Imposter Syndrome: I am so bad at poly!!

I suffer from Imposter Syndrome: the phenomenon of feeling like you suck at something regardless of evidence to the contrary. That label rings true for me when it comes to polyamory. People ask me for advice! Support! My opinions!! They read my blog! They come hear me speak! But OMG you guys, I am so bad at this sometimes . . . 

There are all sorts of ways folks measure success in relationships, but most of those are based on monogamous ideology. In non-monogamy we hold up concepts like autonomy, compersion, kitchen-table poly, egalitarianism, owning your shit, and being “out” as holy grails of doing things right. I’m not here to tell you any of those things are right or wrong, or that if you aspire to them, you should not . . . but I would like you to know that if you’re trying, and you’re not perfect, that that’s okay, too.

All of these things challenge the dominant narrative in the culture I hail from, and there are not a ton of viable role models or support networks readily available to reinforce my positive attitude towards non-monogamy.

Sometimes I find dark places in which it seems like it would be so much easier to give up my hard-won autonomy and submit to rules I don’t believe in just to feel like I’m at least doing something right.

I mean, I won’t do that – I know myself well enough to know that while I was able to function that way for nearly a decade and a half, I don’t ever want to do it again. I do, however, miss the security of following the path of greatest acceptance – that all my socially reinforced expectations of my partner were justified. I miss not second-guessing my wants and needs, and I miss not wondering if I’m just a shitty partner half the time.

At times, I feel overwhelmed spending large amounts of energy unlearning all the ways in which society taught me to experience love. Talking myself out of wanting to be prioritized above other people my partner is close to. Accepting family holidays don’t belong to just me and a partner alone. Dismantling ownership in close relationships. Relearning “special.” Relearning what it means to be sexually partnered. Relearning what love looks like. Relearning what safe looks like. Weighing how important it really is that other people approve of my life. Making sure I let that go. Thinking of the children!! Being brave. Being strong. No, not like that. Doing things I’ve never been taught and perhaps have to make up as I go. Being okay while I do it, or . . . faking it ‘til I make it.

But I also know this: it takes a lot of courage to live authentically, regardless of how others perceive you. And, to commit to doing “the work” when struggling, even when you don’t have anyone with experience to lean on. Challenging the status quo is totally worth it, but we do ourselves a disservice when we pretend it’s a cake walk.

I’m much better at finding compassion for folks at various points in their emotional journey than I am for finding that grace with my own self. 

What seems to help me the most is being transparent with others about my struggles. There is a tendency to feel shame and embarrassment when we don’t live up to our own expectations, but it can be cathartic to use our worst moments to make others feel like they aren’t monsters themselves. Especially anytime anyone seems to be under the impression I walk through this life with anything resembling ease. While it’s true I’m far better (by my own standards) than I used to be, my journey has been fraught with manifestations of my character defects, for sure. Whenever I get the chance, I share what I can about the times I’ve shown up in my relationships as less-than-my-best-self. Insecurity can be an asshole! What’s most important is learning from mistakes, and showing up better the next chance you get.

I’ve heard it recommended that we focus on progress and not perfection. Being transparent with others about my struggles helps reinforce to myself that I’ve made progress, and it gives others permission to struggle, too. At least that’s my hope, because misery thrives in isolation and we all deserve room to grow.

Image credit: Photo by Kolar.io on Unsplash

The Heart is a Muscle

The heart is a muscle.

That’s a statement of obvious anatomy, but I think of the metaphorical heart as a muscle as well. One that flexes and contracts with a smooth strength as it navigates the emotional boot camp that non-monogamy can be at times. When you’re keeping pace to it’s beat and the endorphins are flowing, it’s a blissfully easy piece of equipment to have. But many of us feel one premature ventricular contraction away from uncharted territory.

If we dare to consider our emotional strength similar to our physical strength, we can begin to look at ways to maintain it in much the same way.

In non-monogamy, sometimes we can fall into a pattern of complacency where it’s too easy to ask someone else to do the work for us while these important emotional muscles simply atrophy from non-use. Asking partners to manage our pain points seems so appealing in the moment, but it does nothing to alleviate the pain long term when what that spot really needs is to be touched, worked on, stretched, and developed. 

My body has been through a lot. I know where my pain points are, and how I’m supposed to take care of them. I know which side is weaker, and which is stronger. The recommended stretches, optimal duration of workouts, professional advice, and healthy habits – all of these are things I’m aware of. Sometimes, I even avail myself of them in such a way that I make actual progress!

The heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

My heart has been through a lot. I know where it’s pain points are, and how I’m supposed to take care of them. I know when I feel weak and fall short of my own standards for emotional maturity, and I know where I am strong enough to feel good and stable and safe. When I take the time to stretch a little further, I am rewarded with more comfort in that flexibility the next time. The efforts expended in areas of emotional growth are balanced best with self-care in appropriate doses. My therapist provides professional advice during these workouts. My healthy habits make all of these things more possible.

