Hey, I’m really glad I read this. I also felt really upset by it. I hope you don’t mind me working through that here in a comment, as I think it could build on this article well if you or anyone else feels like reading it. It’s long…
Hi I’m Anna. I tried polyamory and decided it was not for me. That is to say:
I became aware of polyamory but believed that my love actually does work like pieces of a pie. I literally care less about each individual the more there are other individuals involved. It just wasn’t my thing; polyamory made sense to me, but it didn’t work for me. I fell in love with a polyamorous man, with whom I had no desire to be polyamorous, repeatedly capitulated to his desires for polyamory, felt shame either from him or myself or both about being uncomfortable with it, tried to reframe my thinking, that Love and Attachment were different things, it was Attachment that waned and felt betrayed, not Love. This process didn’t work out for me in that relationship, and ultimately that relationship fell apart.
And all the time, a similar conversation played out (except I was less emotionally aware than it seems Drake is). He wanted to do something, it made me uncomfortable, I would declare it to be so, but give my consent for him to do it.
The problem with consent is that it’s not just about saying Yes, it’s about saying Yes and feeling Yes.
I said Yes repeatedly without actually feeling it. Because I felt shame for my No. I felt shamed for my No. Any time I’d raise discomfort with his polyamory (I say His, because I had no other partners during the time, just a few flirtations I put every effort into maintaining so that I would feel like I was doing this poly thing right), anyways. Any time I would raise it, he’d get angry about being so judged and we’d fight.
The thing I now feel about polyamory is that if monogamy is not on the table, polyamory cannot be consented to. If there is not more than one option, the chosen option cannot be a choice. And the frustrating part is, and was for both him and me, that you can’t actually know what someone else feels and communication is an approximation. And you can’t force someone to be honest with themselves or with you.
Now, I just don’t date polyamorously. I feel about polyamory the way I feel about the metric system — it objectively makes more sense to me, but I grew up American where my temperatures are in Fahrenheit, and I’d prefer the weather on my phone remain in Fahrenheit so I know where I stand. I can have deep connections with other people, but I don’t cross that sexual line. I won’t kiss or cuddle or go on dates with other people but my current monogamous partner (I actually prefer the term Boyfriend). I would strongly prefer that he not either.
But I find myself feeling like “I’m not woke enough,” like it’s a shameful thing that I’m monogamous. I imagine it feels shameful just like you being poly felt shameful. It may sound weird, but I by and large operate in communities where polyamory is at least totally normalized, if not “the norm.”
I validate and see the deep need for poly people speaking about doing what they need to with no shame, but always pisses me off. Because there is another side to it. Speaking about this makes me feel like one of those assholes asking “Why not Straight Pride Month?” or “Why is White Power a problem?”. Maybe I am one of those assholes.
Polyamory is difficult. It is, as you declared, uncomfortable. To me, having a polyamorous partner felt like I was really disempowered in the relationship. What I needed from the relationship didn’t matter, it wasn’t important to him. I needed monogamy to be happy. He wasn’t willing to try it — understandably so, as he already had other partners he wasn’t going to just dump for me, because he loved them too. But it made me feel consistently like I wasn’t enough. And even beyond that, it made me feel like my needs didn’t matter to him. Like sharing in my joy wasn’t a priority of his. Like the street only ran one way, and that way was towards what he wanted, not what I wanted.
It is necessary to make people uncomfortable in relationships. I think sometimes, it’s not wrong to make yourself a bit uncomfortable because making someone else happy matters to you. Not in the sense that it’s always your “job” to make someone else happy — more like, in a weird way, compersion: their happiness makes you happy, so making them happy makes you happy. Authentically. It’s not a sacrifice to make them happy. It doesn’t hurt you to make them happy.
Having a partner who gets happy from my happiness matters to me. It matters to me that I get happy from my partner’s happiness. And the thing is… happiness is a habit. Sometimes it can’t be changed, and sometimes it can. Sometimes you make each other unhappy, and work through it. Sometimes, you make each other unhappy, and break up. Sometimes, you compromise, if compromising doesn’t hurt either of you. It sounds like a recipe for abuse and self-abuse. Society is too stuck in a monogamous, emotional projection mentality, so to reach a healthy equilibrium, we must declare polyamory proudly and speak of emotional responsibility.
But the goal is a healthy equilibrium, ultimately. Sometimes, we do change each other’s feelings through our actions, and sometimes it’s important to take stock of that. Other times, we need to take care of ourselves and our needs and find mutual aid and free association depending on those needs.
There is no set right answer. It’s just about finding what works for you.