March 20, 2013 by aggiesez
One reason I treasure relationships — everything from lighter friendships and casual lovers to deep abiding romances and partnerships — is the way people influence each other. Everyone I’ve cared about and gotten close to has influenced me in some way, added something to me or augmented my perspective, sparked a fresh curiosity, and helped me adapt and grow.
I envision this musically: Sometimes the core of who I am as a human being resonates with another person, creating a harmony. Even if we harmonize together only a short while, I tend to retain those notes, incorporating them into new tunes that I hum as I move through life.
I’ve found that being polyamorous — especially solo poly — only amplifies this effect. Human beings exist in context, and we elicit qualities in each other that we could never discover purely or our own, or within the confines of a single relationship.
The lasting influence of others is obvious, and expected, in long-term close friendships and romances. If you’re married to someone or have a best friend for many years, of course you will adopt interests, skills and traits from each other.
For instance, my former spouse imbued me with a deeper appreciation of art, acting, HAM radio, computer programming, and how cats think than I would have otherwise developed. My three closest friends have instilled in me stronger skills for negotiation, handling adversity, and emotional awareness — as well as appreciation for dance, gardening, and even dogs (all things I probably would have avoided, left to my own devices). And, of course, they’ve taught me some wicked judo moves to subvert privilege and power.
At the moment I’m dating a few wonderful men. So far these connections all are fairly new and casual — but even so, it’s interesting to see that part of how I connect with new lovers is to allow them to enrich me, right off the bat.
One of my lovers has introduced me to a really fun way to train for some running races I’ve committed to for this summer; and he also has me considering some deep questions about how and why relationships work. Another has me thinking about martial arts, acceptance, how strength and vulnerability are two sides of a coin, and the Marx Brothers. And one is rekindling my interest in web development, introducing me to intriguing music, and reminding me about uncomplicated joy.
And of course, each of these lovers brings me their unique approach to touch, sensuality, sex, and verbal and nonverbal communication. I feel sometimes like I’m in a sensory language immersion course with several simultaneous dialects.
Even when relationships crash, they usually enrich me. Just this week I had to end a budding connection with one other lover, when he demonstrated pretty starkly that he doesn’t actually walk his talk about communication and respect. That disappointment sucked, and it left me with a tarnished impression of his character, so I doubt we’ll remain friends. But for the brief time our connection lasted, I gained a deeper appreciation of how massage works, an author I’d previously dismissed, and the possibilities of perception. I’ll hold on to those gains.
Also I was glad to see, through deciding quickly to let this erstwhile lover go, how I’ve really learned to not tolerate inconsiderate treatment, even in the face of strong attraction. And that I’m not quite as emotionally guarded as I’d believed I was, given that last year I endured two deeply wounding breakups. (OK, rediscovering my emotional vulnerability wasn’t fun because it means I can get hurt more easily than I expected, but ultimately it’s good news. It means that when I choose to have more emotionally invested relationships, my heart will probably be willing and able to go there; that I wasn’t crippled by prior heartaches.)
I suspect that my profound enjoyment of the influence of others is a key reason why I adore being polyamorous.
For many years, I tried to be sexually and emotionally monogamous because, like most people, that was what I assumed “real” love was “supposed” to look like. Yet I constantly found myself yearning for more connection. This wasn’t the result of mere loneliness or boredom; connecting with others is a profound part of what makes my life worth living. And artificial constraints on making connections (for me, monogamy) only kept me from living a life that suits me, and that allows me to be the best person I can be.
Still, I don’t want to drown in the influence of others — which for me can be a risk. That’s why I prefer the solo life.
In the past when I’ve had a primary partner, I’ve tended to identify with that person too strongly, to put them ahead of my own needs and interests too often, to be willing to tolerate a lack of reciprocity in order to maintain stability. This is just a quirk of my nature; I know others often feel quite healthily grounded in primary relationships. But for me, living solo affords me the space and time to be myself, apart from my lovers. It lets me integrate what I’ve absorbed from my lovers in ways that enrich me, rather than simply to support them.
“The best person I can be” keeps evolving, since life keeps changing. Being able to draw on the influence of others gives me motivation and options to adapt, new ways to feel grounded, engaged, and satisfied. I enjoy being a work in progress.
I’d like to think that my lovers and friends are positively influenced by me as well. Sometimes I see this in action — particularly how two of my closest friends credit me with introducing them to polyamory, something that has vastly enriched their lives.
Then again, some people are pretty change-resistant. I’ve had lovers and friends who like to appear open to discovery and growth for a short while, when they’re trying to impress someone new — but they quickly tire of that effort and revert to form, expecting others to do all the accommodating and adapting. Even from these disappointing connections I’ve gained some useful influences; as well as useful lessons in how I don’t want to live.
For me, the bottom line is: Were I constrained either in how I can connect with others, or in my personal autonomy, I simply couldn’t be as effective or happy in the world. I couldn’t be a great friend or lover; and I believe I’ve gotten really damn good at both endeavors. Of all the many reasons why solo polyamory is the best way of life and love for me, this is perhaps the most fundamental and crucial.