The Big Ask

It is really hard to ask for what you want.

This isn’t just a relationship issue – it’s a fear issue. We don’t want to want more of someone than they want to give us.

In polyamory, sometimes the stakes feel even higher because my partners have other partners and do not risk being alone by letting me go. As though my partner might decide it was easier to not be with me than attempt to address my desires. This is not a mindset conducive to healthy relationships. While I do not rely on a sense of obligation to tether my partners to me and I prize autonomy above limitation, the message society gives me counters this. At times, the seemingly tenuous nature of my connections is so evident it takes my breath away and in that mindset, the perceived risk of asking for something I want can feel more weighted – riskier.

To confront the unknown with peace, I have let go of the outcome. In order to get myself to this place, I remind myself that even if my worst fears were realized, (that I am too much for my partner and they end our relationship because of my stated desire), then the relationship was destined to end anyway. Expediting endings as opposed to dragging them out is ultimately preferable; it will hurt regardless. When I find the courage to ask for what I want, I find pleasure in the knowledge that I’m contributing to an information exchange and speaking my truth.

So . . . I feel as though I have a duty to ask for what I want.

To do that, I have to know what I want and be prepared to accept that the other person may not want it, too. Or may want it, and just not have it to give. In a relationship structure that involves more than two individuals, there is simply more to keep track of and less finite resources to go around. Direct communication is the only way anyone can be expected to manage it. It is the way I give my loved ones the opportunity to be what I want; I assure you, they cannot read my mind.

I have asked for more time and been told it wasn’t available to give, but also that my partner wanted more time too. I have stated my desire to be more visible in a relationship that is not entirely “out,” and am satisfied to have been heard even if nothing changes. I have asked for emotional support, a more consistent schedule, specific connections during time apart – and received all and more. Even when the answer has been no, I’ve received reassurance. I have never regretted communicating a want even though I was scared to ask. Every time.

If you have ever found yourself longing for something, convinced you’re destined to go without, but you’ve never actually said the words “I want XYZ,” you might be guilty of relying on passive communication. I cannot expect someone to divine my wants from my pointed complaints about others. There is no mind-reading technique I’m aware of that allows my partners to know what’s missing for me from the tone of my voice. A text without punctuation, or a varied level of affection in a given moment will not convey what’s in my head. If I am not using my words, I am falling short in my partnership.

And if I’m relying on passive communication with others, I am also failing in my relationship with myself.

If there is something I desire and do not have, I am already in a position of want – of not having it. I risk nothing tangible by asking for it, even if I receive a “no.” My perceived risk is the aforementioned fear about being a burden – or wanting too much. In reality, I’m just confirming the position I’m already in, or gaining something. By asking for what I want, I’m at the very least getting more information about my relationship. That is never a loss. I’m also giving my partner a chance to say yes, or to make some other adjustment in our relationship that might result in a compromise.

I also remind myself that the inherent impermanence of my relationships is no more so because they exist in a polyamorous framework – it is simply the nature of relationships between individual humans. We are all just out here negotiating our paths with others – no one can promise forever. When I remember that, and show up as myself without holding back, I contribute positively to the growth of my relationships, (both in depth and in breadth), and I show my partners they can do the same with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Honesty Doesn’t Hurt Me

I say this to those closest to me quite a bit: you can’t hurt me with the truth.

What I mean by this is:

  • More information is better – because I don’t know what I don’t know. You may be feeling something you’re afraid to admit – but I can’t help you if you don’t name it. Also, knowing you’re in a bad place but not knowing why will lead me to imagine the worst.
  • Negativity breeds in captivity – and holding onto a bad feeling or a resentment won’t make it better. Once you’ve sat with something for a moment to understand what you’re reacting to, it’s best to speak your truth. At the very least, you get to give voice to your experience. Best case? I get to own my piece and we both get to move forward.
  • I want to help – because if I’m in a relationship with you (romantic or otherwise), I want to invest in your happiness and security. I can’t fix your problems, but I can hear you, and I can do things differently (if I need to) or hold your hand (if that’s helpful).

