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 polyamory”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 polyamory 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 polyamory. Maybe she doesn’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 pairings 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 polyamorous /monogamous 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 polyamory 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 polyamory 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 polyamory “. 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.
22 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Do It”
If both partners want to remain involved romantically, but are not suited to long-term primary relationships, sometimes secondary-style situations work better. A beloved I’ve been with for 5 years now and I are completely unsuited to living together or being primary partners to each other. We fight, we argue, we butt heads on everything. But as a secondary level relationship? We have great success. We tried living together once, and it was a disaster after 2 weeks – but as long as we aren’t living together or trying to be a much larger part of each others’ lives, we have a happy, fulfilling relationship.
Of course, we’re both poly, so this works for us. I can’t image how hard it must be for a monogamous person to try to make it work, being in a relationship with a poly person. It must be similar to a gay/straight couple, or a sexual/asexual I’d imagine, but possibly with more feelings of abandonment because of the poly partner’s other relationships. Mixed orientation relationships can work, but that a lot of work on the emotional state of things.
I’m currently in a dating relationship with a woman who is new to poly – but not to nonmonogamy. She has a history of the “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” kind of thing, which in my own view is only slightly beyond cheating (and which is why, as we date, she is getting used to the whole full-disclosure thing). Recently, though, when some friends of hers asked if she was poly (since she was talking about two men she was seeing) her response was “Well, no…I just really like to fuck…” Which I find hilarious, in a lot of ways, especially as it makes her sound like a shallow hedonist when in fact she’s a very deep hedonist.
But I’m entirely with you on this. I tell people often that if monogamy works for you , DO IT – all other considerations aside, it’s easier just in terms of scheduling. I didn’t choose to be poly; there are times I really wish I wasn’t; but I know that it is the most successful relationship model for me.
Really like your writing style, btw – glad I’ve found your blog. Keep it up!
Whether a couple is practicing polyamory or monogamy, there’s always going to be crying, and there’s always going to be pain. In my view, there isn’t such a thing as a “win-win” relationship, because we all have needs that evolve over time. We’re not robots, we can’t just find the compatible unit with the right operating system and dock with it for life, our desires, plans, practices, and emotions all shift through time.
I have had some of those “White knuckled” periods in the relationship I’m in with my poly partner, in fact we just got out of one. It was the period during which we shifted from swinger to poly, and I had to change my whole mental model to accommodate for an emotional system of expression I hadn’t before been used to.
Polyamory, moreso (I feel) than monogamy, is about experimentation and negotiation. Those processes aren’t easy, for everyone involved to get what they want sometimes you have to let something go that you don’t want to. I think that it’s kind of a shame to throw away a perfectly good partner who’s willing to negotiate and experiment with you simply because making changes in your life to make room for their needs can sometimes hurt.
Life hurts. Relationships hurt. It’s those factors that create the contrast in which we are able to observe what feels good and what doesn’t. If everything went swimmingly in life and relationships, there probably wouldn’t be a whole lot to talk about on the subject.
(Cross-posted from LJ)
Well, to be contrarian and prove the rule that no rule is always true, I know someone on another board who went through a transition-into-poly thing that was like surgery without anesthesia — with the screams posted on the board all the way through — because she personally wanted to get to the other side. Not because the others were making her (as far as it looked online, anyway). And she did. She seems at ease, thrilled to be in the triad she wished for, and talks like what didn’t kill her made her stronger.
Heck, I once went through an unexpected crying-in-the-pillow stage myself. There are times cut your losses and times to persevere.
Not that I’d recommend this to anyone. In fact, a good test might be whether they decide to go ahead and do it even after everyone says they shouldn’t.
I bet that being pressured toward polyamory will become an increasing problem in the future — because right now, practically everyone in the world throws up their hands and says you’re insane if you even talk about trying it… which means you have to be pretty damn motivated and self-confident to go against this cultural wisdom.
