Cheers Sexy People!
This post is second in a series of two posts answering a reader’s question below. The first time I answered it, the response was from three female poly bloggers, including yours truly. (Click here to see the original blog post). So I wanted to give it another go but this time, from three male perspectives. I thought it would be interesting to see how the other half relates and responds to the question. I’ve bolded a few items after the fact for statements and ideas that were especially insightful to me. Thanks to me contributors this week. Enjoy!
I want to dedicate this blog post once again to a question that I received from one of my readers in Australia. Here is her question to me:
Q: Do you feel as though your “status” as a married person gives you a greater stability from which to explore polyamory? I am single, and have so far found it to be quite challenging, though still attractive, in terms of reliability and inclusion into established relationships. I definitely feel that “jealousy” and “insecurity” are easier to deal with when you know you have a solid bond like a good marriage to fall back on – I wonder what other readers think?
Answer from a male practicing polyamorist in LA whom I’ve interviewed before:
A: I’ve spent many years single and poly. And currently not single, but available. And definitely never married. Single, available, married, unmarried, taken…. It’s all different. Different combinations have different cons and benefits. It’s really about who you are, even more so than any relationship status you hold. It is EASY for me, no matter what my situation is. I experiment with my approach and I figure out what works. What will get a girl to relax? What kind of girl reacts well to my situation, based on how I present it?
My life plan is so aligned. I intend to be permanently childless and am getting a vasectomy to celebrate my 30th birthday next year. I intend to never marry, but I may incorporate for the tax benefits some day. I will never be monogamous again. I currently have 2 girlfriends and am dating others. These are all things I tell a girl within the first hour of a date.
I used to hide it more. I have no need to hide, because women are attracted to my honesty, and the novelty of who I am. If you’re struggling with your own identity and future identity, people will be hesitant. Don’t be hesitant. Know who you are and what you want. And care a little less about who doesn’t want you. Find the balance between seducing people into your world versus scaring them off, because they don’t fit your life.
Figure out you, then figure out how to present you, and then present you to the people that interest you. The ones that are cool with who you are will be attracted to you and the problems disappear, mostly.
Answer from a male practicing polyamorist in Canada whom I’ve interviewed before:
A: “I think that it’s magical thinking to assume that having an established and apparently committed, intimate relationship or partner provides any guarantee of safety and reliability. The vast majority of relationships, of any configuration, are not safe and reliable. If that were true, monogamous people would never feel insecure, jealous, lonely or unfulfilled.”
I really appreciated this idea. In the end, people are just people and the commitment we make to one another, the depth and duration of it, depends on an awful lot of complex stuff from brain chemistry to philosophy to good timing and not so much about a contract.
Sadly, I think marriage can produce a bias towards control as in “I can do whatever I want because you have to stick with me” or “you have to do what I want because you have to stick with me”. The bottom line is how much you are willing to commit to a person without controlling them. As my partner says, one of the most important things is seeing the value of being together.
I really admire what Kitty and her family have accomplished. (Awww, thanks!)
Answer from a male practicing polyamorist in Chicago whom I’ve interviewed before:
A: As a Solo Polyamorist who has dealt with insecure partners (who are married), I feel like it is trivial to prove that marital status is unrelated to your personal sense of stability. Yet, this sort of dismissal doesn’t seem like a particularly helpful answer to your question, so I start to think about how I’ve handled insecurity-based conflict in my past. Immediately, I am struck by a profound sense of shame and self-criticism, because I usually demonstrated the lack of compassion and empowerment that are the critical elements of the insecurity that arose in the first place. After all, when someone feels insecure, it is because they feel like they have no access to compassion and are feeling powerless.
My initial reaction to a partner’s insecurity is to shower them with affirmation and validation, to try to prove to them that their insecurity is invalid.
This never seems to help, probably because it doesn’t empower my partner.
Eventually, I reach a point (in some cases, more quickly than others), where I wash my hands of the whole affair. “Look,” I scream. “I’ve done nothing to generate these feelings in you. You are responsible for your emotions. You’re just going to have to learn to trust me, without any help from me.” This is remarkably effective, but often at the cost of intimacy, probably because my reaction lacks compassion.
I need to do better at this, need to move my habits into a practice more aligned to my ethical beliefs, and I think the problem that I’m having is that I have not examined what my ethics say about how one might approach insecurity.
