DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Thought you might like a comic-book style crossover of two of the greatest hits:��My partner wants to by poly vs I’m a hideous beast.
The synthesis of these things creates a new, mutant chimera intent on destroying my well-being. I’m totally fine with the idea of my partner seeing other people. I like to see them happy, and they thrive in that “new relationship energy” state. They have my blessing. I’m not a jealous person, and I’ve never believed another human has the right to demand exclusive ownership of another.
We haven’t slept together in months, or possibly years, and I think they need novelty. That’s fine, I’m happy with them in every other regard. We’re kind of at an impasse about how to be intimate outside of that NRE phase though.
While I understand that there’s no obligation for me to also be poly, I am curious. But it raises the question: could I do it even if I wanted to, or would I just be some kind of “Polycel” (my apologies to that brand of plaster products)? I don’t really feel like a sexual being anymore after going so long without, just let me play guitar and read about Bigfoot. Seeing an attractive person is like seeing a sick monster truck. Cool, and kudos to them, but not part of the world I belong to and they can probably do better jumps over buses than me. I sucked at dating and like relationships because I don’t have to be an anxious wreck second guessing mysterious codes and signals anymore just to get a text saying “you failed at being attractive!”. I can be around attractive people when there are no stakes because I don’t need to stare at the floor incase my presence offends them. The idea of putting my entire self-worth on a platter again just so it can be dashed on the ground isn’t one I relish. Also, I’ve always been a shovel-faced, slope-shouldered, near-sighted homunculus (hence my affinity with cryptids) but at least I was thinner and had less grey last time I let myself be perceived a few years back – thank the lord for hoodies and baseball caps.
I understand this is maybe a problem in my head, but its really bothering me. I’m still amazed one person finds me attractive, the odds of another person thinking that seem infinitesimal and I don’t want to raise that psychological spectre again, even if I chose to stay mono.
Tale as old as time, that dude looks like slime,
DEAR MAYBE-POLY BEAST: realize I’m Captain “Monogamy Isn’t Our Default State”, MPB, which is why I’m finding it highly ironic that I’m in a position to suggest that maybe polyamory isn’t the right move, here. In fact, if I’m understanding your letter correctly, the issue isn’t really about polyamory so much as your relationship and your self-esteem. That’s… gonna matter a lot more than whether or not you all open things up.
First, let me give my standard disclaimer on ethical non-monogamy: it’s not for everyone, it’s totally cool if it’s not your thing, you and your partner can decide how it’s going to work so it doesn’t need to be perfectly equitable and successful polyamory isn’t “everyone gets a harem”. Being in a polyamorous relationship is dating squared, and it takes some pretty significant communication and time management skills in order to make sure nobody feels like they’re getting short-changed in their relationships. There’s a reason why poly folks joke that the most important person in their relationship is the shared Google calendar.
Jokes aside though, the balancing time with partners and making sure everyone feels that they’re getting what they need can be a serious issue. This is especially true in hetero poly relationships where women tend to have an easier time finding potential partners than men do. When you combine that imbalance with the way New Relationship Energy can seem to eat up people’s brains (and time), polyamory can end up either opening or worsening issues within a relationship.
This is also why it’s vital that you and your partner be able to have very open, very honest conversations about your needs without either party feeling buffaloed or unheard. Without clear and effective communication, poly relationships end up being even messier than mono ones since the AOE of a poly relationship blowing up tends to be a lot higher and occasionally has repercussions down the great chain of banging.
As per usual, I will recommend that you do a lot of your due diligence and read up on polyamory before you take your first steps if that’s the way you go. I will, also as per usual, recommend that you check out Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up, Dr. Liz Powell’s Building Open Relationships and Dossie Easton and Janet Hardey’s The Ethical Slut.
(Full disclosure: Dr. Powell is a friend of mine and they’ve guest-written for me before.)
Now that having been said: I have concerns. Starting with the fact that your relationship has been sexless for potentially years. If you’re actually ok with that, that’s one thing. But it sounds more like you’ve accepted it more than “are ok with it”. The overall tone sounds more like “I’ve learned to live without because I don’t think I can reasonably expect it”, which is not a great place for a relationship’s longevity under the best of circumstances. But if you and your partner don’t have other forms of intimacy that you both find as nourishing and important as sexual intimacy… well, I worry that opening up this relationship will turn out to be the first step in ending it in disguise.
And this is where the self-esteem issue comes in. Regardless of whether this is going to be a true poly relationship or poly is going to be the final stage before it becomes a mono relationship with someone else, your self-image and self-esteem are going to be coming to the forefront real damn fast.
