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How He Figured Out Polyamory
And various uses of the word “fuck”
First, a confession.
I’ve been wanting to tell you about this guy, a guy who works at the same gym I do, a guy I’m not romantically involved with. We need to establish that fact off the top, otherwise, you’ll think it’s a story about me flirting. But it’s not.
The second thing is, I’ve tried to write this story twice now. This is my third attempt. And maybe you’ll relate to this, fellow writers: my specific hangup is around the word “fuck.” For some reason, I’m perfectly OK using the word “fucking” in the adjectival sense, as in, “can you believe this fucking heat?” or, “listen to this fucking guy!” But when it comes to the verb usage – “they fucked” – my delicate little sensibilities appear. Oh my. So coarse. See these pearls? The ones I’m clutching?
Third and finally, it’s a direct quote, the “fuck” part. You’ll see for yourself. But I’m always wondering if I’m edgy enough as a writer (and a person in general) to just go tossing it around. I was at the grocery store yesterday buying flowers for my mother. Last week, I met with my financial advisor, where we debated the use value of government bonds. Do I really write “fuck” like it’s no big deal?
There’s probably a longer discussion here about personal branding, and how I want to be seen as a writer. I feel bifurcated much of the time, like there’s this thing that I do (writing) and this thing I should do (market myself), and it appears that the really successful creatives these days are the ones who excel at the latter. They know their image. They know how to portray that image. I lack this instinct, and I fear it’s holding me back.
But enough about me. Let’s get to the fucking story.
It was a weekday morning, I was at the gym, and he was teaching a kids’ camp. Children on trampolines. Children cartwheeling. Children enacting the kind of managed chaos intrinsic to this gym, where we both spend a good portion of the week. I’ve known him for a couple years now.
I was warming up in the pole room, when he sauntered over with a bizarre-looking physical therapy tool. Healing in the form of blue molded plastic.
Hey, he said.
The genesis of the conversation escapes me, but somehow, we got into age. And making art. And acquiring the skills you need to make said art. I asked when he got into gymnastics (high school), when he started teaching (his 20s), and what his focus is now, in his 30s.
I was really chasing aerial in my 30s, I said. But I’ll be honest, that decade also taught me a lot about relationships.
Yeah, he said. Then – not missing a beat –
I really had to figure out the poly part.
Being in relationship with more than one, or at least open to the possibility. Not just for you, but for your partners, existing or potential.
How did you know? I asked. That you were poly?
Getting cheated on. Getting cheated on a lot, he said.
It’s funny to hear a person state these circumstances factually, without bitterness or the remnants of pain.
And you didn’t go incel instead? I joked.
He chuckled. Gave a half-smile, one that suggested not having considered the possibility.
I just realized, he said –
Well. Ok, this is it really, he said –
(Pausing for emphasis) –
(More emphasis) –
People just want to fuck.
Say what you will. I found it refreshing.
To somehow take betrayal, and turn it into a personal growth opportunity.
Because I’ve known people who go through something similar, and get through it by demonizing their exes. By alchemizing their pain into anger. I have been those people. I have felt this feeling.
In its particulars, this feeling ricochets between two poles, of feeling like you’re not enough on the one hand, to feeling like the other person is a no-good sex addict on the other. To put it another way: shame and blame, because trust has been broken.
But what if you choose a secret third thing, like he did?
People just want to fuck.
To have it stated so plainly. To not pretend otherwise. To not spiral into shame or blame, but to consider and, in his case, accept this possibility. Stripped bare of judgment or religious overlay or societal messaging.
And from there, to get curious about oneself.
Do I just want to fuck?
That’s the question he asked himself, in the wake of it all.
It got my attention, is what I’m saying. A man got cheated on, more than once, but didn’t route himself onto a) the pain-laced path of slut-shaming or b) the equally pain-laced path of unworthiness. Instead, he got curious about the underlying desire (sex), and chose to pursue it with different behaviors.
Instead of cheating, he chose to honor the desires in a different format. So that cheating wasn’t the way he himself went about it.
I think you might be right, I said.
We laughed, he walked back to the kids, and I strung up a silk. Worked out, got tired. Hugged his beautiful girlfriend on the way out.
She was working the front desk. We heart each other’s Instagram stories all the time.