Regardless of whether you’re the one that wanted or needed things to change in a relationship, or the person who is being (or at least feeling like they’re being) dumped, it sucks when things end. There’s a mourning process for everyone involved over what you thought the relationship was going to be, even when you know that the changes being made are in everyone’s best interest.
Sometimes love can get in the way of ending or transitioning a relationship that isn’t serving the people in it. Since our society holds love for others on high as the most sacred emotion, perfect, and far more valuable than any other emotion, it can cloud our judgment when it’s present. How many times have you seen someone in a terrible, dysfunctional relationship that they know is bad for them, yet their refrain when questioned is, ‘But I love them…’?
Love is purported to be a fixer of all things, a salve that can soothe the worst circumstances and pain. I call bullshit. It’s not that I’m anti-love. I’m a big fan of love. I’m in love with a couple people and it’s a wonderful (yet complicated) emotion. I feel much joy in professing that love, and even more when my loves return it to me. I have deep love for my friends and family and feel free to express it to them. Yet, love isn’t as simple as the romcoms and love songs would have us believe.
I have been guilty of hanging onto things for far too long that weren’t good for me or the other person because I loved them. We weren’t in the same place mentally and emotionally and I didn’t have it in me to be there for them with my whole heart and person. I was super-guarded and only let small pieces of myself out, yet I didn’t want to hurt them by ending things. With that pesky love emotion hanging around again, I convinced myself that if I could fix enough pieces of myself, I could be all the things that would make me a good partner to them. I owed them that. Because love.
Even more complicated are non-monogamous relationships where there are multiple people involved. I recently stepped up to end the romantic and sexual pieces of a relationship I’ve had with someone who is also deeply involved with my partner Flick. I love both of the people in this situation and knew that ending or changing things with one partner was going to hurt the other as well. With twice as much love involved, I’d spent over a year telling myself that I needed to try twice as hard to make it work for all of us.
*Narrator’s voiceover* It wasn’t working for any of them.
I was stuck in the pattern of feeling like a monster/robot/ice queen, which spurred a certain amount of resentment and increased avoidance toward the person I felt I should be able to give myself to. And the guilt I felt for having those feelings funneled into the angst and avoidance which fuelled the cycle in an ongoing process. Then we’d all have a really wonderful time together and I’d chide myself: See, you don’t need to be such an ice queen. It’s all good. But then we’d have some really awkward time and ice queen mode would be activated hard and the cycle would begin again.
It was only when I was able to shake off enough of the self-hatred and shame for being who I am that I saw that the situation was unsustainable as it was. Not wanting to hurt my people had me twisting myself into knots. Love is sacrifice, after all. A million memes tell us so. But love for myself was what allowed me to decide to change the situation.
Relationships in polyamory and other non-monogamy styles don’t always end as abruptly or conclusively as monogamous couplings do. The desire to stick the dismount and remain some kind of friends and/or metamours can change breakups into transitions that can work for everyone involved. That said, it doesn’t mean it’s easy or that there isn’t often a time requirement to get over hurt feelings and grieving the lost potential future.
People in my triad were hurt by my decision and there will need to be a time of healing and mourning the loss of what could have been, but there was a sense of relief as well. For each of us. We’d all been feeling the ever-looming discord and putting it to rest freed us all to look at what kind of relationship we could build without it. I can be a better support to her as her metamour and friend than I could as her girlfriend.
We’re constantly exposed to contradictory messages about how we’re supposed to love and accept ourselves, but also never to put that above the noble, self-sacrificing love for others. Run yourself a bath, but run yourself into the ground for your family. To shake off the notion of always putting others’ feelings first feels exceptionally selfish, yet it is really the only way we can actually function in a sustainable way.
I can love her in a way that works for me, for us, once I tossed out the idea of what love should be.