The Gift Of Me Through Polyamory
I found myself in a polyamorous relationship entirely by chance when I was recently divorced for the second time. Until then, I barely knew what the term meant, and I had never met anyone who loved in such an unorthodox way.
Don first reached out to me at a local swing dance. Soon after, he shared that he was dating two other women besides myself and acknowledged that he was polyamorous. In spite of my initial discomfort, it was clear that Don possesses a long list of qualities that are attractive to me — smart, sexy, honest, fun, giving, a great dancer — and I knew I would regret not taking this relationship as far as I could.
I would never have sought out a polyamorous situation for myself. But as the Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.” Over time and with continued awareness, I began to see that the challenges of a nontraditional arrangement presented new possibilities for my personal growth.
I realized that my greatest fears are displayed in neon lights in a polyamorous setting because multiple partners share time and attention. Even after years of hard work in therapy and other types of self improvement, I am still terrified of rejection and abandonment. Sharing felt more like competing, and I lived with a constant risk of someone else being chosen over me.
But I wanted to maintain my connection to Don, so I decided to figure out how to make this work. It became apparent very quickly that I was way outside my comfort zone. But that stretching turned out to be exactly what I needed. While I could never have imagined these growth opportunities before polyamory, I knew I could not have experienced them in any other way.
In a polyamorous relationship I am not the only partner, so I cannot rely on being chosen as the “only one” as a way to prove to myself (and everyone else) that I am worthy of love. Instead, I must develop that validation from within myself. Providing this reassurance on my own remains a struggle, but the end result will ultimately be a stronger sense of self than if I continue looking for that validation from other people.
Don’t Lose Me
Polyamory short circuits my tendency to make myself available at all times to anyone whom I am dating so that I can ensure they will not abandon me. In a monogamous relationship, I let go of my interests and social activities and focus on that one person.
But when Don is with another partner, there is time available for me to continue pursuing my interests and friendships. Until I am comfortable maintaining a healthy social and personal life while also in a relationship, my current poly situation keeps me from losing myself. I have been discovering that a poly arrangement is actually what I need at this time in order to become more independent and less hyper-focused on Don.
Joining The Team
I did not fully comprehend “team” in the context of a loving relationship until I became part of a polyamorous arrangement. I never played sports, and teamwork was not modeled in my parents’ marriage.
Having multiple connected partners requires a team spirit in order to thrive in a healthy way and strive to meet everyone’s needs. As I gradually began to embrace the polyamorous arrangement, I became friends with Maria, one of the other women.
Almost immediately I saw Maria as another person on the same team, and less of a threat to my relationship with Don. She and I now work together to schedule our time with Don, and we even offer occasional relationship advice to each other.
Open and honest communication in a relationship has always been a nerve-wracking exercise, which I would prefer to avoid. But this is a skill that I had to develop because it is essential in a polyamorous relationship. A traditional relationship between two people requires constant and consistent communication, so it is easy to imagine how communication becomes vital when there are four connected people.
Don balances his time among three women, so speaking up is even more essential to getting my needs met than it would be in a two-person relationship. As a result, I am becoming more proficient in identifying my needs and pushing past my fear of asking for what I want. Becoming more accustomed to communicating my desires, even for something as mundane as scheduling time with Don (with its subtexts of insecurity and measure of personal value) has been both empowering and calming.
As a consequence of my determination to remain in this relationship, I noticed that I had gone deep within myself and listened to my instincts, possibly for the first time. A life-long people-pleaser, I do not naturally trust myself unless I receive validation from other people.
I am fortunate that this nontraditional arrangement encouraged me to finally begin to trust my feelings. This was especially challenging for a long time — my desire to stay in this poly relationship has conflicted with concerns from well-meaning friends who still worry about my choice to remain in an arrangement that appears unstable and painful. When I find myself feeling off balance, I need to review whether my discomfort is my own or is a projection of someone else’s uneasiness.
Uncoupling Time From Feelings
The existence of multiple partners, which means less time for Don to spend with me, is a powerful motivator to deal with my fear of rejection, which gets triggered when he chooses to spend time with these other partners. When I persist in believing that time signifies love and interest, then less time with me causes an automatic panic that Don’s interest is waning.
As I slowly learn to shift away from this desperate way of thinking, I become calmer and more grounded. I am trusting that less time does not mean that I matter less to him. Without these distractions, I can focus on whether I am getting what I need from the relationship.
In this poly arrangement, Don needs additional time to himself as he manages multiple relationships, and of course this means less time to spend with me. I am learning that when he needs alone time, he is setting good boundaries for healthy self care, not rejection of me.
There Is Enough Love
Polyamory teaches me that loving feelings are not limited. People of a polyamorous nature have the capacity to feel love for more than one person simultaneously. Their ability helps to counteract my deeply-held belief (rooted in years of feeling unloved) that there is not enough love for me, or that love won’t last.
The Journey Is Ongoing
I continue to encounter circumstances which are unique to our nontraditional arrangement. Each one tests my emotional abilities, at times in new ways and often as old patterns. But I remain determined to transform my discomfort into something I can grow from.
Our polyamorous arrangement encourages me to take pleasure in the moment because it is even less predictable and more fluid than a traditional relationship. As I continue on this path, I remain grateful for being given the gift of me.
Robin Schwartz is a freelance writer who has written for the Newburyport Daily News, Haverhill Gazette, Seacoast Newspapers, Alliance, and Psych Central Blog. Robin has spent most of her adult life exploring ways to achieve personal growth. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.