What if you’re struggling to see the relationship you have as valid if they’re married to someone else?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: If a really kind person wanted to praise me, they’d say, if a really tough person assessed me, they’d say.

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 40 – Polyam is Valid

What if you’re struggling to see the relationship you have as valid if they’re married to someone else? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – if a really kind person wanted to praise me, they’d say, if a really tough person assessed me, they’d say.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m new to mono/poly[am] life. He’s married & I thought we’d stay FWBs. I saw his marriage as a safeguard to either of us catching serious feelings. (My bad!)

Now that we’ve started to know/care about each other, it’s hard accepting that he loves me. I know it’s wrong/insulting to assume what we have is “meaningless” because he’s married. And it would deeply hurt him to know I’ve been stuck thinking this way. Or that I was fine with this being a throwaway type of thing.

But it’s hard to accept that I could matter to him too (or at all). Especially because I spent so much time focusing on boundaries, jealousy, & so much other stuff to  adapt to this, I’m embarrassed to admit that it never occurred to me that I could be more than a “side chick” fling. Or that this was about romantic love at all.

 In my head I know it’s silly & ignorant to dismiss or invalidate any type of love. But my feelings haven’t caught up. It would be nice to believe we could have something special but just thinking about it feels fake.

I’m self aware enough to realize that this is a really shitty view of polyamory & its meaning. I’m ashamed to admit that I just saw him as someone’s leftovers who couldn’t really love as many people as he thinks. And it sucks.

What can I do to start seeing/accepting  poly[am] love as real & valid? How can I work on changing my perspective so I can respect/acknowledge his feelings even though I don’t understand them?

Response:

First thing that I want to say is that I think that you need to give yourself a little bit of a break because this quite often happens to people new to polyamory. They read a lot about it. They investigate a lot about it. And then, despite the fact that they know that they’re coming from a culture where monogamy is the norm, where it’s sort of socially reinforced, and they have all these cultural scripts for monogamy, they somehow just expect themselves to be able to adapt to polyamory easily without much of a fuss.

And just magically— because polyamory seems like a good choice for them. But if you really think about it, I think that part of what your brain is trying to do is protect yourself because you’ve grown up— unless you’ve grown up in a different society than I have. And apologies if that’s the case. You’ve grown up in a society that has told you that monogamy is the norm. It is the socially acceptable way to express love and that the only valid love is you know, when people are married to each other. So there is some type of protective instinct I think in your mind to go “I need to be really careful because I don’t want to get my feelings hurt”.

Because you know— and in your defence, there are quite a lot of married polyamorous people and you don’t really say much about his history like whether or not he’s been polyamorous for a certain amount of years, whether or not he was polyamorous before he met his current wife. There are plenty of people who become polyamorous in their marriage and then decide to date someone else. And then it doesn’t work out in the way that they think it should. And they dump that person and that person gets really hurt.

So I don’t think that you protecting yourself a little bit is immature or necessarily a sign that you don’t consider polyamory, the love that people have in polyamorous relationships, real and valid, I think it’s just kind of a little bit of a natural self protectant in the situation, and it makes a lot of sense. It’s not silly and ignorant. I think you’re just trying to be wary of it. And that’s fair enough. I mean, you don’t really say how long you’ve been with this person, or how long he’s been married to this other person.

And there is a big imbalance here in terms of, you know, the amount of times you know— the amount of time he’s with this married person versus you unless he met you a week after he met this married person. And even if that’s the case, he’s married to this person. There just isn’t natural power and balance and it makes perfect sense for you to try and be wary of that. I think that you need to give him a little bit more credit in just assuming his capacity for love. But I don’t think that you just trying to protect yourself as necessarily, you know, a sign of your immaturity or something ignorant or bad about yourself.

I think that you need to kind of think about as well what is real and valid love. Because the thing about growing up in a society where monogamy is the default and where marriage is kind of encouraged is that it creates what’s known as the relationship escalator and if you haven’t heard of the concept of the relationship escalator definitely Google it.

It’s basically a sort of cultural script that you get, which sort of says right, you meet someone, you really like them, you go on a date, you date officially, you move in together, you get married, you have kids— it’s a sort of like upper escalator of steps that you take in order to— you know, in general everyone’s relationship isn’t— people can fall in love with other people. Things can happen. It’s not as solid and secure as we’d like to think, however, this kind of escalator and the sort of script that you follow gives you the reassurance that your relationship is stable and that your love is valid.

And so it’s going to be really hard for you because within polyamory, you kind of have to create a different kind of escalator. You have to create different types of meaning. You have to decide what commitment means if commitment isn’t being sexually exclusive to somebody, then what does it mean and how do you define it? And what does it look like in your life? So you have come through a culture where real and valid love, has been defined by marriage and has been defined by sexual exclusivity, has been defined by monogamy.

