This Mental Health Awareness Week, Maryam Kausar* reflects on the freedom of polyamory, and how this affects her mental health.
*writer is using a pseudonym
When I first realised that I was polyamorous, there were a lot of things I didn’t have a clue about, least of all what it had to do with my mental health. What I did know was that I had a ridiculous crush on someone I met at a work conference.
I’d spent the whole week dodging him, confused by the fact that I was desperate to screw him, regardless of my love for my partner. I spent half my time at that conference fantasising about him, and the other half wondering if it made me a bad person. After all, I loved my partner. We’d been together for a couple of years at that point, and we were managing our long-distance relationship really well. So what was wrong with me? I didn’t want to cheat, but I also didn’t feel bad or want to feel bad, about wanting someone else.
This guilt was promptly followed by Google searches and a lot of reading. Discovering the word ‘polyamory’ for the first time felt like being seventeen when I first read about bisexuality. Initially, there was anxiety and confusion, but it quickly gave way to clarity. Suddenly, a lot about my dating past made sense – like when I was nineteen and in an awkward love triangle, wondering why we couldn’t sort things out by sharing the boy we were both madly in love with. Or the time I fell for someone else whilst in a relationship with my ex-girlfriend and felt like I had to break up with her, even though I loved her. I’d just never had the words to describe how I felt before. But now, I did.
Polyamory and Mental Health
As someone with anxiety and depression, I was terrified of talking to my partner about wanting to date other people. It kept me up at night, as I imagined scenario after scenario where I’d be dumped for wanting too much, being too greedy, or not grateful for what we had. I’d seen so many memes on polyamory pages about people messing up their attempts to open their relationships, and I didn’t want that to be me.
My fears were completely baseless (thanks, anxiety!) and over the year that followed, we opened up our relationship. It took a lot of talking and introspection, but I felt as though a weight had been lifted. I felt completely myself. This is the mental health journey that a lot of folks in the polyamory community talk about, and I was excited about experiencing the joy of polyamory and the freedom it brought. ‘I’m done with anxiety around dating,’ I thought, but I was wrong.
The Ups and Downs of Being Polyamorous
I’ve always been good at doing my reading, and there’s certainly a lot of reading to do when it comes to ethical non-monogamy and open relationships – if you want to be good at it. But there’s less information out there on the ups and downs that being polyamorous can bring. I didn’t realise that polyamory, like any other type of relationship structure, would affect my mental health and wellbeing.
One of the anecdotes I share with people who want to know what polyamory is like is about my first experience of jealousy. I’d done plenty of reading around addressing being jealous of metamours (your partner’s partners), so when my partner started dating other people and it was going well, I thought I was ready to deal with any jealousy.
I’d been so focused on not being jealous of metamours that I was blindsided by the fact that I was jealous, but of my partner. He had dates lined up left, right and centre, and I was tentatively taking my first steps into the world of dating, and not doing anywhere near as well.
‘Why does no one want to date me?’ I’d exclaim dramatically to friends, who found the whole thing hilarious. It is quite funny in retrospect, but at the time it felt like a blow to my self-worth and confidence, and I struggled to articulate why I felt so awful. In the end, talking to another polyamorous friend made all the difference, and I started to realise that just because you’re at peace with who you are, and able to explore it, doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing from thereon.
Being non-monogamous is becoming more and more understood and there’s a surprising amount of us around. But I’ve also had countless interactions where people seem to think that they can win me away from other partners, or automatically assume what I’m into, or what I’m willing to let them do to me. These conversations can be draining and demoralising. I‘ve often limited my time spent dating to protect my mental health.
Ghosting also happens just as much in polyamorous relationships as it does in monogamous ones. And it sucks just as bad, too. As someone who prides herself on her ability to have difficult conversations, it’s hard not to take ghosting personally. We’re all adults, and there’s no need to cause anyone unnecessary anxiety when a simple rejection text will do the job.
And then there are breakups…
Breakups don’t suck less when you’re polyamorous. Sure, you might have a sympathetic shoulder already available to cry on, or someone who might cheer you up with sex. But pain is still pain and time spent in other relationships doesn’t lessen that.
The Joys Of Being Polyamorous!
However polyamory, generally, comes with a feeling of bliss. There’s nothing quite like watching two of your partners perform a duet karaoke at your birthday party and feeling overcome with love. Or the feeling of hooking up with someone you’ve fancied for ages and being able to spill the tea to another partner the next day over brunch. The thrill of meeting someone new – or reconnecting with a person you had a crush on once at a conference a few years ago – is uplifting. With polyamory, there are infinite possibilities.
Despite the pitfalls, polyamory has also been great for improving my mental health. When things work out, the joy of being ethically non-monogamous is worth the low points. Polyamory is based on radical honesty, self-love, and a level of patience and grace extended to others which are beautiful experiences. Whenever I’m feeling anxious, I know that my support system is there for me, and I’ve been able to talk more openly about my mental health and sexuality because of my polyamory.
Maryam Kausar is a writer who loves to explore the ways in which race, class and other facets of identity affect desire, love and sex. She is currently working on a novel about polyamory.