13 Jan 2015

Polyamory and mental health: how they fit together

**DISCLAIMER: This post is not meant to be a judgement on any particular romantic or sexual lifestyle, monogamous or otherwise. It is merely MY OWN thoughts and MY OWN experiences.**
Recently I had the unenviable experience of someone I found attractive telling me they didn't want to take things further with me because I am non-monogamous. It was particularly galling since this person knew from the off that I practice polyamory - one of many reasons I write about it so openly, so that no one's under any illusions - but for whatever reasons decided to lead me somewhat down the garden path before telling me they couldn't be with me. Everyone's entitled to change their mind, but it's still never nice to have the rug pulled out from under you.
It's hard in these situations to stick to your guns, especially when you really like someone and you're facing the fact you're no longer going to get what you wanted. It's a jolt, a slap in the face. It's tempting to weaken and say "Oh, fuck it, I'll do it, I'll be monogamous for you," because it seems like too high a price to pay, to lose someone you've just started forming a lovely and exciting connection with, just because you can't play this game that everyone else seems to manage (even though you know that in reality, many, many of the players aren't "managing" the mono game very well at all ). Given the disastrous state of my romantic life in the past month or so, it's tempting to conclude that polyamory is more trouble than it's worth, that it causes more problems than it solves, that I should just go back to the good old mono way of doing things.
Then I remember what monogamy is like. And it chills me.
I remember boredom. I remember depression. I remember feeling limited. I remember feeling old before my time. I remember feeling resigned.
I remember having wandering eyes and feeling tempted to cheat but never doing it. And wondering why, if I was supposed to be so fulfilled by the other person, I wanted to look elsewhere.
I remember the thought that this was the last person I might ever have sex with making me feel like doors were slamming everywhere to me.
I remember wanting to be seen and found attractive by people who weren't my partner, and wanting the freedom to enjoy that, even if it never led to anything, even if it was just flirtation, even if it was just a feeling; the freedom to feel possibility was always the more important part, and still is, than the freedom to turn that possibility into reality.
There are many reasons I might feel this way. Some of them may well be connected to the mental health condition I've been diagnosed with, namely Borderline Personality Disorder. Some characteristics of BPD people that mean we don't do well with monogamy include:
- sudden, intense and inexplicable bursts of emotion
- persistent sense of emptiness and that everything is basically pointless
- wildly altering preferences (including sexual and romantic attraction)
- impulsive behaviour
- a sense that no one cares about us as much as we care about them
Put a person like this in a monogamous relationship and the result is (in my experience):
- they get very bored
- they get depressed, often connected to the boredom
- they feel taken for granted
- they want to cheat
- they feel like a monster for all of the above
Taken so starkly, I'm sure some of these characteristics make BPD people sound like cold, callous bastards who want the moon on a stick and sulk if they don't get it. The truth is, BPD people are often extremely caring, loving people who are devoted to those around them, and yet live with a persistent sense that no one returns that devotion. We take things very hard. If someone snaps at me, it can ruin my day, and I'll remember that they snapped at me for weeks, months, possibly forever. As well as huge emotional sensitivity, I'm also cursed with perfect recall. I can remember the fights I've had with people even when they were over a decade ago, and can usually date them to the month. BPD people are sometimes described as experiencing 'hotter' emotions than neurotypical people, meaning we get burned more easily, and take longer to heal. That certainly is true.
When the most recent person rejected me, I cried solidly for three hours. No exaggeration. I had only known this person a matter of weeks. But I had really liked them, found them really attractive, and found the prospect of taking things further with them extremely exciting. It had made me happy. So when they took it away, I reacted very badly. I had to take four anti-psychotic tablets to calm down. It is a wonder BPD people attempt relationships at all, really, when this is the kind of reaction we know we can expect. And that's just from a very brief connection - the grief over any kind of long term relationship ending is so splintering that it's nearly killed me in the past (when I was mono, I lived with someone for several years).
But I do choose to still attempt some kind of romantic life; I just try and do it nowadays within parameters that leave me feeling less like an animal in a cage. I watch people who I believe are clearly not meant to be monogamous trying to shoe-horn themselves into marriage or long term monogamy and I watch them crash and burn. I watch them cheat, fail and then spiral further down a path of self-destruction because they hate themselves for not being able to live up to the monogamous ideal, and they want to make themselves feel even more dirty and useless. I do believe that these people would be better off being honest with everyone and starting to live a life of consensual non-monogamy (with the knowledge of all those involved), but I also recognise that they are so used to practising the art of lying that honesty is a stranger to them. Plus, polyamory probably wouldn't give them the twisted kicks they get out of their self-destructive behaviour.
Despite my BPD, I have enough self-esteem to believe that I deserve better than lying and cheating. However, what I don't believe is that "better" automatically equals monogamy, or LTRs, or marriage. When people  are trying to console you about your love life going wrong, they love to say "You're going to make some guy very happy," as if that's my raison d'etre. Guess what? I have no interest in being someone's "other half", their missing puzzle piece. Perhaps I have too much self-esteem, because I frankly question the idea that one other person could even begin to scratch the surface of giving me what I need, let alone fulfil me in every way. When I look at kinky people in full time master/slave relationships, my biggest question isn't about consent or feminism or whether it's degrading or any of that shit, it's how can the slave possibly trust the master to totally take care of them? How can they know that person will always make them feel safe? That leap of faith is one I doubt I could ever make. We trust our friends, but no one ever tests our trust by asking us to commit to one of those friends for the next six decades of our lives. Yet it's assumed that's exactly what we'll do with our romantic relationships. We're not expected to commit to one of anything for the rest of our lives - no single job, no single house, no single friend, no single country, no single child. Yet we're meant to nail our colours to the flag of one other person and make them our one and only. It just doesn't add up in my head.
Maybe that's my BPD. Maybe it's just logic. I may never know.

