You can have the milk, but you can’t buy the cow

This particular post is about my commitment issues, but something funny happened while I was looking for a graphic to go with it that I’d like to address before I get to the meat of the matter.  I kept running across the two main stereotypes of commitment-phobes.  I can’t really speak for the male commitment issues since I do not have the equipment to qualify as such, but I can speak for the women.

It’s not that we “made” a commitment to you, General Male Population, and had some kind of intention to bail on it or kept some reservation about it (though, admittedly, some of us did – we have that whole “trying to please” thing going on).  It’s that we tried to enter into the relationship honestly, and then when we got there and you realized that you had us, you stopped trying.  We didn’t get bored with you:  you became boring.*

See, part of the excellence of being a human is that you continue to grow and change as time goes on – and the personal evolutionary process is not meant as the means to the end of finding a romantic, life-long commitment.  You’re supposed to keep changing after that, not becoming stagnant or crawling under a rock or resigning yourself from humanity because you believe that the presence of a “little lady” at home validates all you have been or ever will be.

Now, on to the other thing I was going to talk about…

I was chit-chatting with a new friend the other day, and he said, “So, let me get this straight: you can work on cars, you do your own household repairs, you’re a fantastic cook, you’re smart, you’re funny, you’re cute as hell, you aren’t shy about your sexuality… and you’re still single?!?  How the hell does that make sense?”

I said, “I have commitment issues.”

Admittedly, I was really just trying to be a little funny, but I realized as soon as I said it that it was true.  It’s all true.  Oh, gods, I’ve turned into one of those people…

Really, though?  I realized in that moment – flash-fast brain and all that – that while I technically do have commitment issues, I’ve earned every last one of them.

My history speaks for itself in this regard.  My first marriage was an eight-year relationship of alcoholism (even the dry kind), abuse, manic-depressive cycles, emotional manipulation, emotional hostaging, and a wide variety of other offenses.  In a perfect world, I never would have fallen for the bait, but I was young and needed the gold pieces.  My second marriage was an ongoing “dog problem” where we kept using the same words and thinking we were talking about the same thing, but in the end, it turns out that “forever” and “love” and “honor” and “respect” just didn’t mean the same things to each of us.  (At least, that’s my current assessment of it.)

In both cases, I think I’ve more than earned my right to be a little cautious of any kind of long-term commitment, but that’s not why I’m poly.  (Wait, what?)  Seriously.  I’m not polyamorous because I’m afraid of commitment, I’m polyamorous because I don’t want to limit myself to a single commitment, and I want to have the leeway and freedom to explore different possibilities before committing to any person or persons out there.

But, the process of recognizing a problem is to analyze it and find the core of fear, and then to resolve said core of fear.

When it comes to commitments (and relationships in general), what am I afraid of?

I’m afraid of being lied to again, or to take it from a more “personal responsibility” stance, I’m afraid of believing in something that turns out to be false.

I’m afraid of wasting more time, committing myself to a situation that is presented as long-term and stable but winds up being terminally incompatible.

I’m afraid of being neglected and left wanting in one or more areas, even after repeated attempts to communicate my needs and wants in a variety of different ways.

I’m afraid of the fallout of shame and guilt that comes from loving someone so much that I want to share them with my kids/family, and then ending up having to explain the exit of said person due to whatever circumstances.

I’m afraid that my work to get past my abused past and communication quirks has been insufficient, and that I’ll continue experiencing the same problem again and again, as though there’s some kind of key to understanding that I just can’t seem to grasp.

More than anything, I’m afraid of trusting enough that I rely on another human being again, and then being so hideously disappointed – and also financially or economically or emotionally screwed – that it takes a few more years to regain my footing.

I suppose to a certain degree, embracing my poly-ness more completely than I have in the past is something of a symptom of these fears because by declaring only secondary relationships and never primaries, I have plenty of room to explore the other people and compare and contrast their pros and cons before considering anyone for the Exalted Role.  I have found, though, that I’m trending more towards people who are also not terribly interested in primary relationships, people who would have the luxury of throwing themselves into the enjoyment of each other without having to worry about the pesky “next week issues”, and maybe that is a symptom of the fear.

