So quite a while ago, now, I read a post about Attachment Styles and how a lot of the “You’re Not Poly Enough” attitudes the author had come across seemed to be rooted in an assumption that every poly person is Attachment-Secure. I’ve written about this before, but I wanted to touch on it again.
See… Okay. Go watch this quick video that outlines the origins of different attachment styles. It’s basically the foundation of this post.
The short version is:
Attachment-Secure – “Love one another, but make not a bond of love: // Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, // Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.” (Kalil Gibran, The Prophet).
These are good, healthy relationships wherein you know the people with-whom you share attachment bonds (a) are not gonna disappear all of a sudden, but also (b) won’t smother you, AND (c) can rely on YOU to be present and available and supportive without being overwhelming or subsuming of their existence as individual people.
Attachment-Anxious – Clingy. This is me. You notice how, while I’m in an open relationship, my multi-partnered Main Squeeze is my property? If I get really nervous, I can tie her up and stuff her in a closet (er… if we had enough space in our closets to actually do that. But you get the idea) and call her My Precious and she can NEVER LEAVE.
Which is a very reassuring thought for the weasel-prone Attachment-Anxious part of my brain. As long as it can latch onto that thought, it makes it a lot easier for the somewhat-less-Gollum-like rest of me to be chill and relaxed and comfortable with the fact that she’s got multiple Significant People in her life who matter to her as much as I do.
Attachment-Avoidant – “Afraid of Commitment”. I dated someone like this. As a clingy person? Man, did that suck. And yet I still wanted her very badly to love me back. Yeah. I know. 😛
So that’s the three Really Basic types of attachment bonds.
Consensually non-monogamous relationships are, as the saying goes, “graduate level relationships”. I agree that they work best (like, well, all attachment bonds) when the attachments are secure. They’re certainly a lot easier (for a given value of “easier”) when that’s the case. However: I’m very aware that most of the people who gravitate to polyamoury are not attachment-secure. We are frequently walking wounded, dragging a slew of emotional betrayals, and trust issues behind us like so much cumbersome baggage.
I think a big chunk of “learning how to do poly well” involves learning to recognize what your attachment style defaults to, and learning how to manage that. That’s what all the stuff in the Poly101 books talking about “use your words” and “state your needs” and “ask for what you want, even though there’s no guarantee that you’ll get it”… that’s what all that stuff is about.
Well… sort of.
What I’m getting at is that if you, like me, are attachment-anxious and have these Capital-F Fears around being replaced or abandoned, and you know that, there are things you can ask for from your partner(s) to mitigate that stuff. And I don’t mean asking them not to fall in love with anyone else (that doesn’t work, and it’s kind of cruel, because it’s not something that any of us can control). I mean you can say to your partner “When you get back from a date, I’d really like it if you’d curl up with me and give me a big hug and generally let me know that you (still) love me and are happy to be home and spending time with me”. You can say “I’d really like it if you’d hold my hand, or otherwise be affectionate with me, in public, even though I’m not the partner you’re married to”. Needing that reassurance and that acknowledgement doesn’t make you “bad at poly”. It makes you a human who loves someone. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Similarly, if you default to attachment-avoidant you may find that you are more comfortable (I’m guessing – if someone who falls into this camp wants to throw some information out here, go ahead) in your relationships if you just state up front: “I need to have my own space and time to myself, and therefore I live on my own. ‘Moving in together’ means living in the same neighbourhood, not the same house” or “I don’t want to be anybody’s ‘primary’, but I do need you to be reliable when we make plans”. That doesn’t make you “commitment-phobic” or stand-offish or whatever. It makes you a human being who’s looking out for zirself so that the people they care about get zi at zir best. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, either.
You’ll notice that my two examples have very different endings.
To my knowledge, nobody gets called “bad at poly” when they’re totally okay with it when their partners go off to have dates or combine houses with partners other than them. They do get called “bad at monogamy” (maybe not literally in those words, mind you) under those circumstances.
Which is interesting.
If you look at, oh, the last ten romantic comedies to come out in the movie theatres, just as a for-instance, you’ll probably notice a pattern wherein Monogamy tends to glorify possessiveness favour and, therefore, reward attachment-insecurity[1]. And I can’t help wondering if consensual non-monogamy, as a counter-culture, tends to favour and, therefore, reward attachment-avoidance partially in (unconscious?) reaction against the attachment-insecurity-favouring norms and mores of the dominant culture.
I speculated in my earlier post as to whether it was likely that people who have an easier time getting to “attachment-secure” in poly contexts are people who gravitate to open relationships because they start out “attachment-avoidant” and love the potential for not having to be anyone’s merge-tastic be-all-and-end-all (as opposed to people who gravitate to open relationships because they’re “attachment-anxious” and love the potential to have numerous sources of love and care in their lives at any given time).
I honestly have no idea, but it seems like it might be likely.
The “cardinal sin” of Poly is jealousy. And it’s so much easier to Never Get Jealous (too not freak out when your partner(s) have a life outside of you) if your biggest relationship fears aren’t of being abandoned or replaced, but are of having your identity subsumed by your partner or of needing your partner too much.
At least I’m assuming it is. :-\ Can anyone confirm?
So where am I going with all of this?
Well… Okay, I’m not entirely sure. I think where I’m going is right back to what I said at the beginning about how a big chunk of “learning how to do poly well” involves learning to recognize what your attachment style defaults to, and learning how to manage that. Because the flipside of that is learning to recognize what your various partners default to, and talking together and working out how to mitigate the situations that come up when, for example, you’re “attachment-discordant” (is that even a word? Well, it is now…).
If anyone has any thoughts on this subject, do let me know. 🙂
Ms Syren.
[1] There are reasons for this. The bit where monogamy as a social institution is based on marriage-as-property-rights is the really big one, but the flip-side of that where marriage-as-safety/security has a big role in it as well.