If they have children, then that’s even more going to reinforce that concept for you. So you kind of have to break down the messages that you’ve received about what real and valid love means. And you kind of have to think okay, “What makes this type of their relationship more real and valid?”. Is it the marriage thing? Are there other things that you both can do that can create that kind of stability for you or create that kind of, you know, maybe after five years, you decide— you may not be able to legally marry multiple people, but you can certainly have as many marriage ceremonies as you want.

You know, you can certainly buy rings for each other, if that’s the kind of way you want to express your commitment to one another, then you can do that. So just think about what real and valid love actually means to you. And I think if that means that you’ll be able to accept it, but it’s going to be hard and it’s going to be a difficult egg to crack when you have an entire society surrounding you that says, you know, it has to end in marriage, or you know, if somebody doesn’t make it out of the relationship alive, then it’s not a valid coupledom.

So you have all of that to fight, and that’s not easy. So give yourself a little bit of a break again. I think as well… You know, one of the things that people joke about polyamory and about polyamorous people Is that we sometimes over communicate and communicate to an extent to which it becomes unhelpful. And I do think sometimes we overthink things. People in polyamorous situations are so worried about it “working” and are so aware of kind of a it’s not— I wouldn’t say it’s a dominant cultural narrative because people are aware open relationships exist. I think they’re sort of aware of it.

I think that they’re… the sort of assumption that most people would have is that it doesn’t work. Like they would just assume that it doesn’t work. And when we ask, Well, what does work mean? We define working as you know, the people in that relationship being in that relationship until somebody in that relationship dies. And that’s what working means.

And even though I’m lax to sort of recommend Dan Savage in any way, shape or form for a various amount of reasons, the aspect of the advice that he gives when he says that we need to stop defining relationship success, as you know, one person— only one person makes it out alive. I agree with that. I think that You are surrounded by a society which in some ways, I wouldn’t say completely dominantly says— but the idea is that open relationships don’t work. Non monogamy doesn’t work. Polyamory doesn’t work.

And so you have to kind of fight against this and that that is really difficult and and takes up a lot of your energy. And part of that and trying to protect ourselves from that assumption that “Oh, it doesn’t work. I need to make sure this works”. And we judge ourselves so much based on that and we judge our ability to do polyamory. We don’t do that for monogamy. You know, comedians have made tons of money, bocous de money on joking about how terrible marriages and about how horrible monogamy is. Monogamous people are never expected to love monogamy they never expected to enjoy monogamy.

However, there is a different standard that is kind of put upon the shoulders— and I think it’s partially self placed. We think that we need to enjoy non monogamy all of the time in order for it to be validated. choice. And so you really, really put in the situation where you’re like, hyper examining everything because you’re waiting for something to fail, because you don’t want it to fail because you want everything to work because it has to work. And that creates a lot of tension where if you were monogamous, you wouldn’t be worrying about half these things.

So I think you need to like, think about how often you’re thinking about this. Think about how much weight you’re putting on this. Think about, you know, would you be analysing this so much if you were just dating him? And the assumption would be that maybe you would end up being in a monogamous relationship? Or maybe you wouldn’t? So I think you need to— it’s easy to say, don’t worry so much. But really, that’s the advice, like, think about how much you’re picking this apart, and ask yourself if you really need to pick this apart so much. Is it really helping you? You know, you’re not going to be able to take out some kind of love-ometer and measure how much what is real and valid love and how much love do I have for this and that neither, like it’s not something that’s a measurable concept.

So you just have to try that, you know, you care about this person and the relationship will go where it can go. I think if you do have the resources and it’s accessible for you, I think finding a polyamory friendly therapist would also be really helpful. But in general, I think, to kind of sum up, remember that you don’t have any models for this. You don’t have any scripts for this. You don’t have the relationship escalator.

You don’t have all of this—  all of these messages about what real invalid love means and examine that. I think don’t be so hard on yourself. Because you’re protecting yourself in this situation of saying, “Okay, maybe I need to not put all of my eggs in one basket”. You’re protecting yourself. So don’t be so hard on yourself for protecting yourself. And then you know, last but not least, don’t pick this apart to such a minute extent. You don’t need to analyse this in such serious depth.

Think about where you want your relationship to go. But you don’t have to pick it apart so much that you’re just analysing and fretting over the details and like “Oh am I accepting that this love is real and valid? Am I you know, really accepting this or not?” I think that part of you your inability to accept it as the fact that you’re kind of hyper analysing it.

Alright, well, I think that’s about it. I really hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.