Unselfish Love Sounds A-MAZING (Until You're The One Giving It Away)

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polyamory and relationship anxiety
Love, Self

One of the issues I've recently come across as someone in an open, polyamorous marriage (my "primary" relationship) has been figuring out my expectations for people I see outside of my marriage (my "secondary" relationships).

I’ve been spending too much of my time riddled with self-doubt, angst–and bouts of ugly-cry-tears based on the communication whims of my partners, each of whom are sometimes very engaged with me, and at other times, very distant.

I want joy, fun, and sexiness from these relationships — not to feel stressed out because I didn’t get a text the day after we last slept together.

I feel like I’ve got two basic options as far possible responses to my concerns: A) I can demand changes of my partners, or B) I can figure out how to be okay with whatever I get as I get it.

I do believe this is my issue rather than theirs. These are casual, friends-with-benefits relationships, so I don’t think laying down a list of demands is the way to go. I think I will be served better by approach B, and that’s what I’m working on.

But it's not always easy.

I’ve been at this open relationship thing for less than a year, and it’s still difficult to shake the monogamous mind-set of seeing relationships as having to be a certain way or else having to end.

Non-monogamous relationships really shouldn't have to follow that model, because none of my partners have to be everything to me. Accepting each partner for who they are and what they have to give me should free me from much of the angst I’ve been experiencing when communication doesn’t look the way it does in my ideal scenario.

Understand, my acceptance of less than ideal communication is not meant to imply acceptance of being treated poorly.

I have a history of being treated as a doormat. But despite popular meme-ology, this doesn't come from a belief that I don’t deserve better. Which is why those relationships are exactly that — history.

None of my current partners treat me poorly. They simply aren’t as chatty as I am and they don’t tend to initiate conversations as often as I do. When I’m in a healthy head-space, I can see that for what it is — they’re busy and don’t feel the need to connect as often as I do.

But when my overly anxious or depressed brain starts calling the shots, the message I hear becomes that I’m simply a convenient set of holes they can use when they’re horny and ignore when they’re not.

By decreasing my dependence on the external stimulus of text messages for affirmation of my value in their eyes, and by telling my inner (read: critical) voice to go fuck itself, I’m working to remove the power my insecurities and internal slut-shaming sometimes hold over me so I can just enjoy the many good things I get from these relationships.

My mindset first began to shift following an experience I had with a long-distance partner I wanted to video chat/masturbate with.

Turns out it’s not really his thing. He made a big point of carefully and clearly stating it's not only me he didn’t want to video chat with. In a sudden moment of clarity, I realized that even if it was only me he didn’t want to do that with, that would still be okay. I only want him to do things with me that he can freely and joyously do.

Of course, I would love to be special in all of my partners’ eyes. Who wouldn’t?

But we live in reality, not a romantic comedy or fairy tale, and truthfully, it would likely get exhausting if someone paid me too much attention, and I’d probably get a little creeped out if someone went on and on about how special I am.

Somehow it seems we’re wired to have these paradoxical desires about attention. Annoying, right?

My second mindset shift came from some time I spent thinking about love.

I’m not currently in love with any partners other than my husband, but I’ve worried I might fall in love with one of them, and that they might not love me back. I tend to develop feelings quickly and intensely, so this has felt like a real risk (worrying about things that haven’t yet happened and may never happen is my superpower).

I’ve come to realize that although it would be nice to have someone reciprocate those feelings, I don’t need that. My love wouldn’t have to be a selfish love that depended on being returned. I could simply love someone because I did, and I could enjoy loving them, and that could be enough.

All that said, I am still working to figure out when I need to step back from relationships if they aren't serving me well — when investing in a relationship causes me more pain than joy, and therefore isn’t in my best interest.

In particular, I’ve come to realize how one-sided one of my current relationships has been and I think I need to put on the brakes. I’ve seen warning signs since the beginning that he isn’t as into it as I am, but I blithely ignored the negatives — thanks to the sense-altering buzz of New Relationship Energy (NRE).

I don’t feel like I need to give up the relationship entirely, but rather recalibrate my expectations of what I want out of it, as well as how much energy I’m willing to put into it. It’s hard, though, because when things have been good, it’s been really good, and I let myself get swept up in the fantasy.

I’ve got some awkward and painful days ahead of me as I get to the other side and grieve the relationship I thought we had and were building. Once I’m through the hurt, I feel certain I will come to embrace the one we’ve got.

This is a pattern I worry I’m doomed to repeat if I don’t get myself sorted.

I’ve already been through it once, and fuck, did that ever suck. I was heartbroken and miserable — and I felt incredibly guilty that my husband had to watch me going through that over another guy.

I’m hoping this time won’t be as bad because I know what I’m in for. It sucks, but I don’t have to stop liking him. I don’t even need to stop crushing on him or flirting with him or enjoying our sexy-times together.

As with ALL relationships, I simply need to do away with any expectations I had of it being anything other than what it is.

Grieve the fantasy, embrace the reality.

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My new mantra.

This article was originally published at Life on the Swingset. Reprinted with permission from the author.