Tag Archives: polyamory

Loving Without Expectation

I have been reading loads of articles on letting go of expectations in regards to relationships. And I have come to the conclusion that I am not capable of this.

Yet.

Logically, I believe in everything I have read. Letting go of the need to box up a relationship and give it a name. Letting go of trying to label something and put a pretty bow on it to give oneself the illusion of safety and stability. I understand the concept and I believe that it is a very powerful one; the end game being to love freely and completely with your entire self without the expectation that someone ‘needs’ to love you back in the same way that you might love them.

Loving without the expectation that a so-called ‘relationship’ means a promise of forever.

Maybe loving without expectation is something that some people can do right out of the dating gate. Maybe some people learn how to do this with years of practice. I have tried, a few times now, and with absolute frustration I have realized that I cannot do this at this point in my life. I have been through so much trauma this past year, that I crave that perceived guarantee. Which, let’s be honest, is total bullshit because I know (better than most) that futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight and labels aren’t guarantees and pretty little relationship packages are not promises.

Love feels pretty terrifying right now.

I think that loving without expectation is one of the main tenants of polyamory. Being free to love whomever you love in whatever way that might be. Trusting yourself to give love and accept love. Trusting your partner (or partners) to treat you with respect and kindness as you navigate the ups and downs of multiple relationships. Understanding that there is no permanence in relationships just as there is no permanence in life.

A friend who is poly once told me that in a new poly relationship, everyone involved should go as slowly and mindfully as the slowest person involved. I was so completely traumatized by my one and only experience with polyamory that I am absolutely terrified of having any kind of relationship with anyone. I was literally bulldozed by two people who fell madly in love with each other and then kicked me to the curb.

The maddening thing is, being in a relationship is all that my aching heart wants. But, at least for now, I simply cannot do this without a fear and a terror that I will open up my heart (and it opens in a BIG way), and someone will look at me and say, “Hey, you just aren’t what I want. I do not choose you, I choose this other person. See ya!” I don’t want to be treated that way ever again.

I am currently completely frustrated with myself. I had to let go and say goodbye to a great guy this week. We were doing beautifully for about a month. I was letting go of the expectation that he needed to love me in the way that I loved him. I was learning to trust and believe that I could finally do it, let my heart free, let it out of its terrified space of hurt and fear. He was kind, supportive, nurturing, and SAFE. He was a safe person to love because he would never hurt me. He would never bail on me. I could feel my heart slowly healing.

But then we had this conversation during which he told me he wanted to “keep his options open” and if he wanted to have sex with someone else he wanted to be able to do that without hurting my feelings.

I reacted like a deer in headlights, I nearly disassociated due to my trauma and PTSD. But I breathed through it and in that moment I realized that I simply could not give him that; even though I wanted to, SO MUCH. My heart cracked and broke again and I said goodbye to someone who didn’t want the same thing I did. I could not go through the horror of being left by someone again. I retreated to my space of hurt, longing, rejection, abandonment, and anxiety. I am still living there to some degree. I am trying to feel my feelings without letting them run rampant and seize control. I am getting better at this but it can still feel pretty scary.

But what is it that I really want? A lie? A false sense of security and a sense of safety that isn’t even real? My brain wants that. My heart has a completely different idea. I know now that I can love someone without an expectation that they will love me back. I can be with someone and open up my heart to them without that need for their love to match my own. But here is the catch: I cannot do this in a so-called ‘open relationship’. The minute he dropped that bomb, I knew I was incapable of doing what I had slowly begun to do. Love without expectation. Because, in my limited experience with open relationships, people leave you. They smash your heart and walk away without a backward glance. Maybe someday I will have healed enough to handle something like that if it happened again. But for now, it is just not possible. And the worst part?

I feel like a failure.

