What does “good at poly” mean? This is a peculiar statement. For me, the unattractive and shaming qualities of a one-size-fits-all “ideal” relationship model is the “better than or less than” mentality. The pressure of what “good at poly” looks like is bewildering to me. As a polyamorist, I struggle with the box of “good at poly”. For me that infers that there is a “bad at poly”. So, what is the criteria?
I am a member of many online support groups. Typically, someone is criticizing their feelings of “jealousy, envy, or fear” within a relationship. Jealousy is the green-eyed boogeyman across all relationship styles. The monogamous person owns this irrevocable character trait that bars them from the consideration of an open relationship; and, the polyamorist creates the massive pre-emptive or preventive plan to not “be” jealous. I conducted a cursory google search of “jealousy and polyamory.” I strolled through about 20 pages of articles and blogs that offer opinions, solutions, and causes of jealousy. At the bottom, there are about 10 incarnations of the same search. So, if jealousy is experienced, does that mean one is not “good at poly?”
There are a few words that pop into my mind when I hear these words within the community about others or about themselves when jealousy is felt. One of them is shame.
From my experience both personal and professionally, it appears that if a person deviates from the expected outcome of absolute and enthusiastic compersion (the enjoyment one has when a partner is happy – mostly with another relationship), they are not good at poly. Shame is defined as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior (dictionary.com). There is an inherent shame attached to the emotions of jealousy and envy that appears community imposed.
“Not good at poly” means “I am bad at poly.” This is:
Over-identifying with The Myth “Good at Poly”
Folks berate themselves for feeling jealousy, envy, and anxiety; in turn, folks judge themselves for not being joyous and ecstatic for their partner’s possible paramour. 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 paramour; 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 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.