Sometimes being in such an unconventional relationship as my first serious relationship is hard. Over time, as my feelings have gotten bigger and stronger, I’ve uncovered deeply held assumptions and expectations of romantic partnership that are not, can not, and will never be applicable to the relationship that I’m in. The path to finding ways to make the relationship work for me without those things winds through some periods of mourning that are hard to explain to my partner. Sometimes the path feels like it takes me in circles, like I’ve been through all of these emotions before and will again.
It was easier in the beginning when I felt feelings I understood and he could help me through, like jealousy or feeling threatened. His other involvements are not the problem, especially with the current logistical setup. There are various scenarios that could play out that could make that statement ring untrue, but there’s no sense in getting too caught up in what could be.
I feel like it’s getting harder over time. I don’t think that’s normal. Everyone says it gets easier. I think that’s because most people know what they want/expect from relationships generally, and I’m only figuring that out in the context of this one/comparing my relationship to those that I see around me. I think I was supposed to have these feelings in the beginning and have decided it was okay to give these things up before I got invested.
The hard part for me is the feeling of lack I get when thoughts like, “You are not in a relationship where your partner wants to wake up next to you every morning,” or “What does it mean about you if no one ever just wants to be with you?” pop into my head. How do we plan for a future that is satisfactory to both of us when I want that and he doesn’t, but he wants to be with me and build with me? I trust that he wants the things he says he wants with me, but I don’t understand a way to want partnership without wanting that, and so I am left confused. I have both sides of the “why am I not enough?” “It’s not about anyone being enough” conversation in my head and just end up feeling frustrated. I feel like I’m falling into the “intellectually, being poly seems like a healthy way to live one’s life, but I don’t actually get it emotionally” trap, which super scares me because that’s a thing he used to say about his former partner as to why things didn’t work with them.
The hard part for me is conceptually trying to shape a future with someone who is trying to shape a future with multiple people. I don’t know what I can count on to be true. I’ve always managed to adapt to the current situation, whatever it may be, but knowing that it’s going to change in ways that affect but don’t involve me and that I cannot predict is hard. I’m scared that somewhere I have a breaking point, a point at which this type of relationship would be unable to meet my needs, and I don’t know where that is and every time something new happens I am terrified that I am about to find it.
The hard part for me is watching my friends and roommates be in relationships where they default to spending their free time together and realizing a) that that is the picture of serious relationship-ness that lives in my head, and b) that that is never going to be us. I feel selfish saying that because I want to spend the overwhelming majority of my downtime with him, he should want the same. But at the same time, feeling a gap in how much each of us wants that is hard. The poly resources say monogamous partners benefit from having a rich social life full of hobbies and other interests. I don’t have as much of that going on as I probably should. I’d like to spend more time with my friends, but doing that in the real world feels a lot harder than doing it in college. I have considerably fewer people I fuck with like that accessible in daily life. I don’t really have hobbies or personal projects that I can devote time to working on, and I’m not sure how to develop them. This ties into the larger feeling of I don’t know what I’m “about,” which I’ve talked about before.
The hard part for me is that I legitimately tried to restructure how I think about relationships and date multiple people as well, and it was a failed experiment. It was easy in the beginning when everything felt like fun and games, but when my heart came out of the boxes it had been locked in and went all in on this, the appeal of seeing other people faded away. I would be of two minds when I was out on a date with someone: one side of me would recognize that before I was in the relationship that I’m in, this date would have excited me, while the other side didn’t understand why we were taking time and energy and money away from the thing we’ve invested in. The shitty icing on top of that split-mind cake was that I legitimately did not enjoy having sex with the last two guys I had sex with as part of this dating outside of my relationship adventure. It felt sort of empty and hollow, like what people had always told me about hookup sex v. relationship sex was finally ringing true. I’d never had this mysterious relationship sex to compare casual things to before, and now they just didn’t feel right. I didn’t let that stop me though. I turned to dating girls, because then I couldn’t compare the sex, right? Except that nothing got off the ground with any of them, which was probably for the best.
To my knowledge, in the past 2 years, my partner has been on 3 first dates and gotten long term relationships out of all of them. I’ve been on at least a dozen, if not closer to fifteen, and have an amazing relationship with him and a bunch of people I’d feel awkward running into on the metro to show for it. But that’s what my whole romantic history looks like. He has had all of these relationships, loved and been loved by all these people. People don’t even like me. I am a desert. Things don’t grow here. So dating someone for whom love is a forest is always going to feel weird. When he starts something, I feel like it’s going to be something, and no matter how secure I feel in our rootedness, watching new things sprout and be tended to is difficult.
I have to find a perspective from which I am benefiting in some way from our relationship structure being how it is, besides all of this uncomfortable growth that I know is good for me even if going through it sucks. Having him in my life is the best thing I can imagine, and I am willing to confront all these other feelings and find ways to make it work because with him is where I want to be. But is it where I want to be regardless of the shape his other relationships take at various points in the future? Am I willing to bend myself to get in wherever I can fit in? He says he doesn’t want me to be smaller, but we never know what the future is going to bring. I think each of us is scared of getting to a place where it feels like I’m settling, or just tolerating this aspect of him. I don’t want to be tolerant; I want to be accepting and understanding and even encouraging. Those are the things I strive towards. It feels like a personal shortcoming to both be completely turned off by the idea of dating other people (even when I have needs that aren’t being met and could theoretically be handled by others) and also take issue with signing up for a life of sitting at home waiting for him to come back from doing things I only want to do with him with others. One of those things has got to give if this is going to work. But which one, and how?