I think it is okay to expect certain things. I expect not to be treated like shit. I expect to be treated with care and compassion and kindness. I expect someone to be gentle with my heart and not stomp all over it. These things are non negotiable needs for me, and at this point in my healing, I have to create boundaries that protect them. Which meant saying goodbye to someone I love very, very much. And isn’t that a brave thing to do? To stay within my own integrity and know my own limits and set my own boundaries? I am hurting a lot right now, but that hurt will fade with time. I won’t feel this way forever. Because forever is an illusion and labeling something as ‘exclusive’ or ‘non-exclusive’ means absolutely nothing.

But for now, until the parts of me that fear abandonment heal, I am trying to accept that I need to feel safe within the context of a lie.

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Compersion and NRE a blissful combination or a recipe for disaster?

Compersion. NRE. Two of the most popular terms thrown around in poly circles.

Compersion is defined as “the positive feelings one gets when a lover is enjoying another relationship”. Jealousy be damned, if you are polyamorous, compersion is the mecca of feelings. If you are successful in feeling compersion, then Welcome, Friends! You are officially amazing at being polyamorous; you are in the poly ‘cool club’. A club I tried so desperately to be a part of but did not have the emotional tool box to manage. Which always brings me back to this: poly is intellectually pretty simple to grasp, but emotionally, a much more difficult feat to manage.

Jealously is a totally normal feeling and should not be ignored – it often signals that something deeper is going on and needs to be examined and hopefully worked through. And in no way am I saying that jealousy should be equated with love. It isn’t. It is insecurity within one’s self and usually the existing relationship.

Compersion can seem, to many, a lofty and unattainable goal. And, to be honest, it seemed that way to me during my failed attempt at polyamory with my husband. I felt brief glimpses of it – moments where I could think of his relationship with his metamour (your partner’s partner) as something amazing and fulfilling for him. I mean, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to fall in love all over again with someone after 16 years of marriage and monogamy? However, those fleeting moments of compersion were filtered through the eyes of someone who was in no way getting her needs met. And worse, that relationship became the vehicle through which my husband hurt me more deeply than anyone ever has in my entire life. A post for another time…

Enter in another catch phrase of polyamory, NRE (new relationship energy). NRE is that heady, happy, lofty feeling of, you guessed it, being smitten with someone in a new relationship. NRE and compersion should, ideally, go hand in hand. Your partner comes home glowing with NRE and bam! you feel compersion for them. Maybe these two things can compliment each other, but certainly not when the primary relationship is already struggling and deeply flawed.

My needs within my marriage were in no way being met (for a number of reasons) and hadn’t been for years. So, when my husband came home from being out with his metamour, I was left in this confused state of feeling ‘less than’, ‘not good enough’, and certainly not ‘special’. I totally own that this was, in part, my lack of self-esteem, but it was also the fact that as my husband dated this other woman, he did not ‘date’ me. The two of us rarely went out together and yet I was expected to watch him leave, two to three nights a week, to go have adventures with someone else, while I baby-sat our children.

Yes, I was, and still am, bitter, hurt, and resentful. Like I have said before, this is my journey and I have a lot to sort through. My relationship with my husband came with baggage; children, a mortgage, responsibilities. And I have to be honest, I am not sure how any long-term relationship can compete with a brand new one with a woman 12 years younger who lives in a van.

I think that NRE can become a toxic space for the primary partner that many people in the poly community celebrate and simultaneously use as an excuse for their partner’s behavior. NRE should not be something we need to ‘deal with’ or ‘get through’. NRE should not be the existing partner’s nightmare (as was the case for me). I challenge you to think of it instead as something the person in the extraneous relationship needs to own and help the primary partner through. Be it with extra support, extra love, and extra attention, whatever, but in no way should NRE be seen as something that the existing partner should suffer through.

It is difficult enough when opening up your marriage after 16 years of monogamy to unwind all of the cultural lies and confusion regarding monogamy. Soul mates?  Bullshit. One person for the rest of your life? Bullshit. Someone to complete you? Also, bullshit. Add to this total-upending and reevaluation of fidelity, the heady mix of NRE and the pressure that you ‘should’ or are ‘supposed to’ feel compersion for the person walking out the door, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. This is especially true if you are emotionally unprepared for the hurt and the jealously that are TOTALLY NORMAL. I think in our situation, there was a severe imbalance – my husband kept up walls around me due to my codependency and trauma. I could be explosive at times, and he began to dread and fear accidentally triggering me. Things got so bad that he began to purposefully damage and hurt our relationship. And the more he distanced himself, the harder I fought back.

