A Couple Sent Me A Picture Of Themselves In Bed. Was I Really Going To Do This?

Online dating as a poly has taught me about ‘unicorns,’ the value of communication, and what I really want in life.

by
A series of lipstick kisses to illustrate a column about poly relationships.

Read Part I of Kaitlin Fontana’s series on non-monogamy here.

A decade ago, when my peers started flocking to dating sites like OKCupid and Plenty of Fish, I balked. If I couldn’t meet someone in real life, I thought, then why would I want to meet them in the insanity of the internet?

This aversion to online dating remained intact for a long time — through my serial monogamy years, when I was mostly dating men I met through the comedy community (hanging in the bar after shows has become a monument to “The Men I Have Touched”). But that changed when I decided to embrace nonmonogamy.

Turns out, it’s really hard to meet other monogamy-averse people IRL, without it being some kind of odd meetup tucked away in a dark Manhattan bar full of weirdos, like the Cantina scene from Star Wars but sadder and with nary a Han Solo to be found (more on this in a second). One of the first things I learned: When you meet people online, the path from “hello” to n00ds is sometimes shorter than you’d think. (Pro-tip: the timer on your iPhone is your friend, as is good lighting.)

After Years Of Doomed Relationships, I Realized Monogamy Isn’t For MeAfter Years Of Doomed Relationships, I Realized Monogamy Isn’t For Me

There are some times when light-speed is the right speed; you know going in what the other person is after and how comfortable they are asking for it. But obviously, this kind of sex-forward dating isn’t for everyone, and it took me a while to be comfortable with it. When my last monogamous relationship was ending, and we were in the bitter, knock-down, drag-out fight part of it, my now-ex memorably said that my interest in non-monogamy was just about “f—ing a bunch of dudes.” It stung, mostly because he wasn’t hearing me. It also stung because it was obvious he was trying to slut shame me. I wanted more from him. At the time, I replied “No, that’s not what I want,” in a wounded, quiet way. Now I can say with absolute certainty: It was, in part, what I wanted. And good for me.

But it’s not all I want. I also want what is called, in non-monogamy circles, a Primary Partner. A main squeeze to whom I can turn but who is also open, seeing other people, and sometimes wants to see other people with me. Some primaries get married; some people have multiple primaries; and some non-monogamous people never have a primary at all. My ideal primary would be someone who is experienced in non-monogamy and suited to me, so I might be waiting a while. But in the meantime, the seeking process is fun as hell, and educational. There is a spectrum of experience that non-monogamous people bring to the table that monogamous people do not, at least for me. Every date, I was learning something new about the community, about the infinite possibilities of this new life I was leading, and about me in the center of it all.

Last summer was the real, true start. The streets of NYC were hot, sticky and filthy with hot men. I wanted them. All. And I was determined to throw myself into ethical sluttery. I was reading the book. I was feeling good. A pal recommended I go to Poly Cocktails, a monthly drinks event that brings together polyamorous (barf, that word will always make me giggle-barf) people. It’s the kind of place, in theory, where you could meet someone with a wedding ring on who is also available to date. Amazing, I thought.

I had a bad time. My aversion to the word “polyamory” in general grew by two fold when I walked in and saw a very old, gross man, who literally licked his lips in my direction when I entered; a man I had had an unsatisfying one night stand with years earlier (Why? There are 8 million people in New York City. Why?); and literally no one else, despite me leaving a buffer of an hour after the prescribed start time. Apparently, Poly Cocktails can be really fun, so I don’t mean to slight it. But when you’re a “Baby Poly” as I was, that Twin Peaks-ian scene was enough to drive me away, and fast. So, I went to my favourite dive bar, put PJ Harvey’s “50 Ft Queenie” on the jukebox, and downloaded an app called Feeld, said to be a prime place to find non-monogamous people and fun encounters. I created my profile and opened myself to couples. I paused for a moment, and decided to add “men” as well. Then I stated I was non-monogamous, a “lusty nerd” and that I was body positive and into spankings (hi mom!). After 16 years, I had joined a dating site, opiate of the masses, as a way to subvert the masses. Huh.

I drank 3 more glasses of wine, and somewhere in there I started receiving messages. I woke up the next morning with my phone under my pillow, and 83 messages from men (mostly) and a few couples. This is not a brag, because it made me feel bad, like a machine to be queued up to, not a person to meet. And yet, there they were: The Non-Monogamouses (Non-Monogamice? Trying stuff here). One couple in particular caught my eye. I went to message them and discovered I already had.

“Are you a unicorn?” they had asked me, while I was deep in my cups.

After My Divorce, I Decided To Start Dating Again — And OMFG, Things Have CHANGED Since The ’90sAfter My Divorce, I Decided To Start Dating Again — And OMFG, Things Have CHANGED Since The ’90s

“F— yeah,” I’d said, with the drunken confidence of an alter-ego of mine I call “Gord” (he’s a Canadian divorced dad, and my American friends love him). I opened my internet to find I’d already searched “unicorn” and “sex unicorn” (also “burrito recipes”). And I learned then that a unicorn was, in fact, what I was (or wanted to be): a fun third to a couple, a rare beast who could delight them with sparkles and then leave them to their own devices. I laughed. Was I … going to do this? I was nervous, excited, then scared. Maybe I should stick with men alone, I suddenly thought. I read a handful of the messages I had received from dudes:

“Hey.”

