Side dish

I’ve been feeling like mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes. While I’m not the world’s largest fan of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, mashed potatoes go a long way toward making the day something to look forward to. When you get the consistency just right, and you cover it with gravy. Mmm. You know how it’s easy to stuff yourself and still want to go back for seconds? Mashed potatoes always make the list of things that go back on my plate for over-indulgent seconds.

I don’t know anybody, though, who has only mashed potatoes as the meal. They always seem to be a side dish. They’re wonderful, but they’re always a side dish. I’ve been feeling a lot like mashed potatoes recently. Wonderful. But only a side dish.

This is a feeling I’ve been trying to shake for several months now. I’ve wanted to write about it for a while but have never been able to find the words. I feel bad about it, too. I want to be open and honest on this blog, being sure to include the bad along with the good, but I just didn’t know how to write about these feelings.

Part of the problem is that I’m convinced that polyamory is a more sane approach to life than monogamy. The idea that you make a promise to love someone forever and then try to stay true to that promise even when your feelings have changed just doesn’t appeal to me. Sure, keeping promises is great. But whose idea was it to promise something that could only guarantee that you’d grow old and miserable together with the same person you used to love?

How much better to approach life by saying that people love and change and grow, and then to allow the people into your life who want to be there, but not keep them against their will?

At the same time that I have an intellectual appreciation for the approach of polyamory, I think I still have the emotional approach of monogamy. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m naturally more of a monogamous person or because I’ve been socialized to think of intimate relationships only within the bounds of monogamy. In either case, though, I find that I am emotionally attracted to the idea of loving one person more than anyone else. Of having a favorite. And being someone’s favorite.

I’ve been really hesitant to admit that, even to myself. I’ve converted to polyamory, after all. Anything short of the ideal is weakness in myself. I can’t allow jealousy to rule me. You know? I hate being weak. I hate not being able to follow my convictions.

And I am afraid of the idea that polyamory may not be right for me. If it’s not, then what am I doing with my life? What will I lose when I change course? It’s almost too scary even to contemplate, which now that I say it out loud, I find very interesting. It’s actually very similar to how I felt when I first began to question my religion. There is a huge incentive not to even begin the process, because of what I might lose when I get to the end. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before.

And is it really that polyamory isn’t right for me? Or is it that I’ve bought into the social conventions? Am I just jealous? And is jealousy only triggered because the unspoken assumptions about how life works that still exist in the subconscious of my brain are yelling at me that something’s not right here? Do I see polyamory and subconsciously rebel? If so, then that’s something I can work through.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the benefits of polyamory on this blog recently. I still believe in those benefits. But in the interests of honesty, I have to admit that there are some parts of it I struggle with.

I sometimes feel like a puppy. I feel like I’m fawning at Girlfriend’s heels. I’d follow her anywhere, wagging my tail as I go. I don’t mind being a puppy. I think it’s sweet and romantic and it feels good.

Except when the puppy is annoying.

I don’t want to be the annoying puppy, the one who doesn’t understand the commands of “sit!” and “stay!” but just continues to traipse along behind, oblivious to the desires of the little girl he’s following.

And sometimes with polyamory, I can’t help but feel that I’m missing all the cues of an annoyed little girl. That there is an imbalance of desire. That I want her more than she wants me. That I’d put her first in my life, but that I’m just an interesting hobby for her. Unrequited love is terrible. Thankfully I don’t have that. But an imbalance of love isn’t much fun, either.

And when I feel that imbalance, I want to pull back. I want to not intrude on her space. I want to be reserved. I want to be sure that I’m not the ingratiating, fawning, obsequious puppy. I don’t know for sure if that’s just my pride–not wanting to be seen wanting something I can’t have–or if I’m more concerned about not having her feel I’m pushing myself on her.

Then there’s the jealousy. Knowing that she is building intimate relationships with other guys. I’m sure that much of this comes from the prevalence of monogamy: they feel like competitors if she has to choose just one. And even though I know that she doesn’t have to choose, I think I still feel a little competition. Insecurity that I might not be the one she chooses. Yes, it’s a bit irrational in the framework of polyamory, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling it.

