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.