Five lessons from two breakups in one month12
June 17, 2015 by aggiesez
This month I’ve closed chapters on two intimate relationships: one I value very much, but ended up making me more sad than not; and a shorter one that started well but quickly lost all energy.
So currently I’m single as well as solo, not really dating anyone. Which is fine, although not my preference.
Here’s what I learned from these experiences…
1. It’s always worthwhile questioning the basics, and experimenting. In the longer and more important of these relationships, over the last few months I made a big effort to learn to adapt to a lover’s growing intermittence and ambivalence. This was hard, because I hate feeling alone in a relationship (which is a big reason why monogamy doesn’t work for me, it always seems to end up there).
I prefer some level of consistent intimate connection — it can be very minor and occasional during some phases, and it can be affectionate or sexual. But if it vanishes altogether for too long, and if a lover isn’t willing to collaborate on reconnecting, it gets too frustrating for me. That’s totally subjective, and totally up to me. It’s demoralizing to keep lowering my expectations for a relationship, and then see my partner limbo under them again. Even if I know they’re not intending to do the limbo, they’re just being themselves — that’s not a dance I want to do.
I’m glad I learned, by stepping outside my comfort zone, that my tolerance for a lover’s variability is wider than I thought. I learned a lot about how not to take a lover’s variability as a personal rejection (which was hard). These skills can be useful in ongoing relationships. And: I have limits. I reach a point where hoping for connection hurts too much. And that’s when I need to back off. It sucks to start to hate hope itself.
So my onetime lover is now my friend. (Well, we’ve been friends all along, but now being lovers as well is out of the picture.) I still love him dearly, but see him more clearly. Now my connection to him doesn’t hurt, although sometimes I still miss what we had. We are still affectionate, but our contact is likely to remain infrequent (compared to what it once was).
He might fade from my life altogether, but I hope he doesn’t. I’m willing to let that particular hope live in my heart.
2. Getting clarity helps to end pain. In both relationships, I was faced with men who’d romantically and sexually left the building, but neither would say that they were altogether done. They both kept holding out vague claims that at some indefinite point they might be more present — and perhaps that’s true. I suspect they thought saying this was kinder. Anyway, in the end, I was the one who had to call time of death, since I was the one who needed clarity. And after I did, in both cases, I felt better.
Declaring that something is over may cut off options. However, if those options are only theoretical, sometimes cutting them off is best. Less emotional clutter.
The short-term, less involved relationship was an easy call. Tepid is not a turn-on for me, especially just a couple of months in. (He made a strong start, but sputtered quickly.) He said he “plays the long game” in relationships, but to me his long game was indistinguishable from “game over.”
So I bailed. Instantly, my frustration with him lifted. He responded cheerfully, saying he just got busy, hopes to circle back later… Which he may, or may not. We haven’t really been in touch since, and that’s fine. Honestly, in this case it doesn’t matter to me whether we retain any connection at all. He’s a cool guy, I’m open to friendship, but he’ll have to muster the interest and availability to make that happen.
With my longer-term lover, we had a long, hard conversation on his visit to my town this weekend. He feels a lot of love for me in his heart, which suffices for connection for him. But I need for my intimate relationships to involve some actual intimate relating, and that’s not on offer right now. So I gave up hope that our intimate connection might rekindle — because honestly, my hope was all that was left. Telling him this was a big relief for me. A day later, I felt much better, more focused. (Yes, it was less of a breakup than an acknowledgment of change, but it still aided clarity.)
Pushing for clarity when discomfort first arises is a mistake; discomfort is instructive and thus valuable, and many difficulties are transient. But never getting clarity is torture — at least, it is for me, in my intimate relationships.
3. There must be a “there” there. I’m the kind of person who needs to feel a strong enough mutual attraction and spark (emotional and sexual) in order to want to begin or continue an intimate relationship. It doesn’t need to be a WHAM! experience of total passion. (I think the Fuck Yes or No stance is facile; attraction is more nuanced in the real world.) But it has to feel like it has enough mutual energy.
