Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month seven bloggers - ALBJ, Delightfully Queer, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, Rarely Wears Lipstick, The Boy With The Inked Skin and myself - will write about their views on one of them. This month: Loss
It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Your loss, my gain. We often talk about love, loss and power in the same sentence, in the same love song. About the act of losing love in the same way as losing a game, through lack of skill or failure, or perhaps like losing something on the train, by accident or carelessness. A loss is a diminishing of our own power, of our own capability. Something that we had but no longer. Something to grieve over. Equally, loss can also be powerful, we can be set free by it. We lost our inhibitions, we had nothing to lose but our chains. We got rid of the unnecessary, the unwanted and the undesirable. More so, we can use loss to damage people. We can tell them to get lost, we can make them a loser. To put themselves so far away from where we are that they are the ones who have become untethered. We are the centre, the gravity well, the reality that they no longer have access to. We can lose, we can become lost, we can lose other people and we can make other lost. Loss has power.
There are all kinds of ways of viewing loss and that's the framework that I want to keep in mind for the rest of this piece. I've written on my own personal, major poly break-up a few years ago, and how it felt to lose a dominant, to be lost by my dominant and to know that he still had someone else, his primary partner, whilst I was left alone. Time has eased a lot of the hurt, but I still remember it very well. The rawness of it, the pain and the sense of extraordinary unfairness, abandonment and anxiety that I had done something wrong, that I had been deemed "less". A second choice. There was anger at how happy they must be compared to how unhappy I was (I have no idea whether this was true or not, but reality wasn't my strong suit at the time). I also couldn't help but make comparisons. I suppose it's similar to being left for someone else, except more complicated. I was in the position where I was encouraged to be, but never felt especially friendly towards The Photgrapher's partner, I can only imagine what it might be like if I had actually been friends with her. As well as losing my lover, I would have also lost a friend.
Breaking-up is rarely pretty or easy, but there's a particular challenge when relationships contain more than two people because they don't often break into neat, individual pieces. There will be someone left out, and that can cause additional hurt. Add in the weight of responsibility, obligation and service that can be part of a D/s established relationship, plus any sort of play dynamic such as pet and owner, slave and mistress and it becomes even more painful when these things are stripped away.
There is, as I have often mentioned, something of a clash between the needs of a poly relationship and the needs of a BDSM relationship. I'm sure there are some people for whom it works, but for me the all encompassing nature of dominance and submission can sit badly with having multiple partners. You cannot be a servant of two masters, it diminishes the power of both of them. It was a problem I faced with Mr Smith and sadly, we never came to a workable ongoing resolution. Equally as a dominant you cannot promise to protect and to support a submissive when you have another partner.
This clash has been the cause of most of my break-ups. And the tension between BDSM and poly has been the ongoing theme within this series I've tried to unpick. Words like "only", "best", "most precious" and "mine" become very difficult in a poly context. But they are words of power. And words of power are useful to perverts. We put people in places where they are ours, whole and entire. Yet these words are meaningless, or worse, become promises you cannot deliver when reality sets in, when it become obvious that they are not the only one, not the best. Lies you tell yourself and your partner that will come back to haunt you. There will, and there always are in poly relationships, time when someone has to come first. As a dominant, that is my submissive. If I have two submissives then I need to make a choice and that's where I have a problem.
My poly has its limits, but those limits protect me from situations that have hurt me in the past, so they are lessons well learnt. There are ways around it and they involve hierarchy, roles and planning. The format of "trainer" has worked well for me as a temporary dominant role. It allows me to care deeply and to be taken seriously, to be unique and powerful, but also to give the other person space to see others. The thing I did with them was the only time they did that. It was special to us.
You need careful, ongoing, thoughtful communication to make it work. If there's one word that could be written, stick of rock like, throughout our Poly Means Many posts, I suspect it would be the C word. There is no point having an image of what the relationship looks like unless you tell other people about it, and certainly communication breakdown is often cited as the place where poly relationships come unstuck. It makes sense, the more people involved, the more difficult good and open communication can be. Everyone has their own opinion, and desires, for what a relationship should be, and everyone is clear in their own minds. But perhaps not in others. The same goes for what happens afterwards.
And the aftermath is worth thinking about, perhaps even before you start the relationship if you can. A friend of mine has the wonderful attitude of enjoying relationships for what they are, and accepting that at some point they will end. I have a more fairytale outlook, and like the handsome prince I expect to capture my beloved, slay the dragon and be happy ever after. Loss doesn't come into it. So it's probably all the worse when it does.
There are things we can do to manage or mitigate loss. We can avoid situations which are likely to cause harm or trouble, which is a wise thing to do no matter what the context. The difficulty is in putting common sense before desire and knowing what works. Experience helps. But you neeed to make mistakes to get experienced. After a few years I now know much more about what I am capable of doing within a relationship and what I cannot do. I can also talk about these requirements without being embarrassed or trying to appear "better" or able to give more than I can. For example Ganymede and I have agreed that we will have periodic play partners but certainly for the foreseeable future we are unlikely to become a threesome or moresome with anyone else. There wouldn't be a lot of room for another person and to offer that without being able to deliver would be unfair. No matter how much I might like the idea of a cute "companion" for him so they could share the duties in serving me.
There's a balance to it all, and nothing exists in a vacuum. This is especially true of relationships in the BDSM and poly community. We are small groups of people with particular tastes and predilections. The chances of us knowing a former lover of a friend on the scene are high: people talk, people bitch and people gossip. Especially within close communities or friendship groups. Word gets around. Everyone knows who is connected to who and often how and why they broke up. Or at least has one person's perspective on it. And that can be difficult and upsetting for everyone, in what is already a difficult and upsetting situation. Short of putting each person in the original relationship, and their partners and their partners' partners in isolation for six months (which in some groups might mean putting everyone in a different city and turning off the internet) it's hard to avoid. The repercussions of one break-up can have a knock-on effect on a lot of things, especially where several people have a relationship link that goes beyond friendship and these things can get quite complicated over time as people fall in and out of relationships.
I still hold a strong connection and love for Mannequin and we've been through quite a few other partners in the time we have known each other. For a period of time she belonged to someone else. When she first started to date him, she was very much mine but over time it was clear she wanted to explore the nascent relationship with him. I wanted her to be happy and there were things he could give her I could not. I missed her, and I felt the loss keenly, as well as felt some sense of inadequacy (rightly or wrongly, these days I'm coming firmly down on wrongly). I wasn't angry at either of them. I was happy they were happy. But I was also sad, and I missed what she and I had.
My primary feeling was dominance and to me that's about control, protection and enabling your submissive to experience wonderful things. He didn't "take" her from me, we were all clear on that, I gave her to him. We had a series of very good conversations about it which enabled me to keep my control, and my protectiveness and the knowledge that she was and would experiencing amazing things and he would look after her in my place. But I still missed her. I had still lost a large part of what we had. Now that relationship with him is over and ended badly with the net result that I'm reasonably angry over the whole thing.
I also have a mirror to that original loss because her hurt, her loss is in some ways also my hurt and my loss. I feel empathy for her because of what I went through, but also because not only is she my friend, I still have the strong sense that she is mine. What I wanted for her did not happen and I am sorry I could not protect her from it, which sounds ridiculous because she is an adult and makes her own decisions, but all the same: I wanted her to be happy.
The sense of dominance does not go away just because your submissive is now technically no longer yours, just as the sense of love does not go away when your partner leaves you for someone else. Feelings don't belong to the person you invested them in, they are yours, they live in your heart, your head, your stomach. If I've learnt anything about relationships it's this: your feelings are your own.
It's your loss. As they say.