Until I stopped fighting and began to live a lie just to keep my family intact. It was a slippery slope of emotional confusion and exhaustion.

A lie, a dance, a nightmare that I woke up from one day and said, “I AM DONE”.

It’s Thanksgiving and I want to talk about sex.

Yes, it is Thanksgiving, and yes, I want to talk about sex. I love sex! I am thankful for sex. And hormones, libido, and all of the crazy and not so crazy physical stuff that makes us beautifully and vulnerably human.

I was raised Roman Catholic; I grew up in a household that did not discuss sex. It wasn’t that sex was considered shameful in my home, it just didn’t exist. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that my mother never remarried after my father died. I didn’t grow up in a household that had two parents; a couple who could model what love and affection (verbal or physical) looked like. I had to figure all of that out on my own.

The only sex talk I can recall having with my mom was at age 16. It happened at 7 in the morning, while I was driving our Dodge Caravan to school. My mom sat shotgun, and out of nowhere, she blurted out, “So, are you having sex?” and that was it. I remember gripping that wheel until my knuckles turned white and shouting, “Jesus! NO!” (I was such a liar!!) There were also the times I would bring boyfriends home and my mom would awkwardly tell them to “wrap it”. Jesus, was that embarrassing.

When my husband and I were exploring polyamory and began online dating, I came to realize that, at age 42, I have a kickin’ libido. The unfortunate part was, I felt weird and insecure about this discovery. I felt ashamed, confused, and honestly, ‘slutty‘ (slut shaming is the act of criticizing a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity, or for behaving in ways that someone thinks are associated with her real or presumed sexual activity).

As I began my exploration of men and relationships outside of my marriage, I found that I was uncomfortable with my sexual self. It did not help that my husband was also shaming of my sexuality as we opened. Sometimes the hurtful statements were direct, sometimes indirect. He struggled from the beginning with the physical aspects of having an open marriage (I believe he felt a possessive ownership of me), whereas I struggled with the emotional aspects of his relationships. Sex felt like no big deal to me. As long as I was safe and protected and the sex was open and consensual, I felt fine about it. But there was always this nagging voice inside my head whispering that I was disgusting and should feel ashamed. And, in many ways, I did feel ashamed. Was it my own shit? Or maybe the religious shit? Or my husband’s shit? I can’t say for sure – likely a combination of all of these things. And society, our culture – of course these things were to blame as well.

Women are not allowed to be sexual creatures who (gasp!) enjoy sex.

Women and young girls are sent so many mixed signals in our sexually repressed society. Be sexy! But not too sexy (slut). Be hot! But don’t look too hot (bitch). Be flirtatious! But don’t be too flirtatious (husband/boyfriend stealer).

Be skinny, be flawless, be amazing-looking, make sure your ass and abs are toned, have perfect-sized breasts, the right hair, makeup, body, shoe size. Don’t get me started on fashion…And don’t forget that all of this needs to be accomplished and executed well into your 70’s. But let’s remember that we cannot get old! No grey hair! Wrinkles?

No fucking way.

There is enough confusing shit out in the world as it is; add to it the bullshit messages the media sends little girls (my daughter), teenagers, women, and middle-aged women (me), it’s no wonder we feel confused about who we are as human beings and especially as sexual beings.

I think the most hurtful one of these messages (and God knows that there are many) is the one that says: in order to be loved or even liked, we need to look and act the part (see ridiculous list above). No one talks about self-love. Which is so completely fucked up! Love of one’s self should come first and above all else. Without it, you are susceptible to using others to define your self-worth – a truly scary place to be (see my posts on codependency). And even if you believe that you need to do all of those things up there to be worthy, and you pull all of that shit off, there is still this underlying message that you are not allowed to be a sexual being.

