The Lonely Poly

Content: This post includes mentioning of an abusive partner, but no explicit details.

 

I don’t know how old I was the first time I realized that I could feel romantic kinds of love for more than one person at the same time. At the time when it happened I didn’t know that there were other people who felt the same and to me it wasn’t an identity, I just considered it one of my flaws.

A couple of years later I was familiar with the term polyamorous and I had found a couple of people to talk to about it. I had come to the point of articulating the question “How does it come that it’s considered perfectly fine to love more than one child, more than one friend, more than one sibling or parent, but never ever to love more than one person as a romantic partner?” To me, this was an honest question but most people outside my poly community seemed to interpret it as a rhetorical question intended to provoke. I didn’t want to provoke, I wanted answers. I wanted to know what I could do to either stop feeling the way I did, because it was obviously so wrong to most people, or to figure out a way to live with my feelings without hating myself for it.

Because, even though I ended up as a speaker in workshops with such great answers about all relationships being hard and demanding work and what not, I never actually figured out how to deal with myself. I had a girlfriend and after a while a boyfriend too, and it didn’t work. I ended up with the same problems as in most relationships of any kind, but so much worse. Everything that was difficult for me in relationships was intensified to a point that teared me apart. Having more than one partner and taking a totally different direction than the conventional path with one partner at a time meant that I was exposed to being misunderstood by more than one person at the same time. Everything that was weird about me, all the stuff I didn’t have words for, became even more weird and impossible to relate to. Living a poly life with all the unpredictability that came with it made me more lonely than ever.

Today, I think that there were many reasons for this. One was that the girlfriend mentioned above was mean and actually abusive, another was that I didn’t understand myself as an autistic person with sensory and emotional overloads. I need to have plenty of time on my own to process and when I didn’t get this I had so many meltdowns that I never understood. I need to know that my processing time is something that will be respected, something that I didn’t experience in most relationships. At one point I was sure that the poly thing wasn’t for me, that it was just a phase and that I needed to put it behind me, so I did. Or, I tried to.

I’m still able to feel romantic kinds of love for more than one person, but today I live in a monogamous relationship. My partner accepts that I’m polyamorous but I hardly have energy to maintain my relationship with him, and there’s absolutely no practical possibility for anybody else. But, I loved someone else too a couple of years ago and until recently I’ve felt so guilty about it. I had forgot that it’s possible to love two people at the same time and felt like I let my partner down by loving someone else too. And then it hit me a couple of days ago that just because I couldn’t handle more than one partner at a time doesn’t mean I don’t have the ability to love two people.

Ableism in Romantic Relationships

I was thinking about ableism in romantic relationships last night. About all the various forms it can take and how hard it is for me to detect it. When I look back at past relationships, I see many cases of ableism but while they were going on the thought never occurred me. As far as I knew I wasn’t even disabled, I was just a very bad person who couldn’t do everything that people expected of me. I tried so hard to not be the failed version of me that I somehow always ended up being in romantic relationships. I went to therapy, I read books, I listened and tried to learn but somehow certain problems kept coming back. My lack of energy was one of them. My need for quiet time on my own was another.

I had a long distance relationship for a while, and every time we met it got very intense due to the practical arrangements. She lived in a dorm and I lived in a small apartment and we spent almost every minute together. We both wanted to be physically close but I had a bigger need for space and this became a huge problem. My girlfriend at the time wanted to be physically close to the point where taking a shower by myself always ended up with a fight. My need for time when nobody touched me or talked to me was not a big thing to me but my girlfriend couldn’t understand why I needed this. I tried to explain but since I didn’t know that what I was experiencing on a daily basis was called being overwhelmed, I didn’t have any words for it. My efforts to tell her that it felt like all the sensations from our physical contact stayed in my skin, undigested until the point where I felt like I exploded if I didn’t have time on my own – I didn’t get through to her.

Sometimes I gave in and we showered together. Sometimes I let her sulk while I showered on my own, angry with her for not respecting my need for space but also ashamed and feeling guilty for needing this. The times I had a meltdown due to the lack of time on my own the shame and guilt was even worse, and somehow this always ended up with me reaching the conclusion that something was horribly wrong with me. We both agreed I needed therapy to be “fixed”.

It seems to be a recurring pattern in my romantic relationships: I can’t live up to other people’s expectations and it makes me feel guilty and ashamed and I think I’m a bad person for not being able to do certain things. The fact that I’m disabled and that’s why I can’t do those things somehow always hides behind my feelings of shame and guilt.

 

Update: There’s a follow-up to this post here, where I write about how an ableist society affects romantic relationships from the outside.

