I have been thinking in the last couple of weeks about needs. We all have needs, desires, and an urge to fulfill them. Part of the reason we get into relationships with people, whether they are friends, professional partners, or lovers (or some combination thereof), is to satisfy the needs we have. There are things that we want, and we try to fulfill them with the help of other people when they can help do so, or by ourselves when we can.
And if our partners are not fulfilling our needs, we may have to talk with them about that in order to solve this problem. Or, maybe, we will need to find another person to help fulfill those needs. Either there is some level of neglect or incompatibility going on when such a need or desire is left unfulfilled, and we will not be as content as we could be if we were to fulfill those needs.
Not putting all of your eggs in one basket
One of the mistakes of the normal, monogamous, pair-bonded world is that it often relies on the notion that we are looking for a person to fulfill all or at least the majority of our needs. Sure, a relatively healthy monogamous couple will have their needs for companionship fulfilled with drinks with their friends, visiting family, or a hobby which they do not share with their romantic partner, but certainly all of their sexual and romantic needs are to be fulfilled by that romantic partner, right?
Well, perhaps, but this expectation seems to be unreasonable in the vast majority of cases to have. Sometimes the partner we find ourselves with is just incapable of fulfilling some need you have. Whether that need pertains to a kink you are into which they are not interested in, a role-playing role they don’t want to fulfill, or they are simply the wrong gender (this, I imagine, occurs often for bisexual people).
Further, not only are our needs complicated and diverse, but they will often change as we age. And they will not necessarily change along the same vectors as our partners’ needs, even if their ability to fulfill our needs complemented us well in the beginning. We have to keep an eye out for what our partners want now, while keeping in mind that what they want may change over time.
But what is key here is that this incompatibility does not have to be a death-knell of a happy, rewarding, and fulfilling relationship; perhaps that partner fulfills most of your needs, just missing a few small ones. Perhaps they fulfill a few very important ones. But even so you may be happier with the ability to seek out fulfillment with other people. This is one of the great strengths of non-monogamy; the ability to seek out variety without giving up on meaningful relationships nor what those relationships do give you.
Over-turning the coin
Now, of course it is important to remember that all these observations, while true for your needs and desires, are also true for the needs of your partners. You may not be able to satisfy the desires of your partners either, even if you genuinely want to. That is, perhaps, the hardest part of this on an emotional level; you want to fulfill your partners’ needs because you love them and want the to be happy. But the simple fact is that your willingness to tie them up is insufficient because you are not getting off on it to, and that’s a part of their need. Again, you may not be able to be all the things that your partner wants, regardless of your desire to please. No matter how hard you try, for example, you may not be able to be a sexy woman who your partner wants, even if you can be a sexy man that they may want at other times.
Sometimes you simply need to allow your partner to fulfill their needs elsewhere, which is often hard because you cannot be a direct part of it (and sometimes you can). And it is hard to do this sometimes, especially if you are prone to insecurities, fears, or anxieties about abandonment, some of which I have struggled with myself.
You should remember that in the same way that you may be able to fulfill a need with one person without thinking or feeling any less about another partner, your partners may be able to do the same and still love you and miss you when they are away. The fact that you cannot fulfill a specific need (or set of needs) for you partner does not imply that you do not fulfill needs for them as well (or perhaps more so). They are choosing to be with you for some reason, so do your best to fulfill that need and they will love you for it.
Selfishness in polyamory? Say it ain’t so!
Yes, it happens. I have seen circumstances in which a relationship is not negotiated or practiced with full fair and equal compromises or rules. It can occur in a number of ways, but perhaps more often it is where a partner has more than one relationship, but makes it difficult, if not forbidden, for their partner to have another relationship. In many cases it takes the form of saying that they want to give permission to allow their partner to have other relationships, but only giving it in extreme, unwanted, or nonexistent cases.
Permission is not valid if it is not given in a way that fulfills a partner’s needs or desires.
In one circumstance I experienced a few years ago while in a triad (3 people all dating each other), one of my girlfriends went back to her ex (of 8 years) who had a rule that she not sleep with other men, but allowed her to be with women. Thus we had to part ways romantically, which upset me greatly at the time. Now, she agreed to this rule, but it bothers me that she had to agree to it (for selfish reasons of my own, but also for reasons of fairness). Circumstances like this seem blatantly selfish to me, especially since he did continue to sleep with other women still (probably the ones she would bring home, which makes me wonder if that was the reason he allowed her to remain with women).
Personal experience aside (and I could cite more examples), this is an issue that irks me, and it is certainly one that has analogs in the monogamous world as well. Fundamentally, this is an issue of demanding a double-standard; you allow yourself to fulfill needs but restrict others from fulfilling theirs. It is a compromise of others’ needs but not of yours.
If you love someone, part of that is wanting to see them happy. We all have a moral and philosophical obligation to take a hard look at how we are treating the people we care about and determine if there is not improvement we could make. By submitting to our fears, insecurities, and anxieties we may find that we are holding people close to us in a desire for them to fulfill our emotional and/or physical needs while we are pulling them away from their needs, and we may be doing this without really being aware of it. And because they love us and care for our needs, they tolerate this behavior for our sake.
But they will not do so for too long, nor should they. Allow them to fulfill their needs and in the long-term, if they care for you genuinely, they will return that favor and your relationship will be strengthened. Trust is difficult to give in situations like this, but to not trust is not a sign of healthy relationships.
I’ll leave you with a little Sting, who makes a fair point.
Set your loved ones free and if they stay, then you don’t have to hold them too close or lock the door. They will be there for you when you need them, and you will be there when they need you.