Sex is taboo in this uptight American culture and that is utter bullshit. Why sensor one of the most fun and amazing things we can do? Research shows us that not only is sex paramount in connection with our partners (and with ourselves), it is good for us! It is healthy and good for your heart and your mind.

There is no shame in loving sex if you are a woman. I challenge you to talk about sex, think about sex, and, if you’re a writer, write about sex. This self shaming – culture shaming – bullshit needs to stop and it needs to stop now.

In defense of polyamory

I would like to make something very clear.

Polyamory was not the direct cause of the dissolution of my marriage. It was an indirect cause. It ignited a fire in a relationship that was already fractured (mixed metaphors, I know).

You can count on poly to be a lot of hard work, emotional upheaval, and, at times, stress. What you can also count on, is the fact that it will bring up your shit. Your shit, your partner’s shit, their partner’s shit, and so on. For myself and my husband, I think it felt like one giant mountain of shit (see my bio, I swear a lot). Polyamory will uncover ugly truths about yourself and your relationships that maybe you didn’t want to see or acknowledge. Maybe you were unhappy, like I was, like my husband was, and you didn’t even realize the extent of that unhappiness. And I think unhappy is the wrong word – more like dissatisfied.

Monogamy works for many people, polyamory works for many people. What I would advise, is that if you have been in a monogamous relationship for a long time, if you are married and have children and a life together, tread lightly friends. Be cautious to a fault. Examine yourself and your relationship from every angle as best you can. Sit with your shit; stare it in the face (if that is an unpleasant visual, my apologies).

Because, make no mistake, your shit will come up.

When my husband and I went to counseling, we saw a therapist and she said something to us that stuck with me. “Why would you add this complication to your lives?” And I sat there and defended it – I defended this crazy complication even while my brain was screaming at me, “YES – LISTEN TO THE LADY!”. I remember sitting there feeling emotionally spent, tired down to my bones. And yet, I told her something to the effect of: poly brings up stuff for me that I never would have dealt with. It brings up my insecurities as a woman, a wife, a human being. It brought to light my trauma from my childhood that I had conveniently packed away in my emotional suitcase of crap I never wanted to examine. Poly brought to light the fact that I am extremely codependent and have severe abandonment issues. All of those things were things I kept packed away. Things I chose to ignore (subconsciously for the most part). I was living a life of half truths, going through the motions within my marriage, my friendships, at work, and even (and this scares me still) with my children.

When your husband has a serious girlfriend that he is in love with and you watch him walk out the door 2 nights a week to be with her, it will bring up your shit. When you see a post in a Facebook group for polyamory in which your husband referred to his relationship with his girlfriend, as “coming home”, it breaks something in you – if you are not prepared for it, or emotionally capable of handling it. I absolutely was not.

Poly unpacked my suitcase and it did it fast. So fast in fact, that I was caught off guard and running around like a panicked 9-year-old (the age I was when I watched my father die). I was in a flight/fight/freeze mode for months. I was explosive, triggered, and completely falling apart. Now, all of this said, I do believe that my suitcase of shit was a bit more packed than the average person. I did not realize until much later that I had PTSD or codependency. And sure, we could have done things differently – slowed the fuck down, sought out more help than we did, paused the whole damn thing.

But we didn’t, and here we are.

Polyamory is a beautiful and amazing lifestyle. I don’t want to dissuade anyone who believes that they identify as poly from giving it a go. I am simply saying, please, for the love of God, go slowly and tread lightly. Take it one step at a time and love yourself first.

Polyamory is hard as fuck and, in my opinion, absolutely worth it. And that statement may make me sound like a crazy person as I am smack in the middle of a horrific situation; separation and a likely divorce. But look at it this way, if I hadn’t opened that suitcase, I would still be living a lie. I would still feel restless and unsatisfied, separate and distant from everything around me. I had walls made of Adamantium. Emotional walls that I put up to protect myself from feeling anything too deeply for fear of being hurt the way I was when my father died. Now, I am working through my trauma, I am grieving my father’s death, which in 32 years, was something I had never done before. I am freeing myself of my walls, I am alive, I am emotionally vulnerable and aware. I see everything and everyone in their true light because nothing is filtered through fear, through terror, through panic.

