I’m a Polyamorous Black Man Dating Eight Women. I See How That’s a Massive Mistake.
Photo: Ivan Pantic/Getty Images

I’m a Polyamorous Black Man Dating Eight Women. I See How That’s a Massive Mistake.

Sometimes more isn't merrier

The Love Jones'n Part

I'm leaving from T's place. We just got back from Mexico, where I was at a tantra retreat with another partner. I noticed T right away. I'd seen her last year and exchanged intent looks during nude yoga. The Kundalini fire was lit. Nothing like a 6 a.m. flirt session to imprint someone into your mind for good.

But that first year, I was concentrating on being the best man I could be for one relationship. I didn't know whether it would last and it didn't make sense to go hunting for other playmates. I'd left two others behind, one a little miffed that she didn't know I'd be flying off to a sex retreat until the night before. I was not handling this well. The feelings. The expectations. The considerations. The scheduling. Every single aspect of managing multiple lovers had floored me, taken me down, gotten me into daily arguments about equality versus equity.

And I was sounding like a conservative every time. "I can't give you what I give someone else just because you think that would be fair" was my dumb refrain. Or, “every relationship is different, just like every person and dynamic is different.” (Not that it was a lie.) I did feel I needed to manage how I gave my time and attention, and that I couldn't be swayed by the emotions of one partner with an extreme complaint. That wouldn't be fair to the others, perhaps. But mainly, it would be excruciating for me.

You know what it's like to remember six birthday wishlists from April to June? Between those months, I had to think of a good birthday text for everyone. I forgot a few. I deprioritized some in favor of time spent. I broke up with someone before her birthday—or maybe she dumped me. I can’t remember which, but it was a relief.

I have a hard time admitting to myself that she's not enough. But no one person is.

Back in Brooklyn, I'm leaving T's place. We’d laid next to each other, lavishing in self-pleasure together. Her apartment smelled of nag champa and sandalwood and sounded like a vibe-y Spotify playlist, Afrobeats and Buddha chimes or something. If ‘chillhop’ were a decor, that was her. At 5-foot-11, she stood face to face with me as I entered and left, but laying down she was a graceful sculpture of limbs. Long, smooth, reddish legs writhing. Her enchanting eyes called me in for kisses. And I obliged. She didn’t rush anything, which surprised me because her demeanor can be buzzy, heartbeat like a hummingbird. I went slowly, too, but watched the clock. I'd left my place around 10 a.m. to have this intimate encounter when T texted me and Aubrey to ask if we were both interested in a group massage after the hangover of the sensual retreat.

Aubrey wasn't up for it and had to work. I was leaving our shared apartment on a lark, and, even in the most open of relationships—which ours had become in the past two years, including dates at the same time in the house, group dates, and biting conflicts over where my time would go in a given week—there were sensitivities I needed to honor. T said I’d have to make up for all my clock-watching later.

The Part About Rachel and Leading Double Lives

I left T’s on a gloomy fall day and thought of how beautiful the rain was. Many lovers seem to appreciate the rain. Rachel texted me as I walked to the subway to head home. "How do you feel in this rain? It's beautiful isn't it?" Rachel is guileless like a 40-year-old kid. I appreciate her unassuming nature. And her brightness in the face of challenges. I can't tell her I've just left a new lover. She's new to open relationships and sometimes reels hearing the news of yet another love interest. I reply, "The rain is embracing me, I love it." I use my writing skills to text. That's how I tell people I'm a writer. The rotating series of pinned texts  are how I keep tabs on where the relationships are.

I can't tell Amaris about the new connection either. She nurses a fragile heart. I love her but she didn't want to do this with me. She’s been my girlfriend for four years and doesn’t want details about other people. She can’t imagine more in the mix. I have a hard time admitting to myself that she's not enough. But no one person is. And it's not like I have some endless sexual appetite. I wouldn't dare try to have sex with all eight lovers in a week. I’ve tried that and come up short every time, mostly feeling like an empty balloon by the seventh day, when even the Lord rested. In my ambitious haze, I’d still try to Maca-root-and-push-up myself to another round of arousal. As I attempted the impossible, my mind would drift to texts I might have missed, d**k appointments I’d need to make. I was a real ho, but not getting paid for it: a love slut.

