Embracing polyamory, I feel blessed with how much more love I’m able to experience. Does the wanting ever go away? I don’t know.
By Shelly Rose
In the winter of 2015, at 19-years-old, I sat at my aunt’s kitchen island in Bountiful, Utah. We had developed a close bond after we discovered that we had both quit the Mormon church—once a significant aspect of our identities—around the same time. I would frequently visit her from Provo to fill her in on school, boys, and work. That day, we were talking about how she regretted marrying so young, something that the Mormon church encourages, especially of women. She urged me not to make the same mistake.
“I don’t see you getting married,” my aunt told me. “I don’t think you were meant for monogamy.”
I was stunned. Much to my parents’ dismay, I had frequently expressed a desire never to get married, but to never commit to a single partner ever? It seemed absurd. Either you have one companion or you have no one at all. Some of my friends led non-monogamous lifestyles but never had I considered that for myself. “I’m way too jealous,” I would say. “I would never want my boyfriend seeing anyone else.”
Fast forward four years, to Los Angeles, where I moved after graduating college. A man I’d been seeing casually for about a year told me during a date that, while he cared for me, he didn’t want exclusive commitment from me—or from anyone else. As far as he was concerned, he never wanted to be in a monogamous relationship again. Of course, I was hurt. I felt used, like some nasty trick had been played on me for an entire year. Over the next few days, we had several in-depth conversations about how to proceed with our relationship, and I tried my best to believe that his decision didn’t mean that I was lacking, or that he didn’t care about me. I knew he was reading a book called The Ethical Slut, and that it probably helped bring him to this decision, so I bought a copy for myself.
For several months leading up to this point, I had been making serious alterations to my lifestyle, in an attempt to establish a more secure, balanced sense of self. I had moved to Los Angeles knowing hardly anyone, bouncing from grueling job to grueling job, barely making minimum wage, barely keeping my head above water. My work schedule made it hard for me to set aside time to go out and make friends, and working for a particularly abusive employer kept me in a perpetual state of irritation and hopelessness. In retrospect, I see where there were plenty of opportunities to reach out and find resources to lift me out of my situation, but at the time, I chose instead to depend on a romantic relationship to counteract everything else in my life. A mythological, cure-all kind of love. After all, that was what my religious upbringing had taught me: only in a partner could one, especially a woman, find success, peace, and satisfaction.
Of course, dependency on a solution that doesn’t exist almost exclusively bears jealousy, desperation, and more hopelessness. I found myself gradually pushing others away until it was just me left. Only until I had reached the innermost depths of this despair did I accept that something must change. I started regularly attending therapy, and began taking myself out on dates; I wanted to learn to enjoy my own company. I was beginning to understand that a healthy relationship with myself was imperative before ever considering a relationship with someone else. At the same time, I discovered that CBD (Cannabidiol) was a miraculously effective tool in helping me reach that goal.
The first time I tried CBD was during a particularly difficult period at my job when I worked the late shift. Tensions were high from the moment I woke up, realizing that, yes, I am still here, living this life, until the moment I forced my eyes shut, dreading sleep, knowing it all would repeat once more the next day. Prior to the proposal of a non-monogamous relationship, the man I was seeing had suggested a break, and while I was doing my due diligence and taking responsibility for my feelings, an ever-familiar angst loomed. I bought a CBD-infused drink from a nearby local market and finished it as I arrived at the office, and other people were going home.
I sat at my station, feeling overwhelmed and irritated, and then eventually… warmth. Quiet. All the usual buzzing in my brain seemed to be replaced with a different kind of buzzing, one that was structured, and one I could control. What seemed like an impossible task set before me was now suddenly something I was able to accomplish with ease, and I was able to map out a detailed plan for the team to get everything we needed done by the week’s end. I felt so warm! And confident! My brain felt like it was on fire, in the best possible way. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt this positively, and even that didn’t bother me.
I picked up my phone and scrolled through Twitter. Immediately, I saw a flirtatious exchange from the man I’d been seeing that I wish I hadn’t, a common occurrence that largely led to us taking our break. But instead of just feeling jealous, in my delightfully altered state I was able to admit to myself what I was feeling, and question why I was feeling that way in a healthily detached, productive manner. More importantly, I was able to at least acknowledge that, while I felt this way, it wasn’t this man’s fault. He had been repeatedly clear about his boundaries in our relationship, and I was able to clearly see ways I could communicate my feelings more honestly and diplomatically. In that moment, I understood that the break we had taken was necessary, and then I muted his account.