There are three major landmarks that I tend to use in the search for a compassionate response, both to my Self and to others.
- Pain is pain is pain. In Sue Johnson’s book, “Hold Me Tight,” the author claims that we process experiences by the type of emotion, not the context of it. Love is love, pain is pain, and fear is fear. When you get hurt, whether by a lost limb, a lost family member, or a lost job opportunity, that pain gets processed by the same part of your brain. The biochemical response is the same. So any conversation about insecurity should be entirely an internal-landscape discussion. You feel insecurity (or anything) because of things that are happening inside you, not because of the situation outside. Victor Frankl wrote something like, “Between their actions and my reaction, there is a space where I get to choose how to react, and no matter what anyone does, they cannot take that away from me.” He called this “the last of the human freedoms,” and first became aware of it while being tortured in a concentration camp.
- Studies have revealed* a link between danger-avoidance as a child and anxiety disorders as adults. When you hurt yourself on the playground, you learn that you can handle getting hurt, and this makes you more resilient to emotional pain as an adult (see my earlier point).
- There is no Survival Advantage to remembering the green lights. If your relationship flies through a dozen complex intersections without any problems, but you have a single hiccup, you’re going to feel like you ALWAYS make THIS mistake, and this mistake is just like every other mistake you’ve made. Because that’s a survival trait. It’s really hard to remember your successes, particularly when you’re in crisis-management mode. (This, incidentally, is where my particular form of polyamory really shines, and is the reason why I’m so critical of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell“ style relationships – when I’m having a problem with one partner and I’m flipping out about how I’m a horrible person who ALWAYS does this to her, then one of my other partners can remind me of all my successes. They couldn’t do that if every relationship existed in a box.)
Back when I didn’t place any importance on my relationships, I was always very secure in them. When I have a stake in my relationship, when I want it to last, when it is important to me and my sense of who I am, I become more prone to insecurity.
Relationship experience also plays a huge role in overcoming insecurity, because we have an understanding of the tolerance and threshold of certain violations. It takes a few partners before we really internalize the difference between being angry, and wanting to end the relationship. It also takes a practice to develop an intuitive understanding of just how major any particular transgression actually is. If I tell you that it really bugs me when you leave the kitchen cabinets open, it takes some practical experience to figure out whether I am likely to ever break up with you over that. When I say that you have a random and arbitrary number of uses of the phrase, “I dunno, what do you want to do?” before I will FUCKING END this relationship, you understand that it is something I will break up with you over, but you might not understand how to stop fearing that consequence. Experience can tell you what is a big deal and what isn’t.
What I know is this: Stability doesn’t come from standing on granite. It comes from knowing the terrain you’re standing on. Security comes from making mistakes and surviving them. It comes from knowing the distance between where you are standing and the cliff’s edge. It comes from a certain degree of self-acceptance that is rooted not in apathy, but in self-compassion. It comes from knowing when to stand still and when to start moving, and knowing which direction to head in.
Someone without self-acceptance says, “I cannot believe I made that mistake again! I am going to lose everything!” Someone apathetic to their flaws worries that they have already made the mistake that is going to cost them everything. Again. But when you practice compassionate self-acceptance, it becomes easy to say, “Hey, I think I’m making this mistake again, and I am trying really hard to stop doing this, but I could use a little help.”
With compassionate self-acceptance, you trust that what’s important to you is important, even if only to you. You trust that your efforts are in good faith, and you understand that ultimately, this is what really matters. There is no object, person or external event that can provide you with a life free of insecurity. You have to do that yourself, and it takes effort. It takes effort and practice, and it takes failure.
From the original interview question, I infer that the person asking is relatively new to polyamory, and wonders if it would be easier to do if s/he had something that s/he lacks. Wonders if this is so hard because of something s/he is missing. If that’s the real question, then the answer is: Yes. It’s easier when you have experience.
*The study mentioned was conducted by Dr Ellen Sandseter and psychologist Leif Kennair, and I read about it in the New York Times article by John Tierney, “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?” published July 18, 2011
As always, thank you, gentlemen for your insights, time taken to consider answering this question, and for contributing to my blog and this awesome poly community that we are creating. We all appreciate it, and can all learn and grow together.
Everyone have a wonderful and sexy holiday season! I may not post until after the new year to focus on my poly family, my intimates and my awesome friends and extended family. Love and hugs to you all!
Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)