Our culture thrives on competition, reveres, worships and idolizes the competitor. Everywhere you look competitiveness is rewarded, in school, in sports, in work and in relationships. Be “the best” – or be a loser. Is it any wonder that most people can’t understand how poly could work? How not competing to be “the best,” the “one” could actually work, or how one could refrain from needing that in a relationship?
I have been anti-competitive all my life. In fact, possibly phobicly so. Afraid to lose, afraid to fail, I never put myself out there. I refused to engage competitively on any front, for any reason, unless it was against myself. The first sign of competition and I was out of there – it was as simple as that. From competing at school in sports, trying out for a play or a spelling bee, to competing with my younger sister for my stepfather’s attention, I simply wouldn’t do it. And later, with boys, well, I never even entered the game. I knew I was not “good enough” to compete, no matter what that “enough” was: pretty enough, interesting enough, whatever. It was a defense mechanism – it was humiliating to lose. So I learned early: if you don’t try, you can’t lose.
That translated to my adulthood. Afraid of failure, of being found wanting, I removed myself before there could ever be a question of competition. I’ve come a long way–I’ll play board & card games now, and enjoy them, but never team sports. I compete against myself fiercely, pushing myself physically, but never against others. I will submit stories, etc. for competitions and publication, but only because that is blind competition. I can’t see my competitors, I can’t see how I don’t measure up.
And then, of course, there’s romance. I have never “fought” for someone’s love, attention or affection. If it’s not freely given, then I don’t want it. If I have to compete with someone else, I won’t. Period. I’ll walk away before I’ll be a competitor for someone’s affections. You either love me and want me, or you don’t. I discovered early how competitive girls are though, and vicious, too. No wonder I didn’t have boyfriends in high school. I knew damn well I didn’t measure up. Even now, though, if I feel the beginnings of the maybe-necessity of having to compete for someone’s affection – fuck it. I am outta there.
Which is one reason poly works for me. Hah! Betcha didn’t see that one coming. How can poly be better than mono, if there is more than one person competing for the others’ attentions? Because that’s the whole idea–it’s NOT a competition. You aren’t competing with each other. You can have both, he can have all three, you all can have each other. No one has to be the best, the top, the “one.” Copacetic, right?
Except there’s reality. And the reality is: as a culture we live with, we thrive on, competition. And no matter how you try to untrain yourself, there’s still that seed planted inside you. Ouch.
I know, I know, I’m poly, I am supposed to be above all that. Above or beyond all the insecurities, I am supposed to be “better” than feeling jealous or left out or insecure or…like I have to compete.
The reality is that I feel it just as much as anyone else. Yes, maybe I am learning to deal with it in ways that are healthy, that may be better than someone else might deal with it. But it doesn’t mean that I am above it, or don’t feel it, and that it doesn’t bite me in the ass–and occasionally make me bite the asses around me. And when that happens is when my worst faults raise their ugly heads. One of which is that “flight as opposed to fight” response, or actually, in this case, flight before even discussing.
See, I know all this stuff about it not being a competition intellectually, but emotionally, where I live? Not so much. It still grabs me and kicks me in the guts, still knocks the air out of me.
On the one hand, I want to be happy when my other is with someone that I know makes him feel good to be with. Someone more than 20 years my junior. It’s flattering to have some young thing want you, and I love for him to feel that. And yeah, there’s part of me that thinks that is hot, that she wants him. I know what he can do, I am damn proud of the fact that there are all these baby bottoms that see what he does and think, “I want that!” Yumm. On the other hand…I am 43 years old. More than 20 years older than she is. I will never be able to compete with her, with her youth, her innocence, her body. Most times, that doesn’t bother me. Baby bottoms are a dime a dozen, girls are interesting (for the most part) for a brief time, then they either move on, or the more experienced person gets bored with them. I have a healthy self-esteem, I know I have a lot to offer as a person, as a woman, as a play partner and a lover. I know he appreciates me for all those things.
When faced with the reality of that 20-year old…that fear of competition kicks in. The fear of losing. And…my first response is to say “fuck it” and leave. In a perfect world, this would never have entered my mind, because he and I would have been talking before or shortly thereafter. But we didn’t, and that allowed the great big monster in my head to grow big slobbery fangs…and I almost said, “fuck it.” Keep your fucking baby bottom. I’m not playing anymore.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction. A typical knee-jerk reaction, for me. If I don’t engage I can’t fail, right? I won’t be found wanting. I won’t lose.
But here’s the thing about being poly. First, my otherloves were there to listen to me. The let me vent, they listened, they loved on me, they commiserated…and they also gave me a good shake. They reminded me that he cares…and how much. And told me to get my ass in gear and TELL him what I was feeling. And guess what…I did, and it was all better. Or at least better enough that I feel like I can find my balance, find my space to deal with my own fears and insecurities in ways that are non-destructive to my relationship. No, I still don’t want to compete with 20-year-olds. But…I also realize I don’t have to. He wants me for me. And the bottom line? If he didn’t, it wouldn’t matter even if I could compete. Because it’s not a competition. We love who we love and want who we want. It’s not a win or lose deal. It’s not “me or her.” And that’s the beauty – and power – of poly.