It feels like I'm walking through fire
I've been with my girlfriend now for a year and about 4 months. At the beginning of our relationship, she voiced to me that it is important for her to have the option available to hook up with other people outside of her primary relationship. She qualified that it would probably rarely happen, if ever, but having this freedom is important to her. She is emotionally monogamous and wants the same of me.
Prior to entering this relationship, I was always in monogamous relationships. Every single one of my girlfriends has cheated on me in the past. So when I met my current girlfriend and she told me about this, and also voiced how honesty and communication about any activity outside of the relationship is a MUST, I figured, "why not try it? At least it promotes honesty ... and monogomous relationships never guarantee that someone won't cheat anyway." I, myself, am also a flirt and I figured that it would be fun to be able to have the option and permission to engage with other people outside our relationship.
Throughout the course of our time together, I have hooked up with someone, although have not had sex. I can say that it didn't mean anything other than just the excitement of the chase in flirtation ... and that is what it continues to be. She has been fine with everything that I have done as well.
What I always worried about, however, was how I would feel when she hooked up with someone. What I know of myself is that I am a possessive person and I get jealous pretty easily. What I'm learning is that this is probably an ego and self-esteem issue. I have a tendency to base my sense of security in life, identity, and validation on whether or not I'm in a relationship and how that relationship is going. I also get a huge ego boost from "having" someone that I know that other people want ... but feeling special because they cannot have them.
What I'm learning is that these are core beliefs that probably don't serve me well at all ... whether I am in a monogomous or poly relationship. Nevertheless, I am having an EXTREMELY difficult time - even with the thought of her just kissing another person.
Recently, we were in a situation where it felt like there was a closer possibility that she might want to have sex with someone else. Really, it was still just hypothetical ... but the closer I felt to the possibility of her hooking up with anyone else, the more I freaked out. At that point I questioned whether or not I could stay in the relationship. And, at one point, I really badly acted out and started accusing her about her flirtations, because I was having a hard time trusting ... I was feeling like she had some secret crush and that whoever might want to have sex with her was trying to take something from me, or trying to pull one over on me ... trying to fool me.
She has assured me over and over again how much she loves me, that she chooses me and that I am the only one for her, and that if she ever wanted to have sex, it is purely physical for her ... not emotional in the slightest. I suppose I don't understand this because sex is not just physical for me ... even if I don't have feelings for the person, I have to have some kind of story or drama or head trip going on in my head to be attracted in the first place (even if I know its not real). And I feel better after she assures me, but then I get triggered easily again and get angry when ANYONE flirts with her, or extremely sad at the idea of her even kissing someone else. I start to feel the same way that it did when I was cheated on in the past. And sometimes, it feels like I'm being abandoned. (my mother left her and my father's relationship when I was young and cheated on my father ... and my mother was very much a serial monogamist .. always needs a relationship in her life). Clearly this is bringing up my own issues ... and I had a sense that this would happen (intellectually) ... and now I feel as if I'm lost in a storm of it all.
I love her so much and this has been the best relationship I have ever been in. When I am not up in my head, I do trust her. She has almost never given me reason not to, and if there ever was a time where she slipped up, she promptly admitted and apologized. I have such hopes for us, and what I am certainly hoping is that by going through this, I will have a fundamental shift in my belief system ... about myself and my relationships. I know that a lot of this is about self-esteem and how I find my own level of emotional security. I don't want to feel so dependent on this relationship for that ... but I am right now. And since I am, I suppose thats why I'm going through all this pain. Thats why I said that it feels like I'm walking through fire.
Is it possible to have hope and love and still be ambivalent? I have fears that this won't work out as well and that at my core I am a monogamous person. I am wary of staying in a relationship that is working well for her, but feels awful to me. Isn't that abuse in a way ... abuse to myself? I am mindful of my statement earlier ... that I decided to go forward with this in part because I felt that even in monogamy now, I can't be certain that my lovers will be faithful ... so why not just put all the cards on the table and have the option to sleep with others but just be honest? But also, is that settling? What about keeping the possibility open that I will find someone who will be monogamous and trustworthy and never cheat on me?
(Although now sometimes I think of and remember monogamy as boring). :D
I just need to get to the other side of the fire ... through all this emotion. I am sure that I can, if there is a clear side ... if there is an end to the fire. Right now, I just don't know if there ever will be an end to the pain if I continue in this relationship ... and that is scary.
Any feedback around strength and hope in going through similar situations would be greatly appreciated, what helped you or how you resolved this issue for yourself. I know that everyone and every relationship is different, but I could use some support right now. Thanks.
I highly suggest getting the book Living Happily Ever After. It really has some concrete explanation on how to deal with self-esteem issues.
If you can get that resolved, it will solve a good amount of the fear you are suffering. You might feel like you are still walking on coals-but not through fire!
In terms of quick articles on jealousy-www.xeromag.com has some great ones under the polyamory section. He has a good mind (the guy who writes that site) and you may find some of the information resonates with you.
One of the keys is understanding yourself. Too often we don't bother to know ourself. We simply assume we are who we are. But we forget-we are who our parents taught us to be. That may or may not be healthy. It may or may not be leading us on the path we TRULY want for ourselves.
I suggest journaling (you can do it on paper, in a blog, in the lifestyles section here or anywhere). It will help you start to see patterns in your behavior and emotions over time. That was a big deal for me. I figured out that there was a predictable pattern to my emotions and once I knew that I could say "honey-this is NOT the day for you to talk to me about the hot girl at Freddy's." and he would know to wait a few days.
