We went to Griddler’s for mediocre burgers and greasy waffle fries to refuel from our dorm room sexscapade. In between bites, we talked about our taste in music, our plans for the weekend, and our hopes for the future. We made eyes at each other, our hands occasionally grazing each other as we reached for the fries. I didn’t want the meal to end, or to go back to the reality of school and work. But we finished our food and she got up, announcing she had to go home to her wife. I wasn’t surprised—this was just part of the deal.
I met Jasmine the way I meet most of the women I’ve been with—through a dating app. Her profile was minimal; one picture of her, a picture of some flowers, and a picture of her dog. Her bio read, “Married. Open.” I was intrigued, so I clicked “like,” and, soon enough, we were messaging through the app.
I identified with polyamory, in theory, before I actually began practicing it. After all, being in a polyamorous relationship requires actually being in a relationship, and I was happily single. But the term and the concept resonated with me. I wasn’t adamantly opposed to monogamy; I just didn’t see the point.
And in every relationship I’d ever been in, I felt a tug to explore options outside of the person I dated. Even in the happiest moments of my best relationships, my internal question remained—why limit yourself?
Polyamory diverges from the norm. It's a spectrum and cannot be defined by one model or experience. I know polyamorous people with one primary partner and several secondary ones. Others have multiple primary partners.
There’s no one way to do it, but the defining characteristic that sets polyamory apart from cheating is the necessity of communication. In the time Jasmine and I were together, she did not shy away from talking about her wife, and I knew she had told her wife about me. Our relationship could have felt forbidden, but it wasn’t.
Only five percent of the population currently identifies as poly, but with an increasingly open and queer millennial generation, that number is growing. Only 51 percent of people under 30 said their ideal relationship would be monogamous, according to a study by YouGov.
This was my first time being a secondary partner, though we didn’t call it that. We simply let it unfold naturally. Jasmine and I were comfortable with each other, and she felt familiar. We had both grown up in Connecticut suburbs, and slept with many people in college to discover our sexuality. Even her coming out story reminded me of my experience. We had both been caught in the act, so to speak, and both had had to come to terms with the fact that our moderately religious parents might take a while to open up to our new identities.
I’d like to think that she liked me for who I was, but I know I also provided a window to her past. Every time we met, she spoke nostalgically about her time in college, and though her experience varied from mine—she was an athlete at a state school, and I, a newspaper nerd at a small, liberal arts school—certain similarities rang true.
Jasmine showed me what my future might look like. There aren’t many models of queer relationships to look up to, let alone open ones. She lived in the suburbs with her dogs and her wife. They went on walks together and took weekend trips to Cape Cod. For the first time, marriage did not seem synonymous with suffocation, and polyamory seemed not only viable but attainable.
At times, I asked myself if I should have felt guilty for seeing her. But the truth was, I didn’t. Her wife knew about me, and I knew about her. I didn’t have to commit to seeing her for more than a few hours a week, so I could continue my single college life. I dated other women at the same time, casually, and wondered whether I should divulge I was seeing someone else. I was still learning the rules of this type of dating.
The last time I saw Jasmine, we got dumplings together and sipped wine, staying in the warmth of the restaurant as it got dark outside. We hugged goodbye and, a week later, I left for the summer. We Snapchatted until we didn’t, and more than once, she invited me to visit her in Boston, but the timing was never right.
Now she’s just another face on my Instagram feed, but I’m grateful for the role she played in my life. Maybe I’ll see her again, or maybe I won’t. But the lessons she taught me just by living her life will always be with me.