___Mary & Lily: a love that's polyamorous and real
Lily is my dream woman. She’s incredibly talented, interesting, and hilarious. She’s motivated by a strong sense of justice. She’s compassionate and with no hyperbole the sweetest woman alive. And I don’t need to tell anyone looking at these photos that she’s radiantly beautiful.
She asked me out during a time when I was going on dates with other queer people who were clearly not attracted to me but whose politics made them feel obligated to go out with a fatty as praxis. Because of this I was nervous and didn’t have incredibly high hopes but as soon as we met we fell easily into conversation and by the end of the night she asked me on a second date, which I found to be really brave and admirable. On our second date, I did some topless sunbathing in front of her which was uncharacteristically bold of me.
We became integrated into each other’s lives extremely quickly, and she nearly immediately met my friends and my partner. She also introduced me to her friends fairly early and danced with me at a Beyoncé night in front of them with no hesitation. I’ve been with so many men who actually admitted to being ashamed to be seen with me so this was incredibly affirming.
Intimacy came a lot more slowly, which is a pretty common trope with queer women. For me, it was a lifetime of internalised fatphobia and homophobia that told me that anyone I was attracted to would be disgusted by me and that this would be especially true for women I was attracted to. Lily has only ever been affirming and loving to my body. I think she has actually always operated within very queer modalities of desire where she lets herself be things women are told they must not be in relationships. She pursues people, she expresses her attraction instead of just letting herself be admired, she is open and never coy about her needs and desires. Together we've been developing and exploring our sense of queerness which has been a fundamental part of self-knowledge for me, and inherently political but also natural and joyful.
I hate that I cannot avoid looking at us through the lens of the male gaze. I’ve spent years trying to love my body and I feel like I have to re-learn it all when seeing our bodies together. I hate that our love is interrupted by this actually very narcissistic insecurity I experience. Fat bodies are often either hypersexualised and hyper-gendered or completely degendered, and being so much larger than she makes me feel a sense of masculinity that feels incongruent for me. I have to do some work on myself that will allow me to just see her without thinking of me in relation to her. Often I find her too beautiful to look at directly, and I think people see her goodness and sweetness and beauty and become afraid they cannot match it. And they're right!
"(...I'm trying to work up the courage to say: Woah, you're that cute girl I follow on Instagram!) There's no real way to say that without sounding like a stalker, but I (somewhat naively) wasn't expecting to recognise anyone on here from elsewhere for some reason..."
That was the first message I sent to Mary when, shortly after signing up to a dating app, I ran into my Instagram crush on said app (hint: it was her! Mary was my Instagram crush!). She seemed funny and intelligent and gorgeous. I noticed that she'd mentioned that she was a singer-songwriter, and I listened to some of her music because I thought it might be something to talk about on our date. It turned out to be some of the best music I'd heard in years, but I thought it would sound insincere saying that to someone I was asking out, so it took me a few dates to pluck up the courage to admit that I'd listened to it, and how much I enjoyed it! We were floating in the Hampstead Ladies' Bathing Pond on our second date and I asked, guiltily, what Mary liked to do with her time. "I make music," she said. "OH, REALLY??" I replied, treading water. That was two years ago.
When I first started dating again a couple of years ago, I knew I wanted to meet non-monogamous people. Mary was just moving in with her partner when I first asked her on a date, and shortly afterwards invited me to her birthday party, asking if I would be comfortable meeting her partner. I replied that I was nervous, but that not meeting him would 'almost be weirder than meeting him'. It was odd the first couple of times we met, partly because I was still getting to know Mary and I didn't even know what Mary and I meant to each other yet. I was asking myself "Am I doing something wrong? Am I impinging?" The third time we met, after Mary and I had gotten to know each other a little better, the three of us watched movies together and made each other laugh and I thought - you can fake getting along, but you can't fake making someone laugh. It was a huge relief.
I find that jealousy and insecurity evaporate for me once the person isn't an unknown quantity - once I know who I am to my partner and who their partners are to them, I feel comfortable knowing how I fit into that picture. To me, the most important information I have about Mary's partner is that he is a source of stability, safety and love to her. The fact that they, as a couple, have welcomed me into their lives and their home with such astonishing generosity and hospitality is something I don't take for granted, but I think it's only possible because of who Mary is. At moments where my instinct is to revert to old narratives of “Is this about me/us?” “Should I come and rescue you? Will you rescue me?”, she counters me with consistency, patience and kindness. I feel like I’ve learned more from her in our two years of being together about open and honest communication and healthy boundaries than I have from anything or anyone else. She teaches me about how to love – as a practice, not just a sentiment - every day. There’s a distinction there that I didn’t know when I was younger. I genuinely think she makes me a better person.