Today’s piece was inspired by a thread I read and commented on recently on Facebook. I want to look at the issue of competitiveness and how it relates to poly relationships.
Culturally, I think us women are often encouraged to see other women as a threat. The media plays a very significant role in this, as in most societally-enforced norms. We’re supposed to try to out-do each other – especially when it comes to the most superficial of things. To compete to be prettier, sexier, thinner than the next woman. Just see this article for evidence of how early in girls’ lives this tends to start.
But it’s not just an issue that affects teen girls. The superficial popularity and prettiness contests might seem to stop post-high school, but the very real issues and insecurities these create for women often linger on into adulthood.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to relationships. In mono-culture (ie the only culture the media and most of our society understand) we’re supposed to compete with other women for ‘our’ men. To make sure he will never look at anyone else, to ensure he will never stray.
Without even getting into all the horrifically sexist implications here, which imply that A) women’s only value is in how they look and how attractive they are to men, and B) men are incapable of being faithful, and simply seeing an attractive woman will make them cheat on their partners… this is a potentially really unhealthy model for attitudes towards relationships, whether monogamous or non-monogamous.
This is something I struggle with really frequently and, like so many other issues, I think it is rooted in fear. I feel, on a level which is not rational but which I can’t quite control, that I must compete – not only with my partner’s current other partners, but with everyone he’s ever been with. Sometimes I feel there’s a little demon sitting in my brain which tells me that I must strive to out-do all of them in every possible way, or I run the risk of not being good enough. And when I feel I can’t match up in some way – which happens frequently because, guess what, we’re all different and have different strengths and weaknesses – I feel it in a really frightening way.
I only very recently started considering factors which might contribute to these issues, after a few conversations he and I had, and then after this interesting discussion on Facebook. I mean, we’re polyamorous, right? And one of my absolute favourite things about polyamory is the ability to really get to know people as individuals, and enjoy each relationship for what it is and for what that person and I can bring to each others’ lives – without expecting them to meet absolutely all of my needs, or being expected to meet all of theirs.
So what is this? Where do these moments of panic come from, where I wonder if I’m matching up enough to his other partners…. or even to someone he was seeing two, five, ten years ago? (I’m a little embarrassed just typing that, it sounds so silly when I see it written down.) Well society tells me, as a woman, that I must constantly hold a man’s attention in order not to lose him. That I must always, always strive to be the prettiest and the sexiest. That if he so much as glances at another woman, I’m failing in some way. All our cultural norms tell me that I should view other women as a threat to me. And so I do, far more than I should, because deeply ingrained programming can be extremely difficult to overcome.
But you know what? It’s more difficult to overcome when you’re not even aware of it. Thinking about all this has, I think, helped to give me some perspective on it. Not to say I’ll never worry again – but at least when these thoughts cross my mind, I have something to counter them with.
Something really powerful I took away from a recent amazing polyamory discussion, was the idea of trying to just remember that my partner(s) loves me. For who I am. Not for how I compare, or don’t compare, to anybody else. And loves others for who they are. That instead of competing, I should try to just be the best me I can be, rather than trying to be anyone else. Because they’ll always be better at being them… but I’ll always be better at being me.
Clearly I need to tell myself to remember this more often!
I’d love to hear from other women about whether you feel this has ever affected you? How do you deal with it? I’d equally like to hear from men – do you feel pressure to compete with other partners in poly relationships? In what ways, why, and how does it affect you?
So whatever your gender or relationship status, please chip in with comments here!