I’ve been dealing with some internalized shame lately about my relationship choices that an issue with a friend has stirred up, and I’ve finally come to a decision.
I have a close friend from college who is socially conservative and a very religious Christian. We have never seen eye-to-eye on relationships, even before she knew I was kinky and before I became non-monogamous. But we used to revel in that, even after I came out to her. We would talk about our differences with interest and respect and then we’d talk about Jane Austen movie adaptations and it was a very satisfying friendship. I don’t tell her the salacious details of my sex life (or the boring ones, either), but she knows the broad picture of my relationship style and my sexuality because those things inform who I am as a person and we are close.
Then a few months ago she moved to a different town, and since then I feel like things have been strained when I try to say anything about my personal life, even really, really vanilla details about my primary. It got to the point where I felt like I was walking on eggshells with her and couldn’t talk about anything but work, school and what I’m watching on Netflix. I started to feel frustrated and resentful. I felt like the boundaries of our friendship were changing but in a lopsided way and without her telling me. So I asked her what was going on. She tried to avoid it, but I eventually got out of her that she’s “worried” about my life choices and doesn’t know what to do when I talk about my personal life because she disapproves but doesn’t want to tell me. Then we sort of took a rain check on the “what are we going to do about this” part of the conversation.
That’s given me some time to think, and I realized that I was carrying a lot of guilt and shame into this situation that I didn’t know I had. On some level I felt like, since I was the deviant one, it was my responsibility to hide that from the normal people and I had failed and made my friend uncomfortable. But that’s not right. This is just a part of my life, and a close friend should be able to accept my differences and not shut down when I tell her a funny story about my boyfriend. I don’t have to defend myself to her. I’m going to have one conversation where I explain that this is what’s right for me, and if nothing changes I’ll have to scale back the friendship. Because if I always have to watch what I say around someone, we just can’t be that close.
A girl I know posted a note on Fetlife (the kinky social network) today about how, due to the large, vocal poly community on that site, she sometimes feels bad about being monogamous, even though she feels that monogamy is a more comfortable choice for her. In the comments, people were talking about the differences between poly and monogamy. Since Mike and I are neither of those things, he chimed in to explain his thoughts on the matter. I agreed with what he said and thought it was a good explanation of our relationship.
It is ok if you’re not poly.
I’m not poly either, by the narrower definition most often used. I am non-monogamous. I am poly in a broad sense, meaning that I love multiple people, in different ways and to different degrees.
But so as not to confuse the issue with the narrower definition of “poly,” I refer to myself as non-monogamous. I have a primary partner in Beth, and she is primary in my romantic affection, and in her status in my life. Other people can have multiple strong, romantic connections, but for me I simply prefer life with one primary partner to grow old with, and other playmates whom I love to a lesser degree (as close friends).
Even if you couldn’t do that kind of non-monogamy, that’s ok, too. Not everyone is alike, and no two people have the same desires and needs.
The main reason people “can’t” be non-monogamous is because they can’t get past the jealousy issue. And I do strongly believe that jealousy is a nasty, rotten emotion that causes damage and wreaks havok in any kind of relationship, even if it’s monogamous. Perhaps particularly if it’s monogamous.
And since I think jealousy is so destructive, not just to relationships but to a person at the core, I think it’s worthwhile to try to eradicate jealousy if at all possible. It is a long and difficult road, but it is worthwhile if it can be done.
But some people just can’t. Two things I’d advise: I don’t think you should beat yourself up if you can’t. And I don’t think you are defective. It means you are human. It IS hard-wired into us to be jealous over the idea that someone we love is spending intimate time with someone else. So if you can never be at peace with that, then you’re human and that’s ok.
The only thing I would caution is to do your best to prevent jealousy from causing you to cling on so tightly to people that you end up making them want to get away. And be careful not to let jealous emotions give you too much pain or cause you to attack your own self-worth.
I rarely blog about my exploits with partners other than Mike. He jokes that it makes it sound like our relationship is lopsided and that he’s having sex all the time and I’m sitting at home. That’s not the case, but for a while I was disinterested in seeing anyone else, and even when I do I don’t always have anything to say about it.
Friday night Mike and I went to a Halloween party and I got spanked, and then yesterday I spent time with a guy that whom I used to do BDSM scenes with semi-regularly. He’s a close friend of Mike and I. We chatted about mutual friends, then did an impact play scene, and then ate Chinese food and cuddled and watched TV for a couple of hours. It was great! And then I decided that I had so much fun with someone else I didn’t love Mike anymore or feel attracted to him. Oh wait, that last part didn’t happen. Mike thinks that when I have fun with someone else, it’s good for my jealousy because I realize that it doesn’t change my feelings for him and so it won’t for him either. And it’s true that last night I had a blast and still was excited to come home to Mike and wouldn’t change our relationship for the world. He’s meeting a girl for coffee or drinks or something later this week, and I hope I can carry that lesson with me.
