The piece of wisdom “we need to get our expectations in line with reality” came up recently in one of my classes, in an unrelated context. However, the sentence sparked off a train of thought for me about how this philosophy can be applied to relationships, and polyamory in particular.
It’s a pretty simple formula, really. If reality meets or exceeds our expectations, we’re more likely to be happy or at least content. If reality comes in below expectations, however, we’re likely to be dissatisfied or unhappy. So in many ways, it makes sense to modify our expectations to be more ‘in line with reality.’ So how does this relate specifically to polyamory?
Well. Take poly newbies. Time and time again, I’ve seen people entering into polyamory for the first time, full of wide-eyed hopes for how wonderful it’s all going to be. I was there myself, something that feels like a million years ago. Perhaps the person who couldn’t prevent themselves from cheating thinks they’ve found a way to legitimise their behaviour. Perhaps a long-standing couple thinks all their issues will be resolved with the addition of new people. Perhaps someone simply thinks they’ve found the holy grail of complete sexual freedom. But this way of thinking almost inevitably leads to disappointment, and often disenchantment with the poly lifestyle settling in fairly quickly.
If being poly negated every relationship problem ever, the whole world would be poly by now. Does it negate or lessen some issues? Yes, of course. But it brings with it a whole host of possible new ones – just like any relationship. We also have very little in the way of ‘roadmaps’ – we’re making it up as we go along. Going into polyamory believing it’ll give you complete freedom to do whatever (and whoever) you want with no problems or consequences is…. sweetly naïve at best, potentially devastating at worst.
When embarking on a polyamorous relationship, and even after living this lifestyle for months or years, things are going to hit you from time to time that you weren’t expecting. That is inevitable. Let’s take an easy example: jealousy. Somebody feels jealous. The idealist – and believe me, I’ve seen this so many times – is likely to tell their insecure partner ‘we’re poly, that means you can’t be jealous.’ Or, conversely, if the idealist themselves feels jealous, they are likely to bottle it up and not communicate with their partner(s,) telling themselves that they are a bad poly person if they feel/express any negative or difficult emotion. As you can imagine, neither of these scenarios tends to end well. Going into this type of this relationship with the idea that everyone will be fine with all things, at all times, is just unrealistic.
It’s just like going into any relationship, monogamous or not, and holding hugely unrealistic expectations which your partner will inevitably fail to meet. I’ve known people who went through partners at an unbelievable rate, expecting each one to solve all their problems. Of course, none of them did. When getting into a relationship, we must keep our minds open and see where this new connection takes us, rather than expecting each person to be the One True Love who will complete us and make everything perfect, and then throw them aside when they cannot match up to this impossible task.
It is right and reasonable to expect a partner to make you happy, make you feel good when you’re with them, love and support and cherish you and act with love and consideration in all things which affect you. They should not be expected to complete your life, meet all your needs, or solve your problems.
Polyamory, done right, can bring huge amounts of love, joy and happiness to your life and your partner’s lives. It can lead to the development of lifelong relationships and friendships, chosen family and community, teach you more about yourself, broaden your horizons and help you get a wide variety of needs and desires met. It cannot fix an ailing relationship, it cannot give you complete freedom to have sex with whoever you want, all the time, with no issues or complications, and it cannot and should not be used as a cover for bad behaviour in relationships.
My theory is that, whatever our chosen relationship style, if we try to have more realistic expectations of our partners and our relationships, we are less likely to be unhappy in the long run.