It’s Not Easy to Balance Attachment and Autonomy

a precariously balanced Jenga tower
Image by Ed Garcia / CC BY

It’s a balance I’m yet to master, how to be attached just the right amount and in the just the right ways.

I’m used to being all alone on my own frequency. Used to taking years to wind up to a point where I feel brave enough to speak my truth, only to have it land on other people as absolute nonsense.

So when I meet someone else who understands me quickly, I’m one of those people who fall hard, fast.

Even when it doesn’t make any sense to. Even when it’s guaranteed to lead to my destruction.

I Didn’t Want to Become Attached, But I Did

It was that way when I fell for him, all those years ago. The first time I kissed him, I thought to myself, Well, it’s over. I belong to him now. Whether I like it or not. 

Which sounds terrifying. But there was no anxiety then. No uncertainty. No doubt. Just a sense of falling, falling, falling — and being prepared to accept the consequences of wherever I’d land. Because I knew then that any pain would be worth it. That I was going somewhere important.

I never expected this to last. I told him, “I know you’ll get bored of me. Move on. That I’m only going to have you in my life for a little while. But while you’re here, I’m going to enjoy you — and us — so much.”

Despite stepping unexpectedly into a dream, I was prepared for reality to set in shortly. I cultivated detachment. And did my best to foster an environment in which he’d do the same. Because I knew that people like me don’t get a chance to have something like this — at least not for very long.

He laughed. Told me that I was wrong. And that he was committed to showing me how wrong I was.

I didn’t feel any anxiety then.

No, the anxiety would come later. Much later. After years passed, and I slowly let down my guard, stopped cultivating that detachment I had been so vigilant to upkeep.

When I started to let myself believe that this might be a lasting thing. That something that burned this brightly didn’t necessarily have to run out of fuel so soon.

Our lives started to wind around one another. I became a part of him and he, me. I’d lost my safe distance. My cool.

We were attached.

I was attached.

The War of Autonomy and Attachment

Becoming attached like that was terrifying. Autonomy is so important to me. I know what it feels like to be stifled in a relationship, shackled, legislated into resentment. So I never want to do that to another person. I want the people I love to be free.

And I really try. My relationships with others are open. I do what I can to be supportive of partners’ relationships with metamours. To foster compersion.

But sometimes I trip over my own feet, especially when it comes to him. I’m so attached that I feel myself wanting to follow after my companion on expeditions where I’m not part of the team, to go places that aren’t meant for me.

Now, I don’t tag along where I’m not wanted. I know better. But when I stay behind, I end up feeling like the child who’s been sent to bed early while the parents enjoy alone time downstairs, sneaking out of my bedroom, listening down the stairwell, trying to hear the secret fun the adults are having without me. Something that a part of me I can’t accept that I’m excluded from. A small part, to be sure, one of those stray tendrils that worked its way into him when I let my guard down.

But undeniably part of me objects.

And when this happens, I simultaneously feel like an outsider and part of him. It’s a powerful source of cognitive dissonance, the way autonomy and attachment wage war against one another.

Things Are Difficult When Something Is Very Wrong or Very Right

“You haven’t been forcibly exiled,” I tell myself. “Don’t take it so personally. Your occasional exclusion isn’t about you. Some personal defect that no one is telling you about. You’re a good teammate. A worthy companion. The only people who are always insiders are ones who never leave home. You’re both travelers, and if you travel enough, you’ll inevitably spend time as an outsider somewhere.”

But there are days when I wish I understood this more intuitively. That I were either less attached or less concerned with autonomy. A balance that seems like it would be easier to sustain.

Because it’s a difficult path, this particular balance: high autonomy, moderate attachment. And the trouble with difficult is that it can happen whether something is very wrong (causing pointless distress) or very right (because life has taught me that the most important personal growth hurts while it’s happening).

So I have to take a step back, keep my wits about me, analyze the situation, and see if what I’m doing is taking me where I want to go.

So far, so good.

*

My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

Liked it? Take a second to support Poly.Land on Patreon!

2 Comments

  1. Such an informative piece, it has helped me begin to understand what one of our triad has been trying to say. Thank you

Leave a Reply

You may also like