Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com
I have needs. Everyone does. I’m one of those lucky bastards who has bases covered on the bottom tiers of the old Maslow’s hierarchy, and I’m doing half-decently at some of the other bits and bobs. But this post isn’t directly about my mental and physical health, or my fragile employment situation or any of that shit, because this is about my relationships.
My needs are fairly problem-focused because I have a lot of problems in my life. So when I talk about getting my needs met, a lot of the time that means exactly the same as solving problems that I’m facing. Sometimes this might be something material: getting someone to help me hang curtains, or move furniture, or cook. A lot of the time, though, these needs are far more abstract: someone to cheer me on, someone to ask what’s wrong, someone to say nothing, just hug and briefly make the world feel like a less shitty place.
Poly communication–at least, of the kind promulgated by a lot of the guides to poly–is somewhat individualistic. When we need something, the model goes like this: we work out what we want, we sit down with our partners, we say “I need X”, and then we have a conversation about it and hopefully everyone goes away happy and fulfilled and that need is incorporated into the relationships.
The thing is, that doesn’t work for me. It rests on a number of things that can’t necessarily work it out for me. Firstly, I am fairly inarticulate, particularly when I’m distressed. When something’s wrong, I’m not always capable of finding the words, any words. So I’ll pretend I’m perfectly OK with varying degrees of success, or do an awkward thing where I cry everywhere which I often think is uncomfortable for everyone, except actually those who I love and trust are pretty cool with that.
Also, my needs are fairly fluid and moment-to-moment. The people who write the poly manuals and run the workshops tend to be fairly privileged. They are often economically stable and have access to decent treatment for the problems they face. So problems take the form of “I’d like to see more of you.” “Sometimes I feel like your new relationship with so-and-so is eclipsing ours and I need to feel like I still matter to you.” And so on. These are important issues, which matter for sustaining relationships, but they’re not the sort of things I need.
Finally, this mode of communication sometimes doesn’t sit well with me. In the past, I’ve had relationships with people who are very articulate and capable of doing the old “I need XYZ”. And it kind of backs me into a corner. Because I’m not so good at saying “I can’t do that”, I end up being cornered into doing things I don’t want to do, or I cannot. It all sounds reasonable to me, the way it’s put, and I want to do it. I acquiesce, and when I inevitably completely fail at managing to do what I agreed to, they are cross with me for agreeing in the first place, and I should have said something earlier.
I need people who can be constant sources of support in ways that I cannot articulate or explain. I need people who can proactively check in occasionally. I need people who don’t treat me like I’m made of glass, but can have whole conversations that to an outside observer would sound like a banal exchange between strangers, when it is in fact vital me-maintenance. I don’t have the energy to have long conversations about every little thing that crops up that I might need to deal with. I just need things moment-by-moment. The same is true for those I love and trust. We’re crawling in the dark, and we found each other.
One day, perhaps, when my life is sorted, I might find myself in a position to be able to have the long conversations about the relationship detail as my needs shift up the pyramid. For now, I do what I can, and the love I have enhances my life.