Relationships are Groupwork

puzzle pieces

My old therapist used to say, “You’re 100% responsible… for your 50%.”

I saw her primarily to get through my divorce. It was a brutal time for me, coping with the promise that I’d broken to myself, that I’d always be with Seth, through everything. The timing of the separation was also unfortunate, taking place only a few months after the relocation to Ohio and a domino series of poly breakups that unfolded in Movie of the Week fashion.

It was anything but a clean break – I felt jagged for years after.

I had found myself painted into a corner with Seth several months prior to the separation, providing him with great amounts of financial, sexual, and emotional support and being met with very little in the way of reciprocation. He hadn’t held down a regular job in 4 years, didn’t do housework, and regularly withheld sex as a bargaining tactic, something I was not at all psychologically prepared for as the female — albeit more libidinous — member of a heterosexual marriage.

Two years of polyamory had bought us some time, rekindling long-dead passions, but had also allowed existing cracks to grow, especially pertaining to finances and his lack of income. Taking his girlfriend out to dinner was very expensive as was throwing big parties where he hoped to hook up with some of the local college girls in our campus town. The hookah alone was $200, bought to impress attendees.

When Seth and I met with friends to split up our shared possessions, I surprised everyone by my angry outburst when the hookah was mentioned. Not because I wanted it (I gave it readily to Seth) but because of what it represented: The way that we’d grown apart, the way that he would give away the things I earned in order to try to win the affections of those who didn’t appreciate him the way I did or  invested in him the way I had.

When we separated, I felt a deep sense of shame and responsibility. I had failed. I owned that entire failure.

Sue called me on my bullshit. Repeatedly. “What you’re realizing,” she said, “is that he didn’t really love you.”

I’d protest, tell her that he said it plenty.

“While he may have said he loved you, at the very least, when you both said ‘love,’ you and he were talking about very different things.”

*

Sue’s words have come back into sharp focus the last few months as I’ve dipped my toe back into the dating pool and had some false starts and quick failures (the most merciful kind, really). My refrain as of late has been “I’m bad at this!”

But, see, I’m probably not. Not necessarily anyway.

I’d neglected to realize that relationships are groupwork. This is especially true with poly relationships with the metamours and meta-metamours filling out the cast of hundreds. Everyone’s responsible for their however much percent (it’s no longer 50:50 when you get past the mono paradigm), and sometimes no matter how you hoof it and bust your ass trying to get that A grade, you’ll end up doing C work. Sometimes no matter how hard you personally work, the relationship will fail completely.

And that’s just dandy. No need to beat yourself up. Sometimes everyone gets together and for whatever reason, y’all do shit work.

It’s important to keep the limited scope of one’s own contribution in perspective – so much is the domain of other actors or of the combination between actors.

There are no good guys or bad guys, really. I know it wasn’t easy for Seth to be married to me. Now that we’re broken up, we’re both doing much better.

Plus, the only way to get better at this stuff is to practice, and sometimes that means making giant mistakes.

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