual behavior is categorized as “high risk sex.” The terminology itself is somewhat shaming. When I travel to certain parts of Mexico they recommend caution due to malaria but they never say “high risk” travel. Disease is part of the human condition; it is why we have an immune system. We can catch a cold or flu by shaking a hand, hugging someone or going to the grocery store but we do not categorize hand shaking as “high risk” behavior nor do we question why someone needs cold medicine or a strep test. Sending my kids to school puts them at a significant increased risk of catching a virus or bacterial infection, some that can be very deadly, yet no one recommends keeping kids away from school.

This adversarial treatment and sex negative attitude contributes to an atmosphere that makes testing at best unpleasant and at times humiliating. How many people forgo testing because of these challenges and the perceived shame? This negative atmosphere has, I believe, contributed to the spread of STIs especially among senior citizens and teens. Many people are afraid to get tested, afraid to be judged and want to avoid the grilling by health care practitioners that invade privacy and undermine personal choice. Education of health personnel can help as well as lists of truly sex positive providers, however overcoming the puritanical conditioning in our society is not easy.

When it comes to sex, abstinence is the only true safe route and because our society is so sex negative many people really believe abstinence is the answer. To me this is as ludicrous as never allowing my kids go or play outside; abstaining from sex is not healthy anymore than staying home all the time is. We do not shame people because they catch a cold, flu or strep throat, so why is it ok to shame people when something is spread sexually?. Infections happen when we have contact with other humans, animals or even inanimate objects. Many STIs are preventable with condoms but not 100% and we all may face an infection from sexual contact at various points in our lives. Some infections can be annoying and mild and others life threatening. Either way people need to be given the same consideration they would if they contracted malaria, strep throat or West Nile virus rather than stigmatized and looked down on.

Most important than how others treat us is how we treat ourselves and each other when we find we are facing an STI. Our own attitude is often of key importance.  It is essential to be informed, be safe, be aware of your partners as well as your own vulnerability and use protection but don’t forget to be kind to yourself and others who find themselves facing an STI. It is part of being human, we catch disease, and there is no need to beat ourselves up or feel ashamed for getting an infection from sex any more than we would if we caught a cold from shaking hands with a friend.

As for testing, it can not only save your life by allowing you to get appropriate treatment if you have something, it can save your partner’s life and well being. It would be nice to always have informed and sex positive health care professionals but the reality is we deal with a lot of ignorance and misinformation. For now I grin and bare it while doing my best to educate professionals. Change needs to happen but only can through awareness.  It is vital for people, polyamorous or not, to have access to STI testing without harassment and my hope is that through sex positive awareness and communication we can make it safe for people to get help.


The following are resources for information and testing for STD/STIs

Center for Disease Control Website – Statistical information on STIs and prevention.

Planned Parenthood – Good source of information as well as confidential testing.

Anonymous and Affordable STD Testing – Testing service; they order the tests and set you up to go directly to a lab. Low cost and anonymous which means it does not go on your medical record that you were tested. Law requires reporting to the CDC with certain infections if you test positive.