This morning I received a message from a guy on a dating app. The kind I received is common but today it made me think.
He said (and I paraphrase)
“I don’t want a traditional relationship because I feel trapped in them, but I don’t just want one-night stands, I want some intimacy.”
This is a regular theme in the contact I get. As a polyamorous woman, men see me as a halfway point between stifling relationship with all the emotional labour it entails, and meaningless sex which leaves you feeling empty.
The reality is the problems they encounter aren’t magically deleted by dating me. They don’t adapt or change any part of the way they interact and the problems of them feeling trapped and their partners feeling jealousy don’t disappear because they date someone polyamorous. They could date anyone and still fall into the same patterns.
The problem is them. Not the women they date. Not the relationship structure. The problem is their emotional attachment patterns.
Hear me out.
I’ve tried dating these men and the same thing happens every time. I’ve heard countless similar stories from both monogamous and polyamorous women friends.
Here’s the way it goes:
Man meets woman. He pursues.
They start a relationship.
He begins to wonder about whether this is a situation he wants to be in and considers other options.
She senses this change in energy and feels anxious.
His communication becomes distant.
She panics and communicates more.
He declares her needy and “teaches” his need for space by communicating less.
She responds by trying harder to regain the closeness they had at the beginning.
On many occasions the relationship ends here. Sometimes the couple work through this phase and they enter the new phase which in this attachment pattern often goes like this:
They commit to wanting the relationship to be longer term
He wants to continue going out with friends (and often also flirting with women)
She feels anxious about this
He continues his social life anyway
She gets jealous and possessive and starts doing things like checking his phone and facebook friends
He feels trapped and exhausted by the constant questioning
He agrees to not to out socially without her
She goes out with him, but her anxiety doesn’t lessen and she still questions anyone he talks to or looks at
Do you recognise the pattern?
This leaves both the man and the woman questioning cross gender relationships. Many would call the woman’s behaviour needy. But what caused it?
Men will often assume it’s because of other men. That woman was damaged somehow in the past by a terrible man who treated her badly and therefore she’s anxious. The issue is her attachment style.
But we don’t communicate in a vacuum.
Many relationships are completely functional with little to no jealousy. There’s no fear when someone goes out on their own. An unread text message for a few hours causes no concern.
“But my ex…”
You’re capable of having relationships without feeling that someone might leave you.
We all are.
Sometimes our relationship patterns react negatively with someone else’s.
You weren’t damaged by your previous relationships; you’ve simply met a man who has fallen into the same patterns and he’s triggering these responses in you.
Let’s look at this again.
The point where the relationship begins to falter sets up the dynamic for the rest of your time together, unless something happens to make that change.
It’s normal to question decisions you’ve made. We all do it whether we’ve taken a new job and are taking time for our brains to catch up with the change, or if we moved to a new house and are wondering if we made the right decision.
This is normal.
It’s ok to evaluate whether a relationship is right for you, particularly if this is a monogamous one which will stop you dating other people.
What isn’t normal is retreating and hiding and then ‘punishing’ your partner for too much communication whilst they attempt to resolve this.
The anxiety a partner feels at the beginning of a relationship sets a blueprint for anxiety over friendships and socialising in general.
That’s not good. No one is saying jealous and anxious behaviour is a welcome addition to a relationship. But it’s important we look at the way communication patterns affect behaviour. We can’t do someone else’s emotional labour for them, but we can change the way we react.
I no longer date men who declare they feel trapped in relationships. We’re not compatible, and I use this reasoning when I explain why.
If someone is willing to learn to communicate effectively, and this also means bravely, I’m more than happy to work through issues.
I’d rather someone said, “I’m feeling nervous about entering a relationship which might not be right for me” or “I’m worried you’re more into me than I am you.”
In which case, let’s be friends and we can see if you like me more or if you like me less once we’ve given it extra time. As a polyamorous person I won’t promise not to have a few too many relationships by that point so it’s a chance they take. With monogamous women it’s an even bigger risk.
But won’t that person just go away then and meet someone else?
If they do, they weren’t that into me.
I don’t need to be dating someone whose interest is that easy to shake. My anxiety will be heightened in that situation. Why would I put myself through that?
Do yourself a favour and when faced with a man who feels like he’s withdrawing, ask for clear, honest, brave communication from him.
Explain you won’t chase and if he takes too long to come back to you tell him you’re no longer interested. Set the right expectations from the beginning and if he’s a man who falls into avoidant and inconsistent communication allow him to learn another way. If he’s incapable, walk away.