As I’m writing this, it has been just over three months since I started down the super-weird-but-also-super-cool polyamory path with my husband Cash and my boyfriend W. (My *boyfriend*? I am 38 and have a *boyfriend* again? What the hell is my life???)
I started writing a post about all the things I’ve learned so far about being polyam in my vast experience of three whole months, but can I be honest with you, dear reader?
First, there are cans in my pantry older than my polyam relationship so maybe I’m not the right person to be dishing out advice.
Second, I haven’t really learned anything that isn’t generic polyam advice you read everywhere, and most of it is just relationship advice in general when you get to the root of it.
Communicate. Check in with each other. Be honest.
Groundbreaking, rioting stuff, right?
Whether you’re polyam or not, it’s all kinda… common sense. Ya know? Talk to each other and don’t be a shit bag. If you need me to tell you those things, you probably aren’t ready for a relationship at all, let alone a polyam one. I mean.
As I was writing that very unhelpful advice post, I realized that I was actually avoiding what I really need to talk about, which is my own fears surrounding intimacy.
See, it’s a scary topic to me. It exposes old wounds that have never truly healed and probably never will. I want to look away instead of dealing with it, which probably means I need to deal with it, but therapy is expensive yo. Polyamory is bringing up all these monster-under-the-bed emotions for me, and sometimes I just want to run. But running never solves anything, right?
And after all, my fat ass is more of a jogger anyway.
Listen, I have short stubby little legs. I’m not outrunning anything.
First to die in a horror movie for sure.
See how I’m rambling so I don’t have to talk about the thing that really needs talking about?
That’s what I do.
I really deserve some kind of prize.
But okay, okay, here it is:
I have a deep fear of intimacy
because so often for me, love hasn’t “fit” perfectly,
and it has led to the person leaving,
which feels like abandonment (even if it’s not).
Love is so weird y’all. I’ve been falling in love with people since I was in elementary school, yet I still haven’t really figured it out.
I really thought I loved Bobby until he chased me around the playground with a spider he caught, which made me fall out of love pretty quickly, but which ironically probably meant he really did like me after all because for some reason little boys terrorize little girls they think are cute. Sorry, Bobby, I was willing to roll with the fact that you wore the same dinosaur t-shirt at least three days a week, but spiders are a deal breaker.
I’d love to blame my fear of intimacy on Bobby and his stupid spider, but that’s a lot to throw on the shoulders of a first grader. Sooooo let’s break down my actual reasons for having a fear of intimacy, because maybe it will help others who feel the same way.
Abandonment in Relationships
I’m going to start at the end of my above statement and talk about my abandonment issues first.
I have this… thing… called “anxious attachment.” It’s so sexy, I know.
Anxious attachment a type of insecure attachment style. Basically, it means I’m insecure in relationships (romantic, friendships, etc.) and start to feel anxious when I don’t get constant validation. If you’ve ever been called too clingy or needy, you might have anxious attachment as well. Here are some signs in adults:
- Being hypersensitive to rejection
- Self deprecation and low self-worth
- Having a positive view of your partner, even when they do negative things
- Constantly looking for signs that your partner is going to break up with you
- Wanting to feel closer to your partner and worrying that it is never close enough
- A fear of being underappreciated or not recognized for your effort/work
- Being unsure about trusting your partner, even if they’ve proven they are trustworthy
I’m not a therapist, so if any of this resonates with you, please see an actual professional rather than self-diagnosing because one rando online told you you have an anxiety disorder, m’kay?
I actually do have a documented anxiety disorder, and anxious attachment is part of it. I’m crazy and have the paperwork to prove it! Weeeee!
In the past, whenever a relationship ended, it usually felt like I was being abandoned. But in reality, not every break-up is an abandonment.
Sometimes, it’s just… the end.
Endings are okay, even when they are sad and even when they are initiated by just one person rather than being a mutual decision.
People grow apart. People decide they want different things in life. Sometimes, people were never really meant to be together long-term in the first place.
All those things do not mean what you had wasn’t special or valuable or important.
Let me say that again, for those in the back:
Just because a relationship ended, doesn’t mean it wasn’t important.
It helps to see break-ups for what they are: simply the natural end of a relationship, not abandonment. (Of course, there are some instances that are abandonment, but that’s not the default.)
An end to intimacy is hard enough. But sharing intimate parts of your life and then feeling like you are being abandoned? Devastating. I remember after one particularly bad break-up, I was so distraught I lost days of time in bed crying and contemplating whether my life was valuable in any way to anyone.
It was dark, yo.
I still struggle with the worry that I’ll be abandoned, especially when it comes to being intimate both physically and emotionally. I worry that I’ll share my innermost self, and I’ll be rejected for who I am.
But that’s just part of it… Level 1. I’m an anxious cucumber with many fears, dear reader.
Level Up: Fearing Intimacy in Polyamory
Because I have a fear of abandonment, it can be hard for me to give in to intimate feelings in any relationship. But that’s not the only thing I fear when it comes to intimacy.
Let me tell you a story.