Or maybe it’s just a way for me to seek out having my needs met without having the fear overriding my emotions, causing me to second-guess every level.  I love playing with certain types of people whom I would never introduce to my kids, and I love being able to explore those connections without feeling like that introduction has to be part of the relationship.  It leaves me open to indulge myself in deeper arenas, if that makes sense.

I’d meant for this to be funnier, I think, but really… outside of the stereotypical jokes and jabs, there’s not a lot about it that is funny.  It’s a terrible place to be, to have to tell someone who thinks you’re wonderful (so far) that, no, you’re not going to escalate.  You can have the milk, but you can’t buy the cow.

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* Yes, I know it’s not like that all the time, but it’s like that often enough that it warrants a conditionally generalized statement.

Relationship Status Codes, Part 5: the Secondary Relationship

This is a tough relationship to identify sometimes.  It hangs somewhere between “Casual” and “Serious”, and it often suffers from the “imbalanced concept” problem wherein one partner thinks it’s something that the other partner does not believe.  The main marker, then, is endurance without advancement.  I propose a discussion on…

The Secondary Relationship

You know those people who have those long, drawn-out relationships that never seem to advance?  They date, they have sex, they might even live together, but there’s this sense that it’s never really going to get there.  They seem to have all the pieces to the puzzle at first glance, but often, there’s some kind of spark or something missing.  Maybe one partner is waiting for the other to pop the question, or maybe they’re just comfortable leaving things as they are.

In poly circles, this would be the next most important relationship outside of the core, primary one (also known as the M-Level relationship, which we’ll discuss tomorrow).  Sometimes, people don’t have a primary relationship and just maintain the slightly more casual secondary ones, and it’s not unusual to have more than one secondary relationship.  (The “Secondary” part refers to the level of commitment, not necessarily to an ordinal value.)  Before I go further, let me state explicitly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a secondary relationship.  If that’s where you’re comfortable, then there should be nothing keeping you in the same place indefinitely, but make sure that your partner is really on the same page.

In a tragically high number of situations, one partner believes that their relationship works great at a secondary level and doesn’t want to move it forward, but their partner instead believes that they’re “doing their time” as a dating couple before moving on to the “married couple” status.  In video game terms, they keep earning more and more experience points, but they never seem to level up.  I’ve even seen people share deep tragedy and trials, support each other through death and loss and illness, and it still never convinces the reluctant partner to make the leap to a formalized commitment.

When the secondary relationship is the only relationship, I’d put a time frame of about two years on it (maybe three, depending on circumstances) before assessing whether or not it’s going to evolve.  If your partner breaks out in hives at the idea of cohabitation and you’re looking for your Happily Ever After, do yourself a big favor and extricate.  On the other hand, if you like having your own level of freedom and never having to worry about the toilet seat being left up (or down) on a daily basis, carry on.

The virtues of the Secondary relationship are many and include aspects such as personal freedom, financial independence, an emotional safety zone, and a mostly guaranteed date on Saturday night without futzing too much with the distractions of the M-Level relationships during the rest of the week.  The downsides, on the other hand, can include a sense of insecurity over not knowing exactly where you stand with a person or turning around after many years in a Secondary relationship and realizing that you might’ve missed some other opportunities that could have led to something more personally satisfying.

Secondary relationships can and have produced offspring, but the post-natal arrangement is one of co-parents rather than partners.  Sometimes a surprise pregnancy can artificially escalate the Secondary into the M-Level, but often this leads to an undercurrent of resentment and anxiety.  The upshot of this is, always put a safety on the love gun when you’re playing straight.

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Get caught up with the first four parts: the H-Level relationship, the C-Level relationship, the C4 relationship, and the Friend Zone.  Tune in next week for our exciting conclusion!