I’ve always found it interesting how incredibly different two people can experience, describe, and remember the same situation. Our experiences are very much rooted in our own perception, formed of our own beliefs, emotions, and all our other experiences that led up to that point. Our judgments of others are much the same way, they reflect as much on us as they do on the person we are making them of.
I was thinking about then when I was contemplating one of the relationships I had over the last decade. It swam it’s way up into my mind initially because I was thinking about one of my current partners, and how while we have been together for less than a year and the dynamic is a long distance one, how intense it is. And while I try not to compare partners, my brain related it back to Kayla* and how it was odd that while that dynamic lasted a bit over a year, it was one that really had a quite negligible impact on my life at all in comparison. I can’t say for sure, but I feel like it was a much larger part of her life then it ever was mine. Which got me thinking about how different our perceptions of a situation or experience can be.
If you asked Kayla, she would likely say our dynamic ended because she couldn’t handle polyamory. I’ve certainly heard her say many times since we broke up, that she found out through dating me that being in a polyamorous relationship was not something she could do. I don’t mean to invalidate her experiences with my own thoughts, but to be quite frank, I disagree. I don’t know that she could be happy in a polya dynamic, I’m fairly confident she wouldn’t be able to handle the kind of relationship anarchist way of relating that I have fully embraced now, but I don’t think that polyamory is why we broke up, even if she does.
Before Kayla and I started dating, we had known each other for years. We ran in some intersecting social circles, and there was some low key flirting online from time to time, but I wouldn’t say I knew her well or that she had a real presence in my life. Then she sent me a message asking about the possibility of experimenting with some kinks together. My fiance and I had split a year or so before, which had opened up a lot more space on my dance card because that had been a very co-dependent relationship. My lovefriend, who has been the central dynamic in my life since we got involved, is a person who often varies between attached and integrated, and extreme bouts of independence. It was an independent time, so his presence in my life was still a constant, we cohabitated, shared finances, and were part of each others daily lives, but he needed more space and I was looking for other ways to spend my time so as not to bother him. So I was in a place where I wanted company, and I wasn’t quite emotionally healthy and had some holes in myself that I should have been filling with personal growth but was eager to shove a person into instead. Kayla had few experiences with relationships as a whole, and had told me that she’d never really been in love or in a committed relationship. I was also on a path of recovery from alcohol addiction at this time. The year before I had gone from drinking a 6-24 beers daily for three or four years, to being sober six months. I then attempted to learn to drink in moderation, but had backslid some when things ended with my fiance and the drama that ensued after. I was starting to get a hold on it again and making a lot of progress in moderating my drinking when that message from Kayla popped into my inbox.
I read her proposition, and I was craving some of the kinky interactions she was interested in, so I fired back a response and we agreed to meet up at a regular gathering of her friends and see if there was any chemistry between us. The gathering we met at was one where alcohol consumption was not just regular, but a glorified thing, and drinking in excess was encouraged. I felt a prickling discomfort that this was not a healthy place for me, but I pushed it aside, and soon became a regular at those weekly get togethers. Kayla and I also quickly ended up in a relationship, the kink dynamic ended up not being as much of a central focus, and soon we were in some semblance of love. She warned me from the start that she was not sure how well she would handle polyamory, but during the heady rush of NRE she claimed to be coping very well with it. She claimed that as long as she felt important and valued, she thought she could manage it with ease, and I agreed that the hard parts like jealousy were usually fueled by insecurity, and feeling appreciated and having all your needs met were a good remedy for that.
As the months went by, I realized that in getting into that relationship, I was compromising a lot of the personal growth I had been doing and sliding back into unhealthy habits. I stopped exercising daily in favor of spending time with Kayla, she had offered to come with me on my walks but they weren’t the same when they were no longer a time I could start to become comfortable with moments alone with myself. I drank a lot more on our weekend parties, and even when we stopped going to those as frequently, we just began drinking at my house instead. She was an alcoholic too, and it was easy to rationalize that I was doing okay when my drinking in excess was normalized by hers. We talked about wanting to improve, on working on our problems together, but I knew deep down that I really needed to work on my issues alone because a lot of them stemmed from a previous propensity for co-dependency. Then there were the times where she would get so drunk she would black out, or close to it, and I saw her get into some vicious arguments with friends where words were screamed and things were thrown. She was never violent to others, so I told myself it was okay, but the punching walls and yelling scared me the few times it happened, because it reminded me of the precursors to abuse I’d experienced before. Then we got into a few fights when drunk, and she was no longer a reasonably good communicator, but someone who resorted to nasty insults and threats of break ups. I don’t know exactly at which moment I began to withdraw, but I know it began much earlier then I realized.
