If you can’t put your finger on why something feels wrong because no one is doing anything wrong, but you’re certain there’s something behind that wrong feeling, it might be grief.
Stay with me on this one . . .
We ask a lot of ourselves in non-monogamy: challenging the dominant narrative, asking others to accept us as very different from what they’ve been conditioned to accept, unpacking root causes of natural emotions to better ourselves, unlearning the lessons society taught us about what love looks like, battling emotions we wish we didn’t have, trusting our partners in ways we’ve been told will end badly. We ask so much of ourselves it can feel as if we’re always failing at something, and the temptation to beat ourselves up for those perceived failings is pretty strong. After all, most of us made a lot of choices just to get here and imposter syndrome runs deep when you’ve put yourself somewhere you feel out of place.
I have the privilege of being in spaces where folks confide their vulnerabilities; how they wish they didn’t feel XYZ emotion, and that they’d like some help getting past said emotion. Most of the time these feelings fall into categories of jealousy or insecurity that the society they live in conditioned them to believe indicate a defect of character.
Uncomfortable emotions are like rivers running through us. They run high after a storm, and during periods of steady sunlight and warmth they’re mercifully dry. I know mine range from a babbling brook to the goddamn Mississippi, but I’ve come to understand most of them share a common headwaters: grief.
I first learned to associate grief with my feelings of anger. A friend’s therapist asked what she was grieving when experiencing anger; that prompted me to ask myself the same thing. I discovered I was usually grieving the loss of a thing I thought I’d had or believed I wanted, that was now in jeopardy or revealed to be untrue. I began to look for evidence of grief as an undercurrent in other uncomfortable emotions, and there it was. Flowing beneath jealousy I saw grief for things I wished I had; insecurity rode in on a wave of grief when my place in someone’s life appeared to be in peril; and fear of the unknown rose up from the depths of grief as I considered all I stood to lose.
When we find ourselves angry at having been lied to by someone close to us, we grieve the loss of trust we felt in that relationship as well as its fundamentally altered future and scope. This is an easy concept to grasp and one that likely no one reading this struggles with.
But consider how we talk to ourselves when we feel insecure or jealous; these things we are urged to work on, and through.
In the greater non-monogamous community, we shine a light on how social conditioning affects our expectations and the way we show up in our relationships. We encourage others to “do the work” and unpack the effects compulsory monogamy has had on our psyches. The work is tough, but necessary, and when we see someone struggling because they’re not doing the work, we can be a little harsh under the guise of Tough Love.
We have rather high standards and expectations of ourselves in this work because here we are, ChaLleNGinG tHe doMiNAnaT NarRatiVE like responsible ENM practitioners; focusing on healthy boundaries and autonomy and being the best version of ourselves.
I don’t think we give ourselves enough permission to struggle with those things.
I would like us to think about how we might approach a person walking not through anger, or jealousy, or insecurity, or fear . . . but through grief. If someone we care about is grieving, we offer support and perhaps a meal, a shoulder to cry on – maybe a hug. My point is: instead of telling folks to suck it up when they’re grieving, we offer compassion, and rightfully so!
So here is what I want us to consider the next time we’re feeling like we’re “bad at polyamory” or “not cut out for this life,” . . . Let’s try acknowledging what we’re likely grieving, and showing ourselves a little compassion in the process. And maybe try extending that grace to others by helping them name the thing that will allow them to be a little kinder to themselves as well: grief.