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When my partner was in the hospital, I missed his ex. Polyamory has only made my family stronger.

When my partner was in the hospital, I missed his ex. Polyamory has only made my family stronger.
A group of five people sitting on a rock watching the ocean.
Alex Alberto (not pictured) says that through polyamory, their family has become more resilient.Dean Mitchell/Getty Images
  • Alex Alberto (they/them) is a queer and polyamorous storyteller who lives in Upstate New York.

  • The following is an adapted excerpt from their memoir "Entwined: Essays on Polyamory and Creating Home," which is available for preorder (out February 19).

  • "Entwined" tells the story of Alberto's decade-long polyamorous journey toward a new kind of family.

My partner entered the hospital room in a blue gown, his clothes stuffed in a clear plastic bag.

"You left the back untied!" I said, with a forced chuckle.

"Oh, they see hairy butts all day long," Don replied. "Plus, most of their patients aren't as sexy as me…"

Standing in the doorway, he pulled his gown up and lifted his thigh, toes seductively pointed on the floor. I rose from the chair, smiled, and snapped a picture of him. I knew he was trying to set a mood that meant this wasn't a big deal. In the five years we'd been together, I'd pictured him dying or falling seriously ill hundreds, maybe thousands of times.

The author's partner, Don, while in the hospital.
The author's partner, Don, while in the hospital.Courtesy of the author

I've always been worried that something would happen to Don

I'd always imagined it would be around his 51st birthday, the age my father was when he had a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. I'd had intrusive thoughts about all my loved ones suddenly dying or getting sick ever since. Every time I'd voice my fears, Don patiently held me and said he'd live healthily for a very, very long time. But here he was, at 40, about to undergo heart surgery.

While Don was in the operating room, I sat on the blue vinyl chair in his office, grateful that his research center was in the hospital and that I had a quiet place to cry. I had a pile of memoirs and hours of crime podcasts saved on my phone.

"The procedure can take anywhere between three and 10 hours," a nurse had told us, shaking her head. I looked at the books at my feet and didn't pick any up. I turned the fluorescent light on, and turned it off. I looked at the psychology diplomas behind his desk. He had finally gotten them framed, 10 years after his last graduation. I sat on the floor and leaned on his desk.

The author and their partner, Don. They are sitting in the passenger seat of a car while Don is driving.
The author and their partner, Don.Courtesy of the author

During his surgery, I considered reaching out to his ex

I thought of calling Bridget, Don's ex. Don met Bridget a year into our relationship; they'd dated for three years. Bridget broke up with him the summer before. He was over her, but I still missed her. She and I texted here and there, but it seemed inappropriate to call now.

Before Bridget, I'd never felt the power of a metamour bond — the bond with my partner's partner. Don had a few girlfriends who were around for a few months, but we never clicked. One had a high-pitched, nasal voice that scratched my insides, another answered all my questions with a single word. But Bridget was present in conversation, and, like me, initiated her journey into polyamory while single. "Monogamy was a coat that never fit quite right," she'd told me. She was a kindred spirit. I felt seen.

The success rate of Don's procedure was high, so my rational brain trusted everything would be fine, and that his arrhythmia would disappear. But I also imagined sitting in a waiting room alone 10, 20 years down the road, a doctor telling me they couldn't save him. That anticipated grief cinched my insides.

I then imagined that Bridget was part of that hypothetical future. I pictured us holding each other while crying, reminiscing about Don's quirks: his bedside table full of protein bar wrappers that he ate in the middle of the night, how he mindlessly wiggled his thumb above his phone when he was reading the news, the way he kissed us both on the back of the neck. Sharing the pain of losing a partner made the possibility of it seem bearable.

Through polyamory, I've made connections beyond my own partners

When I began my journey into non-monogamy, I was focused on the freedom of developing romantic and sexual intimacy with multiple people. But in my relationship with Bridget, I realized metamours could become core members of my family.

Don's surgery went well, but I couldn't shake the creeping worry that I had become too reliant on him. That my identity and well-being were primarily tied to him. While I'd had other committed partners since meeting him, those relationships had ended. But I didn't expect that Bridget breaking up with Don could also break my heart.

Polyamory has shown me a way to expand my family and make it more resilient. My life experience has made me acutely aware and sensitive to the vulnerability of the nuclear family. My half-sister's father drowned when she was 11. My uncle was a trucker and died in an accident when he was in his early 30s. Both my grandfathers died of heart attacks in their early 60s. My father had his stroke well before his retirement age. When I think of a resilient future, it necessitates having multiple life partners. I need to know my stool won't get knocked over if one leg breaks.

Adapted from "Entwined: Essays on Polyamory and Creating Home" by Alex Alberto. Preorder now on Bookshop.org, Amazon, and everywhere you buy books. Out with Quilted Press on February 19, 2024. Copyright © 2024 by Alex Alberto. All rights reserved.

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