[personal profile] nemorathwald
This week at a theater festival, I have heard several monologue actors, comedy musicians, and other performers put on shows about relationship structures, such as monogamy and polyamory. A recurring theme is talking about their relationships like they are in a hostage situation. They feel like because they are in love, they are forced (as if at gunpoint) to "have a relationship". But that vague phrase "have a relationship" means different things to the two of them. They are two people with two contradictory definitions of success. And then they wonder why they are miserable.

Unhappiness is simply not sustainable over the long term. Therefore, the bottom line in your choice of relationship structure is this: Will my partner's preferred relationship structure drain me more than it energizes me? Will my preferred relationship structure drain my partner more than it energizes her? For now, set aside words like "should" and "deserve", and "you're lucky to have this", because those words will not change the outcome that you get.

If a polyamorist dates a monogamist-- or a solo poly dates someone who loves cohabitation and promises-- or a fetishist dates a vanilla-- sometimes it can work out. But what makes the difference? One factor: they are not too drained. They don't end up dreading being around each other. It's that simple. If the compromise is too draining, then there's nothing you can do differently that will save your relationship. Don't adopt a pretense in order to have a good attitude, or to be sacrificial, or to be more enlightened. Those do not fill your emotional fuel tank. Those do not change what outcome you get.

The only thing that changes the outcome is this: "Is our compromise more energizing than draining? Or is it more draining than energizing?" For example, is my girlfriend getting enough of my time? Am I getting enough alone time to recharge? If so, then it's fine. Keep that process at the center of your decision-making about relationship structures.

You do NOT have to keep the relationship going at the expense of your needs, or your partner's needs. The well-being of both people in the relationship is more important than the continuation of the relationship.

I have gently ended some of my mis-matched relationships using this exact reasoning. "We're happier when we're friends. When we're lovers, you and I are obstacles for each other instead of opportunities. You're going to be angry at me all the time. It's impossible for me to be emotionally present in the relationship, because this relationship is bad for us. That will just toxify into mutual resentment. We tried to find an overlap between our needs. There isn't one. Your needs are important. Please find someone more equipped to meet them."

Edited to add: All the above is fine so far as it goes, but how do you tell? What are the signs to distinguish a "want" from a "need"? Unlike a want, going without a need is unsustainable. It looks like this:
  • You feel all the energy drain out of you over time.

  • You stop looking forward to being around your partner.

  • It becomes more and more difficult to be emotionally present.

  • Your resentment increases until it can no longer be suppressed, and leaks out in passive-aggression. Or aggressive-aggression.
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