This week the PMM bloggers have been tasked with writing about the topic of “Loss.” This is definitely a Poly 201 or Poly 301 topic, if the integers at the beginning of those numbers represent the number of years spent being poly. I say this because, speaking from my own experience and those close to me, learning to deal with loss in a healthy way will only usually become a major theme in relationships after a few years of being poly (barring any initial mono-poly transition hiccups when we usually all mess it up!). I’ve found that dealing with loss – yours and those of your partners’ – is by far the most challenging part of being poly. It is not jealousy and it’s not wrangling calendars – dealing with loss and grief in a healthy way is the single biggest challenge I’ve had in my decade+ of being poly.
NB: Because this week’s topic is so sensitive, I won’t be going into the details of any of my own specific experiences with loss. This means I can’t give specific examples relevant to my own experience, which is frustrating in some ways but entirely necessary and, I hope, understandable to my readers. Of course, my personal experience will nonetheless inform my general statements throughout this piece.
Embracing the fullness of experience
With that in mind, I can safely say that I’ve observed that many of the poly people I know open themselves up to more fully and completely live the extremes of the emotional spectrum: joy and grief. We all experience these emotions at different points in our lives but poly people can and often do experience them with more frequency and in a more overlapping way. In some ways the choice we make to be non-monogamous is a “loss” in and of itself – we knew we’d be losing a “place,” as it were, in mainstream society. We knew this choice might alienate us from the vast majority of the dating pool. So, in some ways, we’ve set ourselves up for more loss from the very beginning. We embrace it as part of our choice to be poly and as such are better positioned/suited to deal with it and take it on. Conversely, having opened ourselves up to more opportunities for loss means we’ve also opened ourselves up to more opportunities for joy and fulfilment. The choice to be poly came with sacrifices but it also came with the knowledge that we’ve chosen a way of life that is most true to ourselves and to those we are with.
Loss is unavoidable
Further to that, we have to accept that we will experience loss and we will see our partners experience loss, and to prevent that is not within our control. Loss is not something that can or should be avoided. Break-ups are an obvious example of this. If we open ourselves up to more relationships with more people, we also open ourselves up to more potential break-ups and heartache. This not only goes for ourselves but for our partners as well.. If we shied away from loss we would necessarily shy away from love.
Drawing necessary boundaries
It becomes tricky when the loss of and grieving process for another relationship impacts upon other relationships, as it inevitably will. First and foremost, we likely need to accept that there will almost certainly be an impact; our lives and emotions are interwoven in such a way that such an impact is unavoidable. Sometimes there may be a need to protect yourself by distancing yourself from the situation, most effectively by establishing agreed boundaries with your partner(s) around and within the situation, e.g. by agreeing to not talk to your partner about your/their breakups together or only talk about them in a specific way for a specific amount of time. It can feel terribly unnatural to do this in the short-term but can be the most productive strategy in the long-term, particularly if talking about it is creating instability. This is a situation in which we will frequently need to rely on close friends and confidantes who are removed from the specific situation. I’ve found that having strong friendships and support network is all the more important in break-up situations; particularly those with whom you can be open about being poly but who are removed from any immediate social circle. You and your partner(s) can rely on others for support during this time rather than solely each other.
Processing: space and mindfulness
Finally, we and our partners need to give each other the space we need to deal with and process our grief. As poly people we often tend (as default) to process verbally with each other until we are blue in the face. The experience of loss is one of those situations where the need to sit quietly with your feelings cannot be over-emphasised. We need space to deal with and to be truly present with our grief if we are to move beyond it. I often return to the Buddhist concept of mindfulness at times like these. When we observe our feelings without conjecturing analysis or passing judgment on them, we can be present in the current moment instead of revisiting the past or what “might have been.” Mindfulness meditation can be an amazing tool for practicing acceptance during the process of grieving. I’ve practiced it regularly during the many times I’ve experienced grief, and it is the only trick I’ve found that allows me to let go of expectations – by being present with my feelings in the current moment, I don’t put off that experience until later. While it may feel incredibly challenging to sit with those feelings in that particular moment, we can then be freed from the weight of those emotions later on and therefore free to experience more love and fulfilment later on. In the words of Robert Frost: “the best way out is through.”
Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each
month seven bloggers – ALBJ, Delightfully Queer, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, Post Modern Sleaze, Rarely Wears Lipstick, and The Boy With The Inked Skin – will write about their views on one of them.