With this post, I am founding a new category- it's the poly PTSD category, yessir! Because I have a lot of trigger points around poly and it seems like when I talk about it on social media, many people I know seem to nod their heads wildly in agreement.
Terminology is important to a good number of people. I've seen all the posts declaring that we should all move beyond labels, but I find that to be bullshit- labels are useful in many ways, labels give us some idea of what's going on, labels are shorthand communication. I am pro-labels. I don't think they should be used instead of clear negotiation, but they're a decent starting place.
I have found labels to be a sticking point in relationships I'm in, in the past. Labels I've been deemed inappropriate for include "family friendly", "long term relationship material", "pretty", "girlfriend", and "primary". I've thought for a long time about how I could push past the desire to be labeled these things, because whatever, it's not the labels that matter, it's the behaviour, right? I've made myself pretty sad by trying to force myself into apathy and telling myself that I don't mind that I'm always the girlfriend experience, rarely the girlfriend.
I've been a lot of people's secret. And I used to pretend I was ok with it, but I'm not. It's some deep seated emotional shit and it's eating away at me.
It hurts to see friends with their lovers, being introduced to new folks as a partner. I'm mostly referred to by name. I see them in photos together while they're out and about and I'm envious. My lovers don't tend to ask for selfies with me. I've had people tell me they didn't know one of my partners was, in fact, my partner, and it's been a full year. I'm usually not introduced to family or friends, or if it does happen it's incidental, not something they're excited to manifest, just something that might happen if it comes up. I try not to mind, I know I'm more demonstrative and public than other people... but it makes me feel invisible.
When people call you a unicorn, it shouldn't mean that you don't exist.
And when your lovers don't refer to you as their girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever, people assume that you don't have "that" kind of relationship. Because yes, yes it's a label, but it's a label that means something to most people. Maybe you've managed your non-hierarchical poly feels but the rest of the world puts "girlfriend" over "casual sex partner" and when you don't differentiate I'm left trying to decide if I'm going to speak up for myself so I get seen, or if I should just spend the night struggling with feeling like a fling.
Usually discussions about non-hierarchical poly are about protecting partners that might otherwise be called "secondaries". For me, non-hierarchical poly has so often been used as a way to shy away from offering me any stability or anything special that is just between me and my partner. And my desire for that feels like a failure, because if I was good at poly, I would feel compersion when I see another lover's panties on the floor, right?
Spoiler alert: most of the time, I don't. I just feel hurt that I didn't even warrant cleaning up between sexcapades.
I remember the boyfriend who never introduced me to his friends or family, because he was ashamed of me. He barely even hid it. I loved him, so I forgave him, and even hated myself for not being the kind of woman he wanted to introduce around. I remember the boyfriend who ran off with one of the friends I had introduced him to, saying that we weren't primaries so I should be happy for him, not upset. When we broke up I discovered he had been having condomeless sex with three of us. I remember the girlfriend who confessed that she had showed her friends a photo of a much younger me, because I had gained weight and she was embarrassed. I have been a secret more than I'd like to admit... and I accepted it, because I didn't think I could get any better.
Frankly, I am terrified to ask for what I want, because I have been taught and had it reinforced so often that my desires are always secondary. I have tried so hard to mold myself into the person my partners have wanted, crushing myself in the process as I try to conform to what makes them the most comfortable. I've questioned whether or not I'm made for this, or if I'm just easily triggered because I've been treated as disposable before. And while yes, I know none of this is a competition, I also know that there are spaces where I am just not as welcome as someone else. If you want to have casual moresomes at a play party, you're not going to score with the fat political chick dragging you down. If you want to be recognized as an expert in a particular area, you don't bring the girlfriend who knows nothing about the topic keeping the conversation at bay.
Now I can safely say, this all drives me crazy. Sure, I'd like to think that I don't need a primary, I just need to feel like a priority, like someone who inspires romance and PDA. I'm questioning if I'm capable of that more and more, though. Asking to feel like a priority isn't really a clear label, while primary has a lot of preconceived notions I could lean on. Instead, I have to be vulnerable, over and over, as I say what made me sad this time, or what I need now. It makes me feel difficult and demanding and needy. And I feel like I hold my partners back, even if they say I don't.
I think what it comes down to is- I want to feel like I'm with people who are proud of me, and are excited to introduce me as a partner, not just a personality. I don't want to be someone's novelty, ever again, as a fat girl, as a porn performer, as an activist. I don't want to be someone's hedonistic quick fix or their good deed. I don't want to be their mythological beast. I want to be a real girl, and a girlfriend, not just playing at the GFE.
I'm tired of feeling like I always have to be the one to set the record straight. But where does one go from here?