When I tell people that I have a policy of never breaking up with anyone, I get some strange reactions. I understand that if you are doing the whole cultural-default-standard-monogamy thing, the unwritten rules say that you can only “date” (read: maintain an ongoing sexual and emotional relationship with) one person at a time. If you want to date someone new, you first have to break up with the person you are currently dating.
I think this is a profoundly unhealthy model. I don’t want to have to end one relationship just to start another. I don’t want to end relationships at all. I choose the people in my life very carefully. I only cultivate relationships with people who I feel add something to my life. My relationships are valuable, and I don’t intentionally break valuable things.
Of course, people grow and change, and relationships do as well. Sometimes life paths come together for a while and then diverge, taking people to different places, literally or figuratively. Other times, there are important lessons that can only be learned from a relationship that you might not want to do again the same way but that, at the time, seemed worthwhile. This is normal. Relationships can evolve, and even dissipate, without breaking.
As I’ve gotten deeper into polyamory over the past several years, I’ve made a commitment to never walk away from an intimate relationship because I want to avoid dealing with discomfort. This has sometimes been challenging in the face of behavior that was intended to push my buttons. Ending the relationship might have seemed easier at the time, but I know from experience that the closure that option promised was illusory, and that the dynamics that brought me into those situations will not go away without actually working on myself. What better place to do that than with a person who has already shown an ability and willingness to push me into uncomfortable places that I would prefer to avoid?
By staying present with those feelings, rather than trying to escape them, I can learn to how to navigate that emotional space. This gives me the tools to see that same dynamic coming next time and consciously choose whether and how to get involved. Usually, this means that I only invest in new relationships that offer me something that previous ones did not. Sometimes, the new relationship continues to evolve and grow along with me. Other times it does not.
Not surprisingly, I’ve been on the receiving end of more than my fair share of breakups. This is something that I fully accept, even though it might be painful in the moment. Sometimes the freedom and clarity that emerges can be exactly what is needed to create space for something new to take root.