As hard as it is, I have to admit I was wrong. Although, technically at the time I was right, since I followed what I believed to be true. The two people who actually read my ramblings might remember the previous post I wrote about my thoughts on love, desire and relationships. Over the past months, I stumbled through a pit of darkness, existential dread and met my old friend, the inner void. But these times often force me to reflect upon myself, my views and choices, my ideas about life in general.
One of those ideas was about my rather narrow-minded view regarding successful relationships. Previously, I was pretty much set on the idea that we are creatures driven by desires and needs and to ignore these is a certain path towards unhappiness and dread. But as someone who struggles a lot with building and maintaining healthy habits because of being prone to getting sucked into unhealthy ones, I was already quite familiar with the concept of controlling my desires. If I gave up control and just fully revelled in my desires and needs, I soon would wreak havoc among the people around me. Following that logic, controlling or even ignoring these urges is not necessarily always a bad thing, especially if it happens for the right reasons.
Of Needs and Reasons
But what are those right reasons? For a very long time I was convinced that holding back and not following your passion is dishonest because essentially you are betraying yourself (and sometimes even another person if you are not open about it). But I came to quite the important realization: I am already holding myself back. Constantly. Pretty much every time I engage with other people. I often have vastly different needs than the people around me and since I was a child, I grew to understand that my needs will most likely never be matched. Which is fine, I have learned to accept that. Why is it close to impossible for other people to fulfil my needs? Because they are located on the far end of a spectrum. My emotions are highly polarized and so are their associated needs.
I am craving attention. On a cosmic scale. Imagine a young puppy which starts howling in agony every time you leave the room, even if you just disappear for five minutes it will wail and howl like there is no tomorrow. That is essentially me in a nutshell.
The only difference is that you rarely see me howling these days. Almost never. I cannot remember the last time I cried. I purposefully numbed my emotions down as much as possible to be able to push through these feelings of loneliness and abandonment. I put myself into a state in which I don’t end up in a hospital with cuts in my body on a regular basis.
Even if I spend the whole day with someone, maybe even cuddling or being otherwise intimate for almost the entire time – the moment they leave the room or apartment, I wish they would come back and stay. Except when I sleep, I usually cannot have people in the same room during my sleep. I am weird, ok?
In the same way I crave attention I long after physical and emotional connection. I want stimulating conversations about the inner workings of the human mind and the world surrounding us. Long walks through a park or on a beach while arguing about the best way to cook a human liver or why it is so hard for people to change their behaviour. Or just spend the whole day in bed, devouring pizza slices, watching movies and simply be satisfied with each other’s company.
There were times in my life in which I had all of those things. But all of these moments were short-lived. My brain craves constant excitement and pleasure, otherwise it starts to seek unhealthy coping mechanisms.
I am aware of that. I found useful ways of dealing with these cravings and by now they nowhere nearly affect my life as much as they used to. That does not mean they are not there anymore. These needs will always be there. Lurking, waiting under the surface for the day I let my guard down, ready to consume my every waking moment.
A while ago I started to understand that I had been lying to myself. I thought our desires and needs have to be freed in order to achieve happiness while the whole time I was the one who kept pretty much all of his desires and needs in a tightly locked cage. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Because there are very good reasons to do so, the most important one is simple to understand: preventing harm from others.
My Body Is A Cage
I thought about this issue a lot. If I don’t express my needs, am I taking away the opportunity for the other person to find out whether they are able to fulfil them? Am I not simply patronizing? Yes and yes.
Which is why I will talk about them if I deem it appropriate. I probably wouldn’t write this essay if I thought that would never be the case. But there is an important difference between talking about need and the expectation to have them met. I don’t have that expectation. I lost it many years ago and never bothered to search for it again. I am well aware that it would be unreasonable to expect my particular needs to be fulfilled, simply because they are so out of place and far-fetched, no sane person would ever commit to that. Which is something I came to terms with. Am I happy or satisfied with this conclusion? Of course not, how could I? But what’s the alternative? Being miserable because of it until the end of days? I have better things to do.
But back to the main point, which I have been elegantly avoiding for the past one thousand words. My main argument when I wrote Love, Lies & Desire on why classical monogamous relationships are often doomed to fail was the dishonesty and suppression of our own desires. While being completely ignorant that I have been doing that for the better part of my life by now.
In my mind, there was a simple equation at work: we often feel attracted to more than one person at the same time but usually most people only choose one significant other to spend their lives with until they go separate ways for whatever reason again. Because we are not openly communicating our attraction towards multiple people, we are inherently dissatisfied and locked in a constant struggle to dissolve the cognitive dissonance of having only one partner for a monogamous relationship while still being attracted to others.
I would argue that the logical foundation still stands and I still agree with it to some degree. But by now, after more than fifteen years when I first thought about those ideas in-depth, my current view has evolved quite a bit over the past months. Now, I don’t think monogamous relationships are doomed to fail anymore, they simply struggle with similar issues as every other kind of relationship in varying degrees. What are those issues? Glad, that you asked.
Communication, openness, honesty and value alignment.
It does not matter which kind of relationship you are pursuing, if you fail in any of those areas you will have almost guaranteed trouble in the making. For the longest time I thought I could never commit myself to just sharing intimacy exclusively with one other person. I deemed it unnecessary restrictive, suppressive and downright impossible. Knowing, that I often cared for and loved multiple people at the same time during my life.