Keep writing-keep talking. That helps too, but definitely-work on the self-esteem. That's critical to being able to function in a poly relationship. You might check out some of the poly books available (type polyamory into the search engine on Amazon.com-there are some good ones).
Those are good suggestions from LR. Another resource is this board; I've only been here a short time but the perspectives offered here are first-rate.
That's not a destructive relationship. It's one that's struggling but constructive. (Just my take from what you've written.)
So maybe you have two sets of psychological needs which are running into each other head-on?
1. You like talking to other women, you like flirting, and even being physical with them. You like the idea of non-monogamy. And I think you're egalitarian enough to grant that if it's OK for you to do it, it has to be OK for your partner to do it too. Fair's fair, right? And that boils down to some kind of open relationship, whether polyamory or ethical non-monogamy or whatever.
2. You have a strong set of complexes centered on possession and infidelity. You described your mother's cheating, your previous girlfriends' cheating, and your own need to possess someone in an almost "trophy" sense. Those are real things in your psyche. They exist.
(Important: I am making guesses based on what you've written, and I could be so wrong! You're the one on the spot, so take all this with many grains of salt.)
So, then: What do you REALLY want?
Do you want to be a monogamous guy who knows cheating is possible but chooses fidelity? And who knows that his partner could cheat, but values her all the more if she chooses fidelity? That's OK. It's completely valid, and leads to beautiful life-long relationships.
Do you want to be a non-monogamous guy who can relate to more than one woman, even feel strong friendship and affection for more than one woman, and who has freed his partner to do the same? That's OK. It's completely valid, and leads to beautiful life-long relationships.
But I suspect that the two psychological poles you have described -- a desire for non-monogamy, and a desire for possession and fidelity -- cannot both be satisfied. One has to move to the back seat in order for the other to drive. If you want polyamory or ethical non-monogamy then you have to find a way to dissolve those issues with infidelity and possession.
You might find a therapist to help you with this. A good one can give you insights in ways that are more direct and personal than you might find in a book or an internet discussion (much as I value the discussions here!).
If you've not been in therapy before, it's worthwhile to note that a therapist should be non-judgmental, with the client's mental well-being as his or her first concern. When I talked to my therapist about being involved with a woman in a poly marriage she was encouraging and positive -- because what I was describing was healthy for me and made me happy. If a therapist starts hinting that any non-monogamous relationship is cheating and cheating is always bad, then it's time to smile gently and go find a better therapist.
You are in a really cool place in your life! You are at a moment when you can actually choose to become what it is that you want to become! I think there are only a few spots in most peoples' lives when they realize they can do that. And you are conscious enough of your own psyche to have a REAL chance at doing it!
You seem to have a pretty good handle on things. I don't have any suggestions to make because I think you are doing exactly what you need to: thinking things out, searching deeply, asking yourself the hard questions...
I know what you mean about this fundamental change in your core beliefs, the shift in the way you process... everything. It can be the most freeing and enlightening place to be in - or you could just hurt yourself.
This girl sounds like she's worth it. Work on all this together with her. You seem pretty receptive to whatever lessons you could possibly learn from this, and I think your instincts will tell you when or if it's time to leave.
For me, it's always been helpful to get a hold of as much information as possible, and talk as often as possible, and keep open and honest with myself etc. No one can really say how you're going to feel about this in a year for example, or whether your reactions now are simple programming or fear, or whether it's your gut feeling telling you to leave a situation that is damaging.
This is the whole excitement of it right? :D You seem to be quite emotionally mature and your gf seems to dig you - two reasons I'd say you are quite some way off of needing to throw in the towel :)
Thanks for all of your comments. You hit the nail right on the head ...
I am at a point where I have been presented with a new way of being, and so I get to make a choice. In many many ways it is a great gift. My friends have said that they NEVER would have thought that *I* would even consider something like this. Really, its because I was never introduced to the idea in a safe relationship. She is safe for me.
When I think about the choice that I need to make, it revolves more around the road that I want to walk down, rather than the identity that I want to achieve. I don't really care about identifying myself as a monogamous or non monogamous or polygamous person. I care more about experience and I care more about connection. I care more about the relationships that I have in this life ... what they bring to me and what I give to them. I care a lot about being able to maintain this companionship.
And as I read over everything that has been said, and as I continue to write, I am reminded that it is the person that I become and the growth that I do in getting there that really matters to me. I think what matters to me most, specifically in this sense, is letting go of my fears.
EugenePoet wrote: "1. You like talking to other women, you like flirting, and even being physical with them. You like the idea of non-monogamy. And I think you're egalitarian enough to grant that if it's OK for you to do it, it has to be OK for your partner to do it too. Fair's fair, right? And that boils down to some kind of open relationship, whether polyamory or ethical non-monogamy or whatever.
2. You have a strong set of complexes centered on possession and infidelity. You described your mother's cheating, your previous girlfriends' cheating, and your own need to possess someone in an almost "trophy" sense. Those are real things in your psyche. They exist."
That second point there is what I want to let go of. When I look at number one and number 2, number 1 seems so much less based around fear. I know that my life can be so much better in so many ways (not just in my intimate relationships) if I can let go of this fear. It is a real opportunity here that I can take.
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