Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com. This month, our topic is “FOMO and loneliness”.
FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out, and as an acronym is often thrown around when talking about social media and the worries it can exacerbate – after all, if you weren’t invited to that party, it can be hard hearing friends mention how much fun it was, but it’s far worse if they spend the next week tagging each other in party photos on facebook and exchanging jokes on twitter about what they got up to in your absence.
In terms of polyamory, it’s probably more specifically relevant to feeling like you’re missing out on something that a partner is doing with another partner, and not you. Rather than the big stuff (‘my partner and his other partner are buying a house together and I wish I was too’) let’s look at the everyday kind of FOMO.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s crucial that all couples get a chance to present themselves as a couple, in social situations, in your ‘community’ etc. It’s really important – though especially so for non-primary relationships – to give them that level of social visibility, recognition and acknowledgement, When you’re poly, this means that there will not only be times when your partner and their other partner are off doing something without you, but there will even be times when they are presenting as a couple in front of your friends and acquaintances (hardly uncommon if you’re a non-primary partner, perhaps more unusual if you’re a primary partner – both have their own difficulties). I don’t mean to imply any dishonesty or shutting out occurs – quite the opposite; like so many things, this is very easy when handled with honesty and good intentions on all sides.
Two examples: one, The Rake and his girlfriend went to an event a couple of weeks ago while I was spending the weekend with my girlfriend Poppy. I’d heard about the event before, and it sounded like a fun night, a great excuse for dressing up, and a good crowd. I was a touch envious of the fun it sounded like they were going to have, but mostly excited to hear about how their evening went, and pleased for them that they’d managed to find this chunk of time to spend together. As it turned out, I was too engrossed in my own plans to give them a second thought that night, but was glad to hear the next day when the three of us lounged around at home together about the night they’d had and friends they’d run into.
Two, there’s a party coming up which will be the Rake’s opportunity to introduce his girlfriend to many of his (our) friends who haven’t met her before, so they’ll be going ‘as a couple’ – which works out perfectly, as not only will I have a lot of friends to catch up with, I’ll also have other duties to be getting on with to help run the night. If you’re not poly, you might be wondering how this works – do you ignore each other? Do you pretend you’re not together? No, nothing so odd. As far as I’m concerned, it just means that their primary connection for the evening will be each other – when this has happened before it means their focus for the evening is each other, they’ll meet people together, introduce each other to friends, hang out together etc; basically everything you do at a party as a couple! I hang out with them too (his girlfriend is great fun) but in these situations I defer to the fact that their evening is together and am careful to give them space to present themselves without me. They get to welcome me into their space, rather than the Rake and I welcoming other partners into our space. I’m intentionally taking on a pretend-secondary role for the evening, in some ways. The Rake has given exactly the same graceful distance for me in the past with other significant partners – it feels like a very easy give and take.
Both of those examples, though, I could – if I wanted, or if I was feeling especially low – conjure into something miserable. Into ‘why don’t you want me around’ or ‘is she more important than me’ or ‘are you ashamed of me’. But it would take real effort to see something that’s so far from my lived experience. Instead, if the Rake is off doing something without me, it doesn’t really even matter whether it’s with another partner or not. Maybe I have plans of my own, or maybe I get to seize the chance for a precious evening in alone (I can’t tell you how much I love getting the place to myself for a night, and spending time alone with my own projects or reading) – either way, I really value whatever I’m doing with that time, and look forward to sharing stories of our evenings. But if I was really jealous of a night out that didn’t include me, so much so that I wanted to be included, then I’d try and work out what was missing from my life. Is it that I feel like I don’t get to go to enough parties? Do I feel like a certain set of friends doesn’t recognise my importance in a partner’s life, and want more visibility? Have I secretly always wanted to go to the opera myself but never had the courage to suggest it as a date activity? Do I wish I got lazy weekend time with that partner, and rarely get the opportunity?
Just like with the poly discussions about jealousy, with this sort of FOMO there’s generally something underlying that instant emotional flash of “NO!”. Rather than responding to the instant emotional reaction, it’s far more valuable to dig further and find out what the problem really is. If you can find the root of it in yourself, you’ll be able to ask clearly for what you need, and that often means you can solve the problem with far more positivity and joy – by adding more awesome to your own life, rather than trying to subtract it from your partner’s.