It’s Not My Job To Fix Your Insecurity.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

At this point, I can tell whether it’s going to work out with a new lover based on how they phrase their concerns. If it’s “That made me feel insecure,” well, we’ve got a good foundation to work on.

If it’s “You made me feel insecure,” we’re probably doomed.

Because polyamory is filled with so many kinds of insecurities, it’s hard to avoid them unless you’re either preternaturally self-confident or so detached from your partners that you’re stepping into psychopath town – and that’s not most folks. Most polyamorous relationships have that little sting of concern to them: that fear whether you’ll still be desired in the same way when they come back from a new date. That discomfort when you discover that thing you thought was Your Ritual turns out to be something they do with everybody. That hesitation as you wonder whether that’s harmless flirting or something deeper forming, and should they have told you if it’s getting serious?

But let’s be honest here: As much as I’d like to be Fix-It Felix, darting around with my golden hammer to whack away your insecurities, I’ve discovered that doesn’t work.

You gotta own your own insecurities for polyamory to work.

Because there’s a subtle difference between “That made me feel insecure” and “You made me feel insecure.” “You made me feel insecure” implies that:

a) I did something wrong, and;
b) If I just fine-tuned my behavior properly, you wouldn’t feel insecure.

But the truth is, in polyamory, quite often someone did nothing wrong to trigger someone’s insecurity! Sometimes what I perceived as heavy flirting was just, you know, how they talk to people at parties. (I’ve got a couple of Italian friends who touch my knee and lean in close all the damn time, and I have to remind myself, “Nope, that’s just how Angela is.”) Sometimes that emotional valence you’ve attached to “Watching The Crown together” is so internalized that you’d never bothered to discuss it, and so your partner had no way of knowing that introducing Ian to this show you love felt like a betrayal.

And sometimes, insecurities trigger even when people are acting within the proper boundaries. Like I said, I’ve told my partners “Absolutely, go on dates!” But they go, and I feel like a forlorn dog looking out the window as their owner leaves for work, convinced ZOMG THEY’RE NEVER COMING BACK.

In that case, the person didn’t make me feel insecure. The situation did. Saying “You” made me feel insecure is an avalanche of tiny assumptions that usually add up to “If you just acted better, I wouldn’t feel this way.”

And I’m sorry. That’s not true. Because as someone who’s struggled with lifelong anxiety, I can tell you that my wife and my lovers have often been beautifully supportive to me, and I still questioned my own worth. Implying, even with the subtleness of a single word, that somehow they inflicted this upon me consciously, would be doing a great disservice to the immense love they felt for me.

Sometimes, I have to look around and ask, “So is this something I should fix, or is this a discomfort I should learn to accept as a part of this relationship?” And more often than not – for me, as someone prone to depression and anxiety – I discover that a lot of what’s making me uncomfortable is, well, me. Specifically, the fact that I can’t ever really believe that anyone would voluntarily stay with a mess like me.

They didn’t make me feel insecure. I had insecurities, and a situation jabbed into those insecurities.

I was a participant in my own hurt, whether I intended to be or not – and if I can hurt myself without meaning to, isn’t it possible that they can hurt me without meaning to either?

But even more:

I’ve found that the people who say “You made me feel insecure” are, more often than not, the last ones to break up.

Now, this isn’t as guaranteed a bond, but… when people say “You made me feel insecure,” that puts the onus on me to get better so the insecurity goes away. If I tell them I mean well, then they’ll stay no matter how mismatched we are, because to them, if I made them feel insecure, and I didn’t mean to, then clearly it’s a question of refining my behavior.

And in my experience, that means they’ll continually hammer away on me, enduring all the hurt that they believe I do to them, and because it’s entirely about fixing me, they never ask about themselves.

Whereas the people who’ve said, “That made me feel insecure” distance their discomfort from my intentions. It doesn’t matter whether I meant to make them insecure by not texting them “Goodnight” before I went to bed – it’s something they need to function in a long-distance relationship, and I’m not providing it. And what ultimately matters for them is not my intent – because maybe I’m forgetful, or maybe I just fall asleep without warning – but, rather, that my actions are insufficient for what they require to maintain happiness.

You might think it’d be easier to break up if you believe someone made you insecure – but then you get their actions entangled with their intent, which usually leads to an endless series of second chances and resentment.

