I’ve been through a lot of relationships with people that I have stayed friends with over the years. I’ve seen their next spouses and sometimes their next several. There were sometimes traits that the next new thing and I shared. Sometimes an ex would have a particular thing for red heads or sassy women or people who followed British comedy or whatever, but most of the time the next person or even the next several were vastly different people in vastly different positions in their lives. More often than not they met some need for the person that I did not. Often they were discovered down the road to not meet some need I had met, and dumping and dating again would ensue.
Some of these people, either because they had fixated on one relationship in their lives, or because they had needs that didn’t tend to frequently be met in the same person, would come to practice what I call serial monogamy because nothing would ever be close enough to what they wanted or needed to amount to more than window shopping. Some were so addicted to the DisneyChemicalsTM that they just kept dumping people because they had to have the elation of something new and didn’t know what to do with it once the photo brochure of love stage wore off. Often the needs just conflicted in terms of human nature and they would struggle forever to get their top two met in the same person.
Once I acknowledged that I was poly and started exploring what that meant instead of just having a lot of superficial fuck buddies at the same time with bouts of a serious relationship here or there, I discovered that the people I found myself attracted to came with different qualifications for attractive. One might have a stellar sense of humor. One might fulfill my need to make me feel safe in their presence. One was great at what I wanted to pursue in bed. One had the sort of goofy ass hole personality that I am always attracted to. They were all vastly different people and I didn’t tend to draw two who met the same need into my life at the same time unless it was a coincidental overlap that wasn’t the primary reason it was worth having both in my life.
I didn’t need to rank them at all in those early days because there were not stated commitments of any sort. People ebbed and flowed with my life and the amount that they overlapped with my list of needs. There were certain things that had to be managed to be polite, but for the most part it took care of itself. But each was special to me in some way. Each interaction holds a fond distinct place in what made me who I am.
What you are with each person you interact with changes by virtue of a different person at the other end of the interaction. Each person is a mirror of a sort. Not your normal, run of the mill bathroom mirror. No, life has made each of us part of a giant fun house of mirrors. Some make you feel taller, some make you feel prettier. Some reflect what you wish you could see and some reflect what you’re afraid other people might see.
Each mirror reflects only a portion of you. Sometimes it is a distorted portion or a little utilized one. No two reflections will ever be exactly the same because this is the fun house of all fun houses, designed by a master. Not even the Sistine Chapel can compare in complexity and grandeur. The master is a chaotic combination of nature and nurture, any deities that may or may not exists, faith, fears, chemistry and much more. For that reason, each person you interact with is looking for the unique part of themselves that you reflect and interact with. No one else in their lives will ever provide exactly that reflection for them. There may be others that also reflect that left elbow well. There may be those that share their loves of Vietnamese food. But overall, no two reflections will be completely the same.
In monogamous relationships, I found reflections that met more of my needs or a slightly higher ranking set, and I broke off the relationship that met less needs overall or met needs that were slightly less critical to me than those that someone else could meet. In general I believed that I couldn’t have access to all those reflections and had to find one single favorite.
Many people seem to fall into this state with monogamous relationships, where the pressure to be sure that this one is really the best possible reflection and will remain the best possible reflection as we grow and change is so overwhelming that we spend forever afraid to commit to any one thing and feeling that surely there is something closer to what we need just around the next big corner in our lives. I was afraid to cut off parts of myself or relegate the important ones to things that friends would have to meet, fearing the closeness that would develop with those friends because the needs held too much energy and were too strong to be trusted to not lead to dangerous love affairs with those who met other important things to me.
I feel like many monogamous people I have watched fall into a similar quagmire, often ending up on a road of affairs and pain to everyone involved because they couldn’t figure out how else to manage their needs. In poly I found a way to cherish a bigger set of the aspects I need to see reflected in the mirrors around me. I found a way to make sure that the big ones, the powerful needs, those with energy and life of their own could all find a safe place to rest with people I was allowed to love and cherish at the same time and without hurting one to fulfill the other.
It has always been my belief that most people do not continue looking to have a need met once it is met. Once a person finds a reflection they need, that tonal resonance, they are no longer on a quest for that particular thing. By that very statement, most people are not going to try to accumulate spouses as Barbie doll carbon copies of each other in different swimwear. They are looking for people who reflect other aspects of themselves, fulfill other needs.
Therefore each person you or your spouse is involved with is generally going to meet a different and largely unique set of needs. There may be some areas that overlap out of coincidence, but you are special because they would not have needed you unless they still had some unmet need with whomever they are already with. Occasionally they find that someone can meet most of the needs I fulfill in them and a large set I do not, and because of time available in their lives, they must choose between us. In those rare cases, if I really love the person, I cannot hate them for choosing to be happy and fulfill their needs.
Every relationship, parental, spousal, or friendship has its own patterns, rituals, memories, in jokes, magic moments, disagreements, fights, learning curves, and music. Each and every one of those makes that bond special, because most people don't learn a lesson twice. They don't remember that which is the same over many years. They remember that which made you stand out from the crowd, your own special collection of connections.
If relationships are even remotely really relationships, this will hold true no matter who you are. In some cases you can find people who have fixated on duplicating something they lost in the past or are so afraid of letting anyone in that it is not possible to build memories with that person, but those relationships never last long. No one can be a duplicate of that experience. No one can take away your fears but you. Unless we are each seen for who we are as individuals, there is no chance of creating new magic in shared lives. Unless we overcome our own fears of ourselves enough to let other people in, we cannot know the joy of another’s presence, and we cannot create a past with them.
These things are important to remember when you are unsure of how you can feel special and still call yourself poly. You are not lessened by others acknowledging honestly that they do have other needs as well. You are cherished all the more for your willingness to be secure enough in yourself to allow those people to be honest about themselves and their needs, and for trusting them to always treat you with individual respect no matter what the outcome in the end.