Thursday, August 25, 2016

Work in Progress: The Imaginary Third-Wheel Blues

The main reason I started this blog was to try to help folks on either side of Mono/Poly relationships relate a bit better, and to provide one of the few Poly (well, Mono/Poly) resources written from a monogamous point of view (since many mono folks don't really relate well to the For-Poly-By-Poly resources out there). When I post, then, I tend to wait until I feel like I have my shit together - that I've examined it from all sides, come up with whatever awful analogy I hold dear, and can present it in a way that might make sense to both Mono and Poly folks alike.

But I don't always have my shit together, and I struggle with those posts.

This is going to be one of those "work in progress" posts. There are many things I and my partner (and my metamour) have worked through over the five years we've been navigating the Poly road, and that's fantastic. We're all in a different place than we were back then, and I think that's a good thing. However, the issues that remain are the sticky ones, the ones where the root cause isn't easily identified, or solutions aren't easily found.

In the original spirit of this blog, I've tried to dig a bit deeper into the reasons behind the emotions, but it's not a finished product, and I don't know if it ever will be. I do, however, think that sharing these things are a way to show that the passage of time isn't always a silver bullet for the issues in a Mono/Poly relationship. There may be work and maintenance that goes on for the life of the relationship... and if it's manageable for everyone involved, then that's okay.

So... getting to the point.

I tend to prefer a "separation of relationships" when it comes to my partner's partners. I don't really do compersion, outside of a generic sense of, "I'm happy for you." I'm happy my partner gets to be true to who he is, and I'm happy to see him excited about meeting new people, but that's kind of where that ends for me. Everything else to do with a particular relationship - things they obviously enjoy and get excited about - cross that line of separation, and I feel like I'm intruding on that relationship, even if they don't feel that way.

This comes to a head in very inconvenient ways, however.

My partner's other nesting partner lived for years in a Big Coastal City, which will subsequently be referred to as "BigCoastalCity" (because I'm nothing if not original). BigCoastalCity is on the opposite coast from the general area in which we all live now, but in the early stages of their relationship, he would fly out to visit, and they, of course, had some great "together time" and made many memories out in BigCoastalCity.

Which is why I blanched every time he would tell me that *we* should visit BigCoastalCity. Because that's *theirs*. Because anything that we would do would be clouded by "this was their stomping ground, and their experiences." Because I would be a third wheel going to their special places.

Not that THEY said any of this, mind you. This is all my own internal monologue working overtime.

That said, let's rewind a bit. Early on in our relationship, when both relationships were still young and the path we were walking wasn't just strewn with holes, but the occasional lava flow, my partner and meta were tossing around the idea of going to ForeignCountry (consistency in originality... that's my bit). I clearly had some sort of presence of mind to know that this was going to be an issue for me, and I brought up the idea, early on, that I didn't want anyone in either of these relationships to be limited by what's "ours" versus "theirs." In other words, I didn't want ForeignCountry to be "theirs" and feel unable to share it with my partner in our own way. We all agreed, and I felt pretty good about it. No artificial limitations.

So why on earth am I shutting MYSELF out of the things I feel are "theirs"?

I do this with quite a few things: places that have special meaning to them, TV shows they both like, music they both like - anything that my brain/heart have come to think of as "theirs". I have a feeling it's why, despite my need to keep my Geek Cred up (I clearly haven't gotten enough CECs in lately), I haven't been motivated to finish watching Firefly yet. Please, feel free to beat some sense into me here. I probably deserve it.

When they express enthusiasm for something together, I wall it off as "theirs" - and wall myself off from it in the process. Why?

I'm not entirely sure, but I have some theories. Come, we'll go spelunking in my brain...

In monogamous relationships, you don't really have this situation. Places you went and things you did with your ex are in the past. Maybe you look back wistfully at the time, place, and situation, but ostensibly, you've moved on. If you're in a new relationship, you're building new experiences, even if they're built on things that happened in the past. The experiences of your past shaped and influenced you, but you're focused on the "now". Focused on the "new". The past is in the past. In polyamorous relationships, this isn't necessarily the case - both relationships and experiences may be happening "now".

Because these experiences with an ex happened in the past, it's easier (at least for me) to process those emotions. It becomes "this is a place you liked and now you want to share it with me" and I end up feeling happy that you want to share this important place/thing/idea/whatever with me now.

But in a Poly relationship, there is no sense of "now this is ours". There's no sense of having moved on. And as such, I feel awkward about hanging around BigCoastalCity because in the back of my mind, I'm wondering things like, "Is this reminding Partner of Meta and the things they did here? Is he not in the moment with me? Is he wishing he could be here with her because they shared x, y, and z together?" Basically, I wonder if I'll feel like I'm on a "Partner and Meta tour of BigCoastalCity"... like a third wheel.

