Frisky Reads: The Game Changer By Franklin Veaux

I had no idea what I was looking for.

When I crossed traditional two-person, monogamous, till death do us part marriage off my Life To-Do List at 30, I didn’t know what there was to want instead. I felt like the only menu-less patron at a restaurant. Everyone else seemed to order with ease and all I could do was stare blankly at my impatient server as they repeated, “Whatta ya have?”

I’d have given anything to have author Franklin Veaux’s early certainty. It’s hard not to be jealous of the way he knew in middle school that he wasn’t exactly like everyone else while also understanding that “we were all just winging it.” I never caught on that those around me also didn’t have a handbook or a playbook or any other kind of book; I had to “fail at” and pass by all the expected adulthood mile markers before I got that I could do life my own way and still be connected to other people.

By the time I finally found Veaux’s first book, More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory (which I consider to be the polyamory Bible), and website by the same name (MoreThanTwo.com), I had discovered, but not really explored, polyamory. It turns out, you can identify with something — and even know for sure that it suits you or describes who you are — and yet have been unable to actively pursue it because of circumstances or simple lack of opportunity. I lived in a sort of limbo for almost two years.

If poly is a new concept or it just sounds like a way for people who can’t commit to get laid constantly, here’s the More Than Two definition:

polyamory, n.

poly • am • ory

The fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.

Veaux’s new book showed up right when I needed it. The Game Changer: A Memoir of Disruptive Love, due out later this month, is a great read for anyone who’s ever felt slightly “off” or out of place — either with my brand of vague insecurity or with an assuredness that more closely matches Veaux’s own determined approach to life and love. For me, it’s been more than just a pleasure read; when his More Than Two co-author and publicist Eve Rickert reached out to me this spring, I was navigating my first on-purpose poly relationship and getting the chance to figure out for real what I want and who I am. Being able to experience Veaux’s journey, missteps, early assumptions, and adjustments to how he approaches relationships has been invaluable.

“Amber was my giraffe. She was the first person I ever knew who really got me, understood me, saw me on a deep level,” Veaux writes. “Amber saw me. It’s impossible to express how transformative that was.”

Most of us desperately want to be seen. Not in that ridiculous rom-com, fairy tale way where your eyes meet across a room and SHAZAM! — palpable, immediate, mutual understanding exists where before there was nothing. Even the most romantic among us expect to have to work a little bit and put in some time before we reach that place. But that place has a mystical haze to it if you’ve never experienced it. And it has a side effect that’s impossible to predict until it happens: you see yourself for the first time.

“The thing was, I was a giraffe too. And I had never believed there were other giraffes out there. Like Amber, I felt like I was living in a world of alligators. Meeting another giraffe … well, that was a very heady thing.”

At the time I was reading those words, I was feeling much the same way. My first on-purpose poly relationship appeared to be at least moderately long-term and I was comfortable using the word “boyfriend” for the first time in my life. He had an anchor partner (the live-in/spouse type role) and their relationship was healthy, so I never felt like I was filling some gap or need that wasn’t being met. I wasn’t filling a pre-determined role; we just enjoyed each other.

He shrugged when I asked why they had opened their relationship. “I never understood why, if I was dating one person and I cared about them, and then I met someone else and I liked them too … I mean, I didn’t stop caring about the first person or even care about them any less than I did before I met the new person. That’s not how love works.”

Exactly.

We only lasted six months (though, who knows — poly leaves doors open when monogamy would slam them shut), but I learned a lot about myself in that time. I felt parallels to the way Veaux described feeling when he met Blossom.

“She, like me, did not understand monogamy. She didn’t see the point of it or get why so many other folks seemed to think it was such a big deal,” he writes. “[T]he idea that someone else might want a life that included non-monogamy was totally new to me. I was floored. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t the only person in all the billions of people alive who had this odd quirk about love and romance!”

That moment was overwhelming relief for me. I’d gotten over my discomfort with being different and not fitting in years earlier. (OK, just a couple years earlier.) The relief wasn’t so much about feeling “less weird” as it was a sudden optimism about the future and my romantic prospects.

I’ve always craved and thrived on intimate connections with people, both friends and sex partners — and people who moved back and forth between those two arbitrarily constructed categories. I had been pretending not to be concerned with how hard finding that connection would become as my twenties receded further and further into the rearview mirror. Dating beyond age 30 is depicted as a game of musical chairs from hell, with everyone scrambling and clawing over each other for a last shot at a seat. Realizing that there was an entire community, however small, of people who didn’t limit their romantic lives opened a world of possibility.

The Game Changer isn’t just a string of personal revelations or romantic discoveries. Veaux was quite the computer and internet pioneer, creating message boards back when having a computer powerful enough at home meant dedicating the spare bedroom to massive hunks of machinery — machinery that campus housing’s electrical wiring was less than prepared to handle. There are parties, stray alligators (he lived in Florida, after all), a flamethrower, and, yes, threesomes.

Poly people are definitely not the book’s sole audience; Veaux has plenty to offer monogamous folks as well. The emphasis on communication and consent in poly circles isn’t just for scheduling and logistics — both make relationships stronger and happier. I know, shocker, right?

It turns out all manner of physical intimacy is better with communication as well. Veaux’s “Life Lesson #1” was learned after the first time he had sex; he was unsure of how to act or interpret his partners’ actions afterwards:

“When sex makes things awkward between people, it’s not the sex that’s at fault so much as the not talking about the sex.”

Another through-line from The Game Changer is the way love can be wielded as a weapon. Imposing restrictions on partners out of fear that they’ll leave is as toxic as forcing another person into a relationship style that doesn’t suit them. Unfortunately, purity culture and entertainment messaging combine to teach us to ignore or downplay our partners’ agency.

Veaux describes the “message of every Hollywood romantic comedy and every social trope we’d ever seen” this way:

“If your partner loves someone else, it’s over. If he fancies another person, it means you aren’t good enough. You can really only love one person at a time. If a person is given the opportunity to leave you, he will.”

What a destructive set of notions! And they’re pervasive. Almost anyone who is honest with themselves can identify with something from the list those four tropes are part of — and we’ve convinced ourselves they’re true. We’ve internalized the idea that those things are simply human nature and/or our own insecurity, rather than ideals put on us by a culture we could choose to change.

The power of Veaux’s story is in challenging long established social norms so entrenched in society and our own psyches, most of us can’t see them. Whether monogamy or non-monogamy is right for any one person, being free to love as we want and as our authentic selves can only happen if we understand the assumptions put upon us by our surroundings.

In the Prologue, Veaux writes that The Game Changer is “a story about living consciously and becoming a fully developed person” — a story that recognizes that love is “just as powerful as the fairy tales say.”

I can say with certainty that I am living more consciously having read it. Now, I’m building my own fairy tale.

The Game Changer is scheduled for release September 23 through Thorntree Press.

Katie Klabusich is a writer and host of The Katie Speak Show on Netroots Radio. You can find her work at Rolling Stone, Truthout, Mic and Bitch Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @katie_speak.