I am present in my self and I am alive for the first time in my adult life.

Resources on poly for you:

Polyamory 101 and how we fucked it up

There were so many fucking times my husband and I should have stopped our failed attempt at polyamory. We had actual conversations and examined it from every angle. Should we stop? Is this hurting us or making us stronger? What if this breaks us? What about the kids? We seriously had these conversations and always said, no, we are strong enough. We will love each other forever. We have this amazing relationship, marriage, and family. It won’t break. It cannot break. We will prevail.

Well guess what, we didn’t.

We struggled from that point on and it was a downhill, doomed rollercoaster of shit. We were so goddamn naive. We had no clue how fucked up our relationship was – it was severely codependent, it was unhealthy and unsatisfying for both of us. Romantically, there was very little there. We operated like best friends, roommates, occasional lovers, and parents. We are, and have always been, amazing parents and great friends. But now, because of our shit choices, we have broken this family that meant so much to both of us and broken our children’s lives forever. They deserve so much better than two people who made such selfish choices. Their parents chose polyamory over them. Their parents chose sex with other people over them. Their parents fucked up in horrible and horrific ways, and for me, as a mother, this is the most bitter pill to swallow.

I know that I have to keep moving, trudging through the shit. I have to untangle the codependency and find myself. But fuck! Sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes all I want is to forget about me and go back to my unsatisfying marriage and old life. Living each day like a robot, one foot in front of the other. Living with someone who was as oblivious as I was, and at times, hurtful and resentful. Parenting, wifeing, doing all of those things like some automaton so I didn’t have to face what was truly happening. I remember standing in my yard after coming home from God knows where and thinking; “This is it?” “This is all that there is?” “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life like this.” Going to work, coming home, momming, wifeing, watching Dr Who, (REPEAT), and realizing that I felt suffocated and restless and bored and resentful.

I know that we made mistakes. What I am having trouble sitting with is the fact that I know separation is the answer right now and the only way forward that makes any kind of rational sense. I also know that it is ripping my kids apart. Those two things cannot coexist in my mind, they break me wide open. I am walking around like this gaping wound of guilt and hurt and what if’s and what should have been’s.

Polyamory resources:

From More Than Two:

Do pay attention to the state of a prospective partner’s existing relationships

If you are considering joining a person who is already in a relationship, take a good look at that relationship. Is it in good shape? Do the people involved have good problem-solving skills? How good is their communication? If the relationship has problems, how will they affect you? Will you be the person who suddenly becomes expendable if the problems in the relationship become too great?

You can’t look into a crystal ball and see the future of any relationship, and any relationship is going to involve emotional risk. But if your partner can’t manage the problems in his or her existing relationship, your partner may not be able to manage any problems in yours—and it very well might be that the problems in the existing relationship will boomerang onto you. Be careful, and be aware of what you’re going in to.

Sometimes, people who have problems in a relationship will seek to fix those problems by adding new partners. As a general rule, this approach rarely works. Be careful of a partner who seems to want to be with you because he is escaping things in his other relationships that he is dissatisfied with.

Of course, no relationship is ever perfect. Any relationship can and will have problems from time to time, so…

Don’t look to your relationships to offer you validation

It seems to me as though our society often looks to relationships to define a person’s worth. People who are single are sometimes seen as being less valid as human beings than people who are married, and so on.

If you look to your relationship to tell you who you are, or to define your worth, then your sense of self will always be tied up in the form of your relationship.

You have power over your life. Your worth depends on you, not on your partner and not on your relationship. You have an identity that exists independent of your relationship, and your relationship does not describe your value. These ideas empower you to seek happiness on your terms, but more important than that, they give you resiliency that can help you over the inevitable rough patches that any relationship is likely to face.

Value and worth that come from within you rather than from things outside yourself, such as your partner or your relationship, can never be taken away from you. There is a difference between a person who wants to be in a relationship and a person who needs to be in that relationship. Quite frankly, I’d rather be involved with a person who wants to be with me than a person who needs to be with me; the people who want to be with me are there because of the value I add to their lives, not because they have no other choice!

