Poly Panic Prevention Practices
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert - Dune
Here you are. You're married or have a long time partner that you love dearly and have decided that you want to spice things up or just be free to express yourselves. Whatever the reason, you have chosen to take this path together. You've talked it out with your partner, you are ready to open up and take the plunge. You've got your OKCupid account fired up, old partners have been reconnected with, and a couple of interests have popped up on your horizon that really appeal to you. At this point, you are reveling in the new openness that your current relationship has to offer and it is almost like discovering someone new living in the body of someone you've always loved. You've got interested potentials lined up and feel like a million dollars and are feeling invulnerable behind this shield of self-esteem. And then they step out the door for that first date and your chest suddenly tightens and it feels like there is a Tesla coil behind your solar plexus. Maybe that feeling sets in when they talk about or to other people. It is a sense of desperation that seems to filter through your bones and out your fingertips and infects everything you touch and makes everything slip slightly out of focus.
I have heard it called “poly panic” but I find that that term understates the issue. You have been trained your entire life that there is just one awesome person out there for you and that if they cheat on you, your world will implode and there will be nothing left in their heart for you. That is the reality of things. You have been trained your entire life that your goals, your self worth, are all tied up into this one being who, by the mere act of being “unfaithful,” somehow will destroy you and everything you know. Seriously, it is amazing that you got to the point where you mustered up the courage to even broach the subject of polyamory, much less dig up a good pic of yourself from college and put it up on Plenty Of Fish.
There is no shame in feeling this fear. We’re geared from birth to think in apocalyptic terms when it comes to relationships. We are told from an early age that affairs and sex with people outside the pair bond are the ultimate betrayal and that your family would be destroyed if it were to ever happen. Being that you've already made the choice to be poly, you know that these things are not the case. You know it in your head, but it seems that the Tesla coil in the chest has not received the memo yet. A part of you and a part of your body still feels this fear.
Controlling these emotions is easiest with taking a multi-faceted approach. A mix and blend of changes of perspective, education, self affirmation, getting comfort and support, and just plain-old distraction.
“The mind is smart, but the body is stupid” - My counselor. He told me this when explaining to me why I was gaining weight and feeling like my veins were going to burst from my skin. It was because my body was stressed out from work and having to be hyper-aware all the time. Your body reacts and does things based on input from your brain and sometimes it needs to be told that there were no dangers out there to be worried about. Your body does the same thing with most every emotion and sometimes it takes more than just a few happy thoughts to set your body at ease. The sensations in your bones and chest are real sensations and are signals to your brain that your body has made the appropriate preparations for whatever is to come. Understanding this is critical to learning to overcome some of the stronger emotional responses.
First and foremost you need to be open about your feelings to your partner. Most people say that the cornerstone of poly is communication, but from time to time I find myself not being able to share my feelings for reasons that are far less detrimental than actually sharing them. It is not always easy and it is not always easy to be on the receiving end of them but, like with all new skills, you get better with practice. You need to be able to ask for reassurance and they, ideally, will be able to understand that a request for reassurance does not equal a veto or even weakness. Weakness would be fear of asking for help. Being able to reach out for help is a strength.
Remember that your partner is your friend and not your property. I actually befriended a girl who once was a dating prospect but I didn't really click with that way but got along with otherwise. We decided to keep in touch to compare notes about dating and sex. It was a fresh perspective neither of us had had before and we have a great deal of fun learning about the differences in how men and women approach dating. After a while I found myself genuinely happy for her when she met someone she liked and I asked myself why I could not feel the same way for my partner. It was because I was still viewing my partner as a possession and not as another free being.
Play mind games with yourself. I did some mental exercises early on when we first started talking about poly. I thought about her with other people, with and without me, and noted how my levels of jealousy and fear went up and down with the various scenarios. I noticed that the scenarios that involved her and I with someone else were less traumatizing than her with someone else and me alone, but the least traumatizing ones were ones involving me with a partner of my choosing. I realized that it really was not fear of losing her that I felt, but fear of being alone or of abandonment. This is where asking for reassurance comes in handy. A hug or kiss, a caress, sets the body at ease, a body who was set to fear mode by the thought of loss. It really does need to have her skin pressed against it to be sure that she is real and that she intends to return.
Another valuable lesson I learned from these mental exercises was that I could be bribed and/or distracted. By “bribed” I mean that I could treat myself to a date or time with another person or other enjoyable activity. Or my partner could do something extra special for me that also gives me physical reassurance. By “distracted” I mean I could use this alone to do something constructive, like Xbox games, and if those things are not engaging enough to keep my mind off her date, I can easily and quickly communicate with someone who can.
When my partner went on her first coffee date I made things miserable for myself. I knew where it was and when it would be and she texted me when she got there etc., but I was locked in my office at work and didn't do anything but fret the whole time until I made myself sick. I thought I could just handle it on my own and had told myself it was no big deal. It sucked. I realized that I made the time bad for myself, and since I was at work then, I wasn’t going to be seeing her during that time anyways.
For her second date, I decided to take what I learned and put it into practice. I made sure to get a nice hug from my partner before I left for work. I made a coffee date for myself that day. Made sure to keep it light and casual and enjoyed myself. I sent out a couple texts to some friends for some basic chitchat. I brushed up the OKCupid profile a little bit and sent out a few messages and made contact with a new and interesting person. Basically I spent the day immersed in either work or conversation while at the same time reassuring myself that my partner will still love me when I see her again and that I am a loveable person as evidenced by the many people who talked to me that day. I had a pretty good day that day. After that, I realized that I can make all my days good if I want to. It is an empowering sensation.
This is a new life for us. Hand in hand we are going forward with this with a greater sense of trust in each other than we have ever had. And even more than that, we can trust ourselves.
About the Author
MikeW is an independant contractor who specializes in retail development and design. By day he helps small businesses achieve their financial goals through streamlining processes and developing a market identity. By night he is a father of 4 and voluntaryism advocate. He currently resides with his partner and co-parent in south-central Alaska but will soon be relocating to the East Coast. His views on polyamory are unconventional, believing that it is the natural state of humans and that monogamy has been detrimental to society and to the survival of humans as a species.
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- Creating A Line Family: What Bob Heinlein Didn't Tell You
- More than Two
- My Poly Place (social network)
- Online Dating Guide
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- Polyamory Weekly Podcast
- Polyamory in the News
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- Practical Polyamory
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