We all know what 'red flags' means. Those things that should have been obvious at the time, waving in our face, "see me, see me, look at me, hello I'm right here" and yet we don't see them. We ignore them. We justify them. We come up with all the other reasons they might be waving. And then we look back and and they're still brightly color indicators of exactly what we now realize to be so true.
The most brightly colored flag is looking back and realizing I was always looking. There was never a time in my life where that need to be with someone else was off, except when I was with someone else (emotionally rather than physically). It was like my mind was always open the possibility of a life with other people, other places, doing other things, with other options.
That doesn't mean for a moment that I didn't want what I had, because if I didn't want what I had I wouldn't be here with what I have. And that was the confusing part right? I don't want to leave, but I want other people. The thing with that red flag is that it's not quite as red and bright as specific incidents can be.
Behaviors are a lot easier to point to. In my early years, I never had a boyfriend long. I usually broke up with them. That, by itself, isn't really a flag for me, but an indication that even early on I wasn't ready to settle down just to have a relationship. The one for me that's a biggest flag happened when I was 18. I had a boyfriend over the summer before college. We spent a lot of time together. I slept at his house a lot. We enjoyed each other's company. We were intimate and physical and still virgins. At the same time, I started to like another guy in our group. I started to enjoy his company and time. And I did stupid things, like when we all went to the circus I held both their hands. But I didn't want to NOT hold my boyfriend's hand. I just wanted to hold the other guy's TOO. And when I visited the second guy and he wanted to have sex, it felt right and natural and I lost my virginity that day. And my boyfriend found out. And while he was hurt, he also wanted to have sex because you know, young guys. And it felt right to sleep with him too. I stayed with my boyfriend for awhile, went off to college, didn't want to be tied down (imagine that) and then later slept with and dated the other guy for a time as well.
But looking back, I could have been both of their girlfriend. And loved it. And enjoyed it. And made them both happy. And I would have been happy. I would have been very happy dating both of them at the same time. And now that I'm older I feel like that was my first big red flag that poly would have been so much better for me in the long run than monogamy.
My sister even says "Mint when you get drunk you are such a slut." Because deep down me wants to meet people, flirt, form bonds and let what will happen happen.
I had many online relationships over the years, a number of which involved the words "I love you." and plenty that included cyber sex. I told myself, right or wrong, that it was just online, and that while I had feelings and such, I wasn't ACTUALLY getting physical with them. We wouldn't ever actually meet. In a pattern I noticed that most of the people I had relationships with lived over the pond, as though that was a safety net so I wouldn't cross more lines.
But that isn't to say that I haven't been physical up to a certain line either. How close can you push to that line and say it isn't cheating? How close to go and justify it to yourself? Because I did that. I can admit that. Does it count if you and he stare at each other and say all the things you WOULD do if you could? Does it count if you spent the night and cuddle on the couch and watch a movie but you never actually get physical? What exactly is the definition of intimacy? What is going too far? If you don't feel like you could tell your SO, does that make it wrong?
But we still justify, because finding happiness with someone on the internet to satisfy that 'broken' and 'wrong' and 'unexplainable' side of you seems like a good solution compared to all the other alternatives!
Looking back, I wish I had had more information, more understanding of polyamory. I could have made better choices and been more honest with myself and others around me. Even after I broke, I still lived with this illusion of all or nothing, of monogamy, of one person, one choice, must chose...
I don't know exactly when poly clicked for me. I know it was a journey to realize that maybe it was just me and my needs that kept me in this cycle of constantly opening myself up for more. Looking is probably not the right term, because I don't really feel like I 'look' so much as I leave my door open and if the person who walks in resonates with me romantically and intimately I don't want to have to close them out.
Monogamy means that door is closed. Stand outside. You aren't coming in. And for some people that's exactly what they need. But poly people have that door open and while everyone isn't allowed into the room, we aren't closed off to the idea of letting them in either.
I think the most important message is that if you're seeing red flags or justifying things, there isn't something wrong with you. You aren't broken. Poly isn't a new concept, but at the same time it's not a prominent one or a well understood one. It doesn't have a model to follow or rules or a lot of things established. I just wish I had understood my red flags twenty years ago.
But I'm glad I'm finally free to explore them now.