A born loner, bookworm, and nerd, I looked up “sex” at the library when I was nine years old rather than asked my peers about it. In the ensuing pre-teen and teenage years, I encountered all kinds of sex and love related things online (they were textual rather than visual, since I was only allowed to use our crappy dial-up for an hour a day and I feared getting caught with images or video). One of those things was the concept of non-monogamous relationships.
And so, before I had even had my first kiss, I was well-read and -versed on poly terms, concepts, and theory. There was one thing that all the poly websites, books, and podcasts didn’t quite prepare me for: how much more devastating a poly break-up can be to the dumpee’s self-esteem.
I’m one of those obnoxious people who feels like they were born for non-monogamy. Back when I was a Muslim, I had no objection to the idea of my husband marrying another woman as long as I had some say in who he married and he treated both of us equally. This was anomalous in my family and community, where women openly expressed violent and vengeful disdain at the very idea of their husbands marrying someone else. In my head, polygamy was going to be a boon to my outgoing self: the other wife would ideally be more of a homebody and my husband and I could support her together. We would be the perfect three together.
An Islamic marriage ended up not being the path for me. After I left Islam but before I started actively dating, the theoretical knowledge I had regarding polyamory became more real to me thanks to online chats with a new friend whose relationship was non-monogamous. Quite by chance, around the same time, I stumbled across what I consider to be the best resource on polyamory. Due to deeply-ingrained insecurities about my sexual and romantic appeal, however, I felt more certain that I wouldn’t be able to find someone willing to have an unconventional relationship with me than I felt certain the polyamory was the way for me.
Accordingly, I tried my darndest to be monogamous with a lovely man for a year and a half before I failed at it. Afterwards, I dated someone who was unsure as to his feelings about non-monogamy and yo-yoed us from open to closed and back and forth again more times than I can count. Thankfully, whiplash is no longer my way of life, and I’ve found partners who suit my relationship style.
Having the same approach to relationships isn’t always enough to prevent one person from no longer wanting the relationship. I am far and away more a get-dumped than a dumping type. That alone means that my romantic self-esteem, which was never so strong even before I started dating, is still a rather fragile thing. Polyamory makes it worse in that the usual rationalizations for getting dumped don’t work when you were poly with the person and they remain poly after the break-up.
“They left me so they could date someone prettier/smarter/easier/better than me”? No, they didn’t have you dump you to do that.
“They left me because they couldn’t see a long-term future with me by their side”? No, you were never going to be the only person at their side and you were both happy with that.
“They left me to explore their submissive/dominant/gay/straight side?” No, you would have encouraged such exploration, if anything.
No, what it comes down to is you. When you’re dating someone who is free to date others, the reason you have for them dumping you, the reason behind all break-ups, stands stark and free of all those cozy rationalizations: They don’t want to be with you anymore.
Why would I possibly want to put my weak sense of self-worth in such a situation?
You’d think that a relationship that is both open and polyamorous would make for a pretty good life when the person is well-suited to it, and you would be right. Despite the added pain of more frequent and less-rationalization-filled break-ups, I’m quite happy with the non-platonic side of my life and can see myself being happy with the life I’ve made for a good long while.
A large part of being happy is having adequate and reliable emotional support. One of the greatest benefits of being poly, for me, has been the ability to maintain non-platonic and flirtatious connections with many people. Many of my experiences run contrary to the “ruining friendships” narrative; I’ve had many friendships cemented via non-platonic interaction of various kinds. Between platonic friends, non-platonic friends, and my partner, I am well-supported.
And all of that — all of them — are not worth trading in for the hope that future break-ups are more open to rationalization. In the end, even monogamous break-ups boil down to the fact that one or more parties felt that the relationship ought to end. Rationalizations make for soothing stop-gaps in the post-dumped healing process, but they don’t actually solve anything. Love and support, internal as well as external, do.