Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com
The PMMers have been putting off this topic for a little while now, for obvious reasons. No one likes to dwell on the “bad stuff.” But as I’ve said in previous entries, especially when I wrote about “Loss”, polyamorous people are often more open to the fullness of experience. With more relationships comes more love AND more challenges. I’ve certainly dealt with no shortage of “bad things” (and amazing wonderful things) whilst being poly.
This month I want to talk about why we don’t have to be okay, as a means to “deal with bad stuff.” What does this mean? Sometimes I (and several others I know) have felt that in order to be “good at poly” that it means we have to be okay with whatever and whomever our partners want to do, whenever they want to do it. Occasionally we all have felt pressured by someone or ourselves to be okay with things because as poly people, we do not want to hold our partners back in any way. We are evolved, we are confident and secure as people and we rarely if ever feel jealousy. Right?! But no, that’s not how it works for many of us. So often it’s just not that simple. This is sometimes used as a strategy to “deal with the bad stuff,” i.e. ignore your feelings/emotional reactions or do more work on yourself until the feelings (hopefully) go away.
While I strive to be as open-minded as possible, I call bullshit on this kind of thinking. It smacks of the “more evolved than thou” mindset that some people hold when comparing polyamory to monogamy. Not being okay is perfectly okay. Just because you don’t feel comfortable with a particular person, particular sex act or a particular set of circumstances doesn’t mean you’re jealous, insecure, controlling, unable to feel compersion, etc etc, and it does NOT necessarily mean that you’re not poly or not good at poly. Having few or no boundaries just means exactly that — it is not a signifier that you’re more or less healthy as a poly person.
In my experience and observation, trying to let things go and act like you’re okay actually backfires, because it will eventually come out later, either in an outburst, in passive-aggressive resentment or by turning the negative feelings back on yourself (lowering your self-esteem/self-image). Taking the time to examine these feelings, accept that we have them and then communicating this to our partners — whether these feelings seem rational or not (since many emotions are exactly the opposite of rational) — is what helps us find the origin of them and work through them.
As an example, I’m a firm believer that jealousy can be a helpful marker of something you want that is lacking in your relationship with your partner. Maybe you’re not spending enough time together, or the right kind of time. Or, maybe you want your relationship to remain completely unique in some way (this is important to most poly people, in my experience). Or maybe there is a person or circumstance you are just not comfortable with or that stirs up insecurities for some reason. Agreeing certain boundaries can be a suitable way of dealing with this. What becomes tricky is agreeing boundaries that will make both you and your partners happy and comfortable.
Sometimes negotiating suitable boundaries is possible — after all, if you’re someone’s partner you want to see them happy. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes one or both of you will have to compromise in such a way that you’re both disappointed and it will take some time to work through that. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean your relationship or you or your partner are failing at poly. Every relationship constellation has its unique set of dynamics and boundaries. Being sad or upset doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
Occasionally two or more people who are poly will just not be compatible in terms of negotiating boundaries, or priorities will have shifted, and attempts at negotiating become *consistently emotionally wrought*. When this has happened to me, the relationship has usually ended as a result, after a lot of effort to work things out. But in a way, that’s just another form of negotiating boundaries between two people. It’s another way of accepting that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s another way in which we embrace the full gamut of emotions and experiences as polyamorous people.