Thu Sep 27, 2007
Now I’m all feeling like I want to expand on yesterday. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you’ll know that my journal (blog, now) used to be much more dominated by talk about relationships. I was in a poly marriage, and it worked for a time. But it worked in a way that I’ve seen quite a few poly relationships work, in that my then-husband and I were mostly roommates. I started to type that I wasn’t sure which part happened first, the “roommates” or the poly, but it was the poly that turned us into roommates, and eventually bitter adversaries when the marriage was falling apart because we could not be the person the other wanted.
I found that I couldn’t do poly. I’ve written about that before, but not extensively because so many people I respect and admire are in those relationships and I didn’t want to be seen as knocking a lifestyle. Yet at the same time every time I read platitudes about how much work it is to be poly, and how great the rewards if you do the work, I bristle. I suppose it’s because it somehow feels implied then that monogamous relationships don’t take as much work, or are for somehow less valid rewards, and I don’t think that’s true at all.
I believe it can take as much or more work to listen and work through problems with someone long term, when it’s just the two of you. There is no escaping to an outside relationship when things get tough, which is certainly what I experienced in poly. Actually, it’s not even when things get tough. It’s the little bumps that you ignore instead of working through, because it’s easy to push aside seemingly small things on your way out the door to another. We became roommates because instead of dealing with issues in our relationship, we’d be amicable with each other, then schedule time with others that we actually wanted to be with. We used marriage like many monogamous couples do, as a safety net or security blanket, there in the backs of our minds but never attended to. The work is done, we’re married! Time to attend to the rest of life.
In some ways I did more emotional work when I was poly, although probably poorly. I felt like most of my time was spent trying to juggle schedules, and sometimes to talking with the then-husband about his other relationships or potential partners and issues they were working through. I was never very able to talk much with him about my other relationships, primarily because I could never get over the feeling that I was betraying him by being deeply in love with someone who was not him. It was that experience, and having to end that outside relationship not because I didn’t still want him, but because I wanted him too much, that made me realize I didn’t ever want to be in a poly thing again. I seem to be incapable of the compartmentalizing required. When I was with my outside relationship, I was happy, but I had an inability to be present then in my marriage, and I realized that.
I don’t think my then-husband had the same experience at all, but his primary outside relationship was much more entwined in our day to day lives than mine was, or at least in the obvious ways you can see: hours-long phone conversations every day, visits usually once or twice weekly. He managed to live with both of us, while physically living with only me. It certainly helped that I liked his other partner very much, since she was a presence in my life, if only on the periphery like that.
At any rate, one of the things I do agree with when it comes to poly lines is that no one person can be everything to another person. But I’m not asking that of Elliott, nor he of me. I have many needs met by various friends of both genders. I just don’t need to be sexually and romantically entangled with them all. I read an interesting theory in one of the marriage book essays, on adultery. The writer (a woman) theorized that the motivation for affairs had more to do with whatever inner creativity and needs we are stifling in ourselves, than they do with sexual/romantic needs. i.e. a woman who longs to be a painter hooking up with an artist, instead of working on fulfilling her own deeper needs.
I can see that, I suppose. I know that I’m often stifling inner creation when I come home, relax and have a glass of wine. It’s to shut off the constant stream in my head that wants to create, but is afraid of the process, or of starting one more thing I can’t finish. Or something. It bears deeper introspection, but I’m not ready to do it yet. :) And I know that sex endorphins can be a much better drug than wine. heh.
But getting back to monogamy: to sustain it and nurture it and even make it grow, I would argue that it takes all the work of poly. It’s just a different benefit at the end of the day. Or at the end of a life, if hopefully we make it that far. Almost certainly I won’t have as much sex throughout a lifetime as I would if I was constantly falling in love with new people. Definitely, I won’t get as much of the heady “new relationship energy”, but in my experience marriages do get some of that over the years, with the ebb and flow of things. You end up falling in love anew every so many years, with comfort and friendship in between.
There was a woman who wrote me a long time ago, when I was writing passionate entries about my then-partner. She said she enjoyed reading my accounts, they reminded her of her own days when she’d done the same. She’d chosen a more contented path, and she didn’t regret it, just liked the nostalgia. I remember thinking at the time (as I did of many people) oh HOW could they do it? How to get through life if potential love and conquest wasn’t lurking around every corner? But I get it now, I feel like that woman. I tried the rollercoaster, but I’m way more happy with sailing along in the deep waters of monogamy.
One of the other things I’ve learned over the years, of course, is that this is how I feel now. I reserve the right to have new experiences that change my outlook in other ways. I know enough to know all that I don’t know, in other words. :)