Do you see relationships through the lens of what you’ll gain or what you’ll give up?
I think generally when people are looking for relationships, they are looking to add something to their life. Loneliness, a desire for affection or touch, a want for someone to confide in or grow with, all our needs for human connection are a motivating factor in seeking relationships. We look for what someone can bring into our lives, how our life can unfurl with them and what can be mutually shared and enjoyed together. Especially in monogamous dynamics, people often are looking to follow the relationship escalator. The relationship escalator is where you meet and make contact, get to know someone, engage in romantic gestures, begin to define a commitment, and follow the progression of moving in, then usually pursuing marriage, then children or pets, and a happily ever after of further intertwinement. It is centered around taking steps higher and higher, gaining more safety and stability from the relationship with every step.
In polyamorous relationships, especially for people newly opening up to polyamory, people are sometimes trying to fill in areas of their relationships where they feel they are lacking, with a new person. I’ve noticed often, especially in newly polya folks, that a person may be looking to supplement a need for more sex or affection or someone they can relate to and confide in, in certain ways, with a new person. In fact this is often a driving factor in infidelity in monogamous dynamics as well. This is not the only reason, or even the main reason, that people pursue polyamory though. I feel it is safe to say that most people who pursue polyamory in the long run do so because they cannot imagine limiting romantic love and connection to one individual, not just because of wanting to fill their own need holes with puzzle piece people. The point I am making though, is I think we do often view new relationships from the lens of what we will gain in pursuing them, whether it is meeting a need or want, or just expanding the love we feel to include a new person and sharing new life experiences with them.
I have noticed that I do something different, that I have over the last 5-10 years or so begun viewing relationships through the lens of what I will give up. When getting involved with someone new, one of my first courses of actions is to strongly define my boundaries. “Do not expect me to ever share a room with you. Understand I may at times be willing to share my bed, but it will be on my terms and not something you can expect nightly or regularly.” I am almost defensive in the extent to which I put my boundaries forward, as though expecting them to be violated without reason. I do have a reason though, they are hard won boundaries. I spent years not only letting others bulldoze over them, but repressing them myself and indulging co-dependency rather then independence. Independence was and still is the hardest skill I’ve ever had to cultivate withing myself. In fact, it was one of my partners pushing me into it, modeling it for me, and making it clear at times that if I continued to be co-dependent with him that I would lose him altogether, that started me down that path to begin with. It was hard to take the independence that I found in that dynamic and apply it to my others, not to just use people as puzzle pieces to fit in my co-dependency hole. After fighting tooth and nail to become a more resilient and independent person, to become comfortable with aloneness, and as I continue down that path, new relationships are frightening. When I begin to develop a closeness with someone I have to wonder, what am I going to give up to this person? What parts of myself am I going to lose and what boundaries will I let them walk over? What will I have to compromise in my other relationships? Will I lose the trips to the supermarket with the partner who I can relax with more than anyone, who makes me laugh in our car rides alone, a laugh that never comes as freely with anyone else? Will I lose the time to myself each morning, after I let the dogs out and before I have had my coffee, where my mind is able to assimilate all the coping mechanisms that make me functional through the day? Will I lose the strength I feel flowing through me as I sprawl out in bed by myself at night and realize that I can finally sleep alone without being consumed by loneliness or a need for a body beside me? What part of me does this partner want from me, what can I give them, without it being a loss for me?
I know that I am not alone in this. In polyamorous dynamics it is clear that there is not enough time and energy for an unlimited amount of loves, there is always some kind of trade off in your own personal time or time with partners when you engage with someone new. When you have been co-dependent as well, freedom and independence are so hard won that you may always be vigilant that they are slipping away. If you have dealt with abuse as I have, you may be constantly concerned that your boundaries will be trampled and wonder what you must compromise to earn someone’s love. I won’t claim to know which way is better, or if there is a better. In all likelihood the answer is as usual, some kind of balance. I know for me though, I do look at relationships through the lens of what I must give up, it is a struggle to allow someone into my life for that reason.
Relationship anarchy has helped some with that. Being able to have dynamics that are fluid, that can take shape organically and do not need to follow the relationship escalator, and are formed by finding the common ground and desires of those involved, has helped negate some of my fear. I have become confident in my autonomy and my respect of the autonomy of my partners as well, and more sure of my ability to maintain my boundaries. To relate to people in a way with less labels and societal norms, and to enjoy the ways in which my life touches others without expectations, has allowed a little more comfort. I am still guarded, I know this. I anticipate expectations and obligations put on me, I warn and ready my loves for disappointment, and I still defensively insist on my boundaries with an often unneeded vehemence. I hope more healing is to come, I am not sure if I will ever look at relationships from the completely what will I gain perspective I did in the very first ones I entered into, but maybe some day I will be able to worry less about what it will cost me every time I fall in love.