And while all of these are important to remember when communicating in any relationship, they are of critical importance when you’re navigating the polyamorous landscape.

I could go on and on about why, but I think an illustrative example will best explain what I mean.

Say I’m out with two partners. Things are going swimmingly in our little pod until suddenly I sense a disturbance in the mutual-affection continuum! Perhaps someone gets a little quiet as they experience an unexpected feeling, or maybe someone said something that was misunderstood or landed wrong. In any case – we all sense a discomfort. For one of us, we’re holding back on saying what’s wrong for fear of burdening the other two with what might be nothing. For the other two, we’re stuck not knowing what the heck is going on or what we may have done and how to fix it. This could get yucky, fast

        “What’s wrong?”

         “Nothing.”

Sound familiar? It’s the first step on the path to increased insecurity, uncertainty, and misunderstanding . . . and it’s a deadly practice in a polyamorous situation. Bad enough when only two are involved, but the potential for disaster in polyamory is multiplied by the number of relationships, as everyone is affected.

Know these things:

  • It’s okay to misunderstand someone and ask for clarification – it’s not okay to assume the worst and build a massive resentment against them without giving them a chance to explain. You will rarely hear me call something “unfair” but this really is. To everyone.
  • It’s okay to have a feeling that makes you uncomfortable – but I assure you, the people who care about you most want to make you feel secure. Letting them do what they can in the moment shows you trust them. It gives them an opportunity to make a change if necessary, or to just listen to you say what’s real for you.
  • And like I always say: you can’t hurt someone with the truth – there is no ill intent in speaking your truth. Just saying how you feel is not a demand for special treatment or accommodation. It’s not a tantrum. It’s not a punishment or accusation.You can’t hurt someone with honesty.

I am lucky enough to be partnered with people (and they are partnered with people) who value communication, directness, and honesty. I don’t know how to do polyamory any other way. The anxiety birthed by unspoken bad feelings and multiplied between us is too much to bear. An investment in direct and rigorous honesty has brought a depth to my relationships that I cannot fathom living without.

So know this also: Your feelings are always valid, even if they’re a product of something you wish you weren’t dealing with. So, out with them! It’s not as scary as it seems. You may even find your connections stronger for it in the end.

 

Meant To Be

One of my favorite poly-epiphanies is this: my partners are with me only because they want to be. And there is magic in that concept that I never got to experience in my monogamous marriage. That is not to say monogamy doesn’t hold the same magic for others – only that it took my fully realized polyamory for me to wrap my brain completely around this idea.

When I became more intentional with my partners out of necessity, I realized the time we spent together was intentional as a result. We may be limited by the hours in a day (a week, a month, a life), the responsibilities of adulting, and the other significant relationships in our lives – but our time together is a choice and not an obligation – that is the magical distinction. It’s not work. There is effort there, but it’s not work.

As a result of this intentionality, I only ever part from my loves feeling better than I did when we connected, no matter the span.

For me, polyamory is an orientation rather than a choice, and in my long-term monogamous relationship, I found myself co-dependent on the idea that we had to stay together. To meet expectations (our own, and those of others), to prove we could overcome whatever it was that was eroding us, and to stave off the idea that we could never love like this again.

Now, I don’t feel trapped by society’s expectations of how I connect because I already love outside the parameters of the dominant narrative. In a way that is very tangible to me, the bonds I create with my partners feel more solid for that. Nothing is pushing us together – we simply are, because it works. Because it’s good. Because it feels like it’s meant to be.

And it will stay that way, until it no longer is.

And it’s the only way I want to be in a relationship.

Should it ever become laborious . . . should it ever turn into something that drains our energy instead of feeding it – we will know it’s time to let it go. One of the ways polyamory feeds my soul is by removing the pressure of trying to make an unworkable thing work. And I have been there, believe me.

So I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that loss is inevitable. Whether that means I lose my loves tomorrow, or at the end of my life. Eventually, what I have with them will cease to be. In that comfort, I’m finding the courage to love them with my whole self. And I’m pretty sure that’s how love was meant to be.