Whereas what I’ve found is that people who separate those issues are more clinical. Maybe I didn’t intend to trigger someone’s insecurity by continuing to search for new partners after I started dating them – but they realize that I’m not making them insecure, it’s that for them, they need a polyamorous partner who’s not quite so tomcatty. And they’ll decide that regardless of how I intended to make them feel, the relationship we can actually have will make them miserable, and so…

Splitsville.

This is generalized, of course. There are always exceptions. But looking back, for me, the exes I tend to be on the best terms with, and the relationships that turned out to be the most fulfilling even if they didn’t last, were the ones where people didn’t link their own discomfort exclusively with my actions. I certainly did things that made them uncomfortable – just as they did with me.

But in the end, it wasn’t up to me to make them feel secure. It was up to them to communicate their intentions clearly with me, to tell me what would or would not work with their own personal fears, and to decide whether I was someone who was ultimately good for them.

Because in my experience, when someone says “You made me feel insecure,” that all too often means that I’m at fault if the relationship doesn’t make them happy. And sometimes, broken relationships aren’t anyone’s fault. Human beings are complex, and sometimes you wind up in a situation where the only way you can stay together is for you both to lop off enough parts of your personality until you’re squatting in a narrow, bloodied circle of pure Lowest Common Denominator.

I’ve got some stellar exes. The way we interacted made me feel really insecure, and I couldn’t handle that. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people; just bad for me in a romantic relationship.

They couldn’t fix me. But I mean, hell, I’ve been trying to fix myself for almost forty-plus years now and still haven’t managed it, so how unfair would it be to think they could do it, y’know?

6 Comments

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Aug 1, 2018

    Your analysis feels right, but there’s a little voice in the back of my head saying yes, but Ferrett’s analysis is primarily regarding relationships with Ferrett, the constant. Perhaps with someone else “you make me feel insecure” would be the correct analysis?

    I’m at a loss to think of a situation where that is the case, just loathe to eliminate the possibility.

    -Alex

    • The Ferrett
      Aug 2, 2018

      Maybe, but I don’t think so in general. Certainly on Fet, this essay’s exploded, with an uncommon number of agreeing comments and almost no dissent, which is pretty unusual. I think it’s just a bad approach in general.

      • Anonymous Alex
        Aug 3, 2018

        Yes, I think you’re right. Maybe just a knee-jerk reaction on my part to look for an exception, maybe the effect of other (unrelated) things going on in my life, but the more I think about it, the less the exception sounds viable.

        -Alex

    • Yet Another Laura H
      Aug 2, 2018

      There’s “your general disregard for my emotional (or physical) safety makes me feel unsafe and causes me wonder whether you are as much of a priority to me as I am to you.” Which is not quite the same thing mentioned above, I feel, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Plus, the only correct follow-up is, “So I’m walking away, because whether or not this is brainweasel chittering or a real feeling of danger, I need to change my circumstance, pronto.”

      The only real caveat I would add is that it’s all too easy for someone prone to abusive patterns to, being told to own their feelings like that, to think, “Right! I am the one making myself feel sad! I am the one who is CHOOSING to get all bent out of shape over this busted rib! I am the only abuser here and I am not only abusing myself by choosing to be sad, I am abusing my sweetie by choosing not to let it go!” It gets… ugly. And sad. But one has reason to hope that Mr. S. does not choose partners vulnerable to that particular delusion.

      • Yet Another Laura H
        Aug 2, 2018

        I guess what I’m trying to say here is “If your Spider Sense is telling you that a series of behaviors is actually designed to make you feel insecure and it’s NOT ‘that’ it’s ‘you, intrinsically inherently essentially you,’ didi mau, schöne Frau.” Which may, in fact, be the other side of this essay’s coin— and I would like to say, AFAICT, that I’m specifically excluding mustelids of all sorts from my example.

      • The Ferrett
        Aug 6, 2018

        I’ve chosen partners like that, but my invariable response has been “It feels like I’m making you miserable and the best thing I could do would be to leave,” which was usually met with a flurry of “NO BUT YOU MAKE MY LIFE SO WONDERFUL.”

        I’m getting better about choosing partners who can walk away when the need strikes.

        But the distinction, I feel, is fairly narrow. I think a lot of the times people concentrate too much on intent and not enough on outcome. I have had partners who really meant well, didn’t mean to be neurotic, didn’t mean to be a pain in the ass – hell, I have been that partner. But after some time, what matters is not good intentions.

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