Along Came Poly.

Last year was, in so many ways, a huge case of my ‘levelling up’.

I laughed. I cried. I got the fitness job of my dreams alongside incredible people. Academia welcomed me back into its thorny arms, once more. I suffered some of my worst bouts of mental health since my teenager years. I played with my Shadow Self, dancing in the twilight of personality traits that I thought had fell into darkness, long ago - and I uncovered buried treasure along the way. I fell deeply in love; and experienced the most devastating of heartbreaks.

Little did I know - despite all the pain I had experienced during these 365 days - I was undertaking the experiences that would shape me in all of the exact ways that I needed - and to become better, address my shortcomings, and face deep, expansive changes in how I viewed the world - and myself.

As of now, what comes to mind most strongly are my stints with poor mental health, and what I consider to be my most impactful relationship to date. Both the relationship and its cessation itself taught me much, and the quick succession of other life stresses - both personal and professional; both leading up to, and following the wake of its termination - forced a tremendous amount of growth internally and emotionally.

At this point, I was - or at least, it felt so - at my lowest ebb; I had been recommended to go back on antidepressants, was in intensive therapy, and struggled to find any meaning or joy in my life.

A favourite poet of mine, Lord Tennyson, once said that In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. Meh. I would say that for me, the opposite occurred - I became transfixed with the concept of love in the subdued, frost-bitten Winter hues; on lone January walks, staring wistfully into the wispy blues of nostalgic sunsets, wondering: what the fuck did it all mean?

Love. Commitment. Relationships. Learning to be on my own. All these things infiltrated my daily thoughts - as though my hippocampus was leading the not-so-effective charge of a never-ceasing conveyer belt; it was the hamster in my brain, surreptitiously running the wheel of my thinking process until rust-ridden.

I knew that I had a lot to work on, and a lot to examine if I wanted to truly cultivate growth and happiness in myself; I knew I had to be on my own.

No pseudo-single. No dating apps. No finding a warm body to fill the aching void in my heart. (Or my…literal hole.)

I knew I had to be brave, and be on my own two feet; I had to dig deep, and find out who I was, who I wanted to be, and the type of energy I desired to put out into the world.

I say this as though it was effortless - my God, it wasn’t. The nights I sobbed myself to sleep. The confused, angry messages. The overflowing, unmanaged emotion. The cavernous wounds that just wouldn’t stop bleeding. I made baby steps forward in my progress to embracing alone time - and huge trips down the rabbit hole of co-dependence, back to what I thought I wanted. It is something I still have to watch and nourish appropriately, today and always.

Then, I was faced with another challenge. Another opportunity for growth. And it was completely and delightfully unexpected.

It was right around the time I was just starting to heal - ironically, it seemed like my rock bottom in the moment - that he came into my life.

And a new challenge was surfacing on the horizon, waiting for me to encounter it.

But this time, I came prepared.

This is a disclaimer to those expecting a Disney Princess fairytale hack, in which the denouement almost always involves a man rescuing the damsel in distress from insert-folkloric-monster-here.

The only demons involved in this story were, to be clear, my own - and as such, it was up to me to slay them.

But it is still important to note the unlocking of certain moods, feelings and beliefs that became nascent as a result of our interactions - ones which I never knew existed within me.

What started as light, friendly writing chatter - and mutual nods of approval to Austen’s notes on feminism - gradually became something a bit more.

This interaction felt unusual, because in my mind, it felt so natural, easy, and relaxed.

In the past, my addiction to praise, sweet nothings, and positive affirmation from partners was evidently problematic - my mood depended on how another person saw me, rather than just being a natural facet of my day. My self-worth depended on whether or not I had received a compliment or not from my partner. This made my anxiety inexorably worse - and, consequently, I ran into issues with my own expectations, interactions and behaviour as a means to feel safe. I was terrified of my own damaged, dark, delicate humanity and eschewed vulnerability. I clamoured for that elusive “enoughness” in other people, rather than looking inwards.

This time, it was different. It wasn’t so much that the natural course of events gave me an “epiphany” to grow up and learn from my wounds - but I was, well, sort of catapulted into a new way of thinking. I was offered up a huge change in emotional and spiritual growth, and, as scary as it looked, it was exactly what I needed to go from a frightened, insecure little girl into a more confident, self-assured woman.

I was faced with my first potential initiation into polyamory.

For all my 25 years on this planet the concept of polyamory has never been my cup of tea. I have always been fully supportive of those who choose to undertake it - but was left, scratching my head at how somebody could feel happy within themselves if their primary partner was going out, dating other people - hell, admitting connection with others - whilst also being given carte blanche in sexual and emotional exploration themselves.

Like I said. I saw how beautiful it was for others - and rooted for them. But winced at the idea of myself getting involved in it.

That is, until recently.

So you could imagine my surprise when, knowing I have these feelings, I found myself still contemplating dating this man even after fully acknowledging his sexuality - not to mention the transatlantic distance involved.

Perhaps it was the connection. Perhaps it was the emotional growth I had undergone in the aftermath of my lowest. Perhaps it was the fact I was subconsciously pushing myself to “move on” after months of what can only be described as being emotionally and sexually chaste. (Oops.) Perhaps it was all of these things.

Or perhaps it was the fact that, following my interactions with both said man and his primary partner, I felt home.

I felt confident, secure, and not one ounce of jealousy flooded my veins; (although, I anticipate it will - these are the glory days, after all!) instead, I admired their beautiful expression of love and emotion and open, kind communication. I wanted in.

And, so. Here I am. And whilst I wouldn’t go as far to say as “Oh, I’m poly now!” (because I’m not) this has absolutely been the most incredibly divine flourishing of emotional, mental and spiritual growth I have encountered for quite some time - and I would be a fool not to embrace it.

I’ve had to up my communication game up, by at least several levels. I’ve had to learn to lean into feelings of doubt, insecurity or fear - whilst expressing this in a healthy, non-confrontational way. I’ve had to not run away from feelings or situations when things get hard. I’ve had to shift my perspective on how I viewed society, relationships, and what love was, and remould it into something entirely different. I’ve had to heal the lingering wounds from my past and let the light from this newfound growth bathe them, softly. I’ve had to learn how to express what I really wanted - and be OK with it going either direction.

But above all, I have grown in ways I never thought would be possible - in ways that I have never experienced before whilst being in a monogamous dynamic.

Monogamy is truly beautiful on so many levels, and I do think it’s a natural, personal preference of mine.

I have learnt, however, that it’s just the “easy” thing to jump into societal conditioning and assume this is the best port of call for everyone, at any given time. Spoiler alert: it is not.

In fact, at this point in time, being thrust into the world of poly has been the best thing I could have ever asked for in terms of growth, emotional exploration, becoming more open and honest, and unashamedly showcasing vulnerability.

Not only that, but the growth from before this happy accident occurred is still being undergone; my active acceptance of myself and working on shortcomings, owning responsibility, and continually developing who I am as a person has meant that I have never felt stronger or more authentically myself, for a long time.

As I’ve mentioned before: the answer was never the man. The poly dynamic. The life-changing turn of events. The answer was turning inwards, being radically responsible for who I am and my actions, and being unabashed in my journey to self-acceptance, self-discovery, and self-worth.

The answer was always, has always been, and will always be, within all of ourselves.

But sometimes, when you’re on your hands and knees, fumbling around in the dark, finding that unexpected key to opening up untapped potential, can be the catalyst for growth and change that you desire.

(Now is the time for inappropriate jokes about me being on my knees. Comment now, or forever hold your peace.)

Sophie Thomas