Masculinity is something that can be both beautiful and deeply toxic to who we are as men. For me, as a polyamorous man, it's been extremely important to figure out where my toxic and fragile masculinity is getting in the way of my (good) polyamory. In this series, I'm exploring some of the myths about masculinity with which I've struggled while practicing polyamory.
"If my partner wants love, support and/or sex from someone else it's because I'm inadequate. If I had been more ________ they wouldn't have even wanted that."
I have run so many scenarios in my head through my time being poly about how I am not enough. When my partner(s) engage with other men it can only be because I'm too fat, too needy, don't make enough money, am not hot enough, strong enough; not athletic, artistic, or creative enough. Surely there has to be some explanation (that is still fully-centered on me, of course) as to why my partner could possibly want something else when they already have me, right?
It is so easy to get into that negative thought spiral—and in my experience it's also one of the hardest to overcome—because it strikes at the core of who we are as men. When we see our partners' desire for loving, supporting, sexy relationship with someone else as a reflection of our own deficiency, we reinforce that mono-normative idea that most of us have that if we were enough, they wouldn't even want anything else.
I can only be me. I think I'm pretty great, but I will always be fundamentally myself. While I certainly continue to grow as a person, for the most part, I will always have the same kinks, the same sense of humor, the same dick, and the same needs and wants that my partner is used to. However, there are also perspectives, sexual desires, contexts, likes and dislikes that I don't have that my partner may enjoy. All humans crave variety. It's exciting and it makes us feel like we're moving to the next chapter of the story, something that Dr. Emily Nagoski refers to in her book, Come As You Are as “sex that advances the plot.” The realization that humans crave variety can be very scary, though, because it goes against the thing so many of us were taught from a young age: I am the one for my partner (or if I'm not, it ends in divorce). There was no concept of being one of the ones. It was just the one. Focusing on that idea, even though I know it does not match up with my values and world view, can really stand in my way if I'm not careful.
I remember exactly how terrible it felt when my wife let it slip that she enjoyed when her (male) partner pulled her hair during sex. She doesn't really enjoy that with me. I felt like I was so deeply flawed that I couldn't provide that core, so-fundamental-to-life-itself-it-might-as-well-be-water act of hair pulling. In my mind, I was a complete and total failure and fell into that negative thought loop of assuming that if I was hair-pulling deficient, then probably I was bad at sex in general and a totally failure and, of course, a cuck  (Thanks, Internet).
The reality, of course, is that none of those things are really true. It's ok that my wife likes her hair pulled by people other than me. I do things for her that others don't/can't. AT LEAST I BETTER OR I'LL EXPLODE. Just kidding, totally kidding. Moving on.
So how do we, as men, get past that feeling of despair associated with not being good or "man" enough? Here are some things I try to consider when I'm in that spot:
- My partner does not pursue other relationships because I am deficient. That's just not how relationships work, and I know that because I don't pursue other people because my partner is flawed.
- My partner enjoys many parts of our relationship that are unique to our bond and cannot be replaced.
- I do amazing things for my partner and they would not be with me if I didn't. That said, other people also have something to offer. That is not a reflection of my being broken, that's the human need for different types of connection.
There are also some action items that can help pull me through these feelings. Here are some of my favorites:
- When I feel a big reaction coming, I stop and take inventory of what the underlying insecurity may be. Chances are, there is one. For example, "I am a failure because I don't pull my wife's hair like he does" is probably more, "I'm worried I don't know what she likes and/or can't give it to her."
- I ask my partner to tell me the things that I do that make me special to them. This sometimes feels a little like 8th grade church camp affirmations, but it does actually work.
- INA, or Identify, Name, Ask: 1. Identify the underlying insecurity, 2. Name it out loud to my partner 3. Ask for reassurance around that specific thing.
- Write down a full brain dump of all the terrible things I feel about myself in that moment. When I see them all written down, I recognize that so many of those things are simply not true.
- Ask a friend what they see in my relationship to my partner that makes it awesome. I remember when my partner and I were going through a bit of a lower-frequency sex time and her sex life with her boyfriend hadn't missed a beat and I was feeling really down about it. I turned to another partner who told me, "You guys do so much together, from work to the house and cabin and kids. Her time with her boyfriend is so much less complicated, it makes perfect sense that right now those stressors are impacting your time, but not theirs."
There's most certainly no one quick-and-easy way through any of the difficulties that stem from toxic and fragile masculinity. But I’ve made it this far, I want to work through it, and I have no doubt in my mind that I will.
If you have any burning questions for a Good Polyamorist to write about, please submit a Dear Poly and we'll get on it!
1. Thinking that it's SUPERFUCKINGHOT when your partner has sex with other people and wanting to watch IRL or in videos isn't always cuckolding. For me, it's hotwifing, or the idea that the person I'm married to is so fucking sexy that she can do all of these sexy things with all of these sexy people but she still chooses me. ↩︎