I have been reading your blog and loving your smart, thoughtful advice. I was wondering if you could give me some help with my problem.
This may be a bit of a ‘my diamond shoes pinch’ problem but I’d appreciate your advice because I’m tying myself up in knots. I am in a poly relationship. I have a kind, wonderful husband and a girlfriend who I adore. She is smart, she is an amazing activist, she is an unstoppable bundle of awesome. However, there are some problems which lead to a whole tangled mess.
My feelings for her are much deeper than her feelings for me. I am basically in love with her but for her, it is a good friendship with great sex, not love. It was painful to accept and I still have pangs of jealousy at times but the good things are so very good that I have no regrets. I try not to ask for more than she is willing to give and to give her space. I don’t normally lean on her for emotional support, although when I’ve needed to, she’s been there for me.
The second problem is that she’s not great at communicating and I get quite insecure. Actually talking about the fact that I feel insecure has never really helped, it just leads to miserable, awkward conversations that don’t actually reassure me. So instead, I find myself clutching at scraps – text messages she sends me, the way she laughs at my jokes and sounds pleased to hear from me, hearing nice things she’s said about me and our relationship from other people.
Unfortunately, when she’s busy or out of contact for a few weeks, I begin to find it harder to convince myself that she cares about me. I start to panic that the silence means she’s got bored and it will be over. The conviction that it’s over grows steadily until I abruptly lose my grip on reality and find myself crying my eyes out, utterly heartbroken. When I finally get in touch with her, there’s always a good reason for her absence that she hadn’t told me about (see problem 2) and I feel like a crazy woman for getting so worked up.
This cycle happens regularly but only got to the point of explosion about five times in a four year relationship. I don’t think I’m causing drama to get her attention – I generally manage to keep my insecurity under wraps. But it’s a cycle that makes me tired and miserable and I don’t know how to stop feeling this insecure.
My Diamond Shoes Rub Just A Little
Dear Diamond Shoes,
Thanks for the nice words. Yours in an interesting question because I think it both does and doesn’t matter that your relationship is a polyamorous one.
It doesn’t matter in that the cycle of insecurity you describe is true of any relationship where one person has stronger feelings. It’s the kind of thing that makes Maggie Estep the Official Poet of Captain Awkward Dot Com.
When you’re obsessed with someone and in that headspace, it doesn’t help to say “I’m insecure and worried you don’t like me back as much as I like you.” That’s guaranteed to make a skittish person withdraw further. At lunch with the great Commander Logic the other day, she said something very wise about how to ask for what you need in relationships. You can’t say to someone “Make me feel more loved!” but you can say “Hey, when I see you at the end of a work day, could you just give me a big giant hug for a few minutes? “ You can ask your partner for what you need, but it will help you if you can break it down into a concrete action. Now if you ask and the partner gives and you’re still feeling anxious, that’s on you to do whatever self-care and anxiety management you can. Getting good sleep, good food, spending time with friends, throwing yourself into work, bone the daylights out of your husband – whatever you can do to distract yourself from these obsessive thoughts (that she didn’t create and that are not her fault).
On the other hand, it does maybe matter that it’s a poly relationship. Now I know that poly relationships are real and the love and connection inside them is real. If you haven’t already read this really nice post about that over on The Pervocracy, check it out. But your girlfriend is not in love with you. And it sounds like things are working for her the way they are. She can do her thing, work, travel, have good sex, and not get in too deep because you have a husband and she knows that it has limits and she can get a lot of what she needs without having to give her whole heart to it. After four years, she’s not going to be more in love with you than she is now, and she’s not going to put more time into wooing you than she does now, but gosh, she likes you enough to keep showing up and having awesome sex and an awesome friendship despite periodic…explosions. That sounds like something pretty real to me.
It may just not be what you’re looking for from love. And maybe what you’re looking for from love isn’t possible with her. Maybe there is a level of attention and connection that you need that this woman is never going to give you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still need it and deserve it.
The way to feel less anxious is a combination of working on your own anxiety and finding a way to make your requests to your partner specific and concrete.
The way to get the love you want is…? A big open question.