When talking about open relationships, polyamory or non-monogamy in general, a discussion point brought to the table often is that in monogamous relationship two people can go very deep, exploring each other completely, over a longer period of time, and with no distractions. Having multiple relationships, it is easy to spread your attention and keep connections on a shallow level of depth.
Indeed, the largest pitfall I encounter having an open relationship is the temptation to avoid facing struggles and fear in the relationship with my partner, and finding support, satisfaction, attention or whatever it is I desire and don’t get in the relationship elsewhere.
But even when you’re not in a relationship, it’s easy to get lost in connecting with people. Maybe you recognize this feeling: You went on a date you looked forward to, you had a great time, maybe you ended up staying the night. But then you get home and you are left with this restless feeling. You feel a sort of hollow. Like there is a void inside.
Which void do you say I’m trying to fill?
Most of us have a void inside. That is, unless you are pretty much enlightened. There are moments when you aren’t aware of this void at all. It’s still there, but hidden under a thin layer of coverings. Other moments it’s inevitably present. Those moments when a loved one is out of reach. When something precious seems lost. When you call a friend because you have something urgent to share, and nobody picks up the phone. That moment when the support you desire is not there.
What void is this?
It’s the well inside us that longs to be filled. But the thing is that this is a magical well. No matter how much water you pour in from above, the well will never fill. You won’t even see the level of water rising. Most of the time the water surface is so far down, you won’t even see it at all.
But the well can fill up from the bottom upwards. When it’s connected to the ground water, there is an endless supply of water coming in. If the connection to this water source is stable and strong, the well will continuously overflow, sharing its water with its surroundings.
The water is an analogue for love. We all long to be filled with love, let it drain into all our pores until we are completely saturated. Now we can share this unconditional love from a point of abundance with our surroundings.
But instead of connecting our well with the endless supply of love inside us, we try to fill the void with love from outside us. We run around with buckets or thimbles, asking, begging or manipulating the people around us to give us some of their love. Even if they are willing to give us some of their love, and we toss it into our wells, we will never feel full.
Instead, adding this newly found love makes us realize how empty we actually are, and leaves us often feeling worse than before.
Our attempts to filling this inner void can easily turn into love addiction. You fill your bucket. For a little while it feels really good to walk around with a bucket full of love. But then we toss it down the well and the high on love disappears. We search for more. It feels good. We feel bad. We want more.
There are people who won’t recognize this at all. Their voids are slightly different, or they build high fences around their wells, safeguard them with pit-bulls and make sure nobody gets close. These people are avoiding love, because for them, love is something dangerous. Somethings that makes people come close – so close they can get hurt.
But the love addicts will recognize themselves in this experience I often had:
There’s this person I like, and maybe we have had a romantic night together. The next day, I’m back home, and I feel an undeniable urge to send this person a message. Not just any message. A message confirming the importance of last night. I probably hide my true intentions in subtle wording like “Hey, that was great fun last night, wasn’t it?” or “I miss you” or “Hey, when will I see you again?” or maybe just a <3. But the underlying intention is that I don’t just send a message; I send a message to hear back from this person. And when I don’t get a reply quickly, I start to feel nervous. My mind starts to find reasons why I don’t hear from them, and all of these reasons will be personal (“S/he didn’t like me”, “It didn’t mean anything”, “Oh, I found a jerk again” and so on. Our minds will hardly ever come to the conclusion this person is working and can’t to their phone).
A love addict will feel worried when the previous messages ended with ‘xoxo’ and now there’s only ‘:)’. (Yes, love addicts are amazing when it comes to details and reading between lines.)
The worst thing that can happen to an addict is someone taking the drug away. For a love addict, the worst thing that can happen is love being taken away, or even the mere idea that love is being taken away. Hence the sensitivity for fewer messages with heart-emoticons, or restlessness when faced with delay in a response to a message.
A conflict with a beloved person is a dangerous situation for a love addict, because in a conflict situation chances are more likely that the source of love, the source that fills our buckets, will be (temporarily) unavailable.
The love addict will do a lot to avoid conflict. From being quiet, to ignoring his or her own desires/opinions/norms/boundaries and worse.
Did you ever have sex because you were afraid that the other person would walk away if you would express you’d rather stick at second base?
Did you ever buy a car that you actually didn’t like, but your partner did?
Didn’t return something you bought but wasn’t working as it was supposed to, because you would have to discuss the issue with costumer service?
Paint your house in a color you didn’t like?
Stayed in a relationship while you actually, deep down, felt wasn’t nourishing you as you would like?
