I Am Not “The Other Woman”

Long, long ago–during the 1970s–my church group enthusiastically sang a song called “Magic Penny.” The first verse went like this:

“Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away,

Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.”

The chorus affirms that love is like a magic penny, and the more you give, the more you get. As a virginal teenager steeped in “God is Love” quasi-hippie Jesus-joy, that made perfect sense.

Now most of the people who sang that song with me are grandparents, and based on their Facebook pages and whispered comments when I chance upon them at the grocery, they are appalled at all the love in the world. Gay love, trans love, polyamorous love–there is an exclusionary clause in the song that I apparently missed while strumming a D chord to start the chorus.

I’m a closeted poly woman. For professional reasons as well as because my metamour insists, almost none of my friends or family know I’m poly. They know my partner, know that he’s one of my closest friends, but that’s it. Because he’s married, because I’m older, our friendship is (apparently) accepted at face value.

However…there are exceptions, and that’s what prompted my current musings. One of my few friends who knows I’m poly told me recently that if he were to get a serious girlfriend, she would get to decide if he and I remained friends. His reason? The hypothetical girlfriend “would have the right to know that (I’m) a cheater and decide if she would be comfortable with me around knowing that.”

The man who said that, Jay, introduced me to kink. We’ve been friends for the better part of a decade, and sexually played a few times. The chemistry isn’t there for us to be a romantic relationship, and we’ve acknowledged that. I’ve known that Jay is hoping to find the whole idealized romantic relationship in one person, and I support that. As a man in his 60s, my experience suggests there are plenty of women in his acceptable age range available, and I wish him well in his search. I’ve even offered to be his wingman.

Jay is well aware of what poly is; he’s enthusiastic about his kinkiness and enjoys discussing sex and society at length. When he told me that his hypothetical girlfriend could veto our friendship because I’m a cheater, we talked about it. He had previously said that he does not believe poly is a sustainable lifestyle and that the frequent discussions and negotiations his poly friends go through to maintain healthy relationships is more work than he is interested in. I’d known that he would not consider being poly. I didn’t know that he was judging me for it.

“But hey, I haven’t found her yet, so we’re still good,” he assured me. No. No, we’re really not still good.

Because I am closeted, I haven’t previously dealt with feeling personally judged for loving a married man. His wife and I are friends, I have met his other partners. I give his kids rides home from school sometimes. This is not a clandestine, furtive affair. We have almost a decade of history, and all the ups and downs, joys and confusions that characterize a close relationship. But I’m still “a cheater,” someone who a girlfriend should be warned about.

I told Jay as clearly as I could that I don’t accept the idea that poly equals cheating. It’s a lifestyle that relies on honesty and communication. Consent and discussion are primary, and navigating each relationship so that all other relationships are honored is essential. Cheating involves lying and denial, sins of omission and commission in most cases.

Perhaps I was too impressionable when I sang “Magic Penny” as a teen. Silly me–I believed that love is something that you should give away, and you’ll end up having more. I’m a lover, not a cheater. I love my partner and his family. I choose to believe that all of our lives are richer because we share them. We do “end up having more.”

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