The thing about not feeling “enough”

The most frequent statement I read from people trying to transition into polyamorous relationships for their partner is the sense that they feel like they are “not enough.”

Whenever I see that line, my heart sort of aches for them. I understand that feeling and where it comes from, but somehow it doesn’t affect me and I had a difficult time articulating why.

And I finally figured out the answer:

The trick is in realizing that not being “everything” is still enough.

Rules are Condoms: An Imperfect Metaphor

I used to love rules. Rules, when my life was very completely out of my control, helped me make sense of things. I had rules for who I’d date and what I’d do with them and when. I had rules for who could do what to me and under which circumstances. I had rules about rules, and I was really great about closing loopholes in rules so that I would know exactly what to expect from whom and when.

I clung to the fantasy of a 24/7 D/s relationship. The idea of someone else making the decisions for me and absolving me of the need to willingly take care of myself appealed to me in the wake of my husband’s unexpected death and the realization that I’d lost my entire identity in that relationship.

And you know what? I don’t fault myself for that. It was my coping mechanism, and it worked for a while.

I didn’t know who I was, or who I wanted to be. All I knew was that there was too much stuff for me to carry by myself. I felt I would never be unearthed from beneath its heavy burden. As such, I was attracted to the “fixer” types. The “daddy” types of nurturers who wanted to help me get better. The ones who would set the rules down with the intention of moving me past my hangups and phobias.

And over time, they started having results.

I stopped being afraid of making decisions for myself, and graduated to just not liking it. I started to realize that I was entrusting some pretty important (and some not so important) decisions into the hands of people who weren’t particularly good at taking care of themselves, much less others. I began to understand that our dynamics had shifted – because I’d gone from the bird with a broken wing who needed a cage to be transported safely from point A to point B, to a fully-healed bird ready to take flight – were it not for the owner who kept clipping my wings.

The rules no longer felt like they were being set to help me. They felt like they were being set to control me, and I no longer wanted to be under that 24/7 type of control.

The rules were condoms.

The rules I put on myself and those I allowed to be put on me were an imperfect attempt to protect myself from ….whatever was out there. Just like condoms, the only way to truly be safe is abstinence; and I wasn’t willing to be kink-abstinent anymore.

Now I’m in a relationship with only one rule: Honesty. Everything else between us is more of a request. We’ve got a 24/7 love and trust dynamic. The D/s part is significantly more fluid.

I see people talk about setting “rules” for their partners to follow …especially when they’re opening up to some form of non-monogamy for the first time. Things like “My partner can sleep with whomever, but no emotions,” or “no sleepovers,” or “not in our home,” or “anything goes but kink is only with me,” or “I’m the only one they can use this term of endearment with.”

It’s a condom. These rules are meant to control your exposure to potential harm, but they’re not foolproof. Try to make a rule that your partner will never develop feelings for a sexual partner and be prepared to find yourself on the business end of a Klingon pain stick.

If you want to feel the full spectrum of sensation in your relationship once adequate trust has been established, then it might be time to assess the value of loosening up some of the rigidity of those relationship rules.

It might be time to explore the flexibility of allowing your partner to take flight, and see how they still come back to you – again, and again.

And if they don’t?

If you’d be happy with the bird in the cage whose wings you gotta keep clipping, then you do you.

I wouldn’t be, neither as owner nor bird.

Derwood

Chatting with my partner the other day about TV shows, as we do – and I mentioned Bewitched. He crinkled up his nose. He didn’t care for it much. I thought about it. I generally love shows about kick-ass supernatural stuff. If its got magic or time travel – I’m in! Especially with a female heroine.

But he was right on with the nose crinkling. There was something about Bewitched that always did rub me the wrong way…

…and that was Darren.

Darren knew Samantha was a witch when he married her. He forces her to suppress who she is – to the point of being ANGRY with her whenever she uses her magic. Now, the idea of not wanting people to find out I can understand. Major Nelson and Major Healey over on I Dream of Jeannie didn’t want Jeannie to expose her magic to the other muggles, but I don’t recall they ever forbade her from using it when nobody was watching.

But Darren…he was actively witch-shaming his own wife, AND THEN HIS DAUGHTER!

Jackhole.

Guess what? It’s time for a SURPRISE METAPHOR!

I see a lot of folk over on the polyamory discussion forums (not here, elsewhere) complain that their partners struggle with them being poly. Now, when it’s the case of a previously monogamous couple opening up, I get it. That’s a transition that I can’t even imagine taking on.

But I’m seeing it from folk who were openly polyamorous BEFORE they get into these relationships – and then the people that they’re dating start asking them to change.

DON’T BE A DARREN. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

Of course, unless you’re old enough to have watched Bewitched either in its first run or on re-runs on Nick at Night, you haven’t the foggiest clue what I’m talking about.

But that’s okay. If you’re that young, then there’s time for you to figure all this shit out later.

Another post-GRUE Post: Part 2 – Ownership of time

In the first part of this post, I shared my epiphany on thinking in terms of needs of a relationship instead of talking about the needs of a person.

