They tell you never to go the grocery store hungry. You’ll careen the aisles, salivating like a ravenous beast, sweeping entire shelves of food into your cart. And we’re not talking celery sticks. This becomes the time when we see exactly how many metric tons of Doritos we can cram into a shopping cart. And queso. Good lord, queso. Queso will be the death of me. Funny enough, they did a study. It’s true. You really should eat a snack or something before you go shopping. Need drives desperation which drives bad decisions.
I have also definitely found this pattern to hold true when it comes to dating. When my life is in tatters, I invariably will reach for someone terribly unsuitable. Need makes me settle. And truly bad things happen when I settle.
What’s most interesting for me though?
It’s not clearcut with polyamory and monogamy.
Polyamory is not a cure for desperation.
One would think that having preexisting partners in the picture would mean that we approach dating new people without that sense of desperation, of overarching need. And while this can be the case, it’s only if those other relationships are healthy.
When Seth and I opened up, our relationship had some fundamental problems, ones that I don’t think either of us were even aware of. I was experiencing large stress related to both finances and a lack of emotional fulfillment. Because of this, I approached dating with an unhealthy sense of desperation. And I’m sure I’m not the only poly person this has happened to. After all, Rob declared his love for me the first time we chatted online, after about 4 hours. This is how a starving person acts.
Given that it was hunger and desperation that really drove us together, it’s really no wonder that Rob and I didn’t really work out in the long run.
Single people can be healthy and stable.
The opposite is also true. Although plenty of poly people spend time unpartnered (or functionally monogamous), the cultural script for monogamy includes stretches of being single.¹
Just because you’re unpartnered, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to make bad decisions.
Having your life otherwise stable when looking for a partner can help tremendously. When you aren’t dating someone because you have to live with their parents (been there). When you aren’t working a job that crushes your soul every 5 minutes (done that). And when you have a good social support network of friends and aren’t surrounded by haters just looking to tear you down (bought the T-shirt).
Maybe you have a few extra bucks and generally like being you, even if you would totally prefer some company.
I’ve known many people who took a self-imposed hiatus from dating to get their affairs in order and go to therapy to figure themselves out.
After the great web burning of 2011, when I went through 4 breakups in a handful of months as a poly person, I essentially did this. I became functionally monogamous in the sole reviving relationship (with Skyspook), spending a few years fixing my finances, going to therapy, getting my degree, and starting a new career.
When we reopened, I was delighted to find that it was not a repeat of what I went through before. This was not Seth 2.0. I wasn’t desperate. I made good choices. And when I felt like something wasn’t working, I could end it quickly, rather than forcing things that didn’t make any sense, fueled by a desperation to just have something.
It’s tricky and can be quite a process. Most of those who have had success can see what went right very clearly in hindsight but had no clue as they bumbled through the day to day (true for me).
And what do you do if you’re starving? Are you expected to starve to death while waiting for the perfect meal to show up?
Sometimes you gotta hit the grocery store with enough hunger to devour several worlds. It happens.
Just be honest about your level of hunger and aware of how it might be affecting your choices. And prepare as best you can so the next trip goes a little better.
¹Eliminating these single periods means that you’re guilty of doing things “on the rebound,” timing which calls your decision-making into question. More on that in a later post.