Now, I *know* that different experiences happen with different people, even in the same places. I've gone to BigOtherCoastalCity with not only my partner, but with friends, with my daughter and her dance class, and yes, with my ex-husband. And with each and every one of those people (or groups of people), I had different experiences. I know that, and I've felt that. I'm even happy at a general level that my partner gets to experience that with multiple people. However, when he does, the emotional side of me goes, "Okay, this is now their thing, move along. Nothing to see here."

There's a reason that the Heart and Brain warrant their own webcomic.

It's even goofier because if Meta came to me and said, "Oh! You should go see this," I'd register it as a friend giving me some pointers. But if Partner wants us to do something because he and Meta did it, now it's "theirs" and a source of discomfort. Oy. Brain is looking at Heart, going, "Dude! WTF!"

And so, I'm trying to fix it by pushing myself through those uncomfortable feelings. Not only am I going to eventually cue up Firefly (maybe after Stranger Things), but I'm going to BigCoastalCity with my partner. I have asked for reassurance (to try to help poor old emotional Heart deal with things a bit better) that this will not be a "Partner and Meta Tour of the City," but our trip. Not that it wouldn't have been anyway, but you know... emotions.

It's funny... there are things that I've found easier to navigate within a polyamorous context than others. Sexual fidelity, for example, was never a big deal to me, while I know it's extremely important to others. This? This is one of my hangups.

At least for now. Gotta have something interesting to work on, no?

Any advice or commiseration, please feel free to comment.

Guest Post: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Mono/Poly Relationships

Today's post comes from a post Gwenyth made over at the Mono/Poly Yahoo Group, who likened the adjustment phases a Mono partner goes through to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I thought it was a well thought out post and wanted to share it here with her permission and minimal edits (removing some of the initial personal details and correcting some typos only). Thank you, Gwenyth!


For those who are not familiar with [Maslow's Hierarchy], it is a psychological theory on human development. It basically says that until the most base needs are met (represented by the bottom of a pyramid) a person is unlikely to have the energy to think about, let alone focus on, the next level up. (here is a link to a good illustration of the pyramid if anyone wants to see it 

Well, as I was typing a post to Facebook, I realized that this applies very much to poly/mono relationships, especially when poly is new or there is NRE in the air.  Many poly folks get frustrated with how long it takes their mono partners to adjust and/or how they react when a new relationship actually begins. And yet, Maslow's Hierarchy actually explains it pretty well.

You see, on the first/lowest level, is physical needs like food and water. However sex is also on that list. I have seen/heard more than a couple mono folks who get 'jealous' that their partner/metamour is getting more sex than them (not always the case of course). Well, it seems to make perfect sense that if the mono's sexual needs are not being met, they are definitely not going to be all peachy, happy that their sole partner is getting their needs met elsewhere.

The next level of the hierarchy includes security of body, resources family and the like. Now, a partner can tell me all they want that bringing poly into the mix is not going to put any of these things at risk. However, it has to be remembered that a sense of security is a feeling, not a reality. I know a woman who has $60,000 in savings and worries on a regular basis about whether or not she can afford things, like going out to dinner at a reasonably priced family restaurant. That makes no sense to me, but it is her reality based on her experiences. Feeling secure in your relationship, feeling that your life and home are not about to fall into chaos and ruin is a feeling. Security comes from experiencing, again and again, that a set of events or circumstances are safe and can be counted on. If poly is new, there is no experience to grant that sense of security. It is going to take time for those experiences to build.

Now, let's jump a couple levels to the 4th level up (and the 2nd from the top) this one is all about confidence, self esteem, respect of others and the like. These are many of the things that help to make poly work (in my opinion). But here's the catch. Most people are not going to give a rats back side about the respect of others and is not going to have the energy to work on their own confidence or self esteem if they don't feel secure in their family or home. 

So, if a poly person REALLY wants to make poly work, they need to work WITH their partner/s to make sure that these more basic needs, like sex, security and belonging (the level I skipped) are met before the 'higher' needs can even be considered.

At the top of the hierarchy are things like problem solving, lack of prejudice and accepting facts. Funny, Those are all pretty important for poly to work. And again, those are never going to come about until everyone feels secure and confidant. 

Yet, so often I see and hear how people new to poly are trying to jump right to the top of the these things. Unfortunately, that doesn't work. We have to start at the bottom and work our way up. It's the only way to build a strong base upon which to build.