I’m new to polyamory, as I’m sure many of the people who contact you are, and i feel like im in a bit of a hard place right now.
I’ve been seeing my amazing partner for just under a year now and while shes had partners during our relationship, I’ve just not been as sure as she is about finding new partners. I’ve recently decided to give dating a try and while it’s only really been a week, I feel somewhat unsure that I’ll be able to find someone likeminded to have a partnership with. I mean, polyamory is a pretty niche group in the first place, and while I’m not a hard person to please, a lot of the people I’ve come across so far don’t interest me at all. I feel as if the odds are a little stacked against me in terms of finding a compatible partner in this form of dating.
Also, it may just be some real insecurities, but sometimes i find myself longing for my partner to be monogamous with me. Don’t get me wrong, im interested in exploring polyamory, and not just because she is, but because i have a genuine interest in it. But sometimes, on off or down days, i really start to want for us to be together without polyamory. This won’t happen, and like i said, i want to explore polyamory in the same way she does. But I’m crazy about her, fully crazy about her, and I’m wondering how i can get past my feelings of being unsure and embrace someone else the i do her.
Random thoughts but i would really appreciate some insight.
There a few things going on here, a few things I can definitely relate to:
- Massive differences between partners
- Monogamy as a cure for insecurity
- Figuring out your structure
I’ll address them all below.
Massive disparities with your partner
In almost every situation in polyamory, I see folks who have massive disparities between their primary partner and themselves and there’s all sorts of reasons behind it. On the whole in society, it’s sometimes much easier for people read as women to get “dates” than it is for people read as men because of a lot of societal reasons including men being encouraged to make the “first move” to talk to women to women leaving dating sites or barely using them do to harassment.
Quite often, people assume this means folks read as and identifying as women have a ‘privilege’ but… I can tell you as someone read as a woman, I may get a lot of messages but very few of them are actually viable. I don’t know if you speak to your partner about the things she has to deal with, but I’m betting there are a lot of not so fun things she’s had to wade through to get to any partners she’s been able to have. And you don’t really specify if these are one off dates, if they’re relationships, or even if they’ve been good experiences for your partner. I wouldn’t always assume so.
The other thing is that a lot of disparities occur naturally. So take me and my primary partner for example. He is very extroverted, enjoys parties, enjoys speaking to people, isn’t on the asexual spectrum, enjoys more casual relationships, and doesn’t have any experiences of sexual abuse or trauma. Although he’s bisexual and isn’t always gender conforming, he is a cis white man and therefore operates differently within communities than I do.
Contrast that to me. I’m very introverted and at times have severe social anxiety. Although both my partner and I are on the autistic spectrum, I have more sensory processing problems than he does and for that reason I hate parties, bars, and 90% of the events that people use to meet other people. I hate small talk.
I don’t like the process of getting to know people and I hate dating. I’m non-binary and grew up working class which alienates me from the polyamory community that’s local which is very white and middle class. I have experiences of sexual abuse and trauma which have likely impacted my feelings of safety in many situations and on top of that, I’m generally asexual, very rarely attracted to anybody, and just overall not very interested in most people.
It is an absolute likelihood that any partner I have will have far more partners than I ever will and that has always been true. I have tried to date. I have tried to initiate relationships with people, but I am never that enthusiastic about it because of just how frankly daunting it is. And most of the time, either I tend to be attracted to extroverted social butterflies or it just happens that extroverted social butterflies are the only ones who talk to me. But the truth is, I admire my partner’s ability to mingle with people. I don’t know how he does it. Sometimes I envy it, but for the most part, I respect that we have that difference.
Still, I struggle very much with accepting myself. I look on the outside in the polyamory community and in the LGBTQ community where people have “hookups” and all of these stories to share and I can count the number of sexual partners I’ve had on one hand. A big part of the insecurity I have in our relationship is that, as someone who is asexual, I am not “exciting” enough for my partner. I always worry that, because I have such problems with sexual trauma and very little attraction to people, not being able to just join in the Shortbus orgy and ‘relax’ makes me a wet blanket. I have HUGE insecurities around this. And they don’t just go away even as my partner tells me he doesn’t think I am boring.