There you go. You have edited yourself as to avoid conflict, into someone who isn’t you in all your flavors. Of course you feel hollow.
Polyamory = multiple chance
I think that all love addicts, whether they are single, in a monogamous relationship or in a non-monogamous relationship, face the same issues with trying to fill their wells by bringing in buckets of love from outside. But having an open relationship, the love addiction-issue will be magnified because there is both a person to be in and out of conflict with on an ongoing base, as well as unrestricted opportunities to escape the conflict-zone and attempt to fill the void within.
You love sex as an expression of love. It makes you feel desired, wanted, beautiful, cared for, which can – altogether – be summarized as feeling loved. But after being in a relationship for years, sex between you and your partner got, well, boring. You don’t have sex that often anymore, and when it happens, it’s always in the same spot, in the same position(s) and with the same outcome. You desire more rawness, exploring new things or anything beyond the realms of the current situation. But you’re afraid to talk about it with your partner, because you are afraid s/he will feel upset when you do so. Luckily you happen to have an open relationship, and you just met this hot (wo)man. With this person sex is totally amazing. It’s fulfilling. You feel wanted, desired and, as long you’re in the arms of this person, loved.
But then you go come, you curl up in bed with your own partner, and that hollow feeling returns. The void is there again, as a big black hole, ready to swallow you completely. You contemplate talking with your partner. But you know you will see your lover again in a few days. Looking forward to that puts a thimble of love into your bucket. Until your lover doesn’t respond to your message. Or your partner makes love to you in the old-fashioned way, highlighting the issue you were trying to ignore.
Maybe you should find another lover.
Have another date.
Install Tinder on your phone.
Learn to fill the well from within
But another lover or another date will never fill that void. Neither will Tinder or any other app. The only way to ever fill your well with love is by filling it from the inside.
It’s not your partner’s responsibility to make you feel loved. Neither is it your lover’s, your date’s, your parent’s or anyone’s. Moreover, nobody could make you feel loved, even if they wanted to. Even when they throw buckets full of love into your well voluntarily, the well will never fill.
You’ve got to connect your well to the endless supply of self-love.
The first step is acknowledging that you have a void, and that you are trying to fill that by getting love from outside yourself. And that it’s not working.
Whenever I realize now that I use a lover to fill an inner void, I do two things:
- I take a step back. I stop sending messages; I don’t check their Facebook status etc. Like any other addiction this is a painful and difficult process. It will feel as if you will die or never be in a loving connection ever
- I tell people: my (potential) lover, my partner and some sisters that are able to reflect upon the situation with me but who are not directly (emotionally) involved. Oomph. Scary. What if this (potential) lover freaks out and never wants to see me again? What if I create a conflict with my partner about this situation? What if the feedback my friends give me is painful?
I cannot see myself clearly. Because of all my patterns, my fears, my processes and that inner void, I cannot clearly see what is going on and how I’m reacting to a situation. By taking a step back from the situation, and trying to see myself from a more distant, observing position, I can get more clarity.
Involving others in our processes gives us new insights. Being honest with both our partner and lover exposes our secret mission.
And when these steps are taken there is a very important third step to make:
- Love myself to pieces. Soothe my pain (by myself, not by finding a new addiction), go for a walk, have a good old cry, go dancing, put on beautiful clothes, look in the mirror and see how beautiful this fragile person is, ask a friend to hold me (without secret mission; just asking for a hug for a hug’s sake) or hold a stuffed toy (if only my stuffed moose could talk). Whatever it is I need.
The only way to feel saturated with love and fill your void in a sustainable way is to connect with that sense of self-love. You might need help with finding it, and there are great coaches and workshops out there that can professionally help you with these things.
Nowadays, my well isn’t always full, and there are plenty of times when I run around with buckets, trying to make other fill the void inside me. But I learn to observe myself in the process, and I’m getting better at it. I notice my addiction kicking in at an earlier stage. I learned that I will survive when I take a step back and communicate with people about my processes. I scared people away (painful, but I’m still alive), but my openness drew other people closer. I also feel less scared by conflict situations, because since I’m able to fill my well from inside, there’s nothing that can be taken away from me when a person takes distance from me.
But the most surprising discovery I did is that when I let go of the need to feel loved by other people, the more loving the connections became. People feel it when you want to fill your bucket in their well. It makes them often protective of their scarce resources when they sense your neediness. But when you both connect with love abundantly flowing out of your well, there is nothing to win or lose, and the connection will feel deliciously loving and nourishing.