“Have You Ever Wanted to Give Up on Polyamory?”

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Image by Antti T. Nissinen / CC BY

Hey there! I’m new to poly, I’ve only been doing it for less than a year. I’ve been following your writings for that time and they’ve been a great help.

I still struggle with jealousy though, anxiety attacks, and just generally feeling terrible when my partner goes to explore new connections. They’re feeling like they’re hurting me by doing so as well, which makes it worse.

Have you ever wanted to give up? How do you know when polyamory is right for you? If you’re on the right path? I’m sure a lot of people have felt what I’m feeling, but so often I feel so lost in all this.

I don’t know if you’ll have any answers, but I know you’ve got far more experience than I do.

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Have I ever wanted to give up?

Might not be a cool thing to admit, but I’m going to answer your question honestly: Yes. I most certainly have.

I’m not one of those people who always knew polyamory was something that was right for them. I can’t claim to have been “born polyamorous.” Or to have “just known.”

In fact, when I set out into having polyamorous relationships, I was not only unsure that it was the right format for me, I also wasn’t sure if it was something that anybody should be doing.

I wasn’t sure that it was a viable or healthy way to conduct romantic relationships.

There were certainly a lot of times in the first few years that I questioned what I was doing. That I harbored secret or less than secret doubts (when I confided in others).

Again, I’ll hit you with some more uncool honesty: The beginning was brutal for me. But after that, I knew that I’d actually made a very good choice to explore polyamory — although one that was very scary in the short term. And in talking with people who were similar to me, that seems to be how it plays out, when you’re not a “natural.” You have a heckuva time starting out, doubt yourself a lot, and then you hit a groove eventually, and in hindsight it seems like one of the best decisions you ever made.

The Hedonic Treadmill

It unfortunately does take time, however. Our stone age brains are woefully dumb and slow, as much as we wish they would hurry the heck up. There’s a principle called the hedonic treadmill here that applies to all life changes. Basically, the hedonic treadmill, or the happiness set point, is “the tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite changes in fortune.”

The effects of the hedonic treadmill are double-edged: Lottery winners aren’t thrilled forever, but people experiencing stress or setbacks aren’t forever overwhelmed by them either, once enough time had passed (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978).

How much time? For most events on average, there are noticeable sharp recovery points at roughly 6-month and 1-year intervals.

And for new polyamorists, that also seems to be the case. Sharp improvements in adjustment stress (like jealousy, etc.) that happen every 6 months, continuing up until about the 2-year mark, at which point most people will have leveled off and see marked relief.

Depending on your perspective, this might sound like a very long time. However, considering how many years of exposure you’ve undoubtedly had to near-constant messages that tell you that only relationships that are monogamous have worth, it’s actually not surprising that it would take a bit for the fear centers in your brain to catch up.

The Way I See It, It’s About Picking Your Own Version of Hard

The second question you ask is a rather complicated one: How do you know when polyamory is right for you?

I think the answer depends on a person’s motivations for pursuing polyamory. And how successful they consider themselves in that pursuit after a bit of real world experience.

I’m not a good person to ask if you want a simple answer to this question. Because even now I do not consider myself strictly polyamorous. Instead, I consider myself ambiamorous — meaning that I consider myself about equally happy in a monogamous relationship or a polyamorous relationship system, provided all of the relationships are healthy and people are all treating one another well.

If you want to read more about ambiamory, I’d recommend this article I wrote for Kinkly on it.

Anyway, on a personal level, I’ve determined that I like being in polyamorous relationship systems that are healthy and compatible with me and my emotional needs. I’ve also determined that I don’t need to be in a polyamorous relationship system or to have multiple lovers at a time in order to be happy or romantically fulfilled. Provided my love life is good, I don’t really care how many lovers I have (or whether they’re seeing others). Although if I’m in a monogamous relationship in which someone socially isolates me because of unchecked jealousy issues (toxic monogamy style), I will lose my damn mind.

I’m not negative about polyamory or monogamy per se; I’m more neutral/equally positive about both.

Here’s a piece I wrote about my own personal set of pros and cons re: relationship styles, essentially reasoning which led me to realize that I was ambiamorous. It frames the choice between polyamory and monogamy as picking your own version of hard, which is how I see it. I recommend it.

After years of honest self-questioning, I find my own choice of difficult to be very situational and based on the cast of characters, so I’m ambiamorous. Other people find the polyamorous or monogamous brand of difficult to be better regardless of context, and so they identify more strongly with one style or the other.

“Is This Relationship/Are These Relationships Right for Me?”

So for me, it’s less a question of “is polyamory right for me?” and more a question of “is this relationship/are these relationships right for me?”

And if you’d like any help sorting that out, here’s an article I wrote that goes over a few clear signs that it’s time to end a relationship.

Only You Can Know What’s Right for You – and Both Relationship Styles Are Perfectly Acceptable Ways to Conduct Oneself

In any event, struggling when you’re new to polyamory isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re entirely unsuited for it. I mean, it could be, but it could also be routine adjustment pains that accompany any large life change. They sure were for me.

The bad news is that this is something that you’ll have to figure out on your own.

Maybe you’ll get into your groove and be happily polyamorous (or ambiamorous). When it comes to our cultural programming, the brain is unfortunately slow but remarkably resilient and flexible over time provided we’re persistent and patient.

But maybe you won’t get there. Maybe you’ll realize you need to be in a monogamous relationship. And that’s okay, too. I wouldn’t think any less of you.

I will say that many readers who have tried polyamorous relationships and found that they aren’t for them have also found that the way that they conduct monogamous relationships are changed, in a positive way, due to the experience of being in an open relationship .So even an ostensibly “failed” trial of non-monogamy can have positive long-lasting impacts.

In any event, good luck to you and thanks for writing.

Further Reading:

No Matter What Intense Feeling You’re Currently Having, Eventually You’ll Return to Your Norm

Polyamory: The Love of Many (Archer Magazine)

You’ve Heard of Polyamory, But What About Ambiamory? (Kinkly)

To Make Mono/Poly Easier, View Monogamy and Polyamory as a Spectrum, Not a Binary

Post-Poly Exile: On Your Own in the In-Between

Monogamy After Polyamory: When You Can’t Go Home Again

How Being Polyamorous Can Be Different: Unorthodox Friendships & Support

Polyamory Doesn’t Actually Need to Be Easy to Be Something Worth Pursuing

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Have a question about a post? Maybe need some advice about a relationship or situation? Write me. I love getting messages from you.

Your letter and my answer might be featured in Advice Friend. I regularly change identifying details and/or completely rewrite letters to preserve anonymity.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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