Once upon a time, a boy met a girl. The girl understood monogamy; the boy did not. The boy and girl met another boy and a girl, and they all began sleeping together. The boy was very happy with this arrangement, and the girl was only slightly unhappy. The boy and the girl got married.
A number of other boys and girls came and went, and the boy fell in love with some of the girls, and the girl did not fall in love with any of the boys — or at least she said she didn’t.
Then the boy fell very much in love with another girl, and the first girl was very unhappy about it, and told the boy he had to break up with the other girl, so he did, and was very unhappy.
Finally, another very special girl came along and persuaded the boy he was unhappy, and that other girls would always be hurt by the first girl, and so the boy divorced the first girl, and was sad for a little while, but ended up much happier.
Polyamory blogger Franklin Veaux calls his new memoir, the plot of which is simplified above, The Game Changer. To Veaux, the most important character in the book is Amber (the very special girl), who teaches him to respect his other partners and become an ethical polyamorist. She is the titular “game changer.”
Amber enlightens Veaux to the idea of non-hierarchical, egalitarian polyamory, an idea gaining currency at the moment and the driving thread behind Veaux’s blog and his earlier polyamorous self-help book More Than Two.
But Amber is not the most interesting character in The Game Changer by a mile. That honour goes to Celeste (the first girl), Veaux’s ex-wife.
Celeste and Veaux stick together for nearly two decades, despite the night-and-day divide between their views on love. Veaux longs for the freedom to love the way he wants, and Celeste agonizes over her insecurity and jealousy. The painful, tumultuous, destructive path of their marriage is the uncontested main character of The Game Changer, to which Amber is but an afterthought.
Veaux and Celeste’s marriage encapsulates the most interesting, thorny, implicit questions of the book: Is there such thing as an intrinsically monogamous or non-monogamous person? Can a relationship between the two ever succeed? Is non-monogamy a choice?
Veaux sums up his disagreement with Celeste as follows:
“Celeste believed, as she always had, that I did not have an intrinsic right to be polyamorous. In her view, I had other lovers because she allowed me to, not because it was a choice I had any right to make . . . I had started to believe that I, along with everyone else, had the right to choose the kind of relationship I wanted . . . But if I had the right to choose a polyamorous relationship, so, too, did Celeste have the right to choose a monogamous relationship. That was not an easy gulf to bridge.”
And, in the end, Veaux never bridges it. He and Celeste divorce, and he goes on to date more people who think like him. Celeste, presumably, goes on to date people more like her.
It remains a mystery whether their marriage could ever have worked, or if the seeds of its failure were planted before it began. Perhaps it’s a question readers have to answer for themselves.
The Game Changer is a rare page-turner of a memoir. Veaux is clever, funny, vulnerable and compelling. For readers who care about non-monogamy, he leaves behind plenty of breadcrumb insights on ethical relationships. For those who don’t, the book is still a thoughtful parable on love and marriage. I would only quibble that Veaux’s game changer was not his best relationship; it was his worst.