But I do feel like underneath it all, my insecurity is going to be there regardless. And that’s the thing. People might not understand why I, as an asexual person, am interested in having an open relationship. They might think it’s pointless and ridiculous for me given that I hate dating. For me, it’s about the fact that *creepy old woman voice* in 18 years precisely when the planets align ever so nicely *end voice* and I find someone I like, I want the ability to pursue that. I know very clearly what I get out of non-monogamy and even if I do occasionally experience a fear or a worry about my partner having more partners than me, I know that it’s not a competition and that there is something I get out of it.
It’s understandable for you to have feelings about your partner having more partners than you. It’s understandable to feel frustrated because you’re not attracted to anyone. You haven’t given me any identifiers of whether you’re also white and middle class, but those can easily be why you can’t relate to your immediate community. And ‘polyamory’ is a niche in many areas. The odds very well may be stacked against you, but that’s not something you or your partner can control.
I’d encourage you to expand beyond your inner polyamory circle. I met my current primary partner by slogging myself to an event I barely wanted to go to. 99% of the reason I force myself to go to social events I know I’m not going to mostly enjoy is for the chance to maybe meet someone who doesn’t happen to have an OKC profile or people you may mesh really well with but who you might not have been open to. Join online communities and have chats with people and see if anything comes with it. But most of all, just try and not put so much pressure on yourself.
Monogamy as a cure for insecurity
There have been periods of singlehood in my life where I have literally told my friends, “I’m going to die alone” because of how I’ve felt. And obviously a relationship is never guaranteed to last forever, but I thus far have been proven wrong.
Disparities in the experience of you and your partner also means that it makes total sense for you to sometimes feel like you want to Etch-A-Sketch your relationship into something that seems less complicated. I totally understand that. There are some days when I have felt that too, just to simplify things. It sucks when your partner has plans and you don’t. You don’t mention what your insecurities are, but I would encourage you to not assume that monogamy is simple, even if it seemed simpler to you than polyamory does.
Sometimes when we’re all caught in the sort of clusterfuck that can be non-monogamy, we think going back to monogamy will solve it. And in some cases, yeah it might solve some things but… monogamous people can still be insecure. I think that for some people, including myself, aspects of non-monogamy have a way to be great targets for our insecurity and anxiety. My anxiety loves to find things and go, “Oh look, this is how you suck. Get better.” And my relationship style is perfect. So it’ll go, “Oh look, your partner is dating this person because you’re boring and you suck.” And that might lead me to thinking, the solution is easily to have a partner that doesn’t date anyone but me.
But that’s not actually the solution, it’s a mirage. And this is what at least my obsessive compulsive tendencies are all about. It’s your mind going, “Right this is going to fix everything so do this” and you get so compelled by relieving the anxiety that you compulse to a solution — but it doesn’t fix it. Insecurity will not change just because you’re monogamous. If I were monogamous, I would instead just worry my partner is bored with me and then will dump me for someone else. Like, if anything I feel like monogamy would make me *more* stressed because I would feel pressured to meet ALL of one person’s needs and I might not actually be able to do that.
Right now, your brain sounds really anxious about the disparity in partners and it’s convincing you that going back to monogamy might solve that and… maybe yeah you wouldn’t have to handle the hassle and pain that is dating, but it doesn’t mean you won’t be worried about anything else. So try and remember that.
Figuring out your structure
When people do monogamy, they have a cultural script that tells them how this goes. You meet someone, you date, you get engaged, you get married, you maybe have kids, you life happily forever after until someone in the couple drops dead then voila! Successful partnership. I’m being slightly sarcastic here.
But the point is that people know roughly what they can do to secure a partnership that seems secure. So many problems in monogamous relationships arise from people assuming one cultural script while their partner assumes another. In a way, I think the cultural script is a problem because it leads people to not really talking or sometimes even thinking about what they want out of a romantic partnership and, more importantly, *why* they even want one.
So many people enter into long term, domestic, childbearing partnerships even though it’s not something that works for them. What this means for you is that you don’t have this cultural script. And for a lot of non-monogamous people this means that they start non-monogamous relationships without knowing how they’re going to end up and that causes a lot of insecurity and fear. And in my opinion, the beginner advice they get about it doesn’t help. They assume this anxiety is due to “baggage” and insecurity they have, but actually, it’s a perfectly logical reaction.