When I stop taking care of my body, it does things that make me unhappy. I lose strength and my muscles atrophy. I lose my resolve to progress. I compare the weaker version of myself to the one I could have been if I’d kept up with my program. It’s harder to feel good when I don’t do the things I know make me feel that way.

The heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

When I stop asking myself to work on the areas of me that need to be built up in order to support the whole of me, other areas overcompensate. If I neglect my mental health, my compulsions will step in and manage my thoughts for me. If I relax my boundaries to make others happy, the part of me that once only had to check for cracks in the foundation now has to pick up the pieces and rebuild with compromised materials. But when one part gets stronger, the areas that had to take up the slack before can go back to their original jobs.

Recently I’ve come out on the other side of some intense emotional work, and I’m beginning to see the payoff. It’s like flexing an impressive bicep after a year of focused training – there is a sense of pride, but also a genuine strength that informs how a body, or a heart, moves through the world. 

Finding time and expending energy to keep my body healthy and strong can sometimes be a chore. It doesn’t always feel great in the moment. I get sore. I get tired. I have days when I just don’t want to and the couch looks so tempting with perhaps a quart of ice cream. But I’m better for sticking to it – stronger, more stable, and far more confident in my abilities.

And the heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

Guest Blog: Support Networks

As with any group that doesn’t follow the dominant narrative, finding support as a non-monogamous person is not the easiest thing. Support networks are often taken for granted until you NEED one to help get through something. Generally speaking, coming from a place of need is not always the best starting point.

What happens when a relationship with one of your partners ends, or you have an exciting trip with one of them coming up? It would sure be great if you had people to confide in or talk with enthusiastically about it!

When you don’t follow the dominant narrative, you find out quickly just how limited your support network may be!

So how do we go about building support networks to carry us through the ups and downs? Ones that won’t take the route of assigning blame where it doesn’t belong or rain on our parade when we’re gushing with happiness?

Here are some options to consider:

  • Online discussion groups, such as those available on Facebook, provide quick and easy access to a wide variety of people. It may take some searching to find the right fit, but they’re out there.
  • In person discussion groups! I help moderate one in my hometown that regularly draws large crowds. We socialize and discuss in depth topics relevant to ethical non-monogamy.
  • Buckle up…this one is scary: being your authentic self. Yes, this means being open about being non-monogamous, but then people who won’t love and support YOU will self-select out of your life, creating a decidedly more effective support network. It’s hard to articulate just how much perceptions changed once people KNEW what was going on in my life instead of assuming and ascribing all sorts of toxic notions to it after I was open about being poly. A literal 180.
  • Communities of like-minded folks, and not necessarily non-monogamous ones. This is a broad topic, but that’s kind of the beauty of it. I participate in a few different local groups that are fully aware of how I relationship, and I’ve been very fortunate to have found solid support and acceptance in them.

Now that you’ve found your people, how do you know if it’s a healthy fit?!?

  • Do they accept you for you?
  • Do they call you out on problematic thinking and behavior?
  • Do they encourage you to show up as the best version of yourself?
  • Do they foster autonomy for you vs co-dependence?
  • Do you feel supported by their actions and words?

This list is by no means the be-all and end-all . . . just a good starting point.

Life is about the relationships we build along the way. Not just romantic or physical, but familial, platonic, and professional as well! No single style of relationship is more important than any other by default. It’s the quality of each that sets them apart. The more authentic you are, the stronger the relationships that come into, and stay in, your life will become.

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Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Self-Love Languages

Lately, I’ve become enamored with the idea that we have a language we prefer to care for ourselves in.

If you’re not familiar with The 5 Love Languages, take a moment to check them out and maybe even take their short quiz.

Caveat: it’s incredibly mononormative, but many non-monogamous folks have found it useful. Take what you like and leave the rest!

I watch so many folks stop making time for themselves when they add romantic partners – as though their own needs don’t need to be prioritized as well. We have a tendency to spread ourselves terribly thin in non-monogamy at times, (doing all the things! making time for all the people!) but when our needs are not being attended to in our relationship with ourselves, the results can be self-doubt, low self-esteem, apathy, irritability – all things that can bleed into those other relationships and wreak havoc. How are you supposed to pour from an empty cup? Gotta fill the cup. 

Advice from “expert” proponents of self-care range from posting up inspirational quotes around your home, to treating yourself to a nice meal out. Some of their suggestions may resonate with you while some won’t. For example: I can’t imagine having inspirational sayings around my home . . . I would get nothing out of it, yet I have a dear friend who probably can’t survive without a “live, laugh, love” reminder on the kitchen wall. 

But how does one go about loving themselves fluently? 

Well, first of all: carve out time for yourself to do so. Oh, I super mean it . . . you need to take that Google calendar that looks like a color block art experiment and section off some time for you, yourself, and uh, you I guess. And don’t give it away!! Resist the urge!!

