I’ve been watching on several polyamory boards to see people trying to make themselves okay with being in polyamorous relationships. I’ve seen descriptions of people feeling like their hearts are being ripped out. I’ve seen descriptions of people wanting to curl into a ball and cry while their partners are with other people. I’ve even had communication with people who wanted me to help them be okay with having sex with people they didn’t want to sleep with, but partners wanted them to because they thought that was “how you did poly”1.
I find these posts heartbreaking.
Poly is not martyrdom, and taking pride in being a martyr isn’t going to help you live to the fullest. If you hate it, if it feels wrong, if you feel dirty or betrayed or like you have to force yourself into something:
Maybe poly isn’t for you.
It’s not an enlightened way to be. It’s just a choice that works for some people. It’s a preference that has no more to do with goodness, enlightenment or value than preferring linguine to rice.
There are dozens of reasons why people make themselves try to be okay with poly. Maybe she don’t want to lose a beloved partner. Maybe her partner tried monogamy for her and was unhappy. Maybe they saw it as a way to try to stay together. These things all look so loving and noble. I’m all for love, I really am. I just don’t think that going through pain and suffering is somehow the hallmark of a “worthy relationship”. I don’t find choosing suffering necessarily noble. It’s too close to the mindset of the woman who is proud of herself for her endurance when it comes to accepting an abusive mate.
I’m not saying polyamorous/monogamous pairing are bad2. Not at all! But in the good ones, the monogamous member isn’t curling up in a ball when his polyamorous partner is out with another love, either. In a healthy poly/mono pairing, the monogamous partner has his own full life, ya know. She’s not curled into a ball weeping when her partner isn’t with her. He’s got friends and projects and family and is living a busy, happy life — when his partner is around and when he’s alone.
I’m also not saying that twinges of discomfort are reasons to drop a relationship. There’s an enormous difference between, “Dammit, I feel lonely and at a loose end and wish I were out having fun, too” and curling up in a little ball and crying your eyes out because you feel so abandoned, alone and unloved. The healthiest of people have down times and the best relationships do, too.
So what do you do when you’re really not okay with poly and your partner is unhappy monogamous?
That’s a rough one. I’ve been accused, since reviving the Polyamorous Misanthrope column, of seeing relationships as disposable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Commodities are disposable. People and relationships are not commodities. Relationships are forever and always about individuals humans and the different ways we merge and change and bump against each other.
I do not believe that there is any great value in white-knuckling it through a romantic relationship. Suck it up and deal to make sure the kids are properly taken care of and nurtured? Sure. I will point out that doesn’t require a romantic relationship3.
I’m increasingly of the opinion that the only good ways to conduct a relationship are going for the “win-win” or the “no deal”. If you can find a way to be happy and fulfilled with one partner poly and the other not, that’s wonderful! Go for it and enjoy. It can and does happen. It doesn’t happen by making yourself do or be what you are not. At that point, I strongly encourage the “no deal”. When I say “no deal” I don’t mean anger, bitterness or hostility. Just, with a blessing let ’em go. It’s probably gonna hurt. But it is a good way to happiness in the long run, no kidding. Some people, no matter how much they love each other, aren’t compatible in the long run. Believe it or not, you can and do get over it and into creating a life for yourself where you’re not curled into a ball weeping several nights a month.
1 That’s not “how you do poly”. It comes very, very close to (and sometimes is) “how you do abuse”.
2 It’s rarely the relationship form, but how you conduct the relationship that’s the issue.
3 Of all the bills of goods we get sold, the one about parents having to stay in love until the kids are grown to rear children properly is one of the more obnoxious and destructive ones.