This article originally appeared on Polysingleish, Feb 9th, 2015. It has been edited and updated from it’s original version.
The Perfect Polyamorous Person— or PPP for short— develops in all of us who start exploring polyamory.
It’s this future ideal, this high-bar image of perfection inspired by the scripts presented to us about polyamory (many of them, common misconceptions), that we aspire to. We attempt to fake-it-till-you-make-it; the “PPP” is that glossy poster-worthy role model for How Polyamory Should Be. However, we face a particular set of problems in our relationships when this role model is a projection we have created for ourselves.
The PPP is an extension of that “you must be perfect, you must be good, you must be nice” voice that internally critiques our actions. We each create our own unique PPP based on what we are told polyamorous relationship perfection looks like, and what we aspire our relationships to be.
Here’s some beliefs you might notice your inner PPP holding on to:
- I don’t experience jealousy, nope not me.
- I don’t compare myself to others.
- If I don’t acknowledge the way my metamor makes me feel insecure, everything will work out okay.
- I need to be dating more people or I’m not doing poly right.
I have to give everyone equal time or I’m not being fair to them.
It would be selfish and inconsiderate for me to express what I want.
That messed up situation wasn’t my fault, it’s their fault for doing poly wrong.
If I own my responsibility in this messed up situation, it’s going to make me look like I’m a bad person, cos I did poly wrong.
I told everyone I’m polyamorous, now I better stick to that!
- Even though this arrangement isn’t that convenient for me, I’m going to go along with it anyway cos I don’t want to cause a disruption to everyone else’s life.
If my poly relationships end, that means I’m a failure, so I’m just going to keep them all going, even if they aren’t inspiring me.
I’m not sure my partner is really poly, so I’m just not going to tell them about all the other relationships that are developing for me- that could scare them away.
The inner Perfect Poly Person likes to rewrites things to avoid taking responsibility for the fuck-ups, and is a master of emotional bypassing and passive communication. It fears that acknowledgment of our imperfection might imply that we’re just not ‘naturally polyamorous’— and this risks offering false validation to those who think polyamory is unnatural or an abohrence.
Sometimes our PPP doesn’t want to have those difficult conversations with exes because to do so would involve acknowledging that we have fucked up just as much as the other person, and aren’t that role model for non monogamy we’d like to be.
The PPP can silence us- not just to our partners, but to ourselves. We so easily find ourselves intoxicated in relationships, being in love with the idea of the relationship more than the person themselves, and when flaws begin to show up, rather than rock the boat, we shut up and keep rowing, sometimes cramming as many other people onto the sinking ship as we can.
The PPP blames others for the mistakes in relationships and never takes on shared responsibility where it’s due. How often have you heard of a relationship breakdown where all the blame is placed on someone else? Even some of the best regarded writers in polyamory have shared their personal stories of breakups and bypassed their own degree of responsibility. As my father once reminded me, it takes two— at least— to tango.
None of us want to hurt or harm others. But sometimes, in moments when we feel scared and don’t know how else to get our need for safety met, we do. The PPP shows up in some of those moments, and in the desire to Be Perfect, can disrupt not just our own lives, but the lives of others. The PPP is uncomfortable with the shadow-side of the emotional spectrum, it doesn’t want to admit to any fears, to any sense of loneliness, or to any anger. And therein lies one of the biggest challenges: denying these three emotions is one of the most common triggers for friction within relationships, and the ideal that polyamory is seeking is an open, honest, consensual approach to non-monogamy, one that hinges heavily on the degrees of trust between everyone.
In summary, when your inner Perfect Poly Person is running the show, you’re showing up as a set of expectations for yourself and who you think you need to be, rather than as the wonderful, genuine, beautifully flawed You. And, you might end up sabotaging your own relationships without realising it.
So, what do you do?
First of all, have some compassion for your Self. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to be imperfect. There’s no dissertation committee waiting to assess and grade your successes and failures in relationships, let alone polyamorous relationships.
Here’s some things I’ve taken to reminding my clients (and my self) on a regular basis:
- It’s OKAY to screw up- as long as you can own it and be willing to talk about it.
- Conflict in relationships is not a sign of impending catastrophe. In fact, a healthy conflict process is a worthy goal for long term relationships, and far preferable to cycles of hostile dependence or conflict avoidance.
- All desires are valid desires- and it’s better to give voice to them than to suppress them. Yes! You have permission to ask for what you want! AND Remember that expressing something doesn’t obligate anyone to meeting those needs for you. However, asking for what you want is a fantastic way to grow communication within relationships.
- It’s completely natural to feel jealousy and insecurity around a new relationship developing for a partner. Acknowledging these feelings and examining them is important to do. It’s also totally okay if you don’t feel any jealousy or insecurity about new relationships in your partners’ lives.
- The way things feel within a relationship will inevitably change. When they do, talk about it.
- It’s okay to fall out of love, and it’s okay for the love you feel to change and morph- give yourself permission to communicate when that happens.
When we embrace our own vulnerability and share that with our trusted friends and lovers, the inner PPP has no choice but to surrender and melt. It’s still there, a whisper in the background— and I think I’m okay with that.
I remind my own inner PPP that the perfection is in the imperfection, that it’s wise to stay humble, remembering that I don’t have all the answers— that none of us do— and this sense of humility and vulnerability is actually the ‘perfect’ way to go about having relationships: it gives us permission to show up as our genuine, imperfect selves, and maybe even be loved for who we are in the moment, rather than an impossible ideal we think we have to become.
Thank you Mel for such an enlightening and helpful workshop! I thoroughly enjoyed all of it and look forward to continued learning from you. So grateful for all these extra resources.
The work you are doing is changing the world in such positive ways, and helping people change their own worlds, both inner and outer.
I've been able to articulate and communicate much better within my relationships and to create safe spaces.
Mel is an incredible listener and her attention to detail was crucial. I walked away with much more than I had anticipated: I came away with a lot of tools to work with, and also a comfortable understanding of who I am and how I present myself to others. Mel is nothing short of awesome at what she does, and I will continue to use her as a resource and recommend her.
"It was so good for me to open up and a relief to see that things don't have to be so black and white but within this there is still the possibility of clarity and a more personal, creative and radical approach to relationships... Love what you are offering Mel. You are awesome at what you are doing! It was great for me to be out of my comfort zone and to hear from folks who appeared to be very much in theirs. Thank you!"
"I desperately knew in my bones there was another script out there for me but when I struggled to find a healthy version of one, I haphazardly began writing it myself. And now?! To come into an entire community of people actively peeling back the veil to reveal their own trauma and vulnerability?? I am over the moon and feel so enthusiastic all the time. It's the first time in the last several years where I have had such sustained joy and direction."
~ Anon Course Student
"Your work has reminded me that perhaps there isn’t anything wrong with me at all. I am amazed at the deep levels of shame we carry as human beings because we don’t fit into the construct that is given to us as a model for our life. It feels exciting because I can now explore what I want for my life rather than be gifted something that just doesn’t feel right for me."
"After the workshop I felt like I could breathe again. I felt like my version of non-monogamy wasn't "wrong" and, even more helpful, my former partners wasn't either. I connected with people thinking of the same things as I was, struggling with the same things, and asking questions like me. I cried. I breathed. And for the first time in my life I didn't feel like a love alien dropped onto this planet."