When Cash and I met, we lived about 2.5 hours apart. For our third or fourth date, I drove to see him and planned to stay at his place for a few days. During that trip, there was one night that is rather embarrassing to me. I had a full-blown panic attack. Earlier that evening, I remember thinking how much I liked him and how I could see a real future with him, which is something I hadn’t felt with anyone in quite some time. My stupid bully of a brain convinced itself that Cash couldn’t possibly feel the same way, and that even if he did, I wasn’t good enough for him. My brain laughed an evil cackle and reminded me that I was the queen of self-sabotage. It assured me that if things did continue to go well with Cash, I would definitely hurt this man I was so quickly starting to love. I climbed out of bed and curled up with a pillow on the floor, crying.
Try explaining that nonsensical line of thinking though a snotty-nosed sob at 3 AM to a very confused new partner.
But you know what? Cash climbed out of bed and curled up beside me. He held me tight and said that he trusted me, and that I wasn’t going to hurt him. He had me take some breaths and said that we could think about it more in the morning, and if I still wanted to leave early the next day, after I slept, he would support me in that.
News flash, that was 12+ years ago, and I ended up marrying the guy, so to say I decided not to leave is an understatement. It was that night that I realized I not only loved him, but I was in this for the long haul… and so was he. I began to trust that he wasn’t going to abandon me.
And then, over a decade later, I met W.
I always had a bit of a crush on him, but when we really started spending more time together one-on-one, I realized that there was something special going on. He made his feelings pretty well known so I wasn’t afraid of rejection, but I was terrified of loving someone new.
It is scary to want intimacy with more than one romantic partner.
I was worried that my intimacy with W would somehow mean my intimacy with Cash was… less.
This man who had curled up on the floor with me to reassure me during our first month of dating. Who had seen me through countless panic attacks and self-doubt. Who has supported me growing my business and has loved me even when love was hard. How could I possibly consider loving a new person? How could I even entertain the thought that Cash alone wasn’t enough for me?
I was also scared the opposite might be true, that I would realize that my intimacy with W could never be at the same level as my intimacy with Cash, and that would ultimately be unfair to him. Cash is my OG ride or die. How could W compete with that? How could I say I loved someone when I had this deep-rooted long-term LOVE with a capital L-O-V-E with someone else?
You hear it a lot in polyamory circles: love isn’t a pie. In other words, love multiplies again and again, without limit. Giving love to one person doesn’t take away from the love you have for another person.
Even if love isn’t a pie, it can be a fear that you aren’t loving people equally or in the same ways.
These romantic feelings I was experiencing with W just felt… different. It was new and weird and wonderful, and not at all the same type of love I had ever felt for Cash.
No one really talks about how loving more than one person doesn’t have to be hierarchical or compared, because the intimacy you have with each person is completely different.
The love I have for W is so different from the love I have for Cash.
I wasn’t ready for that, and to be honest it is still a little confusing.
Comparing my relationship with W to my marriage with Cash is like comparing apples and… raccoons. Not even apples and oranges, because at least those are two round fruits. This is something completely different.
Do I love Cash more or W more? That’s such a silly question. It’s impossible to compare the two relationships. I love them both completely, and with all my heart.
I know, that sounds like an oxymoron. How can I love both of them with all my heart, 100%? That’s not how percentages work!
I’ve never been good at math. I just know that it’s true, somehow.
Yet, I am still scared. I know there will be points in my life when I may have to choose, Cash or W, for one reason or another. These things happen in a polycule sometimes. I’m not afraid of making a logical decision. I’m afraid that my heart will have a preference, even if it isn’t the logical choice, and even if I don’t voice that preference, I’ll know there is a preference. I’ll never be able to un-know that.
And I’m afraid that Cash or W will have another partner, and they’ll be faced with a similar decision, where they have to pick me or the other girl, and in their heart, I won’t be their top choice. They’ll know that even though they love me, they would choose the other person if there was a gun to our heads and they could only save one.
Even if they don’t tell me that, they can never un-know it in their own mind once they realize it.
For our entire relationship, Cash and I could always say, “I choose you” because there was no other choice. It’s like when I tell my sister she’s my favorite sibling. She’s always quick to remind me that she’s my only sibling.
But now, bringing in more people into my relationship, what if it’s no longer true? What if we’re forced to choose and his answer isn’t me?
I try not to play the what if game. It’s just hard some days.
Honestly, I don’t have a solution for you. I’d love to give you advice or to tell you that I’ve figured it out. I haven’t. It scares me. I think about it some nights and can’t fall asleep. All I can do is trust that my partners have my back and hope that none of us are ever forced to choose in any kind of meaningful, important way.
Some Final Thoughts and FAQs
I know this has been a long post, and thanks for reading here to the end. I guess I want to close by giving you a little advice, even though I said at the start of the post I wasn’t going to do that. Let me do it in the form of some FAQs about polyamory and my relationships.
But first, a final thought:
I might not have a solution to my fear of intimacy, but I do have the two best relationships an anxious cucumber like myself could ever want.
