When there aren’t any models for how you want to move through the world, it’s harder to move through the world. There’s no one right way to do ethical non-monogamy, just as there’s no one right way to do ethical monogamy, and no way is better or worse than any other, just better or worse for those involved. Poly Pocket looks at all the ways queer people do polyamory: what it looks like, how we think about it, how it functions (or doesn’t), how it feels, because when you don’t have models you have to create your own.
Aden Carver is a 28-year-old white genderfluid bisexual polyamorous person living in Telluride, CO. She is solo and dating, in recovery from an eating disorder/anxiety/depression, volunteering as a ski instructor for an inclusive adaptive program, making money as a server and making joy as a songwriter and performer.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?
Aden: Looking back at my childhood and adolescence, my polyamorous tendencies are very evident. But the extremely conservative religious environment I was raised in suppressed this and my queerness deeply. I experienced many intense female friendships that were very relationship-like, which I think is a common queer experience, and I was certainly crushing on multiple people at the same time. In college I dated a man I had been in love with for years. We were very close, we wrote music and performed together. When we finally entered a relationship, I sabotaged it and cheated with a queer person. At the time, I thought it was because I must be a lesbian, but in reality it was that the only choice of a future with him was marriage and children. I didn’t have the language to understand how I could both deeply love him, and also not want that future. I first came across the language of polyamory at some anarchist gatherings and festivals when I was 21. After a few discussions and failed attempts in different relationships, at 26 I found myself single and decided to pursue polyamory on my own. At the same time I was finally accepting my bisexuality after being out as a lesbian for several years. From that point forward, monogamy was a deal breaker for me. I told everyone I hooked up with or dated up front what I was looking for. If they weren’t down with it, we didn’t date. I’ve been firmly practicing this now for two years, and my current partner is the first one who stuck.
Carolyn: So what’s your relationship like right now?
Aden: Currently, I have one consistent partner, a bisexual cis man who I have been seeing for about a year. It’s the first polyamorous relationship either of us have been in, so we are definitely learning and making it up as we go along. He is very out and proud of his sexuality, as am I, and I think the fact that we are both queer makes us much more compatible. We are also very out and open about our polyamorous status in our community, which is important to me. I’ve had many casual encounters outside of that, but none have blossomed into more intimate relationships. I’m definitely trying to date and find additional partners, but it’s proven difficult to find like-minded folks in this tiny mountain town. I consider myself to be more solo polyamorous, I don’t wish to live with a partner or be involved financially. My autonomy and freedom are important to me, and my mental health has improved greatly since I’ve focused on maintaining those areas.
“Polyamory really helps me to focus on myself, what I really need and want. And also forces me to communicate that, since there are no givens.”
Carolyn: On the topic of mental health, above you mentioned recovering from an eating disorder/anxiety/depression – can you tell me more about how that relates to how you do poly?
Aden: When I’ve been in monogamous relationships in the past, it’s been very easy for me to be swallowed whole by them. To lose myself completely in trying to make that person happy and ignore whatever is going on in my own body and mind. Also relying on one person to meet my emotional and physical needs was very ineffective, causing me to feel I was too much and too demanding.
Polyamory really helps me to focus on myself, what I really need and want. And also forces me to communicate that, since there are no givens. It also has helped me seek emotional support across a wide variety of relationships, some romantic and some not, and to put more value in my friendships. The focus of communication and boundaries really helps with my anxiety as well, and I like that I get to decide with each partner what our communication and boundaries look like.
Carolyn: When did you start to discover that focus? Was there a specific moment that made you think oh, this is the way I need to run my life?
Aden: It was a slow realization. There was a time when I first was exploring polyamory that I was really struggling, I was talking to a person long distance and it wasn’t a healthy or secure relationship. All of my monogamous friends said, “Obviously you can’t do this, it’s making you miserable.” But I was determined, I knew I wanted to be polyamorous. After moving to CO and beginning my relationship with this partner, I began to really see how this practice is better for me. I wasn’t as obsessed with making him like me, I allowed things to move more organically. It required less mental energy, and I was able to focus more energy on myself. I wasn’t trying to be functional for him, I was doing it for myself. I also wasn’t as attached to the outcome, I had no idea that a year later we would be saying “I love you” and discussing all of our crushes together. That all happened and grew of its own accord, without me being hyper focused on it. And because I was able to focus more on myself, I feel the most recovered I have been since I began treatment in 2013.
