A few weeks ago, a fellow member of my online Poly community posted about the immense struggle they were having moving on from a relationship. Although they had been the one requesting the separation, and although it had been six months since the last time they interacted with their former partner, this person felt they were a complete failure for still thinking about the other person. They said they still cried often, thought of them frequently, and were having a hard time not being triggered into an emotional spiral. They said they hated themselves for all of it and that they truly felt weak for still being in love.
It was an incredibly difficult post for me to read for a variety of reasons. Having recently gone through an extremely similar situation, I felt I could completely relate to this person’s state of mind and overwhelming emotional turmoil. The interesting part, however, is that when I was going through my own breakup, I discovered a rather mixed bag of reactions. While my Poly community and the vast majority of my monogamous friends were there to love and support me, I did encounter a few individuals who questioned the severity of my grief. One of them even asked how I could be so upset over what they called a “Poly breakup”.
A Poly breakup?
I had no idea what they were talking about, so I did a bit of asking around and discovered that it wasn’t all that uncommon for a person from a strictly monogamous background to have a rather skewed view of breakups in the Poly community. A few of my monogamous friends even went as far as to say they thought the ending of a relationship wouldn’t hurt me as much as them because, as a Poly, I should be “used to it by now.” After all, having multiple partners leaves the door open for more separation, which means more exposure to heartbreak. And this should, in theory, leave me immune to the emotions that go with ending a relationship. As though being Poly has the ability to turn you into some sort of artificial human, devoid of any negative feelings with regards to loss. And, as any Poly will tell you, that’s simply not true.
Whenever I experience a breakup there is always some element of grief associated with it. Although I may be seeing more than one person at a time, I tend to view each relationship autonomously. That person, in my eyes, is a one of a kind entity, and our relationship together is its own force. So, when that relationship dissolves, I cannot magically will the negative emotions away. And, while it may be true that I can lean on my other partners for support, it certainly does not make the pain any easier. And, as with many monogamous relationships, that pain may continue for a considerably long period of time and continue to affect parts of my life long after the relationship is over.
In this way, I can honestly say that monogamy and polyamory are the same. No matter the reason or relationship dynamic, the sudden loss of someone you care about can be devastating and the daily triggers that remind you of them can be overwhelming.
So, here’s my advice: It is OK to be triggered. It is OK to feel that pain. It is OK to admit you are still hurting. It is OK to be human.
When you allow yourself to be OK with the pain of the loss, the triggers can actually take on a more positive meaning. For me, the worst moments come when I look at something he made me, or if I happen to smell his scent on someone else, or even if I look at the clock and realize it is what would have been our usual texting time. For a long time these things paralyzed me. But then I realized that, even though our relationship held toxic elements, it didn’t mean the feelings of love and happiness I experienced because of him weren’t real. And the same is true for you. Just because a relationship isn’t healthy at the time, doesn’t mean your love did not exist, and it doesn’t mean you are wrong for still being in love.
So please, allow yourself to be triggered. But also allow yourself the opportunity to understand why those things are triggering. It’s because you loved them. It’s because they meant something to you. It’s because even though there were a multitude of negative things going on, there were also plenty of positive ones that made you smile. You are in mourning right now for the death of a relationship you truly wanted to work. And that’s OK. Once you can get to this point, then the triggers will become reminders of your ability to love someone so deeply, rather than the burdens of unimaginable grief. And, please, be proud of yourself for recognizing that your relationship was not healthy and for having the strength to stop the bleeding for both of you. Sometimes one person needs to speak up for both in the hopes that healing on both sides can begin and that you can both come back stronger despite the sadness.