On Being Insecure
It takes a while, and maybe a bit of pointing out before you realise it, but I think there’s a huge contradiction within the Poly community. When I was just starting out and going to a lot of events, I was told that “There’s no one right way to do Poly” and “There are no experts on Poly. People may have their own styles”. While I don’t think those people were necessarily lying to me, I’ve found that the reality is quite different. Despite telling ourselves that there is no one right way to be Poly, there are no experts, and we’re all capable of sorting out what combination of partners and situations work best for us, I feel like a lot of us are striving towards this one “best” setup of poly. That there are certain experts whose opinion we laude as fact; that in actuality there is an environment of shame around things like “veto power” and other rules that prove you’re incapable of “handling poly” or being good at this relationship style (that supposedly has no experts and no one right way). It’s all highly contradictory.
I’ve even seen it evidenced in Polytical’s recent “Ask Polly” section, concerning how to deal with jealousy. One of the things I think we strive for – one of the poly ideals, are relationships where jealousy doesn’t ever happen. And if it does, it’s handled easily and dismissed, never to return again. I don’t claim to be an expert on relationships at all, but what I’ve seen time and time again is the assumption that jealousy within poly is all about one person being insecure. The assumption seems to be that one has to be completely secure to be poly. And anyone who’s not completely secure needs to just somehow overcome years of emotional training.
That’s the other highly contradictory thing about what Poly people say and what Poly people do: We complain that society is built around monogamy, that it trains us for monogamy, and that we don’t receive much acceptance or understanding from monogamous people, and yet some of us are surprised and dismayed when we find our monogamous training causes jealousy and makes it difficult for us to adapt to a relationship style that the world is supposedly set against. Why do we shame ourselves so much for experiencing jealousy when we live in a society that encourages it? Why do we expect ourselves and others to adapt immediately to polyamory; should we be very secure people, without any hiccups or growth?
And on that note, I have a confession to make.
I’m not a secure person, and that’s okay. As simple as the logic of security is when I read it, it does not always translate emotionally. I struggle with mental illness, disability, and an upbringing that makes me doubt the validity of my own emotions and reactions. If I can’t trust myself to tell when I am having a panic attack or a legitimate medical emergency, it makes it very difficult for me to tell when my jealousy is just a wobble or a sign of a deeper problem within the context of my relationships. If I can’t assert my identity as genderqueer for fear people will question me, humiliate me, make fun of me, and walk over me, it makes it very difficult for me to assert my boundaries within a relationship where I feel safe and loved. If I don’t feel good enough, thin enough or feminine enough; and it takes a lot of energy for me to find self-esteem in a world where I do not see my experiences and my life reflected in most forms of popular culture or media, it becomes very difficult to see that I am worthy to be loved. If I grew up with abusive individuals who took advantage of any vulnerability I had, it makes it very difficult to be vulnerable with one partner, let alone several.
I envision the journey to personal security for individuals like following a bead maze. Some people get right to the end quickly and easily, whereas others have to do backwards twists and turns, go around in circles to make the same simple journey. If you are a person of colour, if you identify as female, if you are trans*, if you are disabled, if you are gay, if you’re fat, if you are anything that society vilifies, doesn’t understand, or doesn’t represent, becoming secure in a world that discourages you means navigating through the main narrative of society. It means having to find confidence in a world that is continuously disempowering, it means having to be able to trust yourself in ways that you’re not capable of mentally, emotionally, or physically. Even understanding one’s own mental illness enough to seek treatment for it is not just a personal journey that is a hallmark of a strong individual – in reality it takes time and often money for therapy that countless people cannot afford.
For myself, I may not ever reach the end of the bead maze, wherein I can be a totally secure person who never experiences any jealousy. My security isn’t a solid ship. I have good days and I have bad days and I’ve found through experience that – like my anxieties, jealousy and self-esteem come and go. But, I don’t see my inability to always be self-sustainable and secure as a measure of how capable I am of forming multiple romantic relationships, nor do I think that individuals who experience little to no twists and turns on their road to personal security are the sages we ought to compare ourselves against. Anxiety, disability, queerness, and all of the things that categorise me as “other” in this society are part of the package that is me. Any partner I have will have to accept that my struggle against my anxiety; whether it involves needing reassurance in our relationship, or just having someone sit with me while my brain is telling me that I’m having a heart attack when I’m not, is part of my personal narrative.
I do think we should strive to take responsibility for our insecurities, to be open about them, and to talk about them. I think we should strive to be vulnerable not just with our partners, but with each other as a community. We should stop pretending that the ideal polyamorous relationship involves no jealousy and total compersion. We should stop shaming individuals who choose to use rules and other things that supersonic secure superhero cool poly kids can do without. We should own up to what we say: that there IS no ideal poly set up and if it works for individuals, then it works for them. I’ve found myself on many occasions, despite my belief that a relationship ending does not mean failure, judging others in my community for their relationships not “working”. Then I’ve also found myself questioning whether I could “do poly” because I experienced any jealousy at all.
Do I have a simple solution for how to deal with jealousy? No. I believe that it’s far more complex than, “You’re too insecure”. Jealousy can be a sign of insecurity, sure; but just as security is not as simple as that, neither is jealousy. I’ve found myself going along with things in relationships for fear of being the green eyed monster. In my first experience with poly, I was cheated on and used. And it would have ended sooner rather than later if I had the strength to assert my boundaries. And sure, that may have been from being insecure, but it also came from pretending to be secure; to be the ideal; to be cool with everything.
In an environment where individuals are trying so hard to be secure, shaming jealousy or “relationship problems” makes it that much harder to assert boundaries. If rules are shunned, if jealousy is seen as a sign that we’re not up to the challenge of being poly, if we’re scolded when we slow down as we pass through the bead maze, we’re never going to reach the end. If we want people to reach the place where they DO become secure, the shame around jealousy, certain relationship styles, and this obsession with complete and total compersion has to stop.
Just as it is unrealistic to expect to find the bisexual female unicorn, I feel it is unrealistic to find a person without any insecurity. And unless you plan only dating white cis heterosexual men between the ages of 18 and 49, you’re likely going to be dating a lot of individuals who’ve had their experiences not represented, who have been invalidated, who’ve dealt with marginalisation, and who have more than enough reasons to feel insecure. Overcoming that isn’t going to be as easy as reading a few articles about it. It’s going to take time to work their way through the maze.
I don’t expect any of my partners to solve my anxiety, nor do I expect them to always have the patience to tell me that my throat isn’t actually swelling up. But I do expect to have partners who understand that the things that make me doubt myself, that make me not a completely secure person; those are things that are part of the package deal. I expect partners to be able to talk to me about my feelings and work through them with me, not just toss me aside to deal with my own insecurity when I experience an emotion that’s not complete and total happiness. Maybe not being a completely secure person means I won’t ever get to sit at the cool kids table and maybe my bike will need more training wheels than others will – but I think I can be okay with that. I wish more people would be.