PQ 6.6 — Do I communicate authentically in ways that make me vulnerable?
I’m often asked, especially by newly polyamorous folks, if it’s possible to get better at dealing with stress that comes from adjusting to it all. Can we make peace with unhelpful social scripts we’ve learned from a society that overwhelmingly tells us that monogamy is the only reasonable, healthy, ethical choice?
And the answer is always: Yes, absolutely. It may not happen on your schedule. You may grow impatient and frustrated with yourself or others from time to time in the pursuit of building up your personal sense of security and learning a new, more flexible relationship paradigm.
But yes, it’s possible.
The trouble often stems from the fact that newly polyamorous folks look to the veterans that they know and assume we all woke up one day already pretty okay at polyamory.
A lot of my favorite poly bloggers share a similar story: They came to polyamory naturally. Monogamy just wasn’t a thing that they did well (or at all). Sure, they would try to fit themselves into that box, particularly when they came upon someone they truly cared about who expressed that exclusivity was important to them, signaled commitment. But there was something naturally different about how they approached relationships, and eventually they’d be back to their old ways of approaching and structuring relationships.
This is not at all how things went for me. I was instead convinced by others of poly (I’d done mono and casual non-mono), and when I gave it a shot, I found unexpected benefits so then I did work to make it sustainable for me.
But I never felt like I couldn’t do monogamy or that it was unrealistic.
And my beginnings in polyamory? Took a lot of hard fucking work. Uncomfortable emotional work.
When I formed the triad with Seth and Megan, I experienced far more jealousy than either of them. I felt like there was something wrong with me.
It probably didn’t help that they were proud of their naturally lower jealousy. If they did feel insecure, they never talked about it. And when I did, they had a hard time understanding what I was going through, let alone reassuring me. And the conversation would become more about why I chose to share than what I had to say.
So I quickly learned to keep any jealousy to myself. Even when I was totally falling apart, I generally behaved very, very well.
I judged me for those feelings, too.
I judged myself for my fear.
But as the years have progressed, I’ve learned that not everyone operates like Seth and Megan did back then. And as it turns out, even they had their insecurities. Their vulnerabilities. But for whatever reason, they couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about them then. Still, even unspoken, those insecurities had a way of creeping out. And in that silence, they wreaked havoc.
So, as humbling as it has been, as much as I worry about what the other person will think, I made a commitment to give up suffering in silence. And share the things I fear with those closest to me. In the kindest, non-blaming language I can muster.
As I wrote in Please Be Jealous:
These days I try to do better. I bring those feelings into the light of day, when it’s emotionally safe to do so. For me, when I’ve stabilized a bit and have time to reflect on what happened, I “fess up” about it to my partner and talk about it as a thing that I overcame. That way, they get to know that I’m human and feel things, but I don’t rain on anyone’s parade. Plus, it’s like a victory story of triumph over darkness, and we can both say “woo!” about it.
When I first started “fessing up,” the period between the feeling and the conversation? Could be days or weeks. (And okay, months one time.) And I had to be completely over those feelings. But the last time I told a partner I had been feeling insecure? I only waited a couple of hours. And I was still feeling a bit raw.
It’s been terrifying every time. And have those conversations always gone well? Usually, yes. But always? No. At least not in the short term.
But I’m learning more and more that it’s not a matter of being with people that we never have conflicts with.
It’s about being with people who are willing to work through conflicts with us.
And who have the strength to be vulnerable back.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
-Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.