This is a letter from a reader, but is long enough I want to intersperse my answers by paragraph.
In a previous post addressing jealousy and abandonment issues, you said the real question is, “Am I happy in polyamorous relationships?” I’ve been struggling with that question, and I wanted to ask another in response to it: Can I *learn* to be happy in polyamorous relationships? Are there ways to become happy, or at least contented / capable of living long-term in situations that are initially painful?
Absolutely. We can accustom ourselves to many things. I don’t necessarily advise twisting yourself into knots for the sake of a romantic relationship, though. They’re supposed to enhance who you are, not twist it out of recognition.
I live with The Partner, my beloved and best friend from high school. TP discovered a year ago, after we’d been together for nine years, that he was poly-curious. TP will not say if remaining monogamous would be a dealbreaker for him; he wants me to determine what I think I can handle independent of knowing that. He has a prospective partner, though their relationship has not become sexual yet.
I am not poly. I have never mustered and sustained crushy feelings for more than one person at a time. I only have bandwidth for one romantic / sexual relationship at a time. If TP had said to me when I told him I was romantically interested in him, “Yes, I will date you, but I will be having other partners, too,” my response would have been, “I continue to love you dearly as a friend, but I think that we should not date.” There is no one else I would consider being in a poly/mono relationship with.
I think you might be on to an answer here, ya know.
Still, I’m invested in continuing this relationship. I can’t imagine my life without TP in it. Long before we started dating, I told him that I wanted to know him forever. That’s still true. He has supported my effort to improve my mental health in a way that no prior partner did. I admire his curiosity and wit. He admires my empathy and my silly streak. I’m closer to his family than I am to my own. He is hot like fire.
*wince* All, and I mean all relationships end, and you can’t necessarily predict when or where that will be. I’m uncomfortable with anyone’s relationship of any sort being such that they cannot imagine life without it. Whether or not you stay with TP, you need to wrap your mind around that.
But some of our entanglements feel more confusing than helpful at the moment. We started out long distance, and I moved to live with him. Most of my friends, I met through him, and he’s not out to most of them. There aren’t a lot of people I can talk to locally when I struggle, other than him or Therapist, without outing him. I can journal, but my journal can’t give me a hug or tell me that what I’m feeling isn’t stupid or wrong. I would like a support system that doesn’t respond by saying “That never works! Run away!,” as happened with the two mono friends I asked permission to tell, or by saying “Adapt or get out of his way,” the chief message I’ve gleaned from reading poly resources.
Not “get out of his way.” Gosh, what a horrible attitude, and I sincerely hope that whoever is saying such a thing will stop it.
I want to talk about you. What do you need in your life to be happy and fulfilled? Can TP do that?
(For that matter, I’m also curious what your therapist might think of this. I hope you’re getting support and advice from that quarter!)
I have significant insecurity and fear of abandonment (the standard-issue human sort plus some stemming from emotional abuse). I started working on these in therapy prior to TP determining that he would prefer poly but do not see improvement. I anticipate that when we open– the only way I can know for sure if I can learn how to cope with having a partner who has other partners– the difficulty I’m already having will become more pronounced. I doubt that I will come to feel content partnered with a poly person within the two-year trial I’d commit to, but I think I owe him trying. (I also recognize that a poly noob with an extremely ambivalent long-term partner probably looks like drama waiting to happen– I’d like not to be the kind of liability for people considering dating him that I expect I’ll be.)
Your mental health needs to come before any relationship ever. At all. What do you need for your mental health?
On the other hand, he has been pretty clear that breaking up is not an acceptable outcome to him. So, are there ways you know of that I can learn to want something other than what I currently want? And is there a way to distinguish between the kind of pain that will yield and diminish in time and the kind that is not going anywhere?
No, changing yourself and your needs to keep someone never works. I am so sorry, but it’s the truth. It’ll break you in half and putting yourself together after such a thing isn’t going to be an easy process.
As far as the pain thing? ALL pain ends. Thank goodness, or I’d still be writhing after a breakup in which I compared my feelings to having someone doing an autopsy on my awake and living body. The difference is whether or not you’re continually being re-wounded in the process. The question is going to be, is being involved in a poly relationship going to wound you so that the lack of pain is actually scar tissues for constant cuts, or is it going to be from genuine healing? I can’t make that call, and I think talking to your therapist on these issues is a good idea. If you think poly isn’t for you, you’re allowed to say that and let TP make his choice.
I break with a lot of poly thinkers who seem to have this idea that poly is a method to challenge yourself for personal growth. I’m not unilaterally on board with that. I don’t try for something difficult and scary in my chosen sport when I have a serious case of the flu, and I am not sure that when one is experiencing serious mental issues that it’s the best time to be expanding one’s comfort zone in extreme ways, either. I’m not talking out of my ass with that one. I have a pretty bad problem with chronic depression and there’s a time and a place for challenge and a time and a place for the emotional equivalent of chicken soup and a cozy blanket.
The fact that your answer about poly before you became involved with this fellow was a pretty resounding no does sound to me like maybe it isn’t for you and I don’t know that tying yourself up in knots is necessarily the best choice.
I wish I could write some easy ten-step version of how to make yourself okay with anything just to keep the person you’re in love with. But honestly? I don’t know that it would do anything other than encourage people to stay in relationships that are not mutually nourishing.