Clash of the Game Changers / Mutually Assured Destruction

black and white photo of a snowy road with tracks leading off in multiple directions

Photo by Bruce Krasting/CC BY

The game changer is the relationship that comes along and turns everything upside down. It’s the relationship that changes the familiar landscape of life, rearranging the furniture in new and unexpected ways. Game-changing relationships are rare, but when they happen, they happen like tornados, leaving a trail of upset applecarts in their wake. 

-Franklin Veaux,  The Game Changer

The game changer is the monster under the bed. It’s the thing that hierarchical poly structures are designed to attempt (sometimes futilely) to thwart, a new relationship that upsets existing ones. In my most insecure amygdala-soaked moments, I’ve lived in a state of agitation where I’ve assumed that every one of my partner’s new relationships was going to be a game changer and invested my energies in bracing for the punch that never came.

It’s yet to happen to me.

And the irony is that despite all my fears, I’ve been the one who is changing other people’s games, upsetting paradigms. Fairly consistently. Twice it’s been a kind of explicit treason:

“Tell no one this, but if I’d met you when I was dating her, I would have dumped her and gotten with you instead. You’re the kind of woman I wish I’d married.”

The first time I heard this sentiment from a man I dated, I blushed and unwisely took it as the greatest compliment . His wife was a difficult person, after all (she had trouble maintaining friendships, let alone anything more serious), and their relationship had some challenging dynamics, so I could see why he felt this way. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but at the time, it felt good to “win” at a game where I was only supposed to be playing for a tie.

I let it go right to my head.

I’m disgusted by it now, looking back. It was a giant red flag. Even if it were true (and NRE schmoopy love chemicals make these kinds of comparison-based assessments suspect), who SAYS that? How is that supposed to make me feel good? Consider I had a primary partner of my own, something he knew. Did he want me to reciprocate in kind, disavow my own primary? Did he stop to consider how awkward this could potentially make my interactions with his wife, my knowing this?

Even setting all that aside, it was a very mono way of looking at things – as though there was one slot for Truly Significant Other and everyone else was a Side Thing, and somehow I’d outgrown my britches by being cooler than anticipated. If you don’t want to be with your wife, fine, don’t be with your wife, but there’s nothing saying that you need only have space enough for one wife-like person. I mean, that’s the whole fucking point of polyamory. It’s not Highlander – “There Can Be Only One” doesn’t hold a lot of water here.

Plus, reinforcing societal scripts of competition between women over men? Not cool.

Anyway, the second time I heard this, from a new male partner who told me if he’d met me before his wife that things would have been different, I instantly felt sick to my stomach. I was already on the world’s worst date, having discovered that my body just wasn’t as physically attracted to his as I wanted it to be (in fact, I was a bit repulsed by him, despite really enjoying talking to him and spending time together), and as a way of sealing the deal and signaling his excitement and commitment to me, Traitor Guy #2 let the sweet, sweet treason fly.

I laughed nervously, changed the subject. I probably should have handed his ass to him, but Safety Mode kicked in. He’d driven me to his place, and I was waiting for his wife to get back from seeing my husband so he could drive me home. So I needed to stay civil just long enough to physically remove myself from the situation. Plus, there was also his wife’s relationship with my husband to consider. The last thing I wanted to do was screw anything up there, cause collateral damage. With no safe way to be frank without potentially harming myself or others, nervous laughter and subject change it was.

Later, that sentiment came back to haunt and torment me. Having had both of these men say it to me, I could easily envision my husband saying it to others, that he wished he’d married them instead of me. This was a thought that crushed me.

I changed other games, too, including my husband’s. He was seeing a number of other girls casually, but when we got together, he threw himself wholeheartedly into being with me. And while he wasn’t in any sort of domestic partnership, it was pretty upsetting to a few of them.

But to be fair, my husband Skyspook changed my game even more. He was the fifth lover, and in a lot of ways, he was the Jenga piece that sent everything crashing down. Oddly, it wasn’t because he was difficult – it was because he was so fucking easy. Easy like Sunday morning. We got along swimmingly, effortlessly, and he was so giving. It highlighted rather starkly how difficult three of the other people I was seeing were (the fourth was long distance and good friends with two of the difficult ones, so between the distance and the drama, she stopped seeing me after I ended things with them). Once you see something like that, it’s rather impossible to unsee it and near automatic to resent it. Nothing kills relationships like resentment. Simply by being so good and loving, Skyspook completely changed the landscape of my love life. I tried to let him know what was going on without being treasonous (dancing on that knife’s edge) – I told him that I felt bad since the relationship with him was “dwarfing my other relationships” and that he was “making the rest of the class look bad.” Skyspook apologized and expressed concern – I told him that it was okay, that I was just going to have to do a bunch of work with my pre-existing partners that I did not relish doing.

Unfortunately, that work never went anywhere. Simply the lead-up to doing the actual work spiraled wildly out of control, and I went through one break up after another.

And at the same time that Traitor Guy #2 was telling me that things would have gone very differently indeed if he’d met me before he met his wife, his wife was telling Skyspook he, too, was going to be “trouble.”

*

Much has been written of game changer relationships. I would take it a step further and posit that certain people are prone to disrupting existing relationships, to being game changers. I have only a fuzzy idea of what could predispose people to such a thing – fumbling in the dark, I see a game changer as someone with emotional depth, not content to stay on the surface. Someone who is self-actualized, passionate, brave, and flexible. Someone who is morally relativistic and asks a lot of questions.

I’m a game changer. And I’m married to one.

This is absolutely as terrifying as it sounds.

*

I take odd solace in believing that between the two of us, there exists a state of mutually assured destruction where, much like heavily armed nuclear states, we both know the other has more than enough to easily obliterate us. Lashing out is not simply an act of aggression; it is a form of emotional suicide.

And they say romance is dead.

 

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