The Heart You Break Might Be Your Own

a crudite platter of celery, carrots, snow peas, and ranch dressing
Image by Dorothy Cook / CC BY

“I don’t understand,” I told her. “I’m so heartbroken. It makes no sense.”

“Why doesn’t it make sense?” she asked.

“Because broke up with him,” I said.

*

When I was new to ethical non-monogamy, I thought being polyamorous meant never having to break up.

But I was so, so wrong.

In fact, I found that romantic relationships failed at roughly the same rate as they did when I was only having one at a time. Being able to carry on multiple simultaneously was a boon, to be sure. But a vanguard against breaking up? It definitely wasn’t.

And so I discovered that I was learning just as much about breakups as I was about relationships.

The Overly Simplistic Cultural Script for Breakups

When it comes to breakups, there’s not much in the way of education.  It’s like a lot of our cultural scripts surrounding relationships. We view breakups in such simplistic terms.

Relationships continue until something happens. Someone has to screw up. And at that point, they become the bad guy. The other person then has the option to forgive them for their misdeeds. Or break up with them.

This is actually the only approved way to break up with someone. If you break up with a person who hasn’t done anything wrong, then you’re the bad guy for breaking up with them. This is because in the larger cultural narrative every breakup is viewed as a bad thing.

There are a number of break-up-able offenses. And depending who you ask, some might make the list and others not. But one that’s guaranteed? Cheating. If your partner cheats on you, you can break up with them, and no one will bat an eyelash. Bonus: Your ex is an insta social pariah. No awkward 20-second interactions near the crudités at social gatherings. The tribe has spoken. Out goes the torch.

*

“That makes perfect sense to me,” she said. “That you’d be heartbroken.”

“Even though I broke up with him?”

“Yes,” she said.

I cocked my head.

“Generally speaking,” she continued, “we don’t leave situations unless we’re unhappy with them. There was something deeply disappointing about that relationship. You just picked up on it first.”

*

My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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