Jealousy is something that is talked about a lot in polyamory, and I’m sure that I could conquer it eventually. But here’s what frightens me. As I have struggled with jealousy, I have had very difficult times and also times where I was comfortable. But to get to that comfortable place, I had to withdraw. I had to change the way I felt about her in that moment of insecurity. I had to accept the idea that she and I were just two separate people who sometimes enjoyed hanging out together. Instead of my lover, she became my friend, at least for those moments when jealousy loomed. And then I was okay with jealousy.

When I allow myself to love her completely and fully and without reservation, though, when I love her the way I want to, then I feel pain that she doesn’t love me back with that same completeness, the kind that excludes others from her thoughts and incites her to desire only me. Yeah. I know. Silly and romantic and unrealistic. But there it is.

Love or friendship. Love and jealousy. Or friendship and oh, she likes another guy; isn’t that sweet?

Friendship frightens me. What if the only way I can have her is if I can figure out a way not to love her? If she is a friend, just like any other friend, I have no problems with her loving whom she will. But then what is the point of loving her? I feel like the only way I can have what I want is not to want it. And then if I don’t want it, what’s the point?

In fact, I recognize that same pattern in my divorce. I had to withdraw emotionally from my wife in order to survive some of the pain of our relationship. And because I withdrew, I arrived at a point where it was okay for me to leave. Sometimes that happens in relationships, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. But if the only way to love is to withdraw, that sounds to me like just another Catch 22.

I don’t want to withdraw from Girlfriend. I want to love her fully. I just don’t know how to do that without being hurt by her other love interests. That scares me, because unless there is another way through it, I don’t like either option. I don’t want to be constantly hurt because I love her too much. And I don’t want to stop loving her in an attempt to find peace. Is there a third way?

These emotions have been bubbling around in me for a while now, but have come to a head recently as I have considered new career options. She and her husband live out in the country a ways. Most of the local job opportunities in my field are at least an hour drive away from them. Maybe 90 minutes during rush hour. But even the big city doesn’t have that many opportunities. Really, if I wanted to pursue my career, I would be looking for a job out of state.

I’m not looking out of state. I’m too much in love to consider taking a job that would prevent me from being with her.

And that brings me to a rather painful realization. If I got a job out of state, she and I would bid each other tearful goodbyes and promise to keep in touch as much as possible.

On the other hand, if her husband got a job out of state, she and I would bid each other tearful goodbyes and promise to keep in touch as much as possible.

Even though we believe in polyamory, we still live in a society where monogamy is the standard. Everything revolves around couples. And being the secondary partner is like being the side dish.

I may be the most delicious side dish on the menu. But I’ll never be more than a side dish.

And yeah. Who wants to feel like mashed potatoes?

12 thoughts on “Side dish”

  1. Holy hell, dude. Get out of my brain/heart.

    All joking aside:
    “At the same time that I have an intellectual appreciation for the approach of polyamory, I think I still have the emotional approach of monogamy. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m naturally more of a monogamous person or because I’ve been socialized to think of intimate relationships only within the bounds of monogamy. In either case, though, I find that I am emotionally attracted to the idea of loving one person more than anyone else. Of having a favorite. And being someone’s favorite.”

    I’ve been struggling with this for years. Over a decade. It recently came up a few days ago in conversation with a very close friend but I didn’t know quite how to explain it then. Or maybe I was afraid to really explain it.

    Either way, I don’t envy you this struggle and while I can’t be all, “I know EXACTLY how you feel!”, I do have some idea.

    I’ve also found, recently, that it’s easier to not be jealousy when you mentally compartmentalize someone else as a friend rather than a lover. Something inside takes over and can shift the feelings around so they’re easier to deal with. You suddenly aren’t in danger of losing someone because we all know you can have many friends. The other person doesn’t have to choose and therefore you don’t have to worry about coming up short.

    I’m having a hard time figuring out if this means I’m more wired to monogamy than I realized or just need to reframe and rework my expectations of my relationships.

    To you, I would ask: have you thought about looking for a more “primary” relationship, with someone who isn’t married? I’m not saying dump Girlfriend, but I can see how it would be hard to feel like a perpetual side dish, so (kinda mangling the metaphor) maybe add a steak to your plate?

    1. It’s tricky sometimes to know where feelings come from and what they mean.

      How do you feel when you make the mental shift of one of your relationships from lover to friend? Yes, the jealousy diminishes. But do you find that your feelings for the person change as well?