With the shorter term relationship, with a married poly guy, I made the mistake of getting drawn into a lot of “poly overhead” (meeting his wife and kids, long discussions about relationship preferences, etc.) before he and I had explored at all how interested we were in each other. Seriously, we spent far more time discussing sexual health than actually having sex! Affectionate texting sustained my interest at first, but when even that dropped off, I was done.
So I know this about myself: although mutual affection and attraction can emerge over time, it’s a mistake for me to put any significant effort into a relationship before that spark has emerged and established itself pretty well. If we’re both very interested — enough that we both make ourselves available to explore our connection, cool. But if I have to jump through hoops before much initial dating happens, only to discover that mutual interest or availability is lacking after all? That’s just annoying. But it’s up to me to set my boundaries on up-front overhead.
With my longer-term relationship, there is still a “there” there (mutual love and respect, genuine friendship that has weathered adversity, plus we did share a strong romantic and sexual connection over many months), so that case warranted my effort. But now, that “there” has drifted way, way over there — below my horizon for the most part. Time to stop trying. Even hope takes effort.
4. Pushing for accountability is usually pointless. When ending the intimate part of a relationship, it’s so tempting to rehash who did what, and what was “really” going on, questioning each other’s intent. There’s a deep emotional urge to be right, to be justified.
If I feel the need to own up to my own stuff (and I often do), I’ll offer that, as well as apologies for the pain I caused, if any. But that is something I choose to offer, for my own sense of integrity — it does not oblige others to reciprocate by owning their shit. I do prefer that they own up, of course. But that is not something which I am owed. So owning up with that secret agenda is rather manipulative, and will probably have no result anyway.
Except in cases of grievous betrayal, pushing a former partner for accountability is almost always wasted energy, and it causes defensiveness that usually cuts off options for friendship. If you really want to stay friends, best to just accept that you grew apart, or that there wasn’t much there to begin with.
This has been an especially hard lesson for me to learn. Personally, I always like to be right — especially when my heart is on the line. If we’re concluding our intimacy, I’d like there to be a damn good reason. But breaking up (or calling time of death on a relationship) is best handled with gentle clarity and acceptance.
5. Love is hard to find, but keeping it is not the point. Hell, sexual compatibility isn’t easy to come by, either! When love and attraction happen in compatible ways, that’s wonderful and I treasure it. And it’s ok to nurture continuity in these connections — but permanence is not my goal. (Which is good, because it’s never really possible, regardless of relationship style.) So, when nurturing a relationship doesn’t rekindle it, I’m willing to let it go when it’s time. If it revives later, I’ll consider that option at that time. It’s not real until it’s happening.
I won’t stay in a relationship for the sake of having a relationship; just like I won’t stay just because it’s hard to leave. My intimate connections need vitality –and that doesn’t show up on my doorstep every day. As much as I treasure intimate relationships, I don’t curl up and die without them. This isn’t a part of life where “fake it til you make it” works.
…Overall, I’m glad I’ve chosen a way of life that allows me to be open to intimate connection that happens in many ways and levels, not just the all-or-nothing of monogamy.
And having closed the intimate chapters of two relationships that became unsatisfying, being relieved of that stress and frustration, I feel better — if a little lonely at the moment. But that will pass. I’m good on my own, and I’m working on an important and absorbing project. Overall, life is good — some challenges with work, but that’s temporary.
I still have bumpy moments. I do strongly prefer to have affection, romance and sex in my life. I’m keeping my radar up, and reaching out. But bouts of singlehood are inevitable, and I can roll with it. I have much love from friends, and that’s a treasure, too.
These reflections came at a perfect time for me, as I wrestle with ending a long-term relationship that is no longer providing any affectionate contact. I found this quote particularly helpful, ” It’s demoralizing to keep lowering my expectations, only to see someone keep limboing under them. That’s not a dance I want to do.” Instantly made me do a self-check to realize I had also been lowering my expectations to fit a partner who seemed more intent on proving that he could resist and refuse any request I made than he cared about me or our relationship and the result was demoralizing to my self-esteem. Thanks for giving me the strength to also walk away.