Related: Why Delayed Ejaculation Is Hard to Solve

The Part About Diana and Feeling Too Old for This

In Diana, I found a student. Some role play scenes involve age gaps, but they don't appeal to me much. Diana is a writer, stuck on her own inability to create with discipline. She's also much younger than I am. There's a "2" in front of her age and that intimidates me when all her texts are voice notes. (Is this what younger people are doing?) That and she keeps using 'da' for 'the' and I thought that was only for White people imitating Black slang online. Apparently not. It's a younger Millennial thing along with abbreviations like 'rlly' and 'ur.' I'm no stranger to evolving language but the shorthand tells me how much I'll need to unpack to get to the real vulnerable parts of being an older human. What's the emoji to tell her to go slower when we kiss? That's where all the feeling is, I think. How many texts will I need to remind her that she has more time left to build a career when she's hopping from job to job like I was at that age, hating herself with barely any self built up to hate? The long rush of life eludes her because she has just secured her first few apartments, lived her first few years in a city far from her hometown. Things still seem new. I have no idea how my 40-year-old best friend is parenting a newborn with a 25-year-old. It reminds me of my mom and dad and how they didn’t last.

“What are you getting from these relationships that leave so many people disappointed?”

The Part About Amaris and How to Cope With Differences

Amaris is younger too, just not as young as Diana. So is Iquo. They're in their early 30s and couldn't be more different, the swiftness of youth still in them, but the burden of building lives and family much more the present threat. Amaris and I are often together, lying down in her bed drawing figures, watching shows, kissing, hugging, laughing our way through her high. She likes to get high. When I was 32, I got high every damn day because being 32 requires drugs, avoidance, a good heart, and easy acceptance. Iquo gets high, too. She pops a gummy and logs into her work portal before messaging me to ask me about my day. When I have dates with them, I see the onset of the 30s perfectly as if I were still there. The will to take classes, learn the body, try fitness routines, and reduce carbs has beset them. They are hungry for sex but also know better what they want and have begun to express it. I'm equally hungry but doubly patient, often plying them with text after text as I stall the dates themselves. The anticipation makes for longer, more passionate encounters. But I can't say that. To any of them.

The Part About Iquo and Secret Affairs

Iquo is married, confusingly, to a man who used to date Aubrey. We've all known each other for two years. In that time, I've gone from a cagey, evasive lover waiting my turn to know her to one of her best friends and confidantes wrapped inside a fiery paramour seal. We get together often, chasing the shadows and spots of free time in each of our shared homes. We have been to sex clubs together in big groups, the nude beach on double dates, and open bars where the four of us got too drunk to tell the tale. She's the first one I speak to in the morning and the last one most nights. We have long-term relationship training and short-term fling compulsion. I have scarcely experienced more creative, psychologically loaded trysts, and the teenage part of me peeks out to help me keep apace.

Related: So She Smashed the Homie Two Decades Ago. So What?

Fighting for My Life (or Aubrey vs. Rao)

When I met with Rao the first time, I knew it wouldn't be the last because of how quickly we traded barbs. She'd look at me intently, waiting for her opening, and then release a cutting joke. Her wit plunged me into every memory of flashy love affairs gone wrong, ones that burned so brightly I went blind before they were underway. In the middle of our first date, a little girl saw us in the bar window where we were and tried to climb in. Rao asked the girl her name.


"Hi, Pearl, how old are you?"


Then Pearl started her ascent up the window sill, prying the glass pane near Rao. I asked Pearl where she was going. Silence.

"I wouldn't talk to you either. Real stranger danger vibes."

I laughed, embarrassed, and then dropped a line about how little white girls are taught not to look grown Black men in the eyes. She was parroting her foremothers. That made Pearl's mom rattle off something about how inappropriately friendly her child is.

"To everyone but scary men," Rao joked.

The mom and child darted off and our date roamed out into the street, winding its way to the museum steps.

"I bet you a fire truck passes in the next… seven minutes," I said, wanting to flex my Brooklyn expertise. We were on Eastern Parkway and it's something that felt as real as the red, gold, and green restaurant awnings blocks away.