But then I realized something. Or rather, I started to be honest about myself. Over all these years, there was always one particular person who stood out. That person changed, of course, and was not always the same but even during multiple affairs and relationships, among all of these, there was always one person with whom I connected on a different level. One person which was responsible for me catching my own thoughts along the lines of “I would give all of this up for her in a heartbeat, if she ever asked for it”. I never really admitted it, I even told myself that I was delusional since I could never commit to such a kind of relationship because I knew exactly how often I cared for more than one person.
My reasoning was that it would be very dishonest to engage in a monogamous relationship because eventually someone else would come along I would feel attracted to and then I would need to restrict myself and be dishonest about my own desires.
And there it is, the large bridge across my logical ocean. I already was dishonest regarding my own needs and desires. I already restricted myself over and over again. Often for very good reasons. A small part of me always knew, that I would rather cut off my own hand than to break a promise I gave a person I love. Which meant that no matter the current desire I might face, there was no way I would ever betray that trust once put in me. But admitting that also meant being wrong about the whole restricting desires for a good reason thing leading to the ultimate conclusion of me having to re-evaluate my whole pattern of relationship and attachment.
That was a task I was nowhere near ready to tackle. But eventually my mind forced me to confront the inherent inconsistency of my previous view. I think for a very long time I didn’t want it to be true. It cannot be what must not be. I did not want to think so territorial. I did not want to be jealous. I did not want to see my partner as property and tell them what to do. And then I realized – I don’t have to. What was holding me back of applying the same standards I used so far for polyamorous relationships to monogamous ones? Only my own mind. I can still treat my partner with the same amount of respect and decency I treated all the other ones before. Nothing says I can’t.
Which made another irony apparent: I restricted myself in an attempt of being as non-restrictive as possible. Over the years I turned down multiple offers for exclusive relationships, simply because I did not believe in my ability to commit to them. Which is a tad ironic if you consider that I am already able to endure insane amounts of emotional exhaustion, pain and frustration for a lot of people I care deeply for.
Evolution Over Revolution
When I look at myself now, I see a lot of changes which I did not anticipate half a year ago. Although the seeds of doubt have been there for years. To be completely clear: in my current state of mind, I consider myself being able to commit to either a polyamorous or monogamous relationship without judging any of being the inferior. I just did not see myself as part of the latter for a very long time. Essentially, I extended my pool of options, provided myself with more choices and maybe this will lead to better outcomes in the future.
There is one important aspect to still keep in mind: regardless of the type, in my understanding there is only one way of correctly implementing any kind of relationship.
Communication, openness, honesty and value alignment.
In my understanding, these concepts are pretty much self-explanatory but it can’t hurt to take a short look and see what they entail.
We always communicate even or especially when we don’t talk. Silence or being absent is as much a form of communication as speaking directly to another person. Sometimes you even say more by saying nothing. But being able to communicate each other’s expectations, needs, hopes, wishes, insecurities, frustrations, plans, etc. is a vital part of any kind of successful relationship.
Nobody can read minds and if we don’t know what’s going on in the other person’s head, it’s next to impossible to interact with each other in any meaningful, lasting way.
This mainly refers to being emotionally available since the willingness and ability to talk is already covered by the communication part. You can be as talkative and reasonable as you want but if you are unwilling to make yourself vulnerable by exposing your own emotions, it becomes very difficult for another person to relate to you. Talking to a robot is only enjoyable to a certain extent. Especially if the other person keeps showing you their emotional side because they trust and care for you but your response is often close to “Ok, now tell me what you want for dinner”, you might find yourself eating alone sooner than you like.
This is something I have a quite unique take on, which not many of the people I know share. If you didn’t guess it already, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy. If I care for someone, there is nothing in the world which is going to prevent me from telling them the truth (ok, probably a bullet to my brain, but you know what I mean), even if it hurts. If I think a piece of information is relevant for a particular context, I will tell it. By choosing not to, I would essentially withhold vital information which is not much better than actively lying to their face. Many people disagree about the latter part. I often heard that it is better not to tell something in order to protect their feelings. I disagree wholeheartedly. There are very sensible ways of telling someone uncomfortable truths without crushing their feelings and self-esteem. But by doing not so, it would mean I don’t respect them enough to think they can handle the information presented. This is never going to happen as long as I care for someone.
At the same time, honesty is your main way of dealing with important issues you might need to overcome together. Or as a rather smart and incredibly charming person once said: Adapt. Overcome. Love.
This covers a broad variety of different ideas or rather ideals. For example, I am an extremely loyal person. I am the type of guy you call, when you killed your abusive husband and I already have at least five dumping sites for the body in mind, enough acid to dissolve it and a perfect alibi for why you could have never done it.
Or simply look at the above-stated three other values I regard so highly. Ideally, I spend my time with people whose values align with those and several others I hold. They don’t have to match exactly but they should at least be clustered around the same location on the spectrum. If you like beating up puppies in your spare time, I can already tell we will have a very hard time getting along. Nazis are okay though, I don’t mind if you punch them.
Now after all these theoretical aspects it might be useful to consider practical implications. Although by now I have quite the clear-cut idea about my current views on relationships, I doubt I will implement them soon.
Not so much because out of lack of opportunity (which is a given, since I refrain from dating these days because I find it tedious) but mainly due to my own issues. I still have a lot of shit to process and don’t see much use in bringing a lot of baggage into a new relationship. I certainly don’t want to abuse my partner as my therapist. That’s not their job and I could not live with myself if they suffer because of my issues. Ideally, I found sustainable ways of dealing with my troubles before committing to anything else.
Will I always have the choice to do so? Probably not but at least I have a goal to work towards. If tomorrow an amazing person tells me they want to be with me, I most likely won’t refuse. But since this is not going to happen I can just focus on improving even more.
Adapt. Overcome. Then see what happens.