“What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“It’s gonna sound silly,” he warns me.
“That’s okay,” I say. “Tell me anyway.”
He hasn’t been polyamorous for terribly long. And until this point, it’s been mostly him dating on his own. His wife, an introvert who enjoys her alone time, hasn’t dated much on her own.
But recently she’s started seeing someone. And he tells me that he walked in on his wife getting ready for a date with that person when he saw something that disturbed him. Way more than it should have.
“She was shaving her legs,” he says.
“Ah,” I say. “That.”
“You don’t sound surprised that it bothered me,” he says.
“That’s because I’m not,” I reply. I tell him I’ve seen this particular issue many times.
“You mean, I’m not the first person who’s ever gone, ‘Oh no, she’s shaving her legs. She doesn’t do that for me anymore. She must be really into this guy?'”
“Nope,” I say. “You are not. Far from it.” I tell him I’ve heard something like it many times, from a variety of different people. Situations in which they experience a sense of unease that their partner is fixing themselves up extra special before a date with someone new. Something that their partner hasn’t done for them in an awfully long time.
Sometimes it’s shaving their legs. Other times it’s taking the time and care to trim an unruly beard. Or doing a full face of makeup. Wearing cologne. Buying a whole new outfit when until now they’ve been content to slum around the house with you in rags.
“In fact,” I say, “Didn’t you tell me a while back that your wife was a little worried about your new haircut? The one you got because your other partner said something to you about your split ends.”
He blushes. “Yeah. Especially since my wife had mentioned it before, and I’d been like ‘yeah, no problem, I’ll get to it eventually maybe.'”
“But you didn’t, did you?”
He shakes his head.
“And it was only when another person came into the picture that you took that step.”
He nods. “She thought it meant that I cared about my other partner more, but it’s not like that at all. I didn’t know how to explain. But it’s not like that.”
Taking Extra Pains Not Because You Like Someone New More But Because You Don’t Trust Them Yet
“For what it’s worth,” I say. “I get it. I’ve been there, on both sides of it. I’ve been the person who’s shaving their legs for someone new and the person reading waaaaay into what it could possibly mean and needlessly terrifying myself in the process.”
He laughs. “Well, at least I’m in good company.”
“I came to realize something,” I say.
“You don’t start shaving your legs because you care more about the new person. It’s not about that at all,” I say. “That’s the mistake I was making, when I was on the other side of it.”
He cocks his head.
“You shave your legs for the new person because you don’t trust them yet. You don’t trust them to care for you. You’re worried that they’ll reject you for superficial reasons before they really get a chance to know you,” I say.
“So it may feel like you’re being taken for granted when your partner spiffs themselves up for someone new, like they don’t care about you anymore,” he says, “but it’s actually that their guard is down around you and up around new people?”
I nod. “It always feels that way when I’m the one shaving my legs. Even if it always feels scarier when I’m the one who walks in on it.”
“You know,” he says. “Now that I think about it. You’re right. My new haircut was exactly like that. I knew my wife loved me, scruffy hair and all. And honestly, if she’d asked me a few more times or had seemed like she really wanted me to, I probably would have cut it a lot sooner.”
I nod. “And I bet that if you really wanted her to, your wife would shave her legs for one of your dates, too.”
“That’s the thing,” he says. “I really don’t. It’s not a big deal to me. Body hair doesn’t bother me. That’s part of what surprised me so much about my reaction.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, you aren’t the only one who’s ever been through this,” I say, “and I’m sure you won’t be the last.”
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