On biting that apple

After spending a weekend at her sister’s wedding, a member of one of the groups I moderate wrote a post that described a feeling I think many people, especially those who are on the early side of transitioning into non-monogamy, can relate to.  She wrote:

I never “felt poly” before I met my main squeeze, who was already poly. My love for him brought me into this lifestyle, and I have other partners that I care deeply for, but I never planned out my life to include multiple partners.

As a little girl, I imagined the day I would marry someone on top of my favorite mountain, and really thought I would have a white picket fence life path.

I feel like I don’t know what a successful poly life should look like. How will I know when I’ve made it? How will I gauge my success? How do I get over this weird feeling of jealousy I have for my sister, when I don’t even want a marriage that looks like hers?

Maybe, now that I’m thinking about it, a lot of what I’m feeling is a bit of resentment that I now know poly is an option.

With her permission, I’m (lightly editing and) sharing my response:

“…a lot of what I’m feeling is a bit of resentment that I now know poly is an option.

This is such a strong statement that really gets to the guts of so many people’s fearful reactions to hearing that someone else might do relationships differently than they do. When I share with strangers how my relationship is different, they generally surprise me by taking it in stride.  Sometimes, however, I can tell that they tense up – because it is so different, and we are socialized in so many ways to believe that different is “wrong” and “wrong” is “scary”.

It makes sense that this unsettled reaction from loved ones could lead to you feeling resentful that you’ve suddenly been given the knowledge that you want something that sets you apart.  It’s so much easier to conform when you don’t know you don’t want to conform.  But I think beyond that, I eventually got to the point where instead of resenting being given this information- I resent that society didn’t offer it to me to begin with.

I get mad at the world for limiting my potential.,

I hate that every fairy tale I grew up with made it seem like marriage was the highest level of achievement I could reach, and that it was up to the men to “save me” and that i could only have this if I were the most beautiful princess with the smallest feet or the prettiest voice or the longest hair. I HATE that on top of all of that, I was given a list of what “beautiful” could look like and spent so much of my life comparing myself to (and not meeting) that ideal.

We are so indoctrinated into the idea of comparing ourselves to what we’re “supposed” to do or be or look like based on a standard someone else set for us, that even when we break free of it and accept the concept of polyamory into our lives, we’re still grasping at comparing our poly to the “ideal” of what polyamory is supposed to look and feel like and how we’re supposed to measure our success and standing within that structure.

What if where you are in your life is EXACTLY where you’re supposed to be right now? What would that be like, to stop comparing your current location to a perceived end-game?

As a young widow who got all the way to the end game significantly earlier than expected, I cannot tell you how much of my own life I got back after I realized that there was no longer a set of expectations for me. People stopped trying to put me in a box, because the box of “30 something widows” was so small that they couldn’t decide for me what I was “supposed” to do.

After I came out of the shock and the haze of my mourning period, I realized that for the first time in my life, I got to decide what I wanted for myself. It was liberating.

I know that before I ever got married, it’s all I wanted. It didn’t matter how many friends told me to wait, or to not do it, or that they’d never do it again, I KNEW that I’d been thinking about that party and my dress and all that went with it since I was a little girl. I knew the pressure that my family put on me to be a wife, because – again, it was constantly reinforced that becoming a wife and mother was the highest achievement I could ever hope to have.

It wasn’t until after I’d had the experience that I realized that those dreams of mine were heavily influenced by the limits of society’s expectations for me. They were not purely my own, and as I went through all that processing to regain my identity after my husband passed, I recognized how deeply influenced I was to make my “choice.”

Today, I’m learning to transition that resentment into pity. I feel pity for the people who can only see beauty in a certain “type”. I feel pity for the people whose self confidence is based on having to measure themselves against another person or a made-up ideal. I learned to stop worrying about how well society or my family accepts me. If they want to be part of my life, they’ll do so on my terms.

People who cannot accept me and love me aren’t deserving of the energy I would expend on being angry with them. For the ones, like my extended family members who I’m not “out” with about my relationship style, I pity that they’ll never really know me and that the person they call “granddaughter” or “niece” or “cousin” is a costume I wear in their presence. That version of who they think I am doesn’t define me.

Only I get to define who I am.

The beauty of being where you are in your life right now is that you have the freedom to redesign the life you want based on who you want to be. It takes a while to disentangle it all to figure out which parts of what you wanted are still the things you want and which parts were the things you were influenced to want.

There’s no reason why you can’t have a special moment, for example, with someone (or someones) that you love on top of your favorite mountain. It doesn’t have to be a government sanctioned marriage for it to be a meaningful and beautiful moment for you.

The possibilities are limitless.

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