“Sup beautiful?”

“Yo.”

And then: Dick pic. Dick pic. Toilet dick pic (the worst kind). In all, I received 17 unsolicited dick pics without so much as a “Hello,” nevermind a “Good evening, madam, would you like to gaze upon my dick?”

Couples it was, then. I took a deep breath and typed, “Hello from your hungover unicorn.” They sent me a picture of themselves, in bed. Not nude, but intimating it. They were snuggled up together, in love, in bed. And I thought “how fun, to be there too.” Within two weeks, I was. And to my surprise, it built up like any other early relationship: Fun, flirting, chatting. Meeting for drinks, kissing. But everything was multiplied by two people. Which was thrilling. Big. 50 Ft Queen-like.

I started referring to these two as The Magical Couple. They were odd, and lovely, and not average in any way. We talked. We watched movies, made jokes. We had sex, and while I was nervous about that, too, it went well because we liked each other and had talked about it a lot.
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I started to figure out something about non-monogamy, something I still deeply appreciate: Communication. Everyone talks about what they want, up front, from the start, be it sex, dating, flirting, casual meetups. We’ve been trained as a culture to think that talking about it sucks the mystery and magic out of sex and dating, and maybe for some people it does. Not for me.

One couple became two.

Then I found a few fun, casual partners. There were, of course, some misfires.

One gentleman, lovely and sweet, wanted to tie me up with ropes in a Japanese bondage art form called Shibari, and I wanted that too, but when we met there was no spark there, for me. He was married, openly, and had a girlfriend. He wanted me to be another girlfriend, which sounded very fun in theory. I should have told The Roper after we met that I just wasn’t that into him — but he was so kind, so committed, and had opened himself up so completely and honestly that I was filled with an enormous guilt. I froze and ghosted him instead. I’m sorry, Roper.

Another “couple” turned out to be just a guy who found more success meeting women by pretending he was still with his ex, a fact he confessed to me when I asked questions about her. I ghosted him, too. I’m not sorry, Faker.

One day, I sent a naughty text to Couple #2, who lived upstate. We hadn’t met in person yet, but had exchanged many nudes and videos. The text, however, was meant for Couple #1. I confessed my error, but Couple #2 got very mad at me, perhaps too mad, the kind of mad that means something else is happening — something between them. We stopped speaking after that. I felt sad, like any breakup, about this. I felt, for awhile, twice as sad. Sad for each of them. Then I met another couple and got excited all over again, but we didn’t vibe when we met in person. They dumped me.
Is Fear Of Breaking Up (FOBU) Keeping You In The Wrong Relationship?Is Fear Of Breaking Up (FOBU) Keeping You In The Wrong Relationship?
After several months of this, I got tired. I had been pushing myself to get out there, with such a force of will, that I had forgotten that everyone needs alone time. I was also a noob, and I had screwed up a fair amount. So I paused, to re-assess. And I realized that if this was actually going to work, I needed to accept that every feeling was going to be bigger now. I was going to feel things twice as much, twice as hard. I was going to get TOLD how people felt about me, because the non-monogamous lifestyle, at its best, demands radical honesty. And I realized that I was going to spend the rest of my life being super engaged with my relationships. I was used to coasting in monogamy, but I couldn’t anymore.

My dating life, like my professional life (freelance, comedian, TV writer), was going to be hard, require attention. But it could be fun, too, I thought. Then the Magical Couple ghosted me.

I got low for a full week, wrestled with my doubt and shame. What the hell was I doing? Why couldn’t I be normal and just want what other people wanted? Maybe I should just settle down and shut up. That’s when I, a (lusty) nerd, made a checklist, something I should have done before I downloaded any apps, before I stumbled crotch-first into all of this. I made a Pro/Con list for non-monogamy.

Pro side: Freedom. Choice. Self-determination. The ability to meet and date new people whenever I wanted, even while in a relationship, as long as I talked to my partner about it. The ability to not do that, if I didn’t want to. The ability to explore my sexuality. Adventure. Excitement. Adrenaline. Fun. Subversion of boredom and sameness.

Con side: Hard, at times. Lonely, at times. Exhausting, at times. Not a societal norm.

I sat on the list for days, genuinely trying to add to the cons. I couldn’t. Simultaneously, it occurred to me that I was learning a whole new way to live and that it wouldn’t happen overnight. I remembered to be kind to myself. I remembered to slow down. And all of those cons (aside from the last), are just as likely to happen in monogamy, for me. So I determined to not give up just yet. I reopened the app, and I met a few new someones. One of them, who I call the SexBrit, became a regular. And the magical couple reappeared, too.

And in between all of it, I found something else: A cool-ass lady called Me. In my adult life I had bounced from relationship to relationship because I thought I had to have a someone. Now I am seeking that primary person, but I am also happy to be single. I am, my friends, mingling all over the place. And the pros far outweigh the cons.

Kaitlin Fontana is a non-monogamous writer, director, and producer and an award-winning essayist from Fernie, B.C., who now lives in Brooklyn. Read the first column in this series here