And – something I think about a lot is cheating. I fit the bisexual stereotype of “cheater.” I cheated in most of my monogamous relationships. At the time, I was shamed by my partners and ashamed of myself. I didn’t understand that I was communicating with myself. My actions were telling me that the relationships I was in were not right for me, and when the walls were closing in, I didn’t have the language to understand why, so I acted instead to sabotage them. Polyamory has freed me from that.
“[Polyamory] makes me even more grateful for each brief, passionate experience with people without wishing it was more than it could be.”
Carolyn: What do you find most exciting about your current approach to relationships?
Aden: I love the freedom and spontaneity! I love that I am free to connect with anyone I meet. It makes me even more grateful for each brief, passionate experience with people without wishing it was more than it could be. And I love being able to discuss my crushes and experiences with my partner. That was a level of openness I wasn’t sure I could achieve. The first time he hooked up with someone else and told me about it, I was afraid of how I would feel. I didn’t want it to undo my desire to be polyamorous. When he told me, I had what I can only describe as a huge rush of adrenaline. A ton of energy, but it was neither positive nor negative. It was like “Ok, this happened and I’m still here, he’s still here, the sky hasn’t fallen like everyone said it would.” It was amazing and empowering. It was so affirming of what I already believed, but had yet to experience: that you do not have to have possession of someone else’s body and sexuality in order to have profound intimacy and trust.
Carolyn: What do you find is a struggle?
Aden: Right now outside of my partner I only have some potential connections brewing. I imagine once I have other partners at a similar level of intimacy as I do to him there will be new struggles. At the moment, my main struggles have been just trying to have healthy communication and interaction in our relationship, not even poly stuff, just the stuff between the two of us as humans. I had a really hard time opening up to him and trusting him at first, he has been very patient. I had this false belief: “Well no one wanted to stay with me when I was monogamous, so why would anyone stick around for this?” He was hesitant at first, it was a totally new concept for him. But he has continually surprised me and my trust in our partnership has grown and deepened. So I just want to continue to nurture that as I date and meet new people.
I also struggle living in a place that has very little queer community. I really long for friendships and dating relationships with other queer women and persons. That has been very difficult to find. My tinder is very sad, but I keep it on, just in case!
Carolyn: How do things shift when you do date or meet new people?
Aden: Well so far, all of my crushes outside of this partnership have gone nowhere. So right now, if I have a date or a crush I talk to my partner about it and he’s supportive. He isn’t actively seeking other partners like I am; his connections with others have been pretty spontaneous and casual. He usually tells me about them after the fact. We don’t really keep a regular schedule of seeing each other, so these outside connections have, so far, had little impact. We will see what the future holds. There is one person who we have both connected with separately, who has expressed a desire to interact with us together. I’m not sure what impact that will have, but I am excited to explore it!
“I’ve learned to balance my directness with patience, by allowing things to grow organically but also disclose my intentions and needs when the time is right.”
Carolyn: What have you learned about communicating with your partner (and potential partners in any sense)?
Aden: I have to continually remind myself that not everyone’s communication style matches my own. I am a very direct and immediate processor. My anxious brain runs away on the crazy thought train if I am not able to discuss things right away. My partner takes a little more time to process things. We are both very stubborn and care maybe too much about fairness and “rightness” in a conflict, rather than the other person’s feelings. Our Aquarius and Leo egos butt heads sometimes. So I’ve learned that we are often unable to resolve an argument right away, the next day is better. Thanks to my eating disorder, I’ve had more than my fair share of therapy, so I understand the use of “I” vs. “You” statements more than others sometimes. I try to stick to that script when explaining how I feel. With crushes and potential partners, I’ve learned to balance my directness with patience, by allowing things to grow organically but also disclose my intentions and needs when the time is right.
Carolyn: What do you want your future to look like? What vision are you working towards or hoping for?
Aden: In the future I want to be as free and self-sufficient as possible. I want to travel extensively and live in a variety of places. I don’t want children or a partnership that tries to keep me in one place. I am seeking partners that can have that kind of transience and flexibility. Despite the lack of queerness, the place I live is growing on me (astounding natural beauty is hard to pass up) and is an ideal home base for extensive traveling because of the seasonal nature of the tourism. So for the next few years I can see myself traveling and home basing from here, developing myself further as a performer and artist, dedicating more of myself to activism, deepening my relationship with my partner and hopefully adding a couple new ones to the mix. Polyamory has given me so much confidence and really grounded me in myself. I feel more capable than ever and excited for my future.