Seven Articles in Seven Days – 2: That Competitive Streak…


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!

12 thoughts on “Seven Articles in Seven Days – 2: That Competitive Streak…

  1. I really get what you’re saying here. I think the specific things you’re saying about the ways in which women are encouraged to compete are definitely true. I also think it extends to other dynamics as well in really interesting ways.

    For example, the one penis policy (I’ll call it 1PP from now on – for people who haven’t encountered it, it’s a – very cissexist, but there again it’s often enacted along cissexist standards – name for a concept in poly relationships where an insecure dude is ok with his hot bi babe dating other women but she may not date other dudes, who, in this dude’s mind, are delineated by their penii).

    I think it’s a sexism thing in that the dude likes being the only owner of his particular woman. I think it’s a heteronormative thing in that he thinks that other women can’t compete with him as a partner – only men could do that. And I think it’s a homophobic thing in that he doesn’t want to get infected by the dreaded penis-by-proxy.

    I also see it along trans*/cis lines. I have lots of fear when my cis partners date other cis people of my gender, because there’s this idea that a cis woman is a kind of “gold standard” woman, and then I’m comparing myself to this “gold standard” which is such bullshit.

    I think many lesbians get this around the whole “gold star lesbian” thing too…

    Like you, I think the solution is to love our loves as themselves, not as their class (e.g. ‘woman’). I think that what we are, e.g. ‘woman’, can be part of how we’re loved, but only in the sense that it’s part of who we are, and it’s who we are that’s loved.

    Going further, maybe it’s about love outside of objectification. Objects can be compared, rated, ranked and traded. Human beings… well, if the world wasn’t fucked up, we couldn’t/wouldn’t be. I wonder if it’s possible to un-fuck the world enough that we could feel, routinely, that we aren’t objects, aren’t objectified, aren’t members-of-a-class. That we’re not in “leagues”, we’re not an “upgrade” or a “downgrade”, that he didn’t leave her because “something better came along”.

  2. missamaranth says:

    Ooh, some really interesting points here – thank you!

    What you say about the ‘one penis policy’ is particularly interesting, and this is something I’ve been debating making a post on at some point. I think in many ways it’s both cissexist and heterosexist, as well as tying in far too closely with the idea of men owning women. I actually once had a partner who told me he felt I was ‘ruined’ because I’d had intercourse with a man other than him! It’s also problematic, as you suggested, in the idea that a female partner can’t possibly compete. ‘It’s not _really_ sex between two women, so it doesn’t really count,’ I’ve heard so many times it’s horrifying! (Not to mention ‘it doesn’t count because girl-on-girl is hot!’ *rolls eyes.*) I hadn’t considered the possible homophobic elements of this before, but that’s a really good point.

    You’ve got my point exactly – I think a lot of it is about loving partners as themselves, first and foremost, and remembering that they (the good ones anyway!) value us for ourselves. I don’t want to be valued as a ‘young bi babe,’ though that’s usually the first thing that gets noticed. I want to be valued as _me_ – for all the other things about me which go beyond the superficial! And a big part of breaking this needless competitive streak, for me, has been reminding myself that I have value beyond these superficial things, as do my partners’ other loves, and that we’re all unique and awesome in our own way!

    I’d dearly love to be able to un-fuck the world in such a way as women weren’t seen as objects to be claimed and partners weren’t seen as possessions. I’m just not sure how to go about it!


    • Ludi says:

      Yes! I think in general it’s really worth trying to not do the thing where we base our self-esteem on patriarchy’s scale: we might be conventionally attractive (etc), but it’s a poisonous, shaky and always-moving platform that’s impossible to work with and prone to bite us in the bum if we get too comfortable. Much more sustainable to base self-worth on stuff that can’t be arbitrarily taken away (eg. writing skills, rather than conventional attractiveness.) Tricky, too : )

      I find myself trying to move as much away from the ‘hot bi babe’ stereotype as I can – it’s tempting to claim a load of social cookies from it, but it’s also so much more trouble than it’s worth. I want to downplay my generic sexual availability, my willingness to date men, my conventional attractiveness and femininity, just so I can be left alone and not harassed by all these dudes. It’s exhausting.

