Thursday, March 20, 2014
Poly, Postpartum, and Perplexed
My SO and I have been poly for about five years. Things were going well until we had a baby recently. I find myself struggling with jealousy for the first time, basically, ever. When he spends time with other women, it means time that I have to do childcare. I'm also jealous of the women in his life who do not have post-pregnancy bodies. We've talked about going back to a monogamous relationship, but that would require me to deal with his significantly higher sex drive, which sounds exhausting. I guess there are several questions here. How do I manage my jealousy over the hot, thin women in his life? How do I deal with my resentment over him having sex while I babysit? Is this a sign that we should give up on poly? If so, how do I increase my sex drive?
– Postpartum Polly
Reading your letter, I found myself transported back in time and space to the spring of 2008 in Tucson, Arizona. I'm pushing a stroller with a sage-colored sunshade down the paved walkway on the north bank of the Rillito River (a misnomer, since it's completely dry most of the year). The sun is strong, and the short noon shadows are starkly defined. Neither the thick trunks of saguaros nor the lacy foliage of mesquites and palo verdes provide much shade, so I am wearing a floppy hat with a wide brim and a loose, long-sleeved white shirt with bell sleeves – basically the only quasi-attractive item of clothing I own that allows for easy-access nursing, disguises my post-pregnancy pooch, and provides enough protection from the desert sun. Periodically, I check my cell phone for the time: I'm trying to give my husband and his girlfriend at least an hour and a half alone together. For the hundredth time, I'm marveling at how evolved I am, how magnanimous, how composed. These self-congratulatory pats on the back are an absolute necessity. They keep me going, though the going has gotten decidedly unglamorous.
Back in the present, in Portland, Oregon: I know intimately where you're coming from. I've been there. Postpartum polyamory isn't a picnic – or if it is, it's the kind of picnic in which you plump your dimpled derrière down on the nearest rock, pull up your shirt, and get the baby latched on before you start leaking milk everywhere...while MEANwhile, your partner and his lover(s) are lounging on a blanket in the shade, sipping champagne and playfully taking turns feeding each other frozen grapes, artisan truffles, and little bites of brioche.
Lady, you deserve an award AND a vacation. Please pat yourself on the back while I set up this virtual palm-frond canopy. Then imagine me massaging your feet with some of this awesome coconut lotion I have, while I address your questions one at a time. I hope you won't mind if I rephrase them just a bit, though.
* How do I learn to love the body I currently have?
* How do I get the support I need from my partner?
* Now that we are co-parents of an infant, should my partner and I re-structure our relationship?
* Will I ever feel sexy again?
I changed your first question because I don't think jealousy would be as much of an issue if you weren't feeling dismayed and discouraged about the shape your body is in right now. I changed your second question because I suspect you would worry less about fairness if you were getting your own needs met. I didn't alter the gist of the third question as much, but I thought the language you used was kind of loaded ("Is this a sign we should give up?"). I took some liberties with your fourth question; my apologies if what you wanted was a recipe for a fail-safe aphrodisiac ("Combine one part Spanish fly with two parts Viagra; mix vigorously using a rhinoceros horn sheathed in black latex...") or an instruction manual ("How to Whip Yourself into a Frenzy of Desire When Your Libido Is the Only Member of Your Household Getting Enough Sleep!").
Now, for some answers – a.k.a. Viny's Highly Subjective Opinions on the Subject of Postpartum Poly:
One truism about advice is that it's always easier to give it than live it, and this is especially true when it comes to suggestions for how to love the body you're in, no matter what state it's in. I've never had to deal with serious body-image issues or chronic health problems, and I was lucky enough to bounce back from my pregnancies relatively quickly. Nevertheless, it was still a real struggle for me to accept my postpartum wrinkles, lumps and sags – not to mention the hair loss, the strange skin discolorations on my belly and breasts, etc., etc. (Oh, and the omnipresent, mind-numbing fatigue.) What helped me feel better was to focus on what I appreciated about my body rather than dwelling on all the things that seemed like they'd been ruined forever. Cultivating gratitude will make it easier to treat your body with kindness, patience, and respect. I think you'll find that if you can make peace with your body – your beautiful, amazing mama-body! – you will be less tempted to run negative comparisons. Remember, it doesn't matter what the competition looks like, because it isn't a competition.
