I was recently asked to do a media interview about polyamory. This happens from time to time, and most of the questions I’m asked tend to be fairly predictable: How do you deal with jealousy? What do you tell your parents or your kids? Do you think polyamory is the next cultural revolution?
This interview was quite different, and one of the questions I was asked helped crystallize for me some of the guiding ideals about the relationships I choose.
The question concerned dealing with fears, and while I was answering it, it suddenly occurred to me: throughout my life, the relationships I have found most rewarding have been those that are guided toward something rather than away from something.
Many times, the things we hear discussed in the poly community are about things to avoid. How do we deal with jealousy? How do we avoid fear of abandonment? How can we steer clear of insecurity?
And often, the relationship agreements and structures we most hear talked about seem built on a foundation of moving away from these fears. It is common, for example, for people starting out in polyamorous relationships to create rules that reflect their fears: people who are afraid of sexual competition will often seek to limit the kinds of sex their partners can have, and people afraid of being alone may try to limit the time their partners can spend with others.
But looking back over my life, my relationships have always seemed happiest when my partners and I are moving toward something: when we seek out relationships or build our structures not to avoid things we’re afraid of, but to move toward that which enriches our lives.
I have, as I’ve said before, simple tastes. I find strong-willed, smart, determined, educated, self-confident women irresistible. I look for partnerships that make me a better version of myself, ones that broaden my horizons, teach me new skills—partnerships where my partners and I can create together. I am drawn toward relationships that offer to expand my horizons, rather than relationships that help me escape my fears.
One of my partners recently talked to me about a bad relationship experience she had had, and how coming out of that experience changed something in her so that she is no longer driven by a fear of being alone. “Isn’t it amazing?” she said. “Isn’t it incredible to be able to go into relationships without having them shaped by fear? I want to tell everyone!”
When our relationships are built on keeping away from our fears, it distorts the shape of those relationships. It limits the form they can take. We end up with structures that reflect the worst parts of ourselves, not the best.
Subconsciously, I think I have always looked for relationships where I’m moving toward a better version of myself, even if that path has taken me closer to the places where my fears live. It’s an approach that requires courage, but I can’t imagine building relationships any other way.
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It seems to me the position of avoiding fears comes from having an ownership assumption as a starting point. “This person is my partner, and I need to protect my investment in the relationship in order to retain its value.” As if it’s a gold coin that will otherwise tarnish (and that is literally how I have seen non-marital sexual relationships described, at least for women.)
Even in the worst of the relationship disasters, I didn’t consider that I needed to assert control over anyone but myself. I don’t understand why I am apparently so unusual.
Yes! All of this is fantastic. My happiest relationships have definitely been ones that haven’t been guided by fear but by exuberance and a love of life and a desire to explore together. I don’t necessarily move toward something consciously, but by letting relationships be what they are rather than trying to force them into some mold, I’ve definitely built happier and more enriching relationships with all the people in my life.
It seems to me that a lot of this fear baggage is something that we get from the mononormative culture we’re brought up in – a culture where jealousy not only exists, but is actively encouraged. (You know that your partner *really* loves you when the attention you get from someone else makes him/her jealous.) – Trying out poly by opening an existing mono relationship can exacerbate the problem, in that you start off in a situation where you’re extra afraid to lose your first partner.
In RA (Relationship Anachism – the most common flavour of poly here in Sweden) relationships starts off with the freedom of friendships (no one tries to tell you what other friends you can have, or what you’re allowed to do with them), and, if need be, the relationship can be negotiated from there. – I’ve found that, coming from the RA perspective, relationships agreements tend to be all about what me and my partner *want* (eg how often we should see each other) and almost never about what to avoid.
I disagree. Asking pelpoe out IS substantially different when you’re not single. If it’s someone you know well enough so they know you’re partnered, it means you’re outing yourself (which in some circumstances can mean introducing a lot of awkwardness into your relationship). If it’s someone you don’t know well you need to think about exactly when and how you are going to disclose your relationship status. (I opt for immediately but I can see why that’s not everyone’s choice.) If it’s someone who’s partnered but you think might be open, asking them could be considered insulting.So yeah, if you’re asking someone who knows you’re poly whom you know is available, it’s basically the same. But most of us do not lead lifestyles in which everyone knows. My husband and I are not closeted but it’s not something that comes up within large portions of our social circle (professional contacts, the kids’ soccer team, etc.). This dramatically changes what asking someone out entails.I’ll second the OKCupid recommendation. I date pelpoe I’ve met casually in real life too, but OKC lets you put the whole story out there really easily.