Jul 29, 2021 • 9M

Post-Covid, perimenopausal polyamorist

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Kim TallBear
Indigenous affairs, cultural politics, anthropology, and decolonial analyses
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Note: Tonight’s post is an effort to write something not involving research and peer review, a goal I had when starting Unsettle. I wanted to use this platform to get ideas down on the e-page more quickly.


Short Skirts and Cowgirl Boots by David Hensley

Much has shifted since March of 2020 in my polyamorist practice. Back then I was in one relaxed, long-distance relationship, two on-again, off-again relationships with partners in Edmonton and Calgary, and my one steady and deeply attached relationship with my main partner in Edmonton. He and I celebrated our three-year anniversary in April of this year. Our relationship just seems to get better as time goes on. I’ve never had such an easily vulnerable and affectionate romantic relationship. The only persons I’ve doted on as much have been the children in my life. And no, he does not act like a child. He’s intellectually and physically competent, self-reliant, and impressively mature.

All four of my pre-Covid relationships are or were with people in open marriages. At my age, it’s my experience that many of the good prospects are married. I am too, legally, although we live a couple thousand miles apart. He and I communicate almost everyday, see each other 2-3 times a year, and remain amicable kin and closely consultative co-parents to our sweet and impressive eighteen-year-old daughter. My long-distance relationship lives in Texas. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t seen him since January 2020. We communicate regularly. We have an affectionate and easy relationship, albeit sporadic. I first met him in the Fall of 2014, about nine months before I moved from Austin to Edmonton. He’s a total sweetheart who used to send me a song a day until I couldn’t keep up with the volume of music he sent me and his eclectic taste. He just got over Covid despite being double vaxxed! Thankfully, he seems to have recovered well in his house out on the Texas plains.

Edmonton is a different and, in my experience, more difficult polyamory scene than was Austin. Polyamory is so common there that I hear it is a thing for dating profiles there to specify “no polyamorists!” Edmonton is much more conservative with polyamory still being unusual. At least, I think that’s still the case. I dropped out of the scene in the months before Covid-19 hit. It was unrewarding. The polyamorists in my age range were few and far between, or deep into kink, and I am vanilla. One partner who I was quite sweet on broke up with me after a year because his wife decided she couldn’t handle the open marriage. She offered divorce or close the marriage. That sucked. They weren’t out to their children or community, a not uncommon situation in Edmonton. So i wasn’t totally surprised. This is a chief difference from Austin where my polyamorist partners were open with their children if they had them. But the Indigenous presence in Austin is light and the gun presence heavy, so I moved 2300 miles north to a place that felt more comfortable to me.

What has shifted since pre-pandemic? I dropped the two on-again, off-again local relationships and am not pressed to travel to Texas. Something emotionally and physically has shifted and I am not sure if it is the pandemic, on-coming menopause, and/or an intellectual shift toward building community beyond polyamorous, romantic relating. In one sense, it doesn’t matter what the reasons are. What matters is that I pay attention and do what feels right and what I can manage emotionally and physically.

Has my risk tolerance changed? Perhaps. Trained in environmental planning and having worked with environmental risk assessment professionals, and also safer sex educators, I am attentive to risk reduction. I acknowledge that there are no zero risk scenarios in everyday life. I contracted Covid-19 in December 2020 and recovered well as far as I can tell. I am double vaxxed. I hated crowds pre-Covid and continue to prefer solitude or very small social gatherings. That, combined with my Covid and vaccination status, make me not too worried about Covid. Yet, the two relationships I gave up were with men in very public jobs—a pilot and a musician—who downplayed Covid-19 risk because they had to for their financial well-being and/or because they were already politically inclined that way. It was hard for me to discern if I was being risk-sensible or if their less risk-averse politics were getting to me. It doesn’t matter. I felt comfortable moving on from those relationships.

Second, it also crossed my mind that maybe my sex drive is declining, a noted menopausal symptom. But the physical part of my ongoing relationship has not waned, but evolved and deepened over its three years and three months duration. I’ll ignore the menopausal possibility for now. Perhaps it’s my emotional bandwidth that is declining, either due to Covid-19 or to the fact that I am aging and thinking more than ever about making kin and community that will sustain me and which I can sustain. I am focusing more on non-romantic relationships with made family. One polyamory mantra is “Love may be infinite, but time is limited.” So true. I had more limited emotional energy during the pandemic, and that continues.

The fourth possibility is that GOD FORBID I am feeling more monogamous. My daughter teases me that I am de-facto monogamous now. I take comfort in the fact that I am still open to the occasional, mutually-consensual conference fling with the age-appropriate, power-balanced, trusted, and chill conference acquaintance. That is, if I feel Covid-safe enough for such a gathering, which I do not. I am all talk and no action these days. I admit that de-facto monogamy has been a relief. There has been no regular STI testing, which I can manage emotionally, but I’m busy and it’s one more thing I don’t have to schedule. It’s also nice not to have to deal with the monogamist and heteronormative doctors and nurses at my clinic. Their assumptions and thinly-veiled surprise at my sexual frankness are annoying. Medical professionals need to GET WITH IT. They are knowingly or unwittingly reinforcing an oppressive compulsory monogamy system.

The next task is to read beyond settler polyamory literature as I craft this new orientation and a language to describe it. I am on sabbatical this coming academic year. I have a stack of about 30 books and as many articles from cultures and relational practices globally that I will dive into in the coming twelve months as I finish my next book that is tentatively called “Disrupting Sex and Nature: an Indigenous Relational Logic.” I hope to figure out where my relational ethic and practice is moving. “Polyamory” doesn’t quite capture it. But I knew that from the beginning of this journey. Stay tuned, and thank you for reading and for listening. Good luck to all of you on your relational journeys.