My boyfriend has this awesome Bat-thulu T-shirt. It’s a black shirt with the Batman logo in yellow morphing into Cthulu tentacles. This shirt is pretty cool. It’s part of what signaled his awesomeness to me as his potential partner. I think he owns, like, three of them. It’s his signature shirt. He wears it everywhere.
One day, when we had been dating only briefly, he wore it to a party. As the host of the party approached, we both gasped. Our host was wearing the exact same shirt! Not only that, our host shared similar coloring and build with my boyfriend. With mock-horror, my boyfriend breathed “My shirt!” With accompanying mock-distress, I clutched his shoulder and asked “Do… Do I have to go with him now?” My boyfriend’s face fell. And for a split second, he actually looked a little panic-stricken. Determined to carry the joke, I gave a pained little squeak, dropped by chin to my chest and went to take my alotted place at our host’s elbow. Ever-valiant, however, my boyfriend roared a theatric “Nooooooooo!” and snatched me back. Everyone laughed. All was merry. Mostly.
Because it’s silly, right? Just because someone else has the same or perhaps superior cool things as your partner, it doesn’t mean they have now negated your relationship and you have to go with them now.
But this type of distress is not uncommon. Despite living in a world of nine billion people, we often feel at the mercy of attachments that crop us between ourselves and others. And also at the mercy of a particular set of narratives we tell ourselves about what that means to our selection and cultivation of other attachments. Basically, if somebody’s better than our mates, does that mean we chose poorly?
In defense of the inevitable statistical awesomeness bell-curved through nine billion people and in defense of the many benefits of long-term and deliberately cultivated attachments, let me give that a resounding NO!
Much of our cultural narratives and dating lives are based upon selection. We’re supposed to select the most optimal from the options at our disposal. And presumably, if we do a good job selecting, we’ll be rewarded with the unbroken bliss of the intimate company of our soul-mates. And nothing need ever trouble us again. Right?
Many poly folk have realized, at least intellectually, that this isn’t true. So why is it when I ask how people deal with comparisons and superiorities between partners, I seem to get a fairly heaping helping of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Some of these comfortable policies are simply the conveniences of circumstance. Busy people have little enough time to hang around their partners’ partners while they’re being partnery with them. So they don’t really NEED to cope with all the attendant insecurities that may come with that. And who wastes time cultivating unnecessary skills? We also really aren’t into rocking our partner’s boat for their own betterment. What kind of sadist deliberately tells a partner than someone else does it better than them, particularly anything that is intimately connected to their identity or self-esteem?
But who are we kidding, special snowflakes? Somebody out there in the wide world does everything single thing you do better than you. Somebody out there, statistically speaking, could make your partner way happier than you. So?
No wait, seriously. So… why in hell are they with you, anyway? Surely, they must know this horrible truth, right? Why are they with you? Why aren’t they out there hunting someone better? Are we all just settling? Are we all just waiting around for the better thing to come by and break our relationships apart? Is that all we’re worth?
And the reality that none of our monogamist, Disney fairy-tale, romantic comedy soul-mate narratives seem to grasp is that cultivated relationships acquire value. You get to know someone, you share things, you build a history, you make a life. And that’s worth something. Let’s not shy away from the fact that we develop roles in relationships. We become perhaps better suited to our partnerships over time. And if stuff’s working well, the person we become is someone that we like. I’m the person who answers facebook invites. My partner becomes the person who backs up the hard drive. I tone down my criticism, he says what he needs. We make each other. We are bonded and continue to bond. I don’t believe relationships are wholly at the mercy of the sunk cost fallacy. (although that’s totally a thing) because it does indeed appreciate.
So when a sweet young thing walks into my view who moves like cream on the dance floor, neither of us are worried that I have to go with him now (Y’know, other than to go dance). Because we share a knowledge of the worth of what we have. My sweet young dancer doesn’t shake that.
He just shakes that perfect little booty of his.