As poly becomes widely known as potentially workable, there will be less of this automatic screening against people who are not really motivated and committed. Moreover, unwilling people will be more subject to pressure when they can’t fall back on the “That’s just crazy and everyone knows it!!” defense.
So I think it’s really important that warnings and advice like yours stay front and center.
The real solution will be for people to think up front about whether they want polyamory or exclusivity, and ask for it, when deciding whether to get into a serious relationship with someone. Like the “do you want children?” question for people who really do or don’t want children. Right now monogamy is as much the unspoken assumption as marrying and having children was to people starting a romance in our grandparents’ time (our grandmothers anyway; often the grandfathers had other plans they kept unspoken).
Oh dear sweet zombie Jesus, yes. What you said.
Poly can enlightening if it is right for you. Read enlightenment here as it should read in most contexts as ‘what I think has highest value in life’. Inner freedom which is a part of my understanding enlightenment is the ability to know and to enact with joy what is right for yourself. This may entail going against societal norms, which is often the case with poly. However, going against societal norms doesn’t automatically make you more enlightened. It only does if you are doing it out of inner freedom.
Non-possessiveness and compersion I believe are expressions of enlightenment. That is that I believe it enlightened to allow others their freedom (and you are deluding yourself if you think you can take it away) and take joy in that freedom. These I believe are things to be explored in ANY relationship poly or mono. Even without other romantic or sexually partners monogamous partners may struggle with jealousy and subsequent needs to control due to their partners attention to and joy in their passions and friends.
For me the path to greater inner freedom and enlightenment often involves pain. Even in the misted of excruciating pain it still feels right!
If it feels wrong I try (very hard) not to do it. I’m far from my ideal but I believe I’m moving toward it.
A far better index of enlightenment I think is that a person accept other peoples relationship structures whatever they are as long as the relationships promote the flourishing of those involved. It is also enlightened to apply the same to yourself and build relationships that promote your flourishing.
The most dangerous thing in an abusive relationship is hope. Noel, I’m with you.
Added a link to this to the mono_poly community profile on LJ.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this. As the monogamous of a poly-mono couple, I’ve had those nights driving home, barely able to see through the tears, because he’s out with his others and I haven’t felt like I’ve gotten the attention I need, and then ripping myself to shreds because I feel so guilty and horrible for being ‘selfish’ and ‘inconsiderate’ like that, that I’m a terrible person for not being able to deal.
I needed to see this. I needed to ‘hear’ someone, specifically someone from the poly crowd, say that it’s okay, that it’s not a case of being a better or worse person, just different, that’s all.
And the ‘no deal’ felt like where I am now. On the verge of letting go, not with anger or hate, but with love. Because I still love him, but I see that we constantly hurt each other with things we do naturally and it isn’t fair to either of us, or any of his other partners as I know how emotional stress trickles through.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I feel more at peace than I have in a long time.
You’re quite welcome, Rachel. I really hope you can find something that works out for you.
this is a very interesting post and something that i feel is going to become an issue.
i just wish i’d known about the “poly” thing in the beginning.
whenever i’ve tried to talk about how i feel to other poly people (not to him specifically but others are like a water-testing thing) they tend to go off in a tirade about how mono people are selfish and insecure and immature and that poly is the ultimate “way to be”
they’re so “enlightened” and mono people are stuck in the dark ages.
it’s an attitude that i’m annoyed with. they want freedom to be who they are, but they won’t give that freedom to anyone else — unless anyone else is poly, too =p
so it’s nice to read something by a poly person about the awkwardness of a poly/mono pairing.
it was never really an actual “issue” until the other day, and i’ve gotten more insight and i’m just not sure that it’s going to be a “surmountable odd.”