If your sense of value comes from yourself, it frees you from dependence on the people around you. If your partner’s sense of value comes from within himself, it frees you from the responsibility of telling your partner who he is.

Resource on Polyamory:

https://www.morethantwo.com/

How polyamory cracked me wide open

Polyamory. Heard of it?

It is a lifestyle choice. It is the belief that ethical non-monogamy is a more natural way of love and life for some (not all) people. It rests on the belief that no one person can meet all of your needs. No one relationship can fulfill you; that monogamy is not a natural state for many people. It sounds good in theory – intellectually it makes a lot of sense. Emotionally, put into practice, it is hard as fuck. My marriage of 11 years did not survive this new lifestyle. My marriage that I believed to be unbreakable, that I thought would stand the test of time, is over. And polyamory had a lot to do with it’s demise and down fall. But so did I and so did my soon-to-be ex-husband.

Years ago, I fell for someone, a close friend, and had to tell my husband. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. I knew it would break his heart. He took it hard, he fell apart. Something in him broke and he reached out to a mutual friend for support. Through his processing with her, he broke some more. He cracked wide open and finally saw he had been living a lie. A life detached, a life lacking in emotional intimacy and connectedness. He reached out to me to share these life-altering revelations. He sought me out for support and understanding and compassion. All I could see was that my husband had fallen in love with another woman and I reacted to his new self with fear, hurt, terror, and confusion. I was scared. If this new man was vulnerable and had access to a wealth of emotions he once lacked, what did that mean for me? For us? Would he still love me? Would I still love him? Would we still fit together the same way we had for the past 16 years?

The answer was, ultimately, no.

His newfound ability to love deeply felt profoundly threatening to me – and I revolted against it. He had been my rock, my safe space, my stable, solid, MAN. This new person not only felt, he cried! He loved another! From my twisted perspective, all I could see was his love of another woman outside of our marriage. I flat out rejected his new self because I wasn’t ready to face these huge changes in the man I loved. And as a result, the love he now had access to was taken away from me (slowly over time) and given freely to another, and then another, and another.

My childhood trauma and codependency were in control of my emotions from that moment on. I felt abandoned, lost, and terrified. Who was this stranger I was living with? The codependency was the main culprit at play, undermining and driving my emotions. I don’t believe that either of us knew just how fractured our relationship had become. He was the mirror through which I saw myself, my self-worth, my emotional self. I used him to regulate my own emotions!! It was twisted. When I saw him loving another, I tanked and I couldn’t find my way back to him or to us.

My world was thrown into chaos and I reacted to his newfound love and said “NO”. You can’t love her. You can’t be with her. It is too scary, too mean, too hurtful, too much. I broke their love, I broke their relationship, their friendship, our friendship, and his heart. I thought what I was doing was right. I believed that she was trying to steal him and she would take him from me, from my family. But the truth was, every time he went to see her or would talk to her, I was left feeling empty and invisible.

That friends, is codependency. No sense of self whatsoever.

My trauma and codependency fed me insecure lie after lie after lie. My husband was growing and changing and blossoming into the man I had always wanted him to be and instead of growing and changing and blossoming along side of him, I was being swallowed alive by an internal struggle driven by fears that my traumatized 9-year-old self could not make sense of. He was leaving! He didn’t love me! He wanted someone more than me! I am not good enough! I am worthless and unlovable! I was no longer in complete control of my emotions after a lifetime of keeping them in check. The demons, those panicked moments and triggered thoughts had always been there. But I had kept them under lock and key because I knew, subconsciously, I didn’t possess the emotional strength to deal with them.

I never had.

And that is one of many reasons polyamory can be so dangerous. Especially for those of us living a lie. Those of us who have spent a lifetime burying emotions, compartmentalizing them. It brings to light all of those things we have packed away. Things we are unwilling to face.

Ignoring. Not living. Not awake. Separate and cut-off from feeling and loving and seeing people and ourselves in their truth and light.