Kayla began to tell me she was struggling with jealousy and was questioning how well she could cope with being polyamorous. We talked about insecurity, we talked about asking for her needs to be met. She began asking for more time with me, for doing specific things that mattered a lot to her. I said I would make time for them and often I didn’t. I then recognized myself doing that and began to say I could not commit to that, I could not promise to do those things, I would try, but that was the most I could give. And looking back, I didn’t try very hard. I was starting to sense that the relationship was very bad for me, and I was putting distance there and pushing her away in fits and bursts. I would draw back in for a moment, compelled by love for her at times, but more often by her need for me, wanting to please, or wanting to fill that hole inside myself. Then it would cycle back to my realizing what I was doing, that I needed to learn a self that wasn’t co-dependent, that it likely wasn’t healthy to be involved with an alcoholic while trying to fix my own addiction issues, and that I could not be comfortable with someone who tended towards irrational anger and was verbally abusive and violent towards objects in moments of extreme drunkeness. I wanted intimacy less and less, and soon I wanted to spend less and less time together as well. By the time she texted me one day and said that the relationship wasn’t working and maybe we should end it, I was relieved. It was something I’d known for months and couldn’t figure out how to say. That was the first time though, that someone else had initiated a break up and I hadn’t fought for the relationship. In the past, even when I knew a dynamic was unhealthy and had thought about ending it many times myself, someone else initiating a break up would trigger insecurities and a sense of failure in me, and I would fight tooth and nail to try and justify continuing it and working to mend things. This time was different, and I was ready to let go because my desire for other growth was calling me to strongly and I knew I couldn’t focus on that with her in my life.
The first time I heard her say afterwards that she couldn’t be polyamorous, and she had realized that when being with me, that it was not something she could handle, I thought I knew what she meant. She had seen me giving time and energy to others, especially my lovefriend, who had transitioned from an independent phase to a more attached one a few months in to my dynamic with Kayla. She watched our closeness there and how I often wanted to be around him and had an extreme level of comfort with communication and touch with him, something I was having less and less with her every day. She felt her needs go unmet, as I gave time and attention to other people while she was practically begging for it from me, and I brushed her off with so many laters that never became nows. She did struggle with some issues that would have made polyamory difficult under many circumstances, and she definitely would have been happier in a monogomous dynamic regardless, but I made things a thousand times more difficult. Especially when hearing from me that you deal with jealousy by recognizing how much you matter to someone regardless of their other relationships, and by asking for reassurance and for the things you need from your partner. Well she saw how little she mattered to me over time because I pushed her away more and more, and she asked for everything she wanted and needed and I brushed her off. The worst thing I did though, was I never said any of this to her. The closest I came to it was telling her that the way she treated me when drunk and angry was completely unacceptable and I was not okay with emotional abuse, threats, or insults. But I never let her know how much I withdrew and how early on it began, partly because of her actions, and partly because of my own needs which were incongruous with a relationship with her in the first place.
So the relationship ended, and I rarely think about it. It was relevant to me mostly in relation to the little bit of growing I tried to do during it, and how it spurred a lot more afterwards because of the time I felt I lost. I know it is cold, but I know I may have mattered a lot more in her life then she ever did in mine. She may have been frightening when in an alcohol induced rage, but I was the one who disconnected and tried to use a person to fill a hole in myself that should have been handled before I ever engaged in another relationship at that time. There was so much dysfunction, and still, that is a blip in the radar for me. I don’t know how much it mattered to her. I don’t know if she could have handled being polyamorous with someone who gave her the time and energy she needed instead of pushing her away. I suspect maybe she could have, if her first experience had been radically different and healthier, although maybe not given how unhealthy of a place she also seemed to be in at the time. I do know that now I’m a very different person and the way I approach relationships has shifted entirely. I also learned to moderate my drinking in the year after we broke up, finally gaining some understanding of how to engage without frequent excess, and then followed that with a year of complete sobriety so I could focus even more on the person growth I so desperately needed. I think the way I remember things and the way she does must be so radically different that it is almost as though we had two different relationships altogether. That can happen with any two people because there always is some divergence in how people experience things due to who they are and their past leading up to that experience. In this case though, it was compounded tenfold by all the things I left unsaid.
*I do often change the names/gender/identifying characteristics of folks I write about. I don’t do this for all the people I mention, but at times it feels appropriate for privacy or distance from the situation.