One Love — How Many People Do You Rely On For Emotional Intimacy?

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Image credit: Timetravellingivy @ Medium

For me part of the appeal of polyamory is the infinite possibilities of emotional connection. There’s no one love, no one person I pour my heart out to and rely on. I have many loves and many ears. In the same way I enjoy the feeling of being there for many people, offering comfort and emotional support. I’ve never felt more connected to human beings than I have since becoming ethically non monogamous.

But I’ve noticed a lot of ethically non monogamous people choose to rely on one person for their emotional needs

Usually that’s a spouse or nesting partner but due to the nature of polyamory that can also be an anchor or main partner.

There’s nothing wrong having an anchor partner, it’s a useful model particularly for those cohabiting or who’ve been in their relationships for many years.

However, I find it hard to interact within a model where one person meets the entirety of a partner’s emotional needs.

Yet it’s a scenario I see regularly within ethical non monogamy

More often than not it’s the male partner who exists within this framework and solely goes to a specific female partner for emotional intimacy.

It’s a pattern which is quite heteronormative and also exists within monogamous relationships. Women in general tend to have closer friendships and in greater quantities. Men often don’t talk to each other about problems in the same way and don’t ask for emotional support outside of a relationship.

In monogamous relationships this can lead to men feeling disconnected from the world around them and as suggested by research (most notably made popular by Johann Hari) the lack of emotional intimate connections can lead to depression.

Even worse, men who have relied solely on their partner for emotional intimacy can take longer to recover from relationship break ups than women who are bonded to their friends too.

And yet, despite being a notable disadvantage of monogamy, it seems to be one of the things people find hard to move away from when they become polyamorous.

Why?

Whilst within monogamy this can become something problematic, mostly the one plus one dynamic means it doesn’t cause too many difficulties.

Within polyamory the dynamic in relationships is deliberately created differently.

As a partner whose partner only comes to them for emotional support it can feel overwhelming and exhausting, particularly if you go to many people for your own emotional needs. If you have two or more partners who have designated you as the only source of intimate connection this is exacerbated.

As a partner who isn’t the emotional support pillow it can feel as though your relationship lacks intimacy and connection. This can be particularly hard when your partner is also not prepared to be there for your needs.

What happens when the relationship dynamic shifts and changes?

Polyamorous relationships are never static. New people coming into the lives of yourself and your partners changes the way you all interact.

If you have a partner who relies totally on one person for emotional support and you’re used to that being you, what happens when they begin to connect to their new partner intimately? In a balanced relationship with plenty of non-romantic intimate connections this would naturally ebb and flow to create an extra support.

When a person is used to one emotional support pillow, they may transfer their sole focus of support to their new partner leaving you confused and feeling disconnected, particularly if you were used to going to them for your main support.

For me, emotional intimacy is the difference between an open relationship and a polyamorous one

But I don’t just rely on partners for intimacy.

I’ve never solely relied on one person to meet my emotional needs. I’ve never had a continually changing best friend or been reliant on one parental caregiver. In many ways this is what made the transition to polyamory a logical step for me.

When I realised how many people, particularly those who identify as men, gained all their emotional needs from a romantic partner, I began to understand the friend zone a little better

For me emotional intimacy is a given in friendships. Part of seeing someone as a friend rather than an acquaintance is the desire to be vulnerable around them. Like a tabby cat baring its belly, allowing your friend to see the whole of you is part of truly bonding yourself to them.

So when I have a friend, I enjoy mutually sharing problems and feelings. It’s a key part of connection.

What happens then when you create a friendship with someone who only relies on romantic partners for emotional support?

They instinctively begin to see you as more than a friend, and your intimacy seeking confuses and bewilders them.

Whilst this isn’t a totally ‘male’ phenomena, it seems more likely for adult men to expect all their emotional needs to be met by one person than adult women.

Why?

Perhaps it goes back to the way society views maleness. Being vulnerable is not masculine. Maybe it’s because many men prefer to receive emotional closeness and support from women and traditional monogamy meant male plus female friendships were a threat. In the same way, can we flip this to say traditionally women were more threatened by female friends of their partners because they offered them the emotional closeness they wanted to come only from them?

Is it perhaps something to do with the way boys are raised to have the entirety of their needs met by one female caregiver without expectation to give back?

Whilst it’s true both boys and girls are often dependant on one person, girls are traditionally asked to do more around the house and for their parents at an earlier age. They therefore learn to share workloads and emotional loads at a younger stage of development.

When a man leaves his mother and sole provider of needs is it unsurprising he transfers this sole nurturing role onto his female partner?

Referring back to my title question, how many people do you rely on for emotional connection?

If it’s just one person, what impact does this have on your life? Whilst this may work for your relationship now, I feel it makes individuals very vulnerable to adapting to change.

What is the effect it has on your partners — both those you go to for emotional support and those you don’t?

For me emotional intimacy is the backbone of all connections I choose to take to a deeper level, whether that be friendship or romantic. I simply can’t sustain a relationship long term which doesn’t involve mutual emotional support.

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