Polyamory, and Attractiveness as a Zero Sum Game

In dealing with envy issues recently, I had one of those epiphanies that you have that you almost don’t want to tell anyone about, because in retrospect it seems childishly obvious. One of the triggers for my envy has been a girl I’m attracted to getting into a relationship with a friend of mine. In this particular case, for a combination of reasons, that reality has triggered a number of insecurities of mine, and thoughts about, “If only I were as attractive/successful/non-depressed as [friend].”

The unspoken end to that thought is, “Then I would be able to compete.”

The epiphany that hit me a couple of weeks ago was that this girl’s attraction to this friend of mine has nothing to do with me. Her complicated feelings with respect to me would exist whether this friend of mine existed or not, and our friendship would probably look roughly the same way it does now whether this friend of mine existed or not. The epiphany was that her attraction to me is not defined relative to her attraction to my friend. It exists on a wholly separate, unrelated axis.

I feel like it should have been obvious, but when it really, consciously hit me in the brain, it had a noticeable effect on my issues with envy with respect to the situation. It made it harder for my brain to say things like, “If only you were as attractive as [friend]”, because it helped me be conscious of the fact that my attractiveness is not defined in opposition to that of others (to say nothing of the fact that in this particular case, my being attractive or not wasn’t even the reason things didn’t work out with this girl in the first place).

I wanted to share this epiphany for two reasons. First, just to share it, and second to say that I think this realization is one of the nice things about being poly. In a monogamous world where someone being more attracted to X person than you generally means that they choose that other person over you (at least in terms of relationships and/or sex), it can be difficult not to think about attractiveness in a zero-sum way. It can be difficult not to think of it in terms that are competitive, that are defined as “in opposition to” the attractiveness of others.

I like that in a context of doing “inclusive or”-style relationships, rather than “exclusive or”-style relationships, that learning to think of things in a non-zero-some way is easier, at least for me. I don’t know that I would have had this same epiphany if I were monogamous, even if it might technically have remained true. Even if it had remained true, the reality of situation would be different. If this girl and I were monogamous, but she were more interested in my friend than me, then the reality would be that in terms of decisions about who she has relationships with, my friend and I would not exist on separate, unrelated axes of decision-making.

The reality of my current situation, though, is that comparative levels of attractiveness don’t have a whole lot to do with the reasons any particular person ends up in a relationship with me or doesn’t. I like that, and I like how it enables me to think about things using less competitive, oppositional frames.


3 comments on “Polyamory, and Attractiveness as a Zero Sum Game

  1. “exist on separate, unrelated axes of decision-making.” <– that is genius. It’s so easy to feel like your slider bar on the scale of wants me———————-doesn’t want me moves in relation to whether or not she wants other people but that doesn’t have to be the case. I am currently making space for poly in my relationship with my first girlfriend (having been with men for most of my teens and twenties). I’m really struggling with jealousy pangs when I see evidence of her acting on, and enjoying her exploration of online dating and flirting etc. Realising that I am an independent variable is a great way to combat those feelings.

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