I have quite another perspective. I don’t believe in Martyrdom, I believe to the contrary that our mates are our mirrors. If you can find the root to his or her quest for poly and by this I mean find the ways that you too are on a quest that does not line up with his or her boundaries, then you can root out the need pain. My husband wants it, I am afraid. But WHY does he want it – that is the all important question. I think I have found the answer – check it out! http://jujumama.wordpress.com
Firstly – THANK YOU for this. I was in a relationship as the monogamous partner of a poly person and it was utter agony. I felt that I owed it to him to give poly a go even though I knew I was really unhappy with the idea. A lot of this was due to the attitude of several poly people I talked to – I talked myself into something that I knew deep down would make me unhappy. At the core, though, I’m NOT wired for poly.
Omaha, I know exactly what you mean about some poly people acting as though being poly is the “way to be”. I was made to feel that I was being immature by not being OK with the person I loved sleeping with other people. And you know, the situation works really well for some people and I’m genuinely happy for them. But it doesn’t work for me and never will.
And you know, the situation works really well for some people and I’m genuinely happy for them
I used to be able to feel this way towards my poly friends – actually being genuinely happy for them. Then I tried being in a poly relationship and I’m just not suited for it and lately I’ve stopped being able to feel happy for them and have started to just resent them. It’s really not good. It’s like poly is so wrong FOR ME that it’s difficult from inside of it to not feel like it’s wrong FOR EVERYONE. My spouse will mention something about someone with their secondary or another new relationship and my first internal response will be “goddamned poly people”. And sometimes I accidentally say it out loud. I did not used to feel this way.
I don’t want to feel like my friends’ relationships are wrong. At this point something close to half of my friends are poly (I even met several of them through poly discussion groups when I was thinking I might be poly myself!). I feel like I need to stop trying to do this because it’s just crushing my ability to be happy for other people. As I said in a livejournal post recently, “I don’t think this is what they meant when they said ‘don’t knock it till you’ve tried it'”.
Thank you for mentioning that being poly is not “more enlightened” than being mono. It’s not a competition to see who’s better, nor does it make poly folk look better to look down on mono folk.
I’m poly. I would never say something as rude and condescending to someone who’s mono as “Well, you’re just not as enlightened as I am.” That totally misses the point: it’s not about enlightenment, it’s about having the relationships that will healthfully support you and which you feel valued in. If it’s mono, cool. If it’s poly, sure. If it’s something else completely, go for it. But don’t make it about “enlightenment”. People have enough to deal with without having their relationships criticized on what is truly a subjective judgment.
I am so glad I found your articles. So here’s a different perspective for you. I am in a fairly new poly relationship. He is living with his other love who is also poly. Her actions and statements to me remind me of the white knuckled monogamous person in a poly relationship. He does not believe in any kind of primary, secondary etc. relationship definitions. She is continually making comments that tell me that she thinks of me as a secondary. She has also started telling him that she isn’t comfortable with him being emotionally intimate with other women. So here’s my response to this article. Please….if you are not completely happy being in a poly relationship, don’t do it. Your unhappiness doesn’t stop with you. Your partner and your partner’s other loves are affected. The “other love” that your partner is spending time with while you are crying in your pillow is a person with feelings too.
Goddess of Java, thank you for your articles. They have helped me gain a little sanity tonight.
I would love to see you re-publish this.
As polyamory is becoming more mainstream as a lifestyle choice, while there is still so little understanding of how to navigate these relationships, there seem to be a lot of new people who need to hear this. Being uncomfortable with change and growth is part of life, but there is no law that says you have to do or keep on doing something that makes you miserable.
Seconded! I’m also seeing alot of people on polyamorous Reddit showing up new to it and trying toske themselves ok with it (or worse, hoping to somehow make a monogamous partner OK with it) and it’s made me miss this blog, and think of how much it helped me when I had only just heard the word more than a decade ago and was figuring out how it applied to me and what healthy poly relationships might look like… and its this article in particular I was thinking of just now when I googled you again on a whim. I’m delighted to see it back up again, thankyou again for your kind and sage advice. It made all the difference.
How flattering. Thank you! I hope your relationship(s) are going great!