Poly Shame Spiral: Swimming Through Water and Yelling at Ourselves for Getting Wet

a sepia-toned photo of a wet dog shaking itself dry
Image by luke joyce / CC BY

“Ugh, what is wrong with me? I’m so freaking bad at poly,” she says.

“Why do you say that?” I say.

“I’m the poly vet here. I should know what I’m doing,” she says.

“And you don’t?”

“I don’t. I feel like I did way back in the beginning, when I was new to poly. I’m terrified,” she says.

“Well, you’re not new to poly, but are you new to this?”

“What do you mean?” she says.

“Have you been in this situation before?” I ask.

“Not this exact one, but…”

“But?”

“You would just think after all I’ve been through that I’d be immune to jealousy by now,” she says.

The Shame Spiral

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself midsentence saying something similar while I’m struggling through something. “Man, I’m bad at poly.”

And yes, I still have days that are hard. Situations that test my resolve. Try my skills.

And it’s tempting to get into a shame spiral.¬†¬†Start to feel bad about feeling bad. Enter that familiar secondary trauma loop, where I’m beating myself up over and over again. Punishing myself for feeling negative feelings. Doubts and insecurities.

But when I really dig down deep and interrogate what I’m feeling, I can see that it’s not just me and my own feelings I have to deal with. But an entire world outside of me.

A world that tells me that love is zero sum. That affection given to others takes away from what is given to me. That we only have One True Love and the rest are pretenders.

I’m a Poly Girl in a Mono World

While I’ve managed to carve out a niche community of fellow polyamorists and kinksters who feel quite differently, I spent a long time without anything like that. I grew up being told over and over again that monogamy is the only viable and ethical way to do relationships. And even now, I encounter monogamocentric beliefs through certain social connections and media. It’s always there somewhere in the background.

Getting upset for occasionally reverting to those thought patterns is a bit like swimming through water and yelling at ourselves for getting wet.

*

“Because guess what, buttercup? That’s the world you’re living in,” I say, after explaining all of this to her.

“When you put it that way, it does seem a little silly,” she says.

I smile.

“Now the question is: Where to find a towel?” she says.

“That’s the spirit.”

*

My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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