But then I had to go to work, because I’m a responsible adult and stuff, who fills my time with all manner of things that are important to me.

Key word: my time.

So, from the last post:

The language I use and the way that I use it is specifically selected to internalize the very big lessons I’ve learned from past unsuccessful attempts at dating poly: that I cannot own someone’s time, nor can they own mine.

During the course of the poly discussion at this weekend’s GRUE in Los Angeles, someone brought up a very familiar topic in the mono/poly dynamic. It was that sense that the partner that’s not dating additional partners would get sad or lonely when their only partner was out on a date with someone else; and that the partner that’s out with someone else feels responsible for this unhappiness.

I’m going to add that this isn’t only a thing that happens in mono/poly relationships. Not too long ago I read a post a friend of mine wrote about feeling lonely when his wife was out on another date and he was home with the cat.

This sharing of his feelings prompted many well-intentioned folk to offer advice on how to “fix” his loneliness. They suggested he find another date for any night that his wife was having a date. The suggested that he not “allow” his wife to spend the night elsewhere, that she should come home to him. Many people offered to keep him company while he sat alone with the cat.

Thing is, he wasn’t asking for help or advice. He was sharing a feeling – a natural, non-life threatening feeling. In a way, he was removing the “photoshop” elements from the relationship and showing that it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, even in the strongest and most open of marriages.

When I am home alone on a Saturday night while my partner is out doing fun things with another partner, that is my choice. Nothing and nobody is stopping me from having a social life if I want one. I can invite people over. I can go to the movies. I can hang out with friends. Hell, if I wanted to, I could go on a date.

I don’t want to.

This isn’t some brand new revelation. I’ve written about it before, and often.

When we were still figuring out how all this was going to work between us, there was plenty of discussion on how I was going to adapt to fulfill the needs of a relationship with a poly partner. There was also a point at which I asked him if he was comfortable having a monogamous partner.

That’s when I became somewhat aware that there was a sense of concern he felt toward my not having a good time when he wasn’t around; or that he might not be “enough” for me to feel happy or fulfilled in the long term.

I realized I wasn’t the only one that had to make some concessions in order to make this relationship work. There was a very real insecurity that he had to overcome on not being “enough” for me. The irony, of course, is that you’ll frequently hear the monogamous partner in a poly relationship complain about not feeling like they’re “enough” to satisfy their partner.

But, a post on the relative meanings of “enough” are for another time. (Plus, I think I maybe already wrote one).

I made a conscious decision not only to remember that I cannot own somebody else’s time; but also to own the responsibility for my own time. He’s not responsible for the nights I fail to make other plans. He’s not responsible for my loneliness. I cannot force him to spend time with me.

He has to want to. And he does.

If and when my loneliness presents itself, is not a problem that needs to be solved. If it does need to be solved, I need to solve it myself, by taking it upon myself to engage in other interests with other people.


Related writings:

Another Post-Grue Post: Part 1 – Addressing the needs of each relationship

I’m a fan of using precise language to break down concepts in my own head. For example, differentiating between “my night” and “the night he spends with me” in relation to my partner and how he divides his time among his partners.

Key word: His time.

Does it mean the same thing if I’m trying to get a point across that Friday night is “my night” and that’s why I don’t go out on Saturdays as much anymore? Probably, to the person I’m talking to, but not to me. The language I use and the way that I use it is specifically selected to internalize the very big lessons I’ve learned from past unsuccessful attempts at dating poly: that I cannot own someone’s time, nor can they own mine. We choose to spend time with each other, and it just so happens that it’s usually on Friday nights.

During this past weekend’s GRUE in Los Angeles, I participated in another discussion – this one on polyamory. I do wish it’d been able to go on longer, but it was toward the end of the day and the circumstances were what they were.

It was very cool to participate in the discussion and have two other mono/poly participants in the room. While a lot of the issues that face polyamorous couples and groups have similar themes, the monogamuggles tend to adapt to them with slight differences – but enough of a difference that it felt good to not be the only one in the room.

During the course of the discussion, I had a bit of an epiphany. It wasn’t groundbreaking or anything, but it was another one of those things where the slight adjustment in language used helped deflate a common struggle I have with the concept of being “needy.”

Often, when you take a hinge partner, for example – the partner that has multiple partners, they’ll talk about what each of their partners needs separately. Partner A needs this, Partner B needs this, Partner C needs this. It sets up this sense that the hinge is the sole provider of any work in the relationship, and that at some point they might resent or burn out on this pressure of having to cater to the needs of all these different partners.

With a slight adjustment in the language, I think it might be easier to alleviate the perceived burden of responsibility.

Relationship A needs this. Relationship B needs this. Relationship C needs this.

P.S. there is no hierarchy implied in my selection of variables.

Anyway, in my own mind, it helps to think of it that way. When the needs of the relationship are addressed then the burden of being “needy” is taken away from one or the other partner specifically. When the needs of the relationship are addressed, it more evenly distributes the responsibility to either party to fulfill those needs.