Cash is goofy and makes me laugh so hard that I regularly snort water out my nose. He pushes me to grow as a person and debates with me about topics that matter to the world and supports my passions even when it makes his life harder. He doesn’t understand my anxieties, but he tries VERY hard to always give me the support I need when I feel anxious, which has included gifting me a boyfriend who does understand anxiety a little better.
W is romantic and affirming. He holds me close when I need it and gives me space to be my weirdo self and trusts me with secrets that are important to him. We connect on a spiritual level and I love that he encourages me to continue exploring the witchy side of myself. He understands my anxiety and always knows just what to do or say to make me feel better. We have top-tier communication and so many tender, beautiful moments that it feels like a dream some days.
Cash and W are my life. And I know we’ll continue to figure out this adventure, together, even if it is messy.
And I guess that’s what it’s all about after all? When you’re a kid, it feels like the adults know what’s up, but as soon as you grow up, you just start wondering when things will ever make sense. I can tell you, it wasn’t when I turned 18 and it isn’t now when I am 38. Maybe I’ll feel like an adult someday. Maybe I’ll have the answers.
Or maybe we’re all just faking it and the best you can do is surround yourself with people who support you and who make you happy.
Okay, a few FAQs about polyam relationships in general and my relationships in particular. Take my advice with a grain of sale, y’all, because I’m new to this and a bit of a mess.
What are the downsides to polyamory?
For me, the biggest downside to polyamory is lack of time. Earlier in this journey, one of the big mistakes I made was not making time for myself. Unlike love, time is not an infinite resource. I was getting burned out, and had to speak with both partners about my need for some time alone, which of course they both understand and support.
Another downside I can see (though I haven’t experienced) is when partners don’t get along. I’m so lucky that Cash and W are just naturally friends! But it would be tough if someone came into our polycule and wasn’t really liked by someone else. Some polycules operate like that: metamours don’t really interact. But the three of us have all talked about how we like the “kitchen table” variety of polyamory, where everyone can be friends and sit down together to make decisions as a group.
And a third downside? The world isn’t ready for polycules or any kind of non-traditional relationship. We know there are people who would never accept our arrangement and thus we do have to keep it secret in some cases. It’s especially hard to keep W a secret from my family. They would never understand that I am dating someone when I’m also still happily married. He at least can tell his family that he is dating someone, since he is otherwise unattached right now. But he still has to be selective in how he talks about me, and that kinda sucks.
Are you worried about cheating? Can there even *be* cheating in polyamory?
Yes, there can be cheating in polyamory just like there can be cheating in any relationship. Everyone defines cheating differently, but we define cheating as keeping things about a romantic or sexual relationship secret from the other person. We’ve set clear boundaries about when we talk to the other person and what level of details we give. I suggest you do too if you’re entering a polyam relationship.
But – and this is important as fuck – we also give one another grace. Sometimes, things kinda fall into a weird gray area of what’s allowed and what’s not. In those cases, we just tell one another what’s going on asap and check in about how that makes the other person feel. We clarify how to handle things going forward if we’re in that situation again, and we apologize if the other person is hurt.
So no, I’m not worried about cheating, because for me, Cash or W cheating would mean that one of them was actively keeping another relationship secret from me. Why would either of them do that when I want to celebrate with them when they find a partner? I don’t consider “mistakes” or “poor choices due to ambiguity in our boundaries/rules” the same as cheating. I hope they give me that same level of grace if I make a mistake. When I make a mistake, because no one is perfect and it is bound to happen at some point.
How do you juggle physical intimacy in polyamory?
It’s tricky and we are still figuring it out. Physical intimacy in polyamory can definitely lead to jealousy and awkwardness. Right now, W and I are long distance, but when he comes to visit (or if he moves here at some point), it’s a hurdle we have to jump. There’s phone sex… a lot of really fucking hot phone sex *brag brag brag*… but it’s easy enough to make sure our spicy date nights are when Cash isn’t home.
Again, clear boundaries are important. Cash and I have already discussed some key in-person boundaries, such as the fact that our bed is just for us, not for other partners. In a polycule, you have to communicate a LOT and continually make sure everyone is comfortable with the boundaries/rules you’ve discussed. And remember that boundaries should change as your feelings develop. Nothing is written in stone.
Will you take on more partners in your relationship or otherwise grow your polycule?
Maybe? I mean, six months ago I would have laughed at the thought of being polyam at all. So I don’t want to say something is impossible. But for me, the idea of a third partner is completely overwhelming because of the time factor, without even thinking about all my fears regarding intimacy.
Again, never say never!
And hey, that doesn’t mean my polycule won’t grow. Both Cash and W only have one long-term committed partner: me. That could (and probably will) change at some point. Cash is very involved in an RP community and has met some interesting people there, and W has some friends and play partners that might grow into something more over time.
So… yeah. Our polycule will probably grow. It’s scary, but if I’ve learned anything in this journey so far, it’s this: My boys got my back. I trust them, and with the two of them by my side, I see this happy future that is so bright and fun and lovely and full of laughs. It’s a future I’ve never been able to picture before, but now one I can’t imagine living without.
I’m so lucky.
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