I think when I was depressed, non-monogamy became something weird and scary and big. Part of my healing process is putting it back in its rightful place as something normal and fun and happy. After my date-thing, Mike and I had a great evening. We made brownies and watched Futurama and then cuddled in bed and talked. I aspire to that same level of normalcy and OK-ness the next time he goes out with someone else.
Lately I’ve been happy and content. I can have a bad mood over an actual cause without it lingering beyond normal. My depression is in remission and it’s fantastic. So I wanted to think about why I’m doing so well.
- Medication: I’m on medication again. I know it’s not for everyone, and it’s also not effective enough on my depression by itself, but it makes it easier to be happy. I’ve dealt with my depression with and without drugs over the years, and right now this is best for me.
- Exercise: Everyone always talks about healthy living as if it’s a panacea for depression, which I think is sort of BS, but jogging regularly does help some. I’m trying to create better habits in myself so that I’m healthier in general, and physical and mental health often go hand in hand.
- Taking steps to build the life I want: A year ago, my life seemed pretty shitty. I was in a job that I hated and it made it a drag to get out of bed every day. So I found a profession that I thought I would like and applied to grad school. Now, I like my job, my classes are OK and I see the purpose of them, and I’m optimistic about my future. Beyond the professional aspects of my life, I’m learning how to cook, working out (I know I already said that) and connecting with friends. Basically, when I see aspects of my life that I don’t like or want to change, I’m slowly changing them. It makes the present better and gives me hope for the future.
- Dealing with non-monogamy: Basically my whole blog is about this, so I don’t want to harp on it, but I feel like Mike and I are communicating better and that I’m getting better at expressing my needs and dealing with things that suck. I feel more secure in my primary relationship and I’m maintaining my friendships better.
- Luck: Honestly, I think a lot of depression comes down to luck. I never know why sometimes everything hurts and sometimes I can brush off just about anything. I’m doing a lot of things to make myself OK and happy, but sometimes I can do everything right and still be depressed. I’m lucky to be healthy right now.
I haven’t had too much to write about for the past few days. I’ve felt like writing, but there hasn’t been much to say. I’m still excited and happy about non-monogamy, but nothing new has happened. I’ve mostly been focused on other aspects of my life.
My mental health has been really good. I haven’t been depressed and my anxiety has been fairly well controlled. I’m happy.
Mike and I are hanging out, with each other, together with friends, and separately with other friends. We took the dog on a nature walk to appreciate the beautiful fall weather. I currently have a chicken cooking in my Crock Pot. I’m doing homework and planning holiday cards. Life is pretty good.
I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be. Non-monogamy should enrich your life, but it doesn’t have to define it.
Today I told my therapist that I worry I’m bad at non-monogamy because I get jealous and because it seems to be more of an effort for me than for so many other people I’m exposed to.
She said that a lot of non-monogamous people experience these things at some point and that I’m just experiencing it now. Then she reminded me that Simone de Beauvoir never used to get jealous until she did.
I never thought that story would make me feel better, but it did.
Last night we took another baby step. Mike got drinks with a girl. They may or may not end up sleeping together and were sort of feeling out each other’s personalities. It went well. He had a good time and said she was really nice.
I felt … pretty good actually. We hung out before hand and had a nice time together. As he left, I felt emotionally fine, but physically anxious. I ran to work off some nervous energy and worked hard to calm down. I practiced compersion. I felt secure and happy. I got stuff done and was productive. I did some self-care things. It was nice.
The only hard part was near the end. He was a little late getting back and it made me feel sort of hurt and rejected and nervous. That was when my old jealousy started creeping back. I walked the dog and when I got home, Mike was home. He was sweet and reassuring and I felt better.
I know it seems like I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but this was a step in the right direction for me. A few months ago, him going out with the possibility of future sex would have been devastating. I figured out some triggers for when Mike actually sleeps with someone else and am thinking of a plan for it. Mike was really proud of me, and it made us both feel better about each other and our relationship. We still have some stuff to figure out about getting back into non-monogamy, but we’re dealing with them as a team and it’s no longer a contentious, stressful thing to talk about.
I was telling a close friend about it and she told me I should give myself credit for how well I did. She was right. I sometimes focus so much on what I still have to do that I forget how far I’ve come. Sometimes I feel like I am bad at this and I beat myself up over it a lot. It sucks feeling like you aren’t cut out to do something you care about. But I think/hope that maybe I just have a steeper learning curve than some people due to my mental illnesses. I’m learning to work with it, but I worry sometimes that I’m making things harder than they need to be for everyone. When I’m jealous, it sucks for me, it sucks for Mike, it sucks for Mike’s partner and it sucks for the friends that I lean on.
I wish my brain made things easier, but it doesn’t. And I guess all I can do is keep trying and celebrate my progress and see if things continue to change for the better.