Polyamorous Breakups

People...my girlfriend dumped my ass. Yes, I know, you’re all devastated on my behalf. I welcome your tears.

So rather than drown my sorrows in a tub of triple swirl ice-cream (which will only remind me how great things in threes have the potential to be), I thought I’d address this situation like an adult; by broadcasting my feelings in a public forum! You’re all welcome.

Here’s the thing with polyamorous relationships – they’re hard. Here’s the thing with monogamous relationships, relationships with your parents, long distance relationships, etc – they’re all fucking hard. But that doesn’t mean that any of them aren’t worth doing. One of the problems you’ll face with a poly breakup though is that since they’re fairly uncommon, most of your ‘normal’ friends and family will have assumed it was doomed to fail from the start. So while some of them might be supportive and kind while you’re sobbing your heart out, you know that many of them will be exasperated and wondering why you didn’t see this coming from the start. Knowing this makes it a lot harder to reach out to the people that you need during a time like this.

You'll feel both before and after it ends, like your poly relationship is the benchmark by which your monogamous friends judge polyamory. It’s like being the only minority in a room and having to pass a math test. You know if you fuck it up that people might be thinking “Oh they're bad at maths”, but it’s more likely that they’ll be thinking “Oh wow, black people are bad at maths.” Because when you’re the only representative that people have for something, they start to assume that everything you do is an accurate illustration of everyone in that group.

This is how generalisations and stereotypes work. It’s not our fault that we do this, because human brains categorise information in very clever ways, but it’s important to remember that we are doing this. My relationship failure should not be taken as evidence that polyamorous relationships don’t work. It should be taken as evidence that one of the people in this particular relationship didn’t work with the other two. When you hear that a husband and wife got divorced, you don’t take this as evidence that all marriages are kind of rubbish and as an institution should be avoided (although since statistically speaking 33% of them are currently ending in divorce, maybe you should).

All of this will actually manage to make you feel guilty about your relationship ending, particularly if you were ‘out’ to everyone you know. You will feel like you’re not representing polyamory properly. You will feel like you’re letting everyone else in poly relationships down; your failure means more critical judgment for them. It would be nice if it didn’t feel like this, but it does.

Let me ask you something, if you had a friend who had just lost their father, what would you do? Would you understand that what they’re going through is hard and comfort them? Or would you turn around and say “Hey, at least your mum’s still kicking!”

When you’re part of the remaining couple in a polyamorous breakup, people have a habit of saying “Wow, you’re lucky the two of you have each other”. They’re not wrong, there is some comfort to be had in having someone to share your grief with. Although, what’s more likely to happen is that the person you love reflects your grief back to you.

You’re both devastated and heartbroken and you don’t know which of you can be the strong one. And woe betide you when you hit different stages of the breakup process; when one of you is angry and the other one is sad and nostalgic. Yes it’s great, to be able to go through something as awful as heartbreak with the person you love, but at the same time you’re watching the person you love being absolutely devastated, which is never an easy thing if you're trying to forgive and forget the person putting them through this. 

I've been asked how it feels for me to watch my partner break his heart over another woman that he loved. If that bothered me at all, we wouldn’t have managed to keep a poly relationship going for as long as we did. I’m not jealous or angry about his grief, in the same way I imagine his mother wouldn’t be if he was crying over losing his dad.

Some people deal with monogamous breakups by reminding themselves of all the things they can do now that they’re single. Usually this involves rebound relationships and casual sex. Here’s the problem with doing that in a poly relationship; you have to find someone. You need to find someone who is attracted to both you and your partner, someone that both you and your partner are attracted to yourselves, someone you all connect with intellectually and emotionally and someone who is actually polyamorous themselves. Just finding other poly people is enough of a challenge, since you don’t normally meet them in the usual ways (at a café, through friends, at work, etc.) All of this makes you feel that when your poly relationship ends, there probably won’t be another one. Of course, this is specific to the closed three person dynamic. There are a lot of other configurations out there and a lot of other options. Having already had an open relationship, it’s a nice fallback. Going through your little black book of old hookups and hearing from people who still want to do the sex with you is always a nice ego boost as well and gives you something to look forward to once your heart has recovered.

All of this is just how it feels from the remaining couple’s perspective and is to say nothing of what the newly single person goes through. Keep in mind that their life is now missing not one, but two people. I’ve never been the single in a poly breakup, but I’m sure the situation has a whole list of its own problems and issues separate to the ones I’ve experienced. 

So if you’re ever in the position that you see or hear a friend’s poly relationship has ended, don’t be afraid to offer your support. Treat their heartbreak the same way you’d want yours treated; with respect and kindness. What they’re going through is every bit as real and devastating as a monogamous breakup and in some cases even worse. So be a friend, because you don't know how much they might need one right now. 

 

That is all.

You may go now.