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.