I wrote in a previous article about the conflation of insecurity and self hatred. People use them as if they’re one in the same and they’re not. Just because you are insecure doesn’t mean you have poor self esteem. Even someone with amazing self esteem can find themselves feeling insecure if the situation they are in isn’t secure. Everyone gets anxious and scared when there are immediate unknowns in their future. A lot of people don’t really know what structure they want from non-monogamy and don’t necessarily have available tools to understand what structures are even possible. It’s like jumping in the deep end. And some non-monogamy advice gives you 50 different strokes you can do but no idea how to just tread water.
What would help you feel less insecure in your relationship is finding out what you and your partner want out of it eventually. If you don’t know, you may have to accept and embrace that this unsure-ness may cause you anxiety. But regardless of what we plan in life and what we hope our relationships will be, life happens. Our plans are usually just ideas that give us a belief that we have control. It isn’t actual control. If you and your partner don’t really know what kind of structure you want, that’s okay. Just know you might be feeling scared about it. And that doesn’t mean you’re insecure. It may just mean you’re worried about the future. And you don’t have to be happy all of the time for a relationship to work for you.
Maybe it’s worth sitting down with your partner and thinking about what both of you might prefer in relationship structures and how you want to live your life. Do you want to be primary/anchor partners? Or are you looking for something different and what does that mean? I’m not sure how old you are so that might be a big question mark right now, but it’s worth thinking about what you may want and coming to an understanding with each other over that.
I have always wanted a primary/anchor partner to share a domesticated situation with and then other partners I see occasionally and maybe chat to daily. My ideal scenario actually was a potential triad, but in discussing this with my current primary, this isn’t really something that he wants. So I have to accept that my “ideal” might not really happen. He’s open to the idea of it, but it’s not really his ideal situation.
Things like that are okay and workable, but it’s worth thinking about what your plans might be. I think people avoid having this discussion in both monogamy and non-monogamy because they’re worried it might ruin the relationship — and to be fair, it could. If you never spoke with your partner about, for example, something major like having children and you find out that you don’t want them and your partner does, then it might be something that makes the relationship awkward because you realise you’re ultimate incompatible for the long term. I don’t feel like this *has* to end a relationship because I feel relationships not only shouldn’t be defined in terms of ‘success’ or not, but also that a ‘good’ relationship shouldn’t only be ‘good’ because it lasts until one person in it dies.
You may find in this discussion that you might be long term incompatible. And that can be scary. But keep in mind, people change. My primary and I don’t want children but he could decide in 5 years that he really does. People change all of the time. I think, it’s much better to have this discussion now, know that the relationship may not last forever and then embrace the time that you have.
When I started my relationship with my primary, we had a hard discussion about kids because at the time I wanted kids and he wasn’t so sure. We thought about checking in in 5 years to see where we were on it, pursuing the relationship knowing full well it might have to end in 5 years. And it was scary, but I think I’d much rather know that going in than wait 5 years and be devastated when I finally managed to bring the subject up.
So think about what you want inevitably, see how it works with your partner, think about some short term goals and don’t worry if your long term goals may not be inevitably compatible. What I try to remember throughout all of the planning and control I do to my life is that inevitably, I don’t have control over anything but myself and how I look at the world. Worrying about what’s going to happen when I can’t possibly predict the future and know for sure, like Newt Scamander says, there’s no point in suffering twice.
Summarising the points, I think it would help you to accept that there may be a massive disparity between your partners and that this is quite an average experience in non-monogamy, try to remember that monogamy will not make fear go away, and have a discussion with your partner about what your relationship means and what you’re looking for down the line.
I hope this helps!
“Another thing that stood out to me is the writer may be super emotionally invested in the relationship and feeling anxiety about how reciprocal that investment may be. I was reminded recently that exclusivity does not guarantee commitment and commitment doesn’t require exclusivity. So in addition to the comments you already have in the structure section, it might make sense to explore what “commitment” means to them in this relationship.
For example, my nesting partner and I were monogamously, legally married before we opened our relationship. One thing we did that really helps my anxiety is we consciously redefined what “fidelity” meant to us. We define “fidelity” as “we always come back to each other; we return to each other.” This means, no matter what dates or relationships we have outside of the marriage, as long as we always come back, I can feel more secure in our commitment.”
Note: This column was written in 2017 so it is possible I have gained a new perspective. Feel free to write in with a similar question if need be.
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