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I like smoking weed because it allows me to emotionally remove myself from my thoughts and work through issues from perspectives I’d otherwise be unwilling to view. But I can’t just get high every time I feel a pang of jealousy because someone I’m dating is flirting with another beautiful girl on the internet. Fortunately, CBD allows me to achieve that same emotional compartmentalization without getting high. It suddenly became a little more realistic for me to manage my expectations when it came to what I considered at the time to be unrequited love. The days began passing by more quickly and less painfully, and I took great pleasure in solo activities. It felt like I had been a stranger to myself all my life, and CBD prodded me to get to know myself—what I want, how I feel, and how I behave. And I wasn’t the only one who felt the effects of this miracle serum. It made me friendlier to those around me, even the man I so badly wanted to be with, and so badly wanted to resent, but now couldn’t. We eventually resumed contact, and shortly afterward he made it clear once and for all that monogamy would not be in the cards for us. After some time, and with my newfound tool, I was pleased to learn that while the impossibility of an exclusive relationship with this person disappointed me, I wasn’t inconsolable. Besides, we had been seeing other people anyway. Now we were just acknowledging that we were seeing other people.
A week after that jarring dinner, I opened The Ethical Slut and jumped straight to the chapter on jealousy. It was the most masochistic exercise I’d ever undertaken. I kept anticipating a truth so unbearably harsh that my mind would short circuit, and I’d, well, die. I vaguely noted the exercises in the chapter and felt horrible for the rest of the day. Why was I willingly running through this emotional gauntlet, where images of this man flirting with other women, kissing other women, being intimate with other women infested my mind? Maybe the book wouldn’t be much help after all.
Days later, I found myself inexplicably seething. Maybe I saw some Twitter banter I shouldn’t have. Maybe I scrolled on Instagram for a bit too long. I was suddenly possessed by this horrible lacking, both in myself and for myself, and I convinced myself that this was why I wasn’t in the exclusive relationship I’d wanted. I found myself taking it out on people I love. Knowing exactly what would happen should I continue down that path, I took CBD, went for a walk, and found a quiet place to sit. I pulled out my journal and took stock of every single thing I was feeling badly about. Reading back with the calmness and clarity of mind CBD afforded me, I found that insecurity and longing in the realm of love and friendship pervaded every one of my troubles. What a horrible combination, to desire while believing you’re undeserving. “Does the wanting ever go away?” I wrote. “Is there shame in asking for more? Would more even fix it?”
After some reflection, I remembered The Ethical Slut’s chapter on jealousy, and wrote on the next page: “Try to Remember the Good.” I listed everything I was grateful for that week. It felt silly, almost infantilizing. Of course, I knew my life was good, but I wanted to focus on the bad! Still, I made my list. A friend gave me a compliment that surprised and flattered me. Another friend reached out just to say they loved me. My sisters and I had started planning a trip together that morning.
Walking back, I was startled to find that the exercise calmed me down completely. No longer did I feel jealousy and irritation, but love and gratitude. I had never successfully talked myself down like that before. I resolved to continue the book when I got home. Not only that, but instead of ignoring the man I’d been seeing, or lashing out, I told him the ways I appreciated him. It felt counterintuitive, almost wrong, but I figured it’s even more wrong to harm or confuse someone I care about. Apparently, it took CBD for me to realize that I wanted to see the people in my life happy.
At no point did I find reading the book or implementing its practice in my life easy. I still don’t think it’s easy. Some days it’s especially painful, and I feel as lonely as I ever did. But that pain chalks up to my unlearning behaviors that manifest fear, self-loathing, and jealousy. I don’t believe that, up until this point, I’ve had the tools needed to reach my maximum loving potential. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such a thing as a maximum loving potential; rather, love is infinite. I can and should love as many people as I please, and I should encourage those people to do the same for themselves. I look back on my previous relationships and see that those conservative, utilitarian views have prevented me from searching beyond an all-or-nothing scenario in love. I shudder at the emotionally taxing—and abusive—situations I’ve endured as a result.
Now that I’ve accepted that love isn’t a finite resource, I find myself giving love more freely, whether or not that love is returned. Embracing a polyamorous lifestyle, I feel blessed with how much more love I’m able to experience. Does the wanting ever go away? I don’t know. Maybe someday soon I won’t need CBD to combat those pangs of jealousy—a word, I’ve found that we use for emotions we don’t want to acknowledge, like fear, anger, and sadness. Maybe having the courage to listen to my feelings, and in turn communicate those feelings with the people I love in a trusting, appreciative way will one day come naturally. Until then, I welcome the love CBD helps me find for others. Most of all, I welcome the love it helps me find for myself. There is no shame in asking for more. There’s plenty enough for everyone.
Shelly Rose is a Los Angeles-based musician. You can find her music at yuckybangs.bandcamp.com, or on Instagram @yuckybangs.
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