When this most recent person was telling me that they couldn't be with me because they couldn't handle non-monogamy, I thought the way they put it was very telling. They said "I want to know that the person who's with me is mine and mine only." I thought to myself, "Perhaps I have an unusual way of looking at things, but I don't think that any relationship that begins with you trying to possess another person is off to a good start." And I also sort of wanted to say "What makes you think you deserve to have me as yours and yours only?" It strikes me as massively presumptuous to make that kind of statement: love is so easy to say, so hard to demonstrate, and people fail to demonstrate it all the time. To me, devotion has to be earned and reciprocated, not just assumed. But again, this could well be the perfectionist and delusional part of my BPD making me think a) I'm massively fantastic but criminally underappreciated and b) no poor sod could ever come up to the imperceptibly high standard that is required to please me. See how difficult it is to trust yourself when someone can just throw your diagnosis in your face and call you manipulative, abusive and basically an ungrateful git?

Regardless, I don't buy that a relationship is stronger just because it's had rules applied to it about its exclusivity. If anything, I think that can make it easier to fool yourself that you're oh-so-committed, because your relationship is not subject to anything that's going to test that commitment. Whereas if you see, meet, date, fuck and love other people yet still return to someone out of free choice? That, to me, is a much deeper connection than one between two people who are just together and monogamous out of habit. And NO, I'm not saying that everyone or even most people in monogamous relationships are necessarily in that situation. But some are. I've seen them with my own eyes. I've heard their stories. And that's some too many, to my mind.
I don't expect the world, or even a fraction of it, to come round to my way of thinking. Polyamory really isn't for everyone. But in this case, I feel that the person in question wrote it off without properly considering what it might mean. I feel they clung to the fears that monogamy encourages us to hold (jealousy, possessiveness) without addressing them, and they assumed that nothing other than a two-person, long-term relationship could ever be considered "something real". I wished I could show them just how much you can adore someone without trying to own them.

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