Emotional Whack-a-Mole: You Can’t Hide from Disappointment

carnival game of whack-a-mole
Image by terren in Virginia / CC BY

“I think Rob is more in love with the idea of having a girlfriend than actually in love with me,” I said.

I could hear Skyspook’s breathing change. This was dangerous territory. My words were my truth, sure, but they were also a kind of betrayal.

The funny thing about polyamory, and about non-monogamy in general, is when you stop defining faithfulness as only sleeping with one person, other loyalty becomes paramount.

It was a long pause. Skyspook was likely doing mental calculus of his own. Whether to meet me on the unsteady ground or to walk away, safe and sound.

“Well,” he finally said. “I know it’s not the same as his, but for what it’s worth, you have my love.”

And off we went.

*

My relationship with Skyspook was a strange, uncharted country. As I waited to relocate from Maine to Ohio to be with the rest of my extended poly web, much of what would become Us lay at a distance. I liked what I could see, but most of that landscape was featureless.

I should have been excited, but I moved forward with a plodding heaviness. As I set off with Skyspook, I carried a lot with me. Chiefly, bitterness.

I was moving to Ohio primarily for Rob after all, and despite occasional reassurances to the contrary, Rob wasn’t acting like he was excited about it. Or that he even missed me when we were apart. It didn’t help that my own social life was on hold in preparation for the move. I didn’t see the point in making new friends locally when I was just going to move away.

I’d originally told Rob a phone call every 4 to 5 days would be optimal but that I knew life happened and that I could cope fine with every 7 to 10. He agreed to this.

In the 5 months that intervened between my official decision to move from Maine to Ohio, we spoke on the phone 3 times.

As Skyspook drew closer to me, I couldn’t help but become resentful that Rob stayed distant.

Skyspook’s attention, lovely and appreciated though it was, didn’t compensate for Rob’s ignoring me.

I hadn’t put all my eggs in one basket. And yet I was still upset when eventually, inevitably, some of those eggs broke.

The Trouble with Emotional Whack-a-Mole

One of the cornerstone principles in polyamorous theory is that love is abundant, plentiful. And the more love in  your life, the more love you have to give. It’s like the biblical miracle of the loaves and fishes, feeding large crowds with only meager supplies. Love is not zero sum. It isn’t like you can only feel so much love — when you love one person, you don’t automatically love everyone else less.

This is because the emotional dynamics of each separate relationship stack.

This applies to negative emotions, too. Just like there’s no scarcity of love, there’s no scarcity of disappointment. And negative emotional dynamics aren’t automatically cancelled out by positive ones in other relationships.

You can’t hide in a relationship from the problems in another. Eventually the game of emotional Whack-a-Mole has to end, and it never ends well.

*

“Page, I went on a great first date with this new girl,” she says to me. “But it just made me so ANGRY that my other partner has been so distant lately. Does that sound weird?”

“Not at all,” I say. “Emotional Whack-a-Mole is way harder than it looks.”

 

 

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