And, when you’re in a situation where one of your partner’s other relationships needs something that somehow affects you, it might be a little easier to not grow resentful of that need by attributing it in its entirety to your metamour; and remembering that your partner has a vested interest in wanting that relationship to work. Their needs are wrapped up in the relationship’s needs as well.

That’s it on this. I have another point to make that came out of this discussion, but I gotta go to work. To be continued.

The Frustration with French Fries

The most painful part of my monthly waxing isn’t the part where she’s ripping the hair out my most sensitive places. It’s having to maintain a conversation with her for the two hours I spend on her table.

Yes, two hours. She’s meticulous. She’s “tweezers to the ass crack” meticulous. This is why I put up with her.

Anyway, so she knows about the kink and the poly. The kink, ’cause…well, I’m naked and spread eagle on her table once a month. Sometimes there are bruises. And the poly, ’cause I hate lying and unless we’re talking about a situation where my relationship dynamic is going to harm my career or cause my grandmother a heart attack, I tend to not keep it a secret.

In case you’re reading this and you’ve not been following along, the tl;dr of my relationship is that I am not polyamorous, but my boyfriend is. And it works out just fine.

Anyway, so she knows. She’s known all along. And last year there were a couple of sessions where she asked a lot of questions and I had the patience to explain it to her. She asked all the regular questions: “don’t you get jealous?” (not about sex) “doesn’t it bother you he’s with someone else?” (no.) “Don’t you want to get married though?” (negative.) And my favorite, “I’m just afraid you’re going to get hurt.” (yeah, ’cause monogamous men have never hurt me)

Eventually the novelty of the thing wore off and we didn’t really talk about it anymore. Or, when we’d talk about my relationship she’d ask about what we’ve done for fun or what our plans are for holidays and she knows when I talk about my metamours (who I am good friends with) that they are also my partner’s partners.

So I was a little surprised last night when she started using phrases like “on the side.”

Like, “couldn’t you have a guy on the side, too?”

1) We’ve talked about this before. I could have another relationship if I wanted to. I don’t want to. It’s not how I’m wired. I accept this about me. My partner accepts this about me. It is not a cause for concern for anybody else.

2) “Too?” The phrasing makes it seem as though she believes that either I or one of my metamours holds “on the side” status in his mind. That’s not how it works in our relationship. None of us are “on the side.” I don’t like what “on the side” implies, and I really don’t like what “too” implies.

But I didn’t correct her. Not then, because we’ve been through this before and she just doesn’t get it. She really just doesn’t get it and it’s not worth my energy to keep explaining.

Then she decided to throw a hypothetical situation at me. “I know you say you don’t want to get married again, and that’s fine…” (oh, I’m so glad you approve of my life choices), “But let’s say you change your mind and you marry him…would you still let him have other girls on the side?”

let him?

on the side??

At this point, I kind of lost my patience.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “That’s like asking if I’d ‘let him’ have blue eyes.”

“No, but you know what I mean,” she said.

“No, you don’t understand what I mean. He is poly. It is who he is. I accept that about him. I didn’t get involved with him so that I could change him.”

“So you would be okay with him having other girls on the side.”

“None of us are ‘on the side’,” I corrected her again.

She’s not gonna get it. She’ll never get it.

But maybe you might.

Sometimes you can’t even judge a book by its table of contents

Earlier this morning I received a message on Facebook from my childhood best friend. She’d had some life changes and, despite our not being all that close for the past 20 years, she wanted to share the news with me.

She goes on to tell me that she’s polyamorous, dating one of our mutual high school acquaintances, and has a couple of girlfriends, to boot!

[insert shocked face emoji here]

We’ve been facebook friends since the advent of facebook, so I’ve kept up with her life and its successes. The husband, the kids, the dream job and all the stuff you’d expect from our class valedictorian; but….

THIS?

It makes you want to say things like “Small world!” or “OH EM GEE.”

I mean, of all the people in the world who I might have thought would “get” my situation, she’d not have been one of them. For many reasons that I won’t go into, but suffice it to say I thought she’d gone the way of the straight and narrow after high school and that was that.

In this case, I had enough knowledge of her to go past the cover. She was, at one point, my best friend. I could say something like OMG, you’re dating LL (not his name, not his initials)? and she’ll know exactly what I mean and she’d be the only one on the planet to know what I mean and if she’s reading this right now, she’s laughing.

Inside joke.

LIKE THE KIND THAT HAPPENS WAY PAST THE COVER OF THE BOOK.

This is friend I called during my walk home from losing my virginity at 14 and said “guess what happened!” and she answered “you lost your virginity!”

By the way, a few years later the same conversation happened in reverse.

And STILL when she said to me this time, “there’s something I want to share with you,” my initial thoughts were “you’re pregnant again, you’re getting a divorce and moving back to California, you’ve just won the Nobel prize for science, or you have six months to live.”

Like, the last thing I imagined I’d read next was “I’m polyamorous, and…”

I guess you really just never know about people until you really know about people.

I love it when the plot thickens.