Learning to trust in love1
August 30, 2014 by aggiesez
Recently, Franklin Veaux (co-author of the new book More Than Two) wrote something about relationship assumptions that stopped me cold:
“Believing we are loved is hard; it can seem seductively easy to accept, on an almost unconscious level, the idea that our partners perpetually have one foot out the door, that we must force, cajole, bribe, or police them into staying with us. And, should a partner choose to leave, we can tend to double down…it happened because we didn’t force, cajole, bribe, or police them enough. If only we’d enforced the rules more strictly, they would have stayed.”
This made me consider my rules for myself; guidelines I’ve crafted through experience that have helped make solo polyamory work so well for me.
I use these rules to guide my choices about which intimate relationships I choose to enter, remain in, and leave — and how I prefer to conduct myself in those relationships.
Admittedly, I formed many of those rules in reaction to bad relationship situations I encountered that ended up hurting me a lot, or where I disappointed myself. The logic there being, if only I stick to these rules consistently enough, I’ll get hurt less (and thus enjoy my intimate relationships more).
And that’s true, to a point. Especially since this particular set of rules applies only to myself, the actions and decisions I make. Which is more reliable and feasible than trying to control or limit others.
Still, I don’t want to delude myself or anyone else: there is no such thing as a risk-free intimate relationship. No matter how careful, consistent or ethical I manage to be, I will eventually get hurt, fooled and disappointed in love. The question is: Does the mutual benefit a relationship offers myself and my partners today balance or outweigh the possible risk of heartache and loss?
People are moving targets: changeable, malleable and fallible — and that includes me. Since I wrote that list of rigid-sounding rules, I’ve found myself exploring the flexibility of their edges, expanding my comfort zone, seeing how I’ve evolved, where my boundaries, strengths and weaknesses lie today.
Through this exploration, it’s pleased me to realize that in my current relationship with my lover IO, I do believe that I am loved. Believe it in a visceral, no-doubt kind of way. Because he regularly makes his love and care clear to me through his words, actions and interactions.
Also I trust that he doesn’t have one foot out the door with me because he keeps showing up voluntarily, finding ways to be present with me, and demonstrating that he values our shared and evolving connection. He’s not perfect, but he’s a man with generally strong character; thoughtful, ethical, committed and not impetuous.
Believing that I am loved isn’t how I’ve usually felt in intimate relationships. Partly from my own insecurities, and partly from lukewarm, ambivalent, inconsistent or conflicted behavior from most of my intimate partners, I’ve usually had a hard time believing that I am loved, that my partners have really wanted to be present for me. Too often my own doubts led me to proactive and reactive behavior, (conscious and unconscious) which often didn’t help my relationships.
When you don’t really believe that someone loves you and values your connection, it’s easy to telegraph that distrust in all kinds of ways. For most of my life I did this by taking too much responsibility for keeping my relationships going, not leaving enough room for my partners to offer the very initiative and mutuality I was craving. Or by being more aloof, focusing so much on how fine I am regardless of relationship status, being so incremental in my emotional investment approach, that my partners sometimes felt I didn’t care whether our relationship continued or not.
For many people, not believing that you’re loved results in the forms of manipulation and control Franklin Veaux listed above. And way back when I was attempting to be monogamous, I probably did those things too. The norms of monogamy often support such behavior.
But now, believing that I am loved helps me face fear and navigate risk in this relationship. And there is indeed a fair amount of risk here. First, there’s the way my heart opened to IO much faster and deeper than I felt was safe for me. Then there are other red flags: his and his wife’s relative dearth of poly experience and context, substantial long-term challenges in their marriage, and the fact that very soon our relationship will be mostly long distance. All of that freaked me right out and urged me to bolt.
Character matters, too
…Yet I stayed, because IO gave me every reason to trust not only his love, but his character. This is pretty important to me: I gave him time to demonstrate his character, and he did so admirably by standing up for himself, and for us, and for making his own choices — even when his wife got insecure and pressured him initially to end our relationship. (For context, she has her own additional, significant, longstanding relationship — which my lover has always accepted and respected even though he was initially uncomfortable with it.)
I’ve been in situations before where I believed in my partners’ love, but ended up bitterly disappointed by their weak character. Someone can love me deeply yet still be unwilling or unable to treat me well, or ethically. And that really sucks — especially because, in my experience, discovering that longtime lovers had deeply flawed character and highly compromised ethics made it that much harder to want to trust much in love again.
My continued experience with IO has deepened my initial provisional trust into a confidence that he loves me and values our relationship enough to stick with it, despite changes and bumps. Furthermore, since neither of us is seeking to ride the relationship escalator, that gives us even more room to relax, enjoy each other, and find ways to adapt and maintain our connection over time.
…Belief in love guarantees nothing, of course. IO might one day decide to bail on me for any reason, or cave to an ultimatum that would end our relationship, or engage so deeply with other loves or pursuits that there’s no room left for us, or outgrow our connection, or simply lose interest or attraction. These possibilities are why my rules for myself remain a strong support to guide my decisions in relationships. They remind me not to trust or believe blindly, even in well-established relationships. Things can change
Also: at any time, anyone can die, or be abducted by aliens, or be imprisoned on espionage charges in North Korea, or decide to enter a monastery. Shit happens. Life happens.
This is why belief and trust in being loved are not about absolute certainty or controlling the future. They’re about today — being able to relax enough to fully enjoy my connection and time with my lover, to be present with him. And to accept that there’s at least a strong possibility our bond will lead us both to a better future.
I can’t ask for anything more than that.
Congrats, Aggie. Sounds as if you’re in a really good place!