These writings contain my experiences and opinions. The opinions are personal in nature, not professional. I am not a professional; I have no degree. These are the insights I have gleaned from living four years in a polyamorous relationship.

Previous editions of this column can be found in the Monthly Columns Archives.

Don't Lose Yourself

It's so easy to do--losing yourself in a relationship, in another person, in his/her wants, needs, likes/dislikes, goals, desires. It's so easy to do when you're only involved with one other person. So what, then, happens when you are involved with two other people, or three other people, or however many other people, ad infinitum? It won't happen to you, you say? You know who you are? What you want? Where you're going in life? What you like and what you don't? Yeah, well I did too, and I said the exact same thing. "That just won't happen to me." Then it did.

When we first started our poly relationship, as a quad, four years ago, it was so important for everyone to be extra accommodating to everyone else. You don't eat beef? Okay then, I won't cook beef. You're not a morning person? Okay then, I'll be extra quiet in the morning; I'll tiptoe around; hell, I'll pretend that I'm not even awake yet either and that morning isn't my favorite time of the day. You don't like horror flicks? Alright, then we won't rent any horror movies. Not one. Not ever. We'll rent the kind where people die and stuff explodes, even though those kind give me nightmares for days. What do you mean you don't like my favorite Japanese restaurant? How can you not like it? There's all kinds of other stuff you can order even though you don't like sushi. Oh I see, you don't like to be in the same room as sushi. Well, in that case we'll go to Outback, even though red meat turns my stomach. Surely there's something I'll eat. Maybe a salad. Maybe some salmon. Cleaning the microwave grosses you out? Oh don't worry about it. I'll do it even though it was you that exploded the spaghetti sauce all over the inside of it and then let it dry. You don't want decaff coffee? Alright then, I'll make a pot of regular. Never mind the fact that it's 9:00 at night, and I've got to get up at 6:00 in the morning to go to work. There's a new show on that you want to see? Right now? But I've been watching this show for the last six years. It's the only show I watch. This is the last season. You really want to see this new show? Oh okay. I see that it's important. I'll give up my one hour of TV time a week so you can check it out. It's beautiful and sunny and warm outside, let's go to the beach. You sunburn too easily? I'll put sunscreen on you, and we'll take the umbrella. We can snorkel for awhile and pick up shells. Then we can just sit and veg. Oh, you don't like to be hot? Well, me either really, so let's just stay home and sit in this stuffy house while the gorgeous weekend afternoon passes us by. I'd love to paint this room yellow. You don't like yellow? But it's a sunroom. Yellow is perfect. Alright then, we'll paint it lavender since that is your favorite color.

Does any of that sound familiar? Even remotely? On a small scale? You can tell yourself that it's not the same, you just make a few small accommodations here and there. I told myself exactly the same thing. Pretty soon, you make so many "small accommodations" that you've forgotten what you liked in the first place, and you totally lose sight of the fact that there really is a huge difference between accommodation and compromise. Compromise is acceptable. You give a little you take a little. Accommodation is a paved road to disaster, because pretty soon you are giving everything, taking nothing, and resenting everyone around you for letting it happen, even though you are technically the one who let it happen. It's insidious. It happens slowly. You probably won't even notice it at first, because the aforementioned examples are relatively small things. Pretty soon you find yourself accommodating someone else at the expense of who you are, what you think, what you feel/believe, your philosophy, your politics, the things that make up your very essence. I didn't think it could happen to me, until I woke up one day and realized that I had no idea who I was anymore. I had so lost myself that I couldn't even define "me" to me. One day at work, a colleague stuck her head in my office and said, "We're going to grab sushi for lunch. You wanna come?" I didn't even think about it; I just automatically answered, "No thanks. I don't eat sushi." I continued with my paper work, not even really thinking about it, and a good 30 minutes passed before the thought, "What the hell? I love sushi," slammed into my head. I was just so used to accommodating one of the members of our quad and his huge aversion to raw fish, that I actually forgot that I could even think for myself, could attend to my own wants, needs, desires. It was at that moment that I realized that every time I permanently changed something about myself...from something trivial to something was like I was sacrificing little pieces of my own soul at the alter of the people who professed to love me. I honestly got up and looked in the mirror, and I had no idea who it was that was looking back at me. I didn't recognize her.

Don't let it get that far, because coming back from that point is a long, arduous, and really rather painful process. The more people with whom you are involved, the more complicated it gets. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you should never ever give in to someone else's desires. You've just got to figure out the difference between accommodation and compromise. Compromise is just about the only thing that's going to keep a poly relationship going. You can have all the love and time and compassion in the world, but if you can't compromise with your partners, then it's pretty much doomed from the start. If someone in your family doesn't like beef, and it's your favorite food, then you don't have to insist on eating it every single night and every time you go out. On occasion you can go to their favorite vegan restaurant. Trust me, there will be something on the menu that you will find palatable. Just make sure that, on occasion, they accompany you to your favorite steak house. Once again, there will be something on the menu that they will be able to eat.

And that's just the little stuff guys. Never ever ever ever change the way you think or believe or feel for anyone else, no matter how much you love them. It will change you, irrevocably and forever, and not for the better. If you think that the war is a terrible thing, and one of your partners thinks it's the best thing going, it's okay to listen to his/her point of view. Listen to their reasons with an open mind. Voice your own beliefs as well, without anger. If you find yourself changing your mind on certain issues, then that's fine, just as long as you are changing your mind based on facts and information and your own beliefs. If you are changing your mind to accommodate a partner, for whatever reason--so s/he won't love me any less, won't think I'm an idiot, won't think I'm just wrong--then you are willingly giving up a little piece of yourself. You won't respect yourself for that. Furthermore, your partner won't respect you for that either. Even when people disagree, there is a mutual respect in holding firm to your own beliefs.

Be very very careful. Don't fall into that trap, and it really is a very easy thing to do. After our quad dissolved, the three remaining members of our triad had a very hard time figuring out who we were again, what we really believed, what we really thought and why. It was hard for us to even decide what movie to go and see or where to have dinner. It's taken us over a year to get where we are now, and sometimes we all still have our moments when we're afraid to express a simple opinion.

The good news is, I do know who I am again. I know what I want, and I recognize my face in the mirror. Hubby let me paint our bedroom yellow, even though he was leaning toward green. But that's okay, because I gave the okay for leather living room furniture, even though I'm not so fond of stuff that makes me sweat. Wife agreed to gold marble counter tops in the kitchen, even though her first inclination was for blue. She gave up blue, but got marble instead of something less expensive, so we all managed to come out relatively content with our remodeling project. It's been a slow process, but it has been doable. But it's hard, guys. Try not to get to that point in the first place. It saves you months of pain when trying to come back.

As for me, I'd like Mexican tonight. Hubby isn't exactly crazy over Mexican, but hey, it is my birthday celebration. Tomorrow I'll make him some of that vile parmigiana stuff he likes so well. Wife and I can always eat a salad. Dinner conversation will eventually turn toward Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, Israel, the existence (or not) of a higher power. We'll agree on some of it. We'll disagree vehemently about some of it, and we'll do it all safe in the knowledge that it's okay, because we have all finally remembered who we are.

PolyAnna; September 12, 2005

PolyAnna is a contributing writer as well as a member of this online Community. She can be contacted here or through our message board Forums.


folks have read this article.