In fact, if I’m being honest, I kind of wonder if that’s not part of the issue your partner has. It’s very hard to be in a relationship with someone who feels like they don’t “deserve” to be in it with you. Even if you aren’t being asked to continually prop up or fix their sense of desirability or self-worth, when someone’s constantly down on themselves, it can be draining. You can only hear “you could do better” so many times before you start thinking “… and maybe I should.” And God knows that “It’s ok if you don’t want to fuck me; I wouldn’t want to fuck me either” isn’t exactly what someone wants to hear from their lover. There’s a reason why Eeyore isn’t the sex symbol of the Thousand Acre Wood.
(Everyone knows that’s Owl. Dude’s got big “daddy” energy, come on.)
And of course, when you’re talking yourself down like this, it becomes very difficult to trust your judgement – both of yourself and of your potential. I’ve had too many times when someone insisted that they were the unholy spawn of Quasimodo and Joseph Merrick, who was then given to the Toxic Avenger to raise, who then turned out to be average at worst.
And to be clear: it doesn’t matter if you’re being hyperbolic for comedic effect. There’re only so many times you can make little jokey-jokes about yourself being too fugly to love before they quit being jokes and starts becoming a form of psychic self-harm. There’s a difference between wearing someone else’s label proudly because you know down to your cells that it’s bulls--t and you’re mocking them by adopting it vs. “I’m going to get out in front of the bullying by bullying myself first.”
So maybe before you all open up the relationship, you should put some time and energy into actually feeling better about yourself, rather than worrying about the dynamics of being one leg in a poly V. That means starting with cutting out the “worrying my mere presence offends the hot” and actually treating yourself like you matter, rather than trying to hide behind hoodies and hats. Because that, I promise you, is the bigger issue, not the stress of trying to read “incomprehensible signals”. Especially since I can guarantee that many of those signals were being routed through your “I’m a neanderthal who doesn’t belong around sexy homosapes” filter first.
You need to be your first and biggest fan, and that means treating yourself like you should be treated, and by someone who cares. Dressing well – having a solid sense of style, understanding what looks work on you, wearing clothes that fit and actually support your body instead of trying to hide in them will be a big start. Clothes really do make the man; enclothed cognition is a thing, and dressing well sends a signal, both to the world and to yourself that you deserve to be treated well.
This, incidentally includes things like grooming and posture. The whole “slope-shouldered, grey haired homunculus” thing is a big part of it. Your brain takes its lead from your body. Standing up straight with your shoulders back (in a relaxed posture, not like you’re at parade rest) conveys confidence and self-assuredness, both to the world and yourself. Standing up straight, making sure your grooming is on point, get some nice glasses or even looking into things like LASIK for your nearsightedness all convey signals to yourself that you deserve nice things, in part because you have those nice things. Does that make logical sense? Fuck no, but nobody said feelings were logical.
Now, I suggest starting with the outward signs of confidence and self-worth because sometimes that’s what you need to jumpstart the engine. Other times, taking that step of “I matter, I deserve good things” is how you break that initial barrier of resistance so that you can then go on to talk to a counselor or therapist in order to deal with what sounds like some deep-seated emotional pain. So dressing like someone who gets sex like widowers get casseroles is a starting point, not the end.
Once you actually start acting like you’re someone who other people would be lucky to be in a relationship with, it becomes a lot easier to actually maintain the relationship you have. After all, you’re going to be motivated to work on something when you feel like it’s something you deserve rather than waiting around for the other shoe to drop because you knew they’d wise up eventually.
While you’re doing that, I would also suggest talking with a couple’s counselor about both the sexlessness in your relationship with your partner and the fact that you two don’t know how to be intimate without the NRE. That’s another one of those areas that has me concerned, because even relationships where you’re burning up the sheets need non-sexual intimacy and connection too. Now maybe that’s just how you or your partner are wired, like Bizarro demisexuals. Or maybe this relationship has lasted in part because… well, because you figure you can’t do better and this is the best you could do. And let me tell you, as someone who’s been there, done that and still has the emotional scars… that’s not a fun place to be.
And trust me: it ain’t fun being on the other end of that too.
So before you start looking at polyamory as the solution to your relationship, consider working on the relationships first – with your partner as well as yourself. Otherwise you’re running the very serious risk that all that’s going to happen is that you’re going to be getting a front-row seat while your partner auditions reasons why you’re breaking up a year from now.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com