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20 August, 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful (Part Two)

Indulge me and pretend that you've signed on with the first principle: commitment to one person doesn't preclude simultaneously committing to another, and it might be nice to see how. Why, though, would anyone want to see a partner running off and courting other people?

I want to have control.

You might think to yourself: "I don't have a perfect body. I don't have a perfect soul. What if my partner doesn't notice when I'm not around? What if she meets someone special who floats her off to a beautiful world while I'm creeping around elsewhere and I never see them again?" Some people are upset by the idea of a lover having sex with someone else; others are jealous of emotional intimacy, wanting to reserve something special for the two of them. Even basic time management can get complicated; all told, is being able to date other people really worth letting your partner do the same?

I imagine that most people reading this post realize that it's hypocrisy of the most blatant sort to ask that you be free to date any number of people and demand that she not do the same. If the relationship is open, it should be open for all parties. But we're only human, and jealousy can be a problem. There are a few bright spots, though, to having a partner take other lovers.

One of my favorite reasons is that it's a totally new way to know a person. In a monogamous relationship, you'll never have the chance to see what it's like from a third-party perspective when your partner falls in love. You can help choose outfits for dates, talk about whether the new kid seems like good news or bad, and offer the best kind of comfort when heartbreak happens. It's easy to feel alone after a breakup; when you have another lover, that pain is a little easier to mend.

Jealousy does arise sometimes. The question isn't necessarily how to avoid it, though, but how to deal with it when it arrives. In my experience - call me out if this hasn't been true for you - the only way to deal with emotions in the longterm is to start by acknowledging them. Let yourself feel it, know it, and then you can move with it. When something stirs up jealousy, the question is, what did the stirring? What's the real source? Often, it's fear of loss: it's easy to worry whether the presence of some other significant other will draw your love's attention away from you. What if he meets someone smarter or more exciting? What if she meets someone just like you ... but a little more so? Wouldn't you be left in the dust?

There are at least three levels on which to address this fear. The first is to ask, if we were in a monogamous relationship, would the chances of your partner's leaving you be any different? My guess is, if anything, there's more danger in monogamy. In a polyamorous relationship, there's no need to end one relationship in order to pursue another. In monogamy, though, if there's a chance of happiness with someone new, one has to scrap the current dyad just to investigate it! Staying together out of fear of being alone turns love into some awful Death Cab for Cutie single. Still, the fear of being left behind - or even just the sense of loss that one might feel, having to let go of the fairy tale that what you and your single lover feel is unique and could never happen between her and another person - can be stronger than the logic of that thought experiment.

Secondly, one thing that polyamory does not foster is defining oneself by one's romances. Having dated one person through most of high school, I learned almost everything about love, sex, and romance from my experience with Alma. We talked a couple of times about whether we even knew who we were without each other. I remember thinking at some excessively morbid moments that, were he to die unexpectedly, there would be no point in my continued life. (Obviously, I got over that.)

It's easy to imagine that one's happiness comes from one's partner, and that the source of the joy one feels when one is in love is the loved one. As romantic as it sounds, it's simply not true. Every feeling that runs through our bodies begins and ends within them. Our bodies - and thus our minds - are discrete, despite our interdependence with the rest of the world, and deciding to take responsibility for one's own emotions is the key to finding satisfaction with them. It's easy to let oneself react to what the world throws at one, but in some of the situations that come to pass in polyamorous romances, it can be important not simply to react but to stay conscious and monitor your own feelings. We're the ones inside our own heads, and so we have the power to work under the hood (personally, I recommend Buddhist-style mindful meditation). When it comes to fear, or to happiness, part of the emotional maturity that polyamory demands is the ability to take personal responsibility for our experiences.

When your partner, or partners, are seeing other people, you can't let them define you in the same way that I did back in high school. They won't always be around, and they'll always be making attachments with other people. It'll save you a lot of sleepless nights if you can be satisfied as an individual.

The third element, though, is the one I find most reassuring. How realistic is that fear of loss in the first place?

The following paragraphs come from an article called "Leaving the Straight and Narrow" in issue #39 of Loving More magazine, the only issue I've read.

"When a couple with a healthy relationship decides to open it up, they might find themselves asking some common questions: Will my partner find someone else they like better? Will I be abandoned? What if the other lover is better than I, more desirable, more intelligent, and more capable? Am I enough as I am?
"What if someone else is a better lover than my wife? What if the guy down the street is more spontaneous and lively and my guy seems too serious?"

When I read those paragraphs, I realized something: I have never worried about meeting someone "better" than a current partner. Not once have I thought, "What if I like this person better than Margaret?" or "What if she turns out to be the best lover I've ever had?" I have never once worried about someone I love becoming obsolete. And when I realized that, it didn't take more than a moment for me to feel a sense of peace, thinking, "I bet my lover hasn't, either."

When your lover looks at you, she doesn't see a stepping stone to someone more enchanting - or, if she does, DUMP the motherfucker already! You deserve better, and your happiness doesn't depend on that person! Your lovers are with you because you strike them as one of the more splendid people they've met on this Earth, and I sincerely doubt that any of the people who love you are pausing to wonder whether you are in fact the most splendid or whether, no, actually you come in about third.

Sunshine and puppies indeed, yes?

I'm serious about the meditation; taking a moment to ask yourself "What am I feeling right now?" and just observing those feelings, without judging them or acting on them, will give you a kind of muscle for emotional regulation that's otherwise hard to come by. Meanwhile, there's one more reason to be cheerful: part three will be about how to score kinky threesomes with hot bisexual - whoa, wait, I was reading the wrong sheet there! Next week I'm going to talk about getting old and wrinkly and changing diapers. Sorry, kids!

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