      I think when we first started the journey into polyamory, the ideal situation would have been for my wife to embrace polyamory as well. But since she decided she was definitely monogamous, I lost the chance at having a primary relationship. I think we always consider having that again, but that can be easier said than done. We live in a very conservative area, and even if I found someone new that I feel I could love, the chances aren’t great that she would be open to the idea of polyamory.

      I think if I could conjure a primary relationship from thin air, I would give it consideration. Hunting for one, though? That almost feels a little … I dunno … forced, maybe?

      1. How do I feel when I make the mental shift from lover to friend? Depends on the person, honestly. And the situation surrounding the switch. For example, one of the people I’ve dated on and off while I was married is a long term friend. He and I have known each other for more than ten years. When I had to break up with him the second time for my own health and what I hoped would be the health of my marriage, it was amicable. He told me that whether he was dating me or not, he loved me. That didn’t change and he didn’t foresee it changing. He would, of course, realign his actions and interactions with me accordingly, but the feelings were still there. And they were on my end, too.

        However, when it was in regards to someone with whom I wanted to, expected to, and did have a more primary connection to, it’s a helluva lot harder.

        I understand the whole conservative area thing, as I live in the Bible belt. But even here, I’ve found a poly meet up group and other online and in person resources. And perhaps it’s less of a conjuring and more of a regular dating thing. Poly people date, too. I get the difficulty geographically, but you might be surprised at what happens if you open yourself up to it. I see it as less forced and more…seeking what you seem to want, just like any person who’s ever looked for a SO or OSO has ever done.

  2. It’s difficult to separate how much of your turmoil is from our basic animal instincts about relationships (which serve to get us breeding and successfully raising offspring) and how much is from pathways laid from cultural indoctrination, or even how much is from living in a society where you’re in the minority in terms of your beliefs and practices. The idea of staying with one person only would certainly make for better security in terms of raising children so I can see that could probably be natural to most people. But life is so much longer and more complicated now, that we go through much bigger changes in our adult lives, and are also exposed to a much wider circle of people. Anyway, I have nothing useful to write except that ramble. I hope to stay monogamous because the thought of the complications of anything else just makes me tired …

    I’m still really enjoying your writing – your blog is like reading a very engaging novel. I can’t think of another blog I’ve read like this. Do you write as part of your professional life, or have you considered writing a book?

    1. Thanks for saying so succinctly what took me paragraphs to write. One of the biggest challenges I face is figuring out what is natural to me and what is something that I have been indoctrinated with. I want to approach life logically, but I keep finding that life itself is illogical to a point.

      I’m glad you appreciate my blog. I entertain aspirations of being a writer, but I’m also a realist and know that for every published author there are a thousand aspiring novelists. I try not to flatter myself.

  3. i really appreciate the way your mind works and how diligently you try to follow it.

    that said, you seem to be figuring out that mind can’t always explain heart.

    in the vein of giving questionable advice, i’d like to suggest you seduce a second woman.

    first thoughts?

    (but of course, this post is from august. life could be somewhere else, already.)

    1. When there is a conflict between the heart and the head, which do you allow to win?

      All my life, I’ve chosen my head. When love was stronger than it had ever been before, I chose my heart.

      But no matter which way the decision comes down, both the head and the heart still have to live with the consequences. When the heart makes the decisions, the head still has to rationalize the choice. And when the head makes the decisions, the heart doesn’t just immediately stop grieving.

      I’m not opposed to the idea of seeking additional love. But right now the idea of it feels so artificial to me that I don’t really know how to go about it in an authentic way.

      1. what is it about you that evokes a maternal feeling in me, precisely?

        there is this way that you are looking for answers as though caught in a labyrinth whose escape depends on your defining yourself.

        or something.

        and you had me so distracted by the eloquent deconstruction of your thoughts that i scarcely noticed until just now that it is actually your sweetness—your innocence, even—to which i am drawn.

        i hope you get it how special that type of purity is.

        to my way of thinking, that’s all you really need.

        1. You seem to have a way of condensing thought and experiences to their most essential. I think you’re right: I’m probably looking for solutions that, even if I found them, wouldn’t bring me any closer to an escape from the labyrinth.

          I can’t help being earnest in my search for understanding. I have some inexplicable innate desire to do right, and even though I don’t know if there’s an absolute right anymore, I still feel compelled to seek for the right solution to any situation.

          If nothing else, I may be able to explain to my head the decision I allowed my heart to make.

That’s my truth. What’s yours?

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