Wow, glad it was helpful.
To be clear, I don’t think either guy was consciously “limboing” out of callousness or carelessness. They were just giving (or not) as it felt right to them; and it just didn’t work for me. YMMV, but it’s always worth questioning assumptions about intent when incompatibilities arise in relationships. Things that are frustrating or painful usually are not malicious.
Same here. I am going through a break-up / acceptance of change in relationship with my long-term lover. It started out monogamous but we had been experimenting with polyamory. I’m sharing this because it would be easy to blame this experiment but now i realize I also kept lowering my limbo bar in hopes of some sense of intimacy (on the level that I need it rekindling. But it didn’t happen. And it is not the fault of this experimentation, although that probably had some Now we have this awkward “friends with a background” fase going on. I’m mostly trying to keep by myself but sometimes this is not possible.
This article came at a perfect time, sometimes it’s remarkable how life provides. I hadn’t visited this blog in a couple of months because of the tension between me and my former partner. Thank you for sharing this and making me feel not so alone in my feelings 🙂
Love and greetings.
So, I too had two partner break ups in not a month, but one following the other, one month apart.
So, I feel ya, and where I too learned a lot about myself and what I am capable to adapt to and a lot of it was similar to what you learned; this was some of the stuff I learned, I don’t know if it helps, but I hope it does:
– Some people, are just honestly better NOT in a relationship. My first ex partner, is at a point in his life where he just honestly needs to not be in a relationship (for mental health reasons). But, after we broke up, and I healed, and he did as well, we couldn’t shake our connection. It is not the same type of connection, it’s not love per se on my end (I am not sure on his), it’s just an intimacy, sometimes deep, sometimes not.
But because of this and something he said to me while we had “the talk” after breaking up, he said to me “I am just going to do what makes me happy” and, that really stuck with me. Because it made me happy to be with him for a bit, and then it made me happy to break up with him, and now, it makes me happy to have this connection with him and it makes me happy NOT to be in a relationship with him [perhaps never again].
It makes me happy to have this autonomy and independence, and it obviously makes him happy as well.
Sometimes we connect and sometimes we don’t, and that’s okay.
It took us a while to get here and chances are it won’t stay the same forever, but even if it does, I now know that it’s about me, and not about them, it is very empowering.
Btw, I came here trying to google “solo poly” to explain it to other people, and this has been a really helpful blog, I have now asked to join the fb group (Zen Rho).
I wish you kindness and a well deserved time for yourself.
How do you navigate the transition from lovers to “just friends”? The loss of intimacy and connection, the loss of contact, loss of sharing, the changes…
Not well in this case. Despite attempts, my former sweetheart and I decided not to keep in contact. I needed more resolution, he mostly wanted to move on and not look back.
I have navigated this, successfully with other former lovers and sweethearts. What seemed to make this work was mutual acknowledgement of the impact of the transition to each other. Even when it’s the right choice, there’s usually healing needed around that. It hurts to change patterns of interacting so substantially, especially if one of the partners really hoped the intimate relationship would continue.
Sometimes this all happens easily and naturally for people how much especially when a relationship has just run its course for everybody involved. But in my experience, generally, it takes some conscious effort, patience, and often some time apart after a little initial healing to allow to change to sink in and the former partners to readjust themselves
Thank you for sharing this. It’s really helped me deal with a few tricky situ’s recently. I realised I was Solo Poly about 6 months ago, and have been practicing this life style since. I’m learning so much and for the first time in my life feel genuinely happy in my own skin.
I’m also realising fast that I need to connect with more fellow poly folk, who will understand me and respect where I am at, rather than mono types who think they can woo me out of this “weird religion” and then kick back at me for being that strong Independant woman who really doesn’t “need” anyone but her self!
Lesson’s grately received. 🙂
When the waters ripple I just keep reminding my self to stay strong and focused. Those kick backs have hurt a little, but they are helping me grow and learn. And for that I have endless gratitude.
I relate so, so much to this – in fact I became very emotional while reading it. Everything you’ve said resonates with me, except I think I’m unfortunately much further behind in the recovery process than you.