As for how you might go about getting the support you need from your partner, I recommend that you first get clear on what you need – and then try to express these needs to your partner in positive, not negative, terms. A good rule of thumb in dealing with jealousy, which I think is totally applicable here: when you feel you aren't getting your fair share of whatever it is you want, try to balance things out by ADDING MORE to your pile, not by TAKING AWAY from someone else's pile. This works for intangibles (attention, fun, adult conversation, alone time, etc.) as well as actual stuff. Come up with concrete suggestions for what your partner(s) and/or metamours(s) can DO to help you feel better, rather than demand that they STOP DOING things that trigger your negative feelings. For instance, you could ask your partner to attend to the baby while you indulge yourself in some way that actually appeals to you. Maybe you aren't feeling interested in sex right now, but you might enjoy a spa day, or a night out with friends.
My answer to the third question – should you re-structure your relationship? – is an unequivocal yes. If relationships are to succeed, they must change and grow to meet the changing needs of the people in them. You and your partner are now parents, and your relationship needs to adjust to accommodate you as you explore your new roles together. From what I've gathered, it's pretty common for poly couples and triads who have recently had a baby to duck out of the dating scene for a while. This makes sense, given that new parents are often too exhausted to shower properly, let alone carry on scintillating conversations after baby's seven o'clock bedtime. IMO, taking a break from dating to focus on any new addition to the family, be it a new baby or a new partner, is probably a good idea. Notice, however, that “taking a break from dating” does not equate to “giving up on poly.” In family configurations in which one or more of the newly-minted parents has an established intimate relationship outside the family, it is crucial to respect the wishes, wants, and needs of the non-parent(s) when considering relationship-restructuring options. You've made it sound as though neither you nor your SO currently has a serious relationship with an OSO, so de facto monogamy for a period of time might be an option to explore. However, you've also made it clear you don't relish the idea of meeting your partner's sexual needs all on your own. Perhaps you are being unnecessarily hemmed in by an assumption that the two of you must choose between being polyamorous OR monogamous? Ditch the labels, and just create something that will work for you both during this phase of your lives. For a start, how about brainstorming a list of possible sexual outlets for your partner that would require less of his time and energy than dating and/or maintaining another romantic relationship? (Hmmm...that sounds like fun, doesn't it? If you get off on making lists as much as I do, you might end up feeling so jazzed about all your ideas you'll find yourself actually staying awake to have a conversation, running scenarios, getting a little bit naughty.... Just a thought.)
This brings us to your last concern: You're having trouble with polyamory, because you're feeling jealous, because you are not feeling sexy; and you're worried that if you try to solve the problem by switching to monogamy, you're going to have trouble with that, too, because your partner is going to feel deprived and resentful, because you are not feeling sexy. Common denominator: you are not feeling sexy. A major bummer for your partner, because he wants to have more sex. And a major bummer for you – but not because you want to have more sex. You're actually feeling perfectly fine without it, thankyouverymuch. As you probably know, many women experience low libido after having a baby, particularly if they are breast-feeding. I know I did. It's a hormonal thing. Awash in oxytocin, you are probably too content with contentment to miss desire much – but I bet you sometimes think about the crazy girl you used to be, and you feel a little wistful, even though her obsessions seem strange and (truth be told) a little frivolous to you now. You have this vague and distant memory of what it once felt like to be sexy, to want and be wanted, and you can't fucking relate, which makes you wonder if you have become a different person: a staid, boring, matronly sort of person. I could be wrong, Polly, but it seems to me that what you need is permission and reassurance: permission to feel how you feel about sex right now, and reassurance that you won't always feel this way. So, here you go, wrapped with a bow: your lack of interest in sex is both natural and temporary. You're fine, and you're gonna be fine.
Good luck, buttercup – and give that sweet baby a kiss for me.
Sugarcubes & Sassafras,