I Was Madly In Love. Then My Partner Told Me They Had A Crush... On Our Friend.

The author (left) and Quinn celebrating their first anniversary in Baltimore a few months before the polyamory conversation came back on the table.
The author (left) and Quinn celebrating their first anniversary in Baltimore a few months before the polyamory conversation came back on the table. Courtesy of Eryn Johnson Sunnolia

“I have a crush on someone,” my partner, Quinn, said, sitting next to me on our therapist’s gray couch. Those were the words I’d been dreading since we stopped being polyamorous a year earlier.

When they told me it was our close friend, I threw my head back and laughed. Later, I curled up in their lap and cried.

Quinn and I were both polyamorous when we met. They weren’t dating anyone; I was living with my boyfriend at the time. My feelings for Quinn brought my uncertainty about my boyfriend, whom I had been with for four years, into sharp contrast. Two months after my first date with Quinn, I left him.

When Quinn and I decided to be partners, we shared what we loved about polyamory: the ability to get needs met through multiple relationships, the freedom to be individuals and the endless possibilities.

“I love the idea of there being infinite, limitless love,” my Pisces partner waxed dreamily.

However, we accidentally fell into monogamy, drunk off a love like nothing either of us had experienced before. I felt like I’d been looking for them — and my own authentic self brought to life through our relationship — my whole life. We made collages on their bedroom floor, ate injera wraps while watching the sunset on their roof and read each other our favorite poems in bed.

“I think I’m falling in love with you,” I told them one morning as we laid in bed. Our faces were inches from each other, basking in the easy intimacy we’d grown.

A smile broke across Quinn’s face like clouds parting for the sun. “I’m falling in love with you too,” they confessed. “I just didn’t want to say anything with everything you’re going through with the breakup.”

I left their house giddy as I walked down the sidewalk carpeted with spring petals and squealed about the good news in a voice note to my friend.

The author (left) and Quinn a few months after they began dating, laying under their favorite magnolia tree in bloom.
The author (left) and Quinn a few months after they began dating, laying under their favorite magnolia tree in bloom. "It's since become a yearly spring tradition," they write. Courtesy of Eryn Johnson Sunnolia

Once we were in love, the thought of Quinn wanting someone else sparked panic in my chest like a lit match. We stopped talking about polyamory and floated along monogamously while navigating other things: my fear of being left, their difficulty setting boundaries, my parents’ upsetting response to my coming out, and Quinn and I figuring out how to be both “me” and “we” in our relationship.

“Nothing has to change,” Quinn promised back home in our bed, their news about their crush still scratchy like sandpaper across my whole body. They just wanted me to know because keeping it a secret felt like betrayal.

They also thought it might be a good moment to reevaluate our relationship structure. “I love you so much, and I love our love. But I do miss being polyamorous,” they admitted as they rubbed my back.

I didn’t. Though I wanted to believe in abundant love and freedom, my relationship with Quinn showed me that polyamory was an escape hatch I’d pulled to get out of an unhappy relationship. Now that I was happy, I didn’t want anyone else. I couldn’t imagine their wanting other people to be about anything other than some deficiency in our relationship — with me. I worried that opening our relationship would only lead where I’d taken my previous one: to an inevitable, painful end. But for Quinn, wanting other people was more about abundance than lack.

Theoretically, I was totally evolved and on board with polyamory. I had read “Sex at Dawn” and “The Ethical Slut.” I knew about the goddamn bonobos. In my last relationship, I was the one who wanted us to open up in the first place. In practice, however, my body was filled with fear-induced adrenaline. After Quinn brought polyamory back into the conversation, I kept waking up throughout the night in an anxious panic, relieved to see their soft, slumbering face still in bed next to me.

I was afraid of not being important anymore — of losing them and losing us. I imagined them falling asleep and waking up next to someone else, calling someone else when they were hurting, and marrying someone else instead of me. We were a lesbian stereotype, processing endlessly.

Quinn was patient and gentle. We talked about what being polyamorous gave them and how to meet their needs for multiple intimate relationships and freedom in other ways, including making more space for deeper relationships with friends and going alone and together to the kink parties they loved.

“Whatever we decide, I still want to be with you,” Quinn promised. I knew them well enough to know they didn’t say things they didn’t mean.

As I slowly started to trust that their crush didn’t mean they were going to leave me, the tumult of the summer settled. Quinn’s crush faded in a few months, but it was just a catalyst for the relationship conversations we desperately needed to have. Maybe our relationship didn’t have to be binary — monogamy or polyamory. Maybe there could be space in between to make something our own.

We quietly shifted into something we both felt comfortable with: our own stepping-stone version of being monogamish, where Quinn would play with other people at the kink parties they missed.

“I don’t know if this is a step on the ladder or if this is it for me,” I said nervously. I was afraid that saying yes to opening in a small way meant going from zero to 100 and that there was no other option besides monogamy or them marrying someone else.

“That’s OK,” They reassured me. “We’ll just see how it goes and if this is it, that’s OK.”

The author (right) and Quinn under their favorite magnolia tree after proposing to each other in September 2023.
The author (right) and Quinn under their favorite magnolia tree after proposing to each other in September 2023. Courtesy of Eryn Johnson Sunnolia

A few months later, Quinn went to their first kink party without me, where people who weren’t me might spank them, tie them up, or touch their soft skin. We made a plan to check in afterward, then went our separate ways. That night, I danced at a Taylor Swift concert with my cousin while Quinn got a spanking from a hot stranger. When we got home well past midnight, we sat on our kitchen floor and ate ice cream, my head on their shoulder.

“I’m glad you had fun,” I said. Surprising myself, I had nothing to process. Instead of the dread and anxiety I’d anticipated feeling, I was genuinely happy they got the spanking they wanted, even if it wasn’t from me. Maybe this wasn’t the beginning of the end after all. We cuddled each other to sleep, and when I woke up, they were there like always. 

I still don’t know where the future will take us. But for now, this is where we are: somewhere between monogamous and polyamorous, and anxious and relaxed. Whatever happens, I know we’ll tell each other the hard truth. At our wedding earlier this year, we promised to love each other forever — but we didn’t promise to love only each other.

Eryn Sunnolia (she/they) is a writer living in Philadelphia. Their writing has been published in Well+Good, Insider, Rough Guides, The Rebis and others. She is working on her first book, a memoir exploring the tension between what we want, what we’ve tried to make ourselves want and what we owe our families. You can find her work at erynsunnolia.com and joynotes.substack.com.

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