I was involved with a married poly man who I essentially fell in love with, and eventually I felt the need to break it off because I knew I felt more strongly than he did (and wanted more than he could give).
I’m still in a phase of idealising my memories of our time together, and regretting my decision. I keep thinking about reconnecting with him, even if only on a physical level, but I know it’s not the right thing to do, and reading your post has helped to affirm my (weakening) resolution to stay strong and move forward in hopes of something better in the future.
What do you think about staying in touch with someone where there has been a degree of imbalance in terms of feelings? I worry a lot that, since we agreed to keep in contact when we parted ways, I might continue to fixate on our communication as a form of connection. Because of my feelings for him, I also worry that if I push away completely and don’t communicate at all, I’ll hurt him – but part of me wonders if that might be the better option for me. I know it is probably the kind of thing that you can only judge individually, but I just wonder what your experiences have been?
I have only just discovered your blog today and I’m looking forward to reading it. I can’t use the term solo poly for myself yet as I’m still trying to figure out if polyamory is right for me, but I am really looking forward to reading about your experiences!
Thank you, I’m glad this piece was helpful for you.
I can’t really offer advice on your situation. I will say that more than a year down the road from this post, I am on friendly but distant terms with my partner in the less involved relationship described in this post, and not at all in touch with the more involved one.
I am sad to not be in touch with the more involved one, but when we were trying to keep in touch, it just stressed us both out, Because he felt resolved, more distant, and had already moved on substantially. I still desired some resolution, and I wasn’t gonna get that from him. Now I have giving myself resolution about that relationship. But I no longer feel the inclination to reach out to him. If he were to reach out to me, I would probably see him just to see how he’s doing.
You need to do what’s right for you, I really can’t offer any advice on your situation.
Wow, you’re quite the writer. I found my jaw dropping at your ability to turn a phrase while making what you’re saying more clear, not less.
Anyway I have a feeling that your love language (I’m pretty sure you’ve read the Five Love Languages, yes) is quality time. It sounds like what these guys had in common is they didn’t prioritize quality time. Did you ever make it clear how important it is to you?
I made a mistake with an ex where I didn’t prioritize quality time. I actually treasure it now, but it’s too late.
I became poly a few years after struggling to get out of a codependent and abusive relationship. All the work I did to fight my relationship addictions drew me to embrace a more liberating form of love . But when life gets rough, my self esteem gets affected and my fear to be dependant of someone else’s affection becomes very strong. I sometimes feel that poly men expect strong independent women but It’s hard to deny who I am and once was. It’s hard to be honest about those demons I still have to fight and it’s also makes it incredibly hard to draw the line you are describing. Telling your independent partner that you need some sort of daily communication and reassurance sounds like I’m being overly attached and it becomes so easy for them to use my past as an excuse not to take that need seriously. It makes me feel guilty and lonely. I love reading this post because you are as independent as it gets in the poly community and you still feel the need for that constant connection and are willing to break up a relationship when that need is not met. It’s empowering to me. As a solo poly , how often do you find other poly folks see solo poly people as possible “low maintenance” love? I am struggling to find a balance.
Sorry for the delayed response.
I’ve put off responding to this because it has touched a nerve in me, and I’ve needed to consider it.
IMHO, the bottom line is that this is not a solo poly thing, or even a poly thing. Rather, it reflects the generally abysmal state of most people’s skills for consciously nurturing and navigating relationships. People with low skill levels tend to see anything that exceeds their abilities as unreasonably difficult, complex, or “high maintenance.”
My friends who are poly and in/seeking a nesting relationship complain of this. My single mono friends complain of it. It’s endemic to dating and relationships.
When you choose to approach relationships in a conscious, collaborative, actively engaged and empowered manner, an inevitable side effect of this is that most people will not be willing or able to join you on that path. This shrinks your dating pool, regardless of the type of relationships you prefer.
That sucks. It’s not fair. And it’s part of the landscape. I don’t have a good solution for it. But that’s my answer, for now. I wish I could be more encouraging.