How Watching My Partner Date Other People Increased My Self-Worth
When I started sleeping with Dylan, a gorgeous 24-year-old artist who worked at the local café, I thought it would be a fun, casual rebound fling. I’d just gotten out of a tumultuous, jealousy-ridden relationship with a guy who believed monogamy meant never speaking to anyone I had ever kissed. I was pretty down on the whole idea of monogamy, and being the fiery risk-taker that I am, my reaction was to go as far in the opposite direction as possible. I told Dylan I wanted to continue dating other people, and he was welcome to do the same. Even though he was hesitant, we gave it a try.
Six months into our hot fling, he experienced a typical twentysomething in NYC financial catastrophe, and moved in with me. Things were getting serious, in spite of all my best efforts. And I was falling in love.
I fall in love all the time, though. I identify as polyamorous, which means I can (and do) find myself in love with more than one person at a time. Some people argue that being polyamorous is an orientation, like being queer. My experience supports that idea. I have a guy back home who I’ve been madly in love with for years, thanks to the intoxicating combination of intensely hot sex, and the space and time we have between visits. No matter how deep I go with a new partner, no one has ever wiped him from my heart.
I identify as polyamorous, which means I can find myself in love with more than one person at a time.
And I have the best crushes. I'm absolutely obsessed with several charismatic artist types who I can’t look at without actually quivering. Some of these affairs turn into love and stick around for years; some are really intense and last only last a few weeks. But all of them are important to me. I enjoy these connections immensely; they make me feel sexy, vibrant, and excited to be alive. After spending a year-and-a-half with the cut-off-all-your-exes type, I never wanted to give up that part of myself again.
I wanted to try out a polyamorous lifestyle with Dylan to see if it worked for me. It was a way to avoid losing myself in this relationship, like I had in all my other ones. For most of my life, I believed everything our culture teaches us about romantic love: that we are looking for our other half or someone to complete us, and that this was the key to happiness. Whenever I would find someone who wanted to be with me, I’d devote all my energy to him. I would subvert my own interests in favour of his. I’ve changed my hair and wardrobe, stopped talking to ex-lovers, switched my career focus — hell, I used to customise my lady bits to suit my partner’s preferences. You name it, I did it — all in the name of love.
I was so done with that life; I was ready to make my own rules. I wanted my beautiful, cuddly boyfriend who loved me for who I was, and I wanted fun, thrilling, romantic dates and sex with new people. And I was never going to modify myself for a relationship again.
I was set on living my life in a way that would serve my own happiness, but I also wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt anyone in the process. And even though I was finally focusing on my own needs, Dylan was struggling with the whole open relationship thing. Soon after moving into my apartment, he told me he couldn’t do it anymore. It hurt him to think of me with other people, he said, because he was afraid he’d lose me to some guy with bigger muscles or more money than him. My love for Dylan has always been tender — he’s like family to me — and I would never intentionally hurt him. Out of respect for his feelings, I agreed to be monogamous temporarily, but I asked him to think through why he was so scared to lose me when we were so solid. I wanted us to reopen the conversation once he’d had a chance to work through his issues.
Eventually, he was ready to give it a shot. After some negotiation, we decided we would always be honest and forthcoming with each other, and we would practice safe sex. No veto power, no secrets, no rules about emotional attachment. Just basic consideration, respect, and communication.
Here’s where the trouble started.
He started dating these young women who were barely out of college — in some cases, still in college — and who weighed less than one of my muscular thighs. I could’ve eaten some of these girls and still been hungry. Petite, ultrathin, and young — up to 10 years younger than my fully adult, curve-tastic ass.
What. The. Fuck.
I didn’t know how to deal with it. I started getting crazy jealous, even though I was the one who’d encouraged him to start seeing other people. I would often date people who were nothing like Dylan, purely because they provided a nice change of pace, but I couldn’t connect that perhaps he was attracted to these perky young things for exactly the same reason. Just because they were different from me.
I started getting crazy jealous, even though I was the one who'd encouraged him to start seeing other people.
We got into fights. He lied to me about where he was once because he knew I’d freak out. I cried a lot. There was some inappropriate yelling, and a distinct lack of self-awareness on my part.
It took me a minute, but I realised that I was taking stuff out on him that had nothing to do with him. And nothing to do with the younger, thinner women he liked. My jealousy, my insecurities, my fears — those were mine. I had to look at myself to fix the problem.
And I did. I looked at myself hard. I felt massively insecure about two things: my age and my size. I was five years older than Dylan, and it was fine when we were 24 and 29, but the day we became 25 and 30, I felt witheringly old. Also, I was chubby until the age of 26. I still carried the feeling that I’d never be small enough, and the belief that being small enough meant being lovable. Keeping our relationship open had exposed my deepest insecurities in a way I could no longer ignore.
When I shined the light of logic on my damaging self-beliefs — “I have to be thin to be loved” and “Being in your '30s equals being close to death and therefore irrelevant” — they didn’t do so well. These beliefs had nothing to do with the badass bitch I knew myself to be. They didn’t align with my core values, and I would never subject another woman to those platitudes. If a friend told me she felt that way, I’d go nuts trying to get her to kick these bullshit ideas to the curb, and open her eyes to her own fabulousness.
So I did that for myself. I talked myself down from the ledge of crazy girl insecurity, and started working on changing these nasty, deeply held beliefs I didn’t know I still had.
A magical thing happened then. Those girls that used to send me screaming down the road to crazytown? I started seeing them for what they were: women, like me, on their own journeys. And Dylan, who so often looked to me for guidance because of those extra years I’d logged, liked spending time with them because it gave him the chance to be the wiser, older one for a change. I wanted him to feel good about himself in that way. I wanted him to feel like he had wisdom to offer. Those girls helped him do that. They increased his self-esteem, all the while posing no real threat to our relationship.
I also realised something else, and this is important. If my deepest fears came to life, and Dylan did leave me for a stick-thin 20-year-old, could I really say that I still wanted to be with him? Think about it. We all want to be with someone who wants to be with us. If the person you’re with leaves you for someone else, the version of them that wants to be with you no longer exists. This remains true whether your relationship is monogamous or not, so fearing that you’ll lose your partner to someone else really isn’t rational or constructive.
Mainstream culture doesn’t have the nicest view of people in polyamorous relationships. We’re called greedy, shallow, incapable of long-term commitment or deep, abiding love. Perhaps that’s true for some, but for me, polyamory was about allowing myself the great joy of experiencing all the beautiful variations of romantic love. Committed relationships can be soulful and life-affirming, but so can intense bursts of passion with gorgeous strangers and long-distance love affairs. The biggest obstacle in my relationship with Dylan came down to the same old garden-variety insecurities that everyone has, and Dylan and I both found ways to work through them on our own.
I chose to stop seeing other women as threats, and to accept that if I lost my partner to someone else, I was probably better off — my life would go on, and I would be okay. I chose to take responsibility for my jealousy, to own my fears, and battle them until they no longer had such a devastating effect on my self-worth. As silly as it sounds, I was finally able to understand, in a deep, visceral way, that I have a lot more to offer than my youth or small skirt size.