Confession: I am super bad at this. As an extravert, my inclination is to see time spent with others as more valuable than time alone and I need to make sure I’m finding a balance for myself with that. Everyone’s ratio of solo time to social time will vary of course, but some type of balance is important.

Second of all: don’t post inspirational quotes around your home if you think they’re dumb. BUT TOTALLY DO IT IF YOU THINK THEY’RE GREAT! To each their own, and that’s my point. You can read about ways to practice self-care all day long, but if what you’re attempting to do for yourself isn’t communicated in the language you understand best, it will fall short of its goal.

Here are some examples of ways to love yourself in your most-fluent language:

Touch

  • Taking a hot bath, using a hot tub, or sauna
  • Snuggling your cat, dog, or a baby raccoon (if you are so lucky)
  • If weather allows, get outside and feel the sunshine
  • Wearing clothes that you feel your best in

Words of Affirmation

  • Inspirational quotes on every surface of your home (or whatever feels good)
  • Writing a letter to your future self and tucking it away for a rainy day
  • Making a gratitude jar, and taking time to review it later

Receiving Gifts

  • Totally buying those boots you saw at DSW that are now on sale and lucky you, they just sent you a birthday coupon with a card for a free tote bag – what are you waiting for?!?
  • Getting the fancy coffee drink
  • If you tend to make things for others, make something for yourself instead (I made myself a wallet and I get compliments on it all the time – it’s so interesting to see people’s faces when I explain I made it for myself! More people should do that.)

Quality Time

  • Working on a pet project
  • Taking yourself out on a date to a movie, favorite place, or planning a vacation
  • Meditating, journaling, or doing something else that brings you peace
  • Exercise (I hear some people like that)

Acts of Service

  • Hiring someone to take care of a chore you dislike or is time consuming, like detailing your car or cleaning your home
  • Treating yourself to a manicure, facial, or massage
  • Making yourself a food that makes you feel good feelings
  • Prepping for the following day at bedtime to make the morning go more smoothly

My primary self love language is quality time. I touched on it last week in my blog about loneliness, sharing how I maximize my free time: by being mindfully productive and intentionally active. For me, wasted alone time feels akin to being with someone who is less-than-enthusiastic to be spending time with me – except that person is me, and we are wasting my time. Rude!

Sometimes I forget to prioritize myself.

When I remember I am just as important as everyone else, and that I have a responsibility to myself to honor that fact, I feel far more balanced and sure of myself. I hope it also makes me a better friend, partner, and all around human!

Sometimes I’m Lonely

There are those outside of the non-monogamous community who see it as a sure-fire cure for loneliness. All the partners all the time! Lol, no. I am here to tell you that is far from the case.

Sometimes I’m super lonely; sometimes we all are. 

When I share this sentiment in the circles I frequent, many folks suggest getting another partner to fill this gap. To that I say: no one is a substitute for anyone else. In addition, it’s never been my goal to have multiple partners – I am non-monogamous simply because I enjoy my autonomy and not having limits placed on my relationships by anyone outside of those arrangements. 

Being non-monogamous does not guarantee you multiple partners, or any partner at all, actually. When you are partnered, juggling and accommodating the schedules of multiple people, (partners, metamours, families), commitments, (work, recreation, appointments, travel), the commitments of those multiple people, and the others they’re considering and accommodating, add some distance . . . well, you get the picture. It’s more likely that three people will all be available on the same Wednesday evening in a month than each of them on the separate days you’re looking for one-on-one time with them, and when you do want to do something as a group, it will be the week no one has mutual days free. I promise. It’s like a law or something. Ask me how I know!

So yeah, sometimes, regardless of how many partners I have, I am left with more days than I’d like that don’t contain any of them. The same is true of friends as well. And community events. Sometimes there just isn’t an outlet for what I’m craving. And you know what? That’s okay.

I used to treat loneliness as a flaw or weakness, but I’m learning to acknowledge it as just another way to feel at times, and that I can choose to make myself feel worse by not using that time in a way that benefits me to a greater degree than wallowing in it. 

I have a jar. In this jar there are all manner of things written on scraps of paper. Chores, projects, things I do to relax, minor things, major things, errands, treats, you name it. I get a fair amount of joy from letting the universe decide what I’ll be doing with my free time. Sometimes it’s the dishes, and sometimes it’s working on an art project. I know that sometimes I’ll be painting my nails, and other times I’ll be writing a letter to a friend who lives across the country. For whatever reason, taking the decision-making out of the moment eliminates 99% of how I waste my own time, and I always seem to pick something better than just doing nothing. 

Look, I’m not going to cure loneliness. I can’t manifest a solution to that existential longing out of thin air. I can, however, choose to use one of my most finite resources (time) to add value to my own life. And so can you.