Fish Breakup -- Still Hanging Around

Did the ocean cause the fish’s death?

Fish Breakup -- Still Hanging Around

I’ve spent today thinking about relationship endings.  It started with an interesting thread in a list I’m on.  Then I ended up commenting in my almost-ex’s LJ, having a discussion with a current partner in IM, and looking at various links and websites.  The more I look at all of this, and the more I talk to various folks on- and off-line, the more convinced I become that this is something that the world needs to talk about more.  I’ve talked about it before, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it again.  Today I’m here to post something I wrote some time back.  One of my friends in LiveJournal suggested that I post it more publicly.  This post is, in part, my attempt to fulfill on that promise.

I welcome your input on these thoughts.


It is hard (possibly impossible) to say how big of a factor poly was in the breakup [between myself and my almost-ex]. It’s sort of like asking “did the ocean cause the fish’s death?” We were both poly-at-heart before we ever got together, so our whole relationship was within that context, all the way back to 1987. Honestly, I see the form of poly that we eventually embraced as the (attempted) solution to our various relationship problems, not the problem. Had there been no poly, I’m guessing we would have “broken up because of his infidelity” which in turn would have been *really* caused by his looking around for other people to meet needs that I wasn’t meeting for him (and vice versa, though I found non-romantic/sexual partners to meet some of my needs there). I see all of this as different ways of saying “we weren’t able to be good partners for one another.”

It’s also worth noting that few people ever ask “how big a part did monogamy play in the breakup”? I’m willing to bet that for an awful lot of breakups, trying to be exclusively monogamous contributed to the stress that eventually caused the breakup. Also, if people weren’t “monogamous,” then no one would need to break up because of “having an affair”–the concept of “affair” simply cannot exist without the concept of “exclusivity.” In LOGIC terms alone, all “affairs” are therefore “caused by” monogamy! Really, the reasons for the ending or transformation of a relationship are much more to do about the compatibility of the people, and their skill at relating. These qualities/issues are present in EVERY relationship, mono or poly.

It’s also worth noting that few people
ever ask “how big a part did monogamy
play in the breakup?”

Is this clear at all? I’m feeling like this is very hard to explain, especially to people who are still mired in the monogamous paradigm. It’s sort of related to the issues around characterizing “obesity” as the “cause” of fat people dying or getting diabetes, for instance. Correlation is not causation. There’s a boatload of evidence out there that people get fat because they have diabetes, not vice versa, but explaining that to someone who’s trying to get you to “lose weight for your health” is usually a losing (har har) battle. The mindset of fat=DEATH is so ingrained, that people just cannot see around their assumptions. But the fact is, just because being heavier might be correlated with higher incidence of various issues, does not mean that LOSING weight will LOWER your risk of these issues. The issues come first, not the fat.

Similarly, “cheating, aka non-monogamy, aka poly”=DIVORCE is so deeply enculturated that people have a very hard time understanding that correlation is not causation here too. Once one accepts the assumptions that a) poly=cheating, b) success=longevity of relationship, and c) divorce/end of this form of relationship=FAILURE, then it becomes quite difficult to understand anything that is based on other presumptions (e.g., “cheating=breaking your word,” and “success=partners bring out the best in each other”). Again, the issues come first, not the divorce, or even the poly.

4 thoughts on “Did the ocean cause the fish’s death?

  1. dawnd Post author

    Zoe, I’m with you. I don’t think a relationship can be a success if people are miserable in it. But I know people who really think that. And for others, it’s there but below the level of consciousness. After all, we’re fed this stuff from infancy. What happens when the (white, hetero, able-bodied) Prince rescues the (white, hetero, able-bodied-but-temporarily-helpless Princess (taking her away from her friendly housemates, 7 hard-working but height-challenged guys, I’ll add…)? Why, they live happily ever after, of course!

    Because these things are often at such an unconscious level, they can be very difficult to shift. You can’t consciously change what you don’t know that you don’t know. ;^) So some of this is about developing new models to add to the ones we already have in our conscious and unconscious minds. You can think of it sort of in the line of “Narrative Therapy,” where you’re trying to develop new stories by encouraging some ideas and downplaying others. So here we’re trying to eliminate or downplay the story of “success=longevity” and add a new story (or stories), such as “success=partner fulfillment.” Or even, as someone pointed out elsewhere, moving toward a place where we’re not even in the idea of “success” at all, but are now simply defining “relationship=opportunities for growth.”

  2. Zoe

    My biggest issue is “b) success=longevity of relationship”! I don’t think that anyone is in a successful relationship if they’re miserable. And I don’t think that a relationships’ ending means that it was a failure, either (of either the people involved or the relationship itself). As a matter of fact, poly or mono, I think these attitudes lead to a great deal of harm! It is a success to leave a relationship that isn’t working for you, one that has done what I call “sunk below your bottom line”-whether this “bottom line” is length of misery, or specific actions/breaking of agreements. I strongly believe in working very hard to try and make it work before taking that step-and I believe in being realistic about what is or isn’t going to change. I don’t regret my prior marriage. Nor do I reject the love and happiness that was there. It ended because he took actions that sunk below my bottom line (and perhaps vice versa). And I’m glad that it did end when it did, because I did all the work that made sense, and it still wasn’t working.

    1. dawnd Post author

      Judy, you win the prize for my first comment EVAR! :^D Thanks for your feedback, and thanks for your comment! I hope all is well in the Solar biz and with the babes.


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