"A fire truck? In New York City? No way, bro!" Got me again.

By the time I had laid in bed with her a second and third time, I found myself saying foolish things like how many women I was dating, how her presence would change things and had begun to worry me, how all I could think of was her. It was true, but an unwise walk into the next phase.

I got home to Aubrey and she asked how the date went. I said, unsure of how much to divulge: "Really well. I can see myself spending a lot of time with her. She's going to be around."

Aubrey knew, by my tone, that meant trouble. In six years dating, she'd seen me do this before: fall for someone, devote all of my time and energy to making sure they fell too, scramble to pick up the pieces when my promises turned into fictions and degenerate thoughts.

"Okay. That's nice to know." She was bracing herself, felt the warning under my words, and scuttled her heart off to a distant universe. Maybe she'd meet her lover there and not have to worry so much about it. We’re uneasy when the sharing part happens.

I‘d been using the acronym “ENM” for ethical non-monogamy, but nothing was ethical about how often I canceled, how obsessively I replaced, how foolishly I promised, how many dates I spent snoring on a couch from endless time spent awake texting.

Date nights are sacred. It’s how I show partners I care enough to put my phone down and obligations aside so we can enjoy uninterrupted quality time. I can’t be late to date night. I can’t cancel date night. Yet, I’m always violating those simple rules of trust.

So I’m sprinting down Eastern Parkway leaving a new date night to make an established one. This no-system system isn’t working. It runs on a fuel of excuses, cancellation, sudden burnout, and panic attacks. I spent time with Rao, hoping I could make it back for Aubrey and the dinner party we’d said would be our time to let loose.

“No warning? No call or text? You’re just telling me you’re an hour late?”

“My phone is low.”

The thousand-dollar lifeline dies just as I’m ordering my Uber. I jog the hill to where the bus usually stops but no dice. I catch the bus heading my way with an earnest, wobbly sprint. Aubrey’s walking the other direction down the avenue. I pound the glass to get her attention from across the street and end up hopping off at the next stop to chase her down. Running, but running out of gas too. She wept and yelled at me that night, getting so wasted at a dinner party I had to coax her into a cab against her wishes. She’s bore the brunt of my constant carousel and it’s terrible on her self-esteem. It would be that to anyone.

I decided to slow down with a few people. What difference would it make to connect with lovers if all were unsatisfied, angry? I wasn’t connecting; I was collecting. Hearts. Lives. Vulnerabilities. Hopes. I‘d been using the acronym “ENM” for ethical non-monogamy, but nothing was ethical about how often I canceled, how obsessively I replaced, how foolishly I promised, how many dates I spent snoring on a couch from endless time spent awake texting. Aubrey and I argued during couples’ counseling until our usually objective therapist finally asked me, “How much is too much?” and “What are you getting from these relationships that leave so many people disappointed?” I half-thought it might be useful to bring Amaris into sessions since she had been such a close partner to me and gone through the wicked, erratic changes Aubrey had. They thought better of it. Who was that really helping? I hadn’t managed my time or considered what that would mean. It wasn’t on them to start bargaining with each other over that.

I’m still reluctant to break up with people. Oftentimes, I slow things down based on circumstance. I’ve picked up a new writing job so my time will be compressed, blah, blah, blah. Or sometimes it’s life events. A dear friend lost a parent and I’m going to be less available, etcetera, etcetera. Nakedly, these excuses aren’t lies but they don’t hold the moral water that just saying, “I’m overwhelmed and I can’t date you” would. When I recorded a rambling voice note to Rao—she’s that age—she didn’t appreciate the winding, confusing nature of the message. I’d said my absence would be “indefinite” while I “processed major life changes including the loss of a friend” and that I “hoped we could resume at some point.” My version of a breakup didn’t punctuate anything with a period, more like an ellipsis. I have broken up with Caity, Amina, and Rao since I started writing this. I’ve sat and cried with Aubrey and Amaris, finding couples’ therapists for both bonds. I learned Iquo was pregnant with her and her husband’s first child.

I haven’t learned to keep up but I know, at this rate, my love ain’t enough.

Subscribe to Andrew Rickett’s newsletter The End of Monogamy for more of his musings, insights, and adventures in non-monogamy.