The Non-Monogamous Projection Train

Originally posted on July 27, 2016 at

Today on the train I ran into a friend — one of those friends with whom it’s nearly impossible to have a mundane conversation. The best kind of friend as far as I can tell. We launched into 30 minutes of catching up with some pretty incredible depth than ran the gamut of richness and intrigue.

I was talking to my friend about brainstorming topics for workshops and classes and how I’m feeling increasingly drawn to teaching more relationship-oriented classes (for example: “Queering the Myth of the Soul Mate” or “Poly Lovin’ in Astro Land”).

I’m struggling a bit, however, with how to keep the clichés out, knowing full well that the basis of what I’d likely be communicating is: build your relationship with yourself; love yourself first. I don’t know why I’m cliché avoidant — they’re clichés because they’re true, after all — but there you have it.

My friend and I are both part of Seattle’s ‘alternative relationship’ communities, although non-monogamous identities aside we relate through the shared languages of depth psychology, astrology and several others as well. The sheer number of people I know or am connected to who are exploring new ways of doing relationship is absolutely awe-inspiring to me — being well into the thousands — and is one of the primary reasons I can’t imagine ever moving away from Seattle.

Breaking down internalized notions of how relationship should look is daunting work, as is navigating the territories of the heart without clear-cut models. Having a robust network of people to talk to, to socialize with and to date, for that matter, is vital.

In the process of the discussion with my friend, I articulated a brand-new insight that’s just coming to the surface for me. I’ve said it twice in my life, both times in the past four hours: although there might be some small parts of me that need or would likely do better within a monogamous container (not a new revelation), there are parts of me that are absolutely defiant when it comes to the prospect of monogamy.

Not because I think it’s bad or wrong for everyone. In fact, I believe it’s one very valid choice of many. It’s the cultivation of the conscious awareness that it is a choice not a default, and not the best or most intrinsically desired by all, that is more important to me.

That sense of defiance surprised me. I don’t think it is defiance that is based in defensiveness, although I have more reflection to do there. Rather, it is based in a core belief that if we as a culture don’t engage in and create new models of relating that are based in an emphasis on self-awareness and ever-improving communication skills, we are fucked. Perhaps I could state that more articulately, but there you have it. My own personal bias. If this paradigm is going to get shifted or busted or bridged, human relationships have to be at the crux of it.

There are so many unquestioned assumptions and so much ignorance in the world as to the history of monogamous constructs. In so many ways these assumptions and the institution of monogamous relationship sometimes seem like a direct threat to our cultural wellbeing. The more I’m exposed to that, the more consciously questioning and somewhat defiant I get.

I feel a form of righteous indignation when I consider how many people internalize feelings of shame and self-hatred simply because they cannot abide by a model of ‘this is how you shall be forever’ that is just not realistic at all. And although it goes beyond the urge for sexual diversity, that urge does provide an example. I have had several lovers talk to me about the intense guilt and self loathing they felt when trying to engage monogamous relationships while realizing that they wanted and needed more sex than their partners — but were trying to shut those instincts down in favor of trying to do relationships ‘right.’ The number of ways we learn to feel shame about healthy instincts is maddening.

As someone who is well equipped and willing to deconstruct the absolute, largely unquestioned notion in society that monogamous pair bonding for life is superior to any other mode of relating — the ultimate of ultimates to be desired, the industry of all industries to be bought into — and as someone who feels utterly passionate about hashing out and exploring new ways and models of relating, I feel this is work I have to do. Not as a slave to my calling, but because I want to. Most of the time at least. It’s part of my spiritual path and part of my own process of working through my karma.

At the same time as this devotion to ‘alternative’ relationship models — be they labeled as non-monogamous, solo, anarchistic, etc. — swells to the surface, I’ve been reading a book called Masochism: A Jungian View and joking to a friend or two that it is quite possible that my polyamorous identity is an expression of my more masochistic tendencies. Gotta stay humble, after all. I’m well aware, however, that the parts of me that crave more consistency and the ‘primacy’ of a closed-container monogamous bond get pretty anxious and worked up by my romantic choices, and have not received the memo that safety is relative and that I am in fact trying to build something that lasts, even if it’s taking some intense work.

I’m also aware, however, that the ‘safety’ those parts seek is relative and largely an illusion and that so many modern relationships are based on a psychological projection or displacement of the inner child’s unmet parental needs. We tend to take all of our unresolved childhood material and project it onto our lovers in hopes that we can be their chosen one, the one they love more than anything — their child.

I type that out and cringe at the simplicity, but there it is. I just can’t help but wonder what it would be like if we stopped projecting mommy and daddy onto each other and instead let each other be who we authentically are without the weight of that misplaced responsibility. That said, the act of reclaiming projections in relationship can totally rock the boat — the object of your projection might falter without the container of the role you’ve placed them into. Not everyone copes well with being forced in on themselves to uncover who they really are.

On a perhaps more tangential note, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be non-monogamous, to have multiple lovers, while also exploring the notion that we essentially absorb by osmosis the karma of our lovers and their lovers when we have sex with them. I’ve been resistant to this theory, although increasingly aware of its potential truth. If I accept it as potential truth, it means I’m currently linked into a pretty huge network of ‘other people’s stuff’ at a very visceral level, and my first thought is that that makes energetic hygiene quite tricky.

I was, however, talking to yet another friend about that subject the other day, and she brought her own take to the table, which I probably don’t yet understand well enough to articulate in the way she meant it. But I’ll try anyway.

She mentioned what she sees as the potential for non-monogamous relationships to transmute karma faster and more efficiently, and therefore the importance she sees in non-monogamy. She spoke to how much more quickly you can work through stuff when you’re relating to someone at the sexual level, as you become immersed in them — in her words, in the mix of chemicals and DNA that help us ‘get’ each other at levels that are deeper than words.

I wonder, then, about the interplay of projection, sexual osmosis and energetic convergence. People and experiences are drawn into our lives through energetic resonance; at least that’s my language for what happens. The most basic way of understanding projection in the psychological sense is that we project our unconscious onto others who then mirror it back to us so we can learn.

When asking a teacher once whether that meant the thing we are projecting does or does not exist in the other person, he told me it likely did, as the projection needs a hook to hang on, but that it was likely more of an 80/20 or so split. I’ve realized that I tend to think quite a bit about what I’m projecting onto others — but not quite as much about the hooks within me that others try to hang their projective hats onto.

Reclaiming projections, relating honestly and learning about ourselves takes work. I’m loathe to say one form of relating is more difficult than any other.

The friend from the train quoted someone who had recently told them that “conscious monogamy” is far more difficult than any other form of relationship, as if that made it a higher or better choice — an insinuation that non-monogamy is about simply giving into the animal/primitive/lesser urge to just fuck, and instead one should choose the ‘higher road’ and The One. My friend and I laughed and rolled our eyes a bit, both of us feeling strongly wary of any hierarchical models of relating while knowing full well that sometimes hierarchy is warranted, wanted or just implicit.

But relationships can be difficult be they familial, romantic, friendly or professional. They take work. The relationships I’m most interested in are with people who are doing their own personal work, who are owning their own shit and at least trying to reclaim their own projections, who can offer consistency and long-term investment while respecting my and hopefully their own need for a lot of freedom. Which, unfortunately, seems to strongly limit an already limited pool of people to choose from. But, as I said, it seems worthy work for me to do personally. And so…I stick with it…


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