Having a baby without knowing I was autistic

Content Notion: Internalized ableism

 

I’ve written a lot about that I’m mourning not knowing I’m autistic earlier in my life. One of the times that really makes me sad to think about is when I had my child. By then, I had been in therapy a lot for my recurring depressions and emotional instability (which turned out wasn’t emotional instability) and I considered myself “fixed”. So did all professionals and I was so sure that the last problem – that I got so tired from being around other people – was going to be ”cured” when the baby came. This sounds unreasonable to me now, but at the time a psychologist had convinced me that my constant fatigue was just the normal everyday tiredness that everybody feels. I thought that I was somehow spoiled since I kept complaining about it and when the baby was born and I couldn’t focus on myself anymore, I would adjust and stop being spoiled, unsocial, and feeling so mentally overloaded and tired all the time.

So what happened? Well, having a baby did certainly not decrease the amount of quiet recovery time that I needed. In fact, having a baby made it obvious that not getting plenty of quiet time on my own was a disaster to my health. Having a baby made the differences between me and my partner very obvious.

Because, before our child was born I thought of mine and my partner’s need for quiet time alone as fairly similar. We both needed it and were fine with it. But when our baby was born and neither of us got very much of that recovery time, our responses were very different. My partner longed for time on their own, for sure, but was still feeling okay. Tired, of course, but that was about it. I felt exhausted but not tired and sleepy, like my partner. I couldn’t sleep. I cried. I panicked. I was so overwhlemed and had no words to describe what was happening and I felt like the worst parent – no, the worst mom – in the world. I didn’t feel like a real mom. I felt like a fake mom and a fake person since all the therapy obviously hadn’t fixed me.

I loved my baby so deeply. Before my baby was born I was well aware that feelings of love don’t neccesarily blossom by the baby’s first breath, but to my surprise I loved my baby very soon. But the love was painful. My baby was easily overwhelmed and probably had a tummy ache and cried a lot. My partner and I took turns carrying our baby wrapped close to our bodies in a carrying scarf to make the baby suffer less. It helped, and it was wonderful to be close to the baby, but it was overwhelming. My joints hurt like hell from all the carrying (I didn’t know about my hypermobility problems either, at the time) but that was not what made me cry. I cried, lost my ability to talk, to interpret sounds and visual information because I couldn’t digest all the sensations from having so much body contact. I had no clue what was happening, having my baby wrapped close to me felt wonderful – why was it so hard? Why did it make me cry and have meltdowns (even though I didn’t call it meltdowns at the time) all the time? I was confused, ashamed and thought of myself as a failure.

If I had known that I was autistic I could have been a bit kinder to myself. If I had acquired a language for my experiences of sensory overload I could have communicated it to my partner and avoided a lot of misunderstandings. What’s even more important: I could have taken better care of myself. If I had known I was autistic, I could have given myself the recovery time I needed without feeling guilty. Without telling myself I was a horrible mom, a defected person in dire need of being fixed. I could have treated myself with respect.

I feel like I lost my baby’s first year due to all the nasty things I said to myself. My baby was wonderful and it is, and will probably always be, painful to think about how horrible I treated myself during that year. This is why I find it so important to not deny people a chance to self-understanding. Because self-understanding is closely connected to self-respect and self-care.

Overwhelmed or not caring?

I’m dizzy from too little sleep but a thought is occupying me so intensely that I want to try to write about it anyway.

Autistic people are often described as lacking empathy and I wonder how much of that misunderstanding that has to do with an interpretation that overlooks sensory overload and emotional overload from hyperempathy.

For me (I have no clue if this is common or not), I seem to be interpreted as cold when I’m a bit overwhelmed. When I’m really overwhelmed I often cry, but before that I almost freeze. I have a mild kind of shut-down. My face and body language don’t do much at all, I avoid eye contact and I don’t know what to say. Since I get overwhelmed easily, this happens a lot.

Years ago, I was in love with someone. She was in love with me and the tension was strong between us, but for a number of reasons I didn’t think anything would happen. One day she kissed me. Coming close enough to perceive her scent, the feeling of her skin and her hair, the fact that it was happening, the crisp air, the trees surrounding us that looked like they were on fire in the sunshine that was surprisingly strong for October – all of it was too intense for me. It was wonderful but too overwhelming for me to grasp. The rest of the day I could hardly talk and my ability to focus was gone. I felt like the floor I was walking on was moving and I was in a state of overload. Later I found out that she had been disappointed that there were no magic in it. She had expected it to be more intense, considering how much tension there always was when we talked.

This is just one occasion out of many where I have felt overwhelmed but afterwards found out that other people thought I didn’t care at all or that I didn’t feel much. I’m interpreted as cold and without feelings when in fact, I’m feeling more than I can handle.

As I wrote in the beginning, I don’t know if this is common or not. However, it hurts like hell when people accuse me of not caring or lacking feelings. Claiming that people (autistic people or any other group) aren’t experiencing emotions at all or are lacking empathy just because you lack knowledge is dehumaninzing and can be very harmful.