Some thoughts on noticing differences

“But what if he compares me to somebody else?”

That’s a question I hear, often, in conversations about polyamory. Oh, I get the usual questions–how do you decide who’s sleeping with whom, don’t you get jealous, how do you find poly folk, that sort of thing. But surprisingly often, someone will ask “What if he compares me to somebody else? What if he has two lovers, and he compares me to her?”

Now, honestly, I think that’s a good thing. I want my lovers to compare me to their other lovers, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. But first, let’s unpack the question a bit.

The question assumes quite a bit of subtext. When someone asks me “What if he compares me to his other lover,” the subtext I see inside the question is the assumption that such a comparison would go badly. Presumably, a person who believes himself or herself to be absolutely the bee’s knees wouldn’t approach being compared with other folks with fear and trepidation.

So I think the question “What if he compares me to his other lover?” has an implicit “…because she must be better than I am, and so if he does that, he’ll realize what a pathetic loser nobody I am” attached to the end.

Which is, of course, nothing but good old-fashioned insecurity at work. Insecurity is a good news/bad news kind of thing; the good news is that insecurity is really not that hard to beat; with practice, I think that just about anyone can learn the habits of security. The bad news, naturally, is that the process of letting go of insecurity is scary and uncomfortable, and the discomfort can sometimes seem worse than the insecurity itself.

At least for a little while. Learning security doesn’t actually take all that long, and insecurity lasts indefinitely if untreated, so the scales tip pretty decisively if you take the long view…at least, I think they do. But you gotta take the long view.

All that aside, though, it definitely seems to me that a person won’t fear being compared to other people unless there’s some kind of voice somewhere in the background of that person’s head telling him that the comparison is apt to end badly, so I think the question itself is very revealing.

Most questions are, though, when you get right down to it, especially questions about relationships. I had a person ask me once…but no, that’s a whole ‘nother post itself.

There’s an irony, in that the fear of being compared to someone else can actually mask a great source of security. And that security comes from knowing that you, and everyone around you, is unique and therefore irreplaceable.

When my partners compare me to their partners, they’ll probably notice similarities (I tend to have a taste for women who like geeky gamer poly guys, so they’ll probably have other partners who are–wait for it!–geeky poly gamer guys), and they’ll notice differences. And the differences are what make us individuals, not interchangeable commodities.

I think the question “what if he compares me to others?” assumes, in addition to a presumption that the comparison will end badly, the notion that such a comparison would reveal which one is “best.” ‘Cause, you know, if Joe thinks that Cathy is best and Jane is second-best, then Joe would naturally prefer Cathy to Jane, right?

And who knows? Maybe there are some folks out there who would do something like that–evaluate their partners to find out which one is “best,” then stay with that person ’til someone better came along. Now, personally, I think folks like that can be spotted pretty easily. I also think if I am with a person like that, I’d want to know about it as soon as possible, so that I could dump their sorry ass and find a partner who, y’know, actually wanted to be with me ’cause they value me.

But I also have seen people stay with partners who don’t appear to like them very much because they believe that if they leave, they’ll never find another partner again as long as they live, and will be doomed to a solitary life forever and ever, amen–so they gotta take, and try to keep, what they can get.

Which brings us, of course, right back around to insecurity again.

Now, my partners are about as different from one another as you could possibly imagine. They all have some things in common, of course–they’re all women, for one. They’re all unusually intelligent, for another. And they’re all polyamorous; my days of dating monogamous partners are over.

But other than that, they’re very different from one another–physically, psychologically, philosophically, practically. And when I spend time with my partners, yes, I notice the differences.

It would be impossible not to. Shelly’s taller than I am; figment_j is shorter. It’d be well-nigh impossible not to notice that I have to stand on tiptoes to kiss Shelly and look down to kiss figment_j. When I sleep next to one of my sweeties, my arm wraps around dayo differently than it does around joreth. (Actually, figment_j even commented on that the last time I saw her; physically, when we’re lying next to each other, we fit together much differently than she and her other sweetie do.)

And in terms of personality, my partners are even more varied than they are physically. Some of my sweeties are extroverted; others are introverted. Gina loves sushi; joreth doesn’t eat seafood. Shelly is a math geek; dayo loves sports cars. Gina has the same deadpan sense of humor I have; joreth is prone to cynicism; figment_j is an optimist in cynic’s clothing, even on her worst days. And yes, I notice these differences. Be a bit bleedin’ impossible not to. Hell, I cherish these differences, because every one of them is what makes each of the people who has blessed me by being part of my life unique.

And isn’t that the point?

When you compare your lovers, when you notice the similarities and differences between your lovers–this is a necessary and inevitable consequence of seeing your lovers. Not as faceless, interchangeable units, but as human beings. You can not know a person, not in any meaningful way, without noticing those things that make that person unique.

It’s not about comparing them on a stepladder to figure out which one is “best”–lessee, Gina gets four points for loving dogs, ’cause dogs are cool; joreth gets six bonus points because she hates the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, and I don’t like it either1–and the one with the most points wins. ‘Cause, y’know, the one with the most points is the best one.

Instead, it’s about seeing each of my partners for exactly who she is. When you do that, you see that each person is someone who adds value to your life–value that any other person can’t.

And that, my friends, is awesome.

1 figment_j believes I don’t appreciate Heinlein the way I should. I’m willing to give him another go–I last read a Heinlein novel more than ten years ago, and I still have one of his books she recommended which I haven’t read on my “to be read” list–so we’ll see.