This is the ninth in a series of entries about the little parts of polyamory, from individual perspectives.
Some years ago I read an idea somewhere that’s since been stuck in my brain. The article is long lost, but the idea the author posed was that relationships more or less cease maturing when they’re a few months old. The individuals involved may grow and change, but the dynamics of the relationship are essentially fixed: if you were twenty when you fell in love with your long-term partner (as I was with Caroline), you will always be more or less your twenty year old self within that particular relationship.
I find this idea fascinating, and can think of all sorts of relationships to which it can apply (ahem, sibling dynamics). And I would say that for the first eight years Caroline and I were together, this was more or less true of our relationship. Not that we didn’t grow, of course – we’ve always been the types to question the status quo and challenge ourselves to improve. But in some indefinable way, when it was just the two of us, we reverted to norms established in the infancy of our relationship. The ways we talked to each other, the roles we took on, and our expectations of each other just never deviated from our established norm.
But when we opened our relationship, we inadvertently began a process of breaking that mold. We expected that becoming poly would force us to challenge ourselves and force us to grow as individuals, and Caroline even went to a workshop where the presenter described how polyamory forces us to take a hard look in the mirror, face our shortcomings and insecurities (since we can’t hide behind a single long-term partner who’s used to working around them), and become stronger. But I don’t think we expected it to change our dynamic, too.
I talked to a therapist once who described relationships as entities. She said that when she had a couple in therapy, she viewed it as a room with three individuals in it: two people, who of course are involved, but the third – her real client – was the relationship between them. I love this idea. How many of us have been in a relationship where both people wanted to change some aspect of it, but even working together we couldn’t quite manage it? We have some influence over our relationships of course, but I suspect it’s not as much as we like to think.
Which is what makes our relationship dynamic so fascinating to me. Being with and falling in love with other, new people has allowed both me and Caroline to not just learn more about ourselves, but also to learn more about ourselves in the context of our relationship. And as a result, without any conscious effort on our part, our relationship has evolved, too.
I should also say that this evolution has been an incredible gift. It’s one we never saw coming, but it’s proved to be one of the best benefits of polyamory. How many of us look back at something we did when we were younger and say, “I’d love to do that over again with the knowledge I have today?” In a sense, that’s what we’re doing. We’ve gone from a marriage of college kids to a marriage of adults. And as we continue to grow, I suspect and hope that our relationship will too. And, just as importantly, so will all of our other relationships along with it.
I don’t think it’s profound to write about how polyamory has helped me grow and mature as a person. Of course I have overcome huge insecurities, and of course I approach relationships from a different perspective, and of course I’ve gotten much, much better at being a good partner. But I love the idea that our relationships can grow and mature along with us. I think that’s rare. And I think it’s an incredible gift.