      Oh, the partner with the ‘ruined’ needs a grand piano to the head. I’m so sorry you experienced that – eurgh. And as for ‘girl-on-girl is hot’ or ‘doesn’t really count’ – well, I’d love to show the men who think that, say, my large collection of strap-ons, or a glimpse into an all-female sex party full of buzzcut, hairy, latex-gloved women as well as pretty femmes, or a book of Patrick Califia’s notoriously hardcore, explicit and sometimes terrifying lesbian BDSM erotica. See how Playboy-esque and unthreatening they find it after that! *happy daydreams*

      • missamaranth says:

        Yes! Absolutely! It can be really difficult to get out of the mindset of basing one’s self-worth on patriachal standards of ‘conventional attractiveness,’ but it feels so much better (and more secure!) to feel good about something which can’t arbitrarily change.

        Yeah, the ‘hot bi babe’ stereotype is something I struggle with, too. I want to be able to look/dress the way I want (which is pretty feminine a lot of the time)… and I want to date (some!) men…. but the price that seems to come with that is being constantly harrassed by guys, and/or being assumed to be available. I agree – it’s exhausting.

        *giggle* I now have mental images of the person who made the ‘ruined’ comment getting a grand piano to the head. Hahaha…. oh yes, I’d dearly love to show all those things to the men who say that F/F sex doesn’t really count!😀

    • Dragonmamma says:

      I think everyone wants and needs to be loved “as me” and not for their societal position. The insecurities that we all face whatever our sexual mores are only made worse by comparison (and this applies in all other areas too). Fortunately for me I have always been able to delight in the fact that my men were interested in looking at and admiring other women (I should say here for those who dont know that I am a fat sixty something heterosexual monogamist friendly to polyamory). You have to remember that even if he/she is looking at and admiring other people, YOU are the one they are choosing to be with (even if you are one of a number).
      It all boils down to our basic insecurities which are fanned by modern culture. Fight it girls and boys we are all special in our own way.

      • missamaranth says:

        Yes – this! I think all kinds of insecurity and overly harsh self-criticising are made much, much worse by comparison. It’s much better to not view other people as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ – rather, as ‘different.’ They are them, and I am me, so to speak.

        I just keep telling myself my partners chose to be with me for a reason. And whatever those reasons are, they have nothing to do with how I compare to somebody else. Because if they were trying to make me into somebody else, they’d just go and be with that person!

        “Fight it girls and boys we are all special in our own way.” <— here's to that!!

  3. 1PP, the amazing value pack of x-isms, many for the price of one (penis).:/

    I actually once had a partner who told me he felt I was ‘ruined’ because I’d had intercourse with a man other than him!

    *laughs* What a pillock! Sorry, I know I’m talking about a partner (though presum. ex-partner) of yours there but still. Ha!

    I’d dearly love to be able to un-fuck the world in such a way as women weren’t seen as objects to be claimed and partners weren’t seen as possessions. I’m just not sure how to go about it!

  4. Last comment should have shown a link to:

  5. Amanda says:

    It is interesting to me that it is a common feeling. I recently (this past summer) started pursuing polyamory. I find that with my new man, who is married to a wonderful woman, I often wonder if he is uncomfortable with info about my husband and I. And even though I share a friendship with his wife, I find that she feels competitive with me, as she has communicated this, and I feel so with her. When I find myself getting envious of his wife, I reel back, and remind myself of what purpose she holds in his life, that she fulfills him in ways that I do not, and that she makes him happy enough to be with me. For us, this truly wouldn’t work with out our primaries. They are our base, they offer so much love ans support.

    So I guess my point here is that , yes, I do feel like competing with his wife, but I tamp it down and suck it up. I know he loves me for me and I know that she is a wonderful woman who is also quite deserving of his love.

  6. […] (If you haven’t already, you might like to see my first article on this subject – That Competitive Steak.) […]

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