by Ruby B Johnson LCSW
“Inviting others in is the practice of accepting the discomfort of fear.”
What does “good at poly” mean? I hear this statement often. The scenario that typically precedes this self-judging statement is the person criticizing their own feelings of “jealousy, envy, or fear.”
My question is this – Who set the standard of “good at poly”? What does that look like? From my experience both personally, professionally, and from reading other’s experiences, it appears that if a person deviates from the expected outcome of absolute enthusiastic compersion (the positive feelings one gets when a lover is enjoying another relationship) or the appearance of enthusiastic compersion, they are not good at poly. There are a few words that pop into my mind when I read these words from lovers, wives, husbands, or partners who are emotionally and mentally shackled by the shame jealousy, envy, or fear and others judging, condemning, or making these statements of “how to do it better?” Some say, “you need to simply read this workbook or go to this website”…what happens if that workbook does not alleviate and erase those feelings?
I get a call or an email. I listen or read, “I read all the books and did everything they told me. Something is wrong with me that I still feel this way.”
“Not good at poly” means “I am bad at poly.” This is:
Over-identifying with The Myth
Folks berate themselves for feeling jealousy, envy, and anxiety; in turn, folks judge themselves for not being joyous and ecstatic for their partner’s prospective lover. This is compounded by the fear of sharing with their partner that this new situation is uncomfortable for them. So, the anxiety of a partner’s prospective partner; the self-imposed expectation of this is not “what a poly person is supposed to feel?;” and, possibly, the social media representation of the perfect poly couple creates an incongruence of what is and what it’s supposed to be. The self-doubt “is there something wrong with me? Am I doing this wrong?” The result of measuring and comparing others Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat posts to the how “poly people” are supposed to look is a trap. The trap is the jealousy – compersion dichotomy.
The Danger of the False Dichotomy
A dichotomy is the contrast between two opposing elements, concepts, or states. There is a false dichotomy that has been created or perpetuated in many communities – jealousy or compersion. This is the dilemma. It’s the same conundrum that society has placed on intimate relationships in general – monogamous (the gold standard) or unfaithful (cheater, slut, or sociopath) or “you are just unable to commit.” The either/or, more than/less than/, and better/worse are the extremes that trap one in discontent, resentment, and gut wrenching insecurity.
Where is the humanity of those extremes?
Mindful and Present
Grounding oneself to BE in the relationship rather than DO the relationship can be more advantageous for some. This is the shift in my therapeutic approach with working with couples who are questioning, starting, and living in consensual nonmonogamous relationships. In the last few years, I have read several books on polyamory and open relationships. There is much about naming the concepts, defining the concepts, and putting into action those concepts within their relationships. It seems logistical. These books identified themselves as guides or frameworks for consensual nonmonogamous relationships.
As a result of my experience, I have created questionnaires for couples and, recently, for prospective partners, relationship dynamic genograms, conversational exercises, and the educational components for the intersectionality of power, consent, and honesty in being in a polyamorous relationship. This allows for the practice and empowerment for getting out of the dichotomy and into “holding the space for the middle.” Savoring the moments of change and staying present with “what you know to be true.” The difference is that there is no value placed on that what is within the space. The space is – what it is – in that moment.