Much love to my Meta, CC, who wrote this, and who should be very proud that she is finding her own way, to her own poly.
My husband and I are each two years into our own extramarital relationships, and I still have trouble self-identifying as polyamorous. There are probably people who would place my situation firmly in the “polyamory” area of the nonmonogamy spectrum, and yes, I follow the poly boards and dutifully attend poly discussions and events in my community, but I’m pretty positive that my ideal relationship configuration is not a “true” poly one. Oh, I’ll say I’m polyamorous, but only while I stare guiltily at my feet, unable to lie while maintaining eye contact.
I, for one, never set out to find a relationship that asked me to share the kinds of roles traditionally filled by a life partner with anyone else. When I arrived at the idea of us actually dating other people instead of just fucking them, I pictured us, complete and whole in our own primary relationship, enriching our own lives and the lives of our partners, who would also of course be complete and whole themselves. I didn’t want the responsibility of meeting the entirety of another person’s relationship needs. I was (and still am) concerned at my ability to meet the needs that a second person expects from a life partner. I was (and still sometimes am) scared that I’m not emotionally equipped to watch my husband play long-term, sole partner to someone else. I didn’t (and still don’t) consider that “true” polyamory.
And that’s what I thought we were doing. When my husband and his first girlfriend parted, she said she needed more than he was giving her, and he said she was asking for more than he was willing or able to provide outside of his marriage. That was comforting to me, because for my entire adult life, my sense of who I am and what I mean to others centered on my relationship with him. I had always relied on an unshakeable confidence in my position in our shared lives to keep me anchored as we opened our marriage first to physical and later to romantic encounters with others. Maintaining a division between primary and secondary relationship roles in this way made me feel safe because it delineated an area for other interactions that was separate from the particular spaces we occupied in each others’ lives.
So it was a difficult moment for me when I realized that, so slowly as to happen without noticing, he had become someone else’s only significant relationship. Any relationship needs she might have would, then, be falling on him.
To this day I have no idea whether this realization caused in him a similar feeling of trepidation and fear, but I was terrified by this knowledge. And yes, resentful that he’d deviated from my vision of what I thought poly was going to look like for us. As those feelings increased, so did the belief that I was “doing it wrong.” Feeling guilty about committing “bad poly” only made me feel more scared and resentful. Wash-rinse-repeat, until the only feeling I was capable of was a grim determination that someday I would either be a better person and be able to accept her, or they would break up. Or that I would prove such an utter failure at relationships that I would have no choice but to leave to spare him from my incorrect and dysfunctional emotions.
After all, if I was really okay with poly, wouldn’t I be happy for him? If I was really okay with poly, would I sink into a depression every time they had a sleepover date? If I was really okay with poly, would I make mental lists of all of “our” restaurants that were now no longer “ours,” or any of the other things people complain about when they vent about their new partner’s awful spouse?
I’m sure that early on he had tried to discuss with me my feelings about their relationship growing more and more serious, and I’m sure that I smiled and nodded and apologized for my wrong feelings and we put off further discussion until I was “ready.”
And we all three spent a lot of time sitting around waiting for me to feel better. To their credit, they were both much more compassionate than I was able to be with myself, but the unstated assumption that entire time was that eventually I was going to “come around” and be happy with the situation. I eventually came to the idea that my feelings were so incorrect, so broken, and so deeply-held that I would never, ever be that “better person” we were all waiting for me to be, and I threatened to hurt myself, partly in a last-ditch effort to show them both I knew how I felt was wrong and that I was sorry for feeling that way.
But you know what I never thought to question? The “okay with poly” part. I hadn’t wanted to be in a “real” polyamorous relationship in the first place. And it didn’t occur to me that it was okay to feel that way, to take some time to feel resentful or disappointed that things hadn’t gone the way I wanted. Instead, I had focused on how badly I had been “doing poly.” It was like someone had gone and signed me up for something I hadn’t really been interested in doing, like running a charity 5K, and then being mad at myself for being tired and winded, and feeling guilty that I wasn’t a better runner.
I’d love to be able to run more than a block, I’d love to be one of those people who likes running, but I just don’t. I DIDN’T WANT TO RUN A GODDAMN RACE TODAY.
But once I was able to say that out loud, to admit that I had found myself in a situation I would never have gotten into on purpose, things got a lot better for all of us. Now my only regret about our relationship is that I held on for so long to the idea that I was just wrong, and that I made things so much harder for all of us by trying to cover my feelings in guilt for not achieving “perfect poly.”
Finding myself in the middle of a race, running alongside the person I love most and the person who he makes feel happy and fulfilled, running for a cause that’s important to both of them, I’m surprised to find how easy and natural it feels. I might not have set out to run. I didn’t have the right shoes with me, and I may have to stop every so often to take giant heaving breaths, but I’m doing it.
Having someone sign me up was just a thing that happened, not a mistake or a way to “get” me or an opportunity to watch me fail or a test of my okay-ness as a person.
It just is. And I can keep running.