Monthly Archives: March 2013

You’re going to get hurt

I know someone who was recently warned off polyamory by a well-meaning monogamous friend saying ‘you’re going to get hurt’. It’s probably worth remembering that this is at the root of most opposition we face, in a personal way – it’s rare that anyone thinks you’re a terrible person or are doing something deeply sinful or bad by having polyamorous relationships. Instead, people care about you and don’t want to see you get hurt, and they don’t have many (or any) models of successful non-monogamous relationships to look at, so they worry that you’re heading towards a huge flaming disaster that – if only you’d listen to them – could be averted.

But as for the assumption of ‘you’re going to get hurt’ – yes, actually, yes you are.

You are going to get hurt if you are polyamorous. For certain.

You’re not going to get hurt because polyamory is fundamentally flawed and damaging, though. You’re going to get hurt because *people* are flawed and love is a big scary powerful emotion. You’re going to get hurt because you opened yourself up and made yourself vulnerable to someone. You’re going to get hurt because you expected someone to be different, or because you expected yourself to be different. You’re going to get hurt because sudden terrible vistas open up in your mind when you realise how much you’ve hurt someone else. You’re going to get hurt because someone didn’t tell you something important, or because you failed to tell someone your full truth. You’re going to get hurt because just when you realise how important someone is to you, you also realise that you could lose them, and it’s terrifying. You’re going to get hurt when you trusted someone to put your interests first, and they didn’t, or to guess what you needed or expected of them, and they didn’t. Polyamory is risky because you allow yourself to love, and to accept love in return, and that sounds so simple and beautiful – but it’s not, not always. There is vulnerability and risk and fear in loving and being loved, because we are not telepathic and can never be absolutely totally 100% certain of what’s going on in someone else’s head – so we trust, and we guess, and we hope. And we can’t always get it right. Even if you find the right relationship first time, and never break up for the rest of your life, no relationship – no matter how happy – is without its tiny hurts and sadnesses. They won’t last for ever, nothing can, but they exist and they hurt.

Now, of course, replace ‘polyamory’ with ‘monogamy’. It’s still true. It’s even true if you eschew romantic/sexual relationships altogether but still care about other human beings at all; people are wonderful and beautiful and infinitely fascinating and worthwhile, and also are flawed and pretty much guaranteed to let you down at some point, even with the very best of intentions on all sides. Living life and caring about other people means you wind up getting hurt, but with any luck – with thoughtfulness, and careful choices, and trying hard, and being kind – the amazing heart-singing joyous experiences you have in your life will outweigh those moments when you just want to hide in a box and ignore everything because it’s all gone wrong. The reason polyamory can sometimes feel riskier is that there are more relationships, more people, more opportunities for wonder and magic and love, and more opportunities to fuck it up.

So, yes, polyamory means you will get hurt. So does monogamy. So does caring and trusting anyone, ever. There is no magic ‘never get hurt’ life choice. All you can do is embrace and experience your happinesses as fully as you possibly can when they come, and when you are at your lowest hold to the thought that it won’t always feel like this, and you will be okay.

The importance – or not – of words

I think, often, we are extraordinarily skilled at deceiving ourselves. We know our own brains best, and are experts in coming up with tricks and evasions to direct our attentions elsewhere, to something else, somewhere else, anything but the real issue at hand.
I was thinking about the importance (or not) of word choices the other day, and the words we use to identify ourselves and describe our relationships. I’ve written before about the value of having the Right Words to describe a concept, and how if you don’t have the words to describe something, it becomes incredibly hard even to think about it, let alone to describe it to someone else. Human semantic ingenuity is pretty much infinite. So: hurray, we have a vast and ever-growing list of ways to describe our relationships! But that very abundance of choice – we are limited only by the words we can invent – can become more divisive than descriptive: ‘oh, that’s not polyamory, that’s just polyfuckery’; ‘we have an open relationship, we’re not polyamorous’; ‘we’re trinogamous, not polyfidelitous’; ‘that sounds closer to swinging than polyamory’ and so on and so forth. The strange outcome of this is that it can begin to feel as if all the different terms swirling around for consensual non-monogamy begin to form a ranking – with, of course, practically everyone keen to define their own relationship/s as ‘good polyamory’.
And this, in turn, can lead to relationship terminology being yet another thing to pick over in moments of insecurity and doubt.
Which words to use is not an argument or topic I’ve found particularly compelling when I’m happy and content in my relationships. Honestly, if someone else wants to describe a relationship of mine as poly, or an open relationship, or dating, or whatever – what difference does it make to me? I’m happy, I know where I am and the place I hold in my loved ones’ hearts; words don’t change that. It’s only if someone seems to have a notably disrespectful or hurtful misconception (like, non-primary partners don’t really matter or count, or that it’s all just a fancy term for cheating) that it needs addressing. No-one else will ever fully understand your relationships, by virtue of the fact that they’re not in them; accept that they won’t, and they will only ever get approximately close to the truth.
BUT – if you’re unhappy? Relationship terminology becomes yet another thing to pick at, because we are scared of what it might reveal. Why won’t she tell anyone other than monogamous friends that we’re polyfidelitous? Why would she describe her relationship with me as an open relationship but her relationship with her other girlfriend as polyamorous? Why would he call me his secondary and another partner his boyfriend? When he called me his girlfriend that one time, should I have asked more about what that meant?
And this is why I started out talking about distractions. We like to distract ourselves with details and small things (the words to describe a relationship, why she ended her text with x rather than xx, why he made that playlist, why she won’t ever make Wednesday night plans with me but will with her other partner, why all his social plans now get made via his new boyfriend…) so that we don’t have to look at the big frightening truth: this relationship is not happy any more.
None of those things matter to us, in our hearts, when we are happy and secure. It’s only when they feel like symbols of something bigger and scarier and more fundamental that they matter. When you’re in a sea of doubt, you want certainty to cling to. If you can find a reason behind it, if you can explain it away, then it’s ok. If someone is using words that make you unhappy, or planning their time disrespectfully, then as long as you can get them to change those words or their plans, you’ll be happy again, right? But there’s not a lot you can do in the face of the stark and sad – and often sudden – realisation that a relationship is not a happy one and not working any more. It’s a sensation of powerlessness and foolishness that is incomparably miserable, so of course we come at it from every other possible angle to try and make it be something else.
I suppose my point, if I have one, is to remind myself (and perhaps you?) to be bold – if I find myself fretting over little things repeatedly, try and look up, see more. Try not to take far too long to realise that I’ve pushed a relationship past the point I could or should have let it go and sought happiness in a different way. Sticking at it too long holds back not just me, but others too.