“Oh, Fred, I’ve been so foolish. I’ve fallen in love. I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people”.
I can hear those words in my head, as uttered by Celia Johnson in the movie classic ‘Brief Encounter’ – a beautiful tale of forbidden love.
And nobody can prepare you for the moment you fall head-over-heels, heart-wrenchingly in love with someone when you’re already head-over-heels, heart-wrenchingly in love with someone else. It is an intense experience, and certainly can feel violent.
Brief Encounter, like so many other films, stories, songs, shows tells us that a painful choice must now be made. Which one of these great loves is ‘the one’? And which, with a heart full of grief, must you let go?
Every polyamorous person I know has found themselves, more than once, shouting at a screen – ‘just be poly’! And polyamory is a choice that allows you to continue exploring your connection with both these loves – with openness, honesty and the consent of all concerned. I know several people who’ve made the transition from monogamy to polyamory successfully having started this way. Yet it seems to me to be one of the most difficult and challenging ways to start a journey into polyamory, with all those emotions flying around at the start.
A lot of polyamorous people talk about NRE – ‘New Relationship Energy’. This blog from Love Uncommon has a very good description of the feelings, chemicals, and effects going on. NRE happens in monogamy, too, of course – it’s just not usually recognised by that description – the internet is full of articles about ‘limerance’, the first of a set of different ‘stages of love’, and how the initial infatuation, passion, falling madly, delirium will fade, hopefully to be replaced with a deeper sense of commitment and love.
In polyamory, of course, this happens more often – and the period of time when all you feel like everything about that person is completely awesome and you want to spend as much time as possible with them, near them, in them, on them, smooshed up close, staring into each other’s eyes, connecting… well it can mess up your eating and sleeping patterns, it can make you utterly distracted, it can be debilitating, and/or wonderful… and it can make you behave VERY badly towards your existing partner/s.
I feel fortunate that my journey into loving ‘off script’ started as a single person. I didn’t have to consider the impact on an existing partner when I fell in love with my first ‘poly partner’. I did have to process the new and unfamiliar, as the person I fell in love with was dating other people, as was I, and we both took our first steps to adjust to openness, get over possessiveness, work past jealousy, and explore our feelings for each other. It was a passionate connection that felt committed and authentic – the sense of trust, openness and honesty that came with exploring non-monogamy together was profound.
So when that person fell in love with someone else as well as me, those violent feelings hit us both hard. We talked a lot, and I revisited all the books and forums I’d read as I started my poly journey, and felt ready to walk this difficult path with them. But they went straight back to the script and chose – monogamy with their new relationship, not polyamory with me.
Feeling that heart break I too made a choice. I knew that despite the grief of losing that love, I wanted to continue off script – to remain open to the possibility of multiple loves. The other people I was dating became deeper, more established connections – the bright light of NRE with each fading into something more subtle and gentle, authentic and committed. And just like new platonic connections, some romances are more intense than others, and one was a head-over-heels, heart-wrenching love, whilst others were something less all-consuming. For me there are no hierarchies, though there are priorities to balance – it is what it is and it’s all good. I learned to let go of the script and to understand I didn’t have to choose between my loves – I could let each evolve into it’s own, special unique connection.
Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, I felt that head-over-heels, heart-wrenching falling in love for a second person. It felt shocking and violent, like Celia Johnson described. It knocked me sideways and consumed me and made me lose myself – and suddenly I understood why my first poly love had made a choice. If you haven’t done the work of unlearning the standard social scripts about love, then faced with those feelings you think you have no option but to choose.
If you have let go of those scripts, then you can begin to explore a new kind of loving. I knew already that love isn’t a zero sum feeling – that allowed to evolve freely it magnifies. Falling in love with another person helps remind you of all the ways you love the people you already love, and in their acceptance of your new connection, you can find a deeper sense of love and connection to them.
In the grip of NRE it’s important to stay mindful and reassure your partners that your love for them hasn’t changed or diminished. With good communication and understanding, the experience can be enriching for everyone. Rather than guilt, possessiveness, jealousy or fear it’s possible for you to share with your existing partners feelings of empathy, freedom, joy and compersion. All these feelings are valid, of course – and when experiencing it for the first time (whatever your position in a relationship dynamic involving more than two people) it can feel uncertain and disorientating. So the best relationship advice you can ever give, or take, is patience.
The only thing that is inevitable about relationships is change. Falling in love might feel wonderful, or magical, or disorientating, or violent… the only certainty is that (as Celia Johnson would say) “This can’t last”. The intense feelings of NRE will evolve, over time.
Sometimes the light of new love will burn brief and bright and then die. Sometimes it will transform into rainbows of colours you can explore together. Over time it may fade into a glorious sunset to share with your love, or loves. And as the light of one love falls on another, the colours, shapes and shadows shift and change in ways that are beautiful and unimaginable.
There is no script for this.
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