Many of us struggle with a sense of ‘being too much’ for other people, whether it’s an accurate one or not. At some point in our lives we were too loud/difficult/needy/enthusiastic/over the top, and we never quite recovered from internalizing this message. (Healing is a lifelong journey.) In polyamory, this can appear in relationships as bad or inconsistent boundary maintenance - a ‘too much’ person will be afraid to assert their boundary until it’s been crossed and then panic when it has, and feed into their own sense that they are too much with the resulting conflict, if they aren’t already aware that they have to work on setting out boundaries or don’t have partner(s) who collaborate(s) well on doing so. But, even after beginning to overcome this and starting to have relationships where we can clearly define our boundaries and needs (wants are still sometimes a struggle for yours truly) we can get caught in a different negative behavior loop because of this sense of shame and ‘being too much’: projecting our fears onto our partners and constantly questioning how they feel.
Have you ever been in a relationship where you talked about missing or loving someone even more frequently than you necessarily thought it, so that they would reciprocate and you’d get the reassurance? Or one where you’d ask “do you miss me?” Before you’d admit you miss them (even if you missed them a lot)? Or are you, like me, a person who manifests this by absolutely refusing to be first to escalate verbal expressions of affection? I’m not proud of this - it’s one of the things I’m working on in therapy - but it’s REALLY COMMON, and in polyamory it tends to manifest in a lot of reassurance-seeking, a need to recognize what does and doesn’t work for me for reconnection (because if I don’t develop strategies and implement them with partners, I’ll start beating around the bush and revert back to ‘are you sure you really love me? Are you sure it’s not annoying I want to talk to you?’ Until I drive everyone crazy), and a need for a strong social support network both inside and outside my polycule.
One of the ways and reasons NRE is such a love/hate moment for me is this - the trap of ‘too much.’ The person with whom I’m locked in NRE ‘doesn’t know I’m too much’ yet, ‘can’t tell I’m annoying yet,’ to my insecure brain, but simultaneously ‘has no reason to forgive me if I’m too much or annoying.’ …and so this spiral, which has very little to do with the thoughts of the other person, in reality, and so much to do with my own insecurities, is very heightened for me in that phase of a relationship.
As much as it’s an essential disservice to our partners to not take them at their word that they feel exactly as they’ve said for us, sometimes, because what we’re doing is using them to punish ourselves and feed our own negative self-image, we have to break the loop with a hard reframe. “That would be mean of him, and my partner isn’t mean.” This is where my tendency to overthink can be a powerful force for good. I have a (true! Flattering, but including of banal things like ‘how he stretches,’ and ‘way he talks to his digital spy that runs his lights!’) portrait running in my head that can be called up at will. This portrait confirms a pretty intense lack of ‘mean to me.’ If we can manage that reframe and to split up the thought “<Partner> doesn’t really love me! He must be so annoyed at getting all these messages from me,” Into its component parts of “<Partner> isn’t mean and that would be a really mean thing for him to think,” and “I’m feeling lingering shame about being too much,” We can then ask, “What triggered that?” For me, from experience, it can be things that to the outside world look really small but that to my day-to-day made a big difference and felt like a failure or a dumb mistake that set my mood on edge for a while; or it can be a change in the relationship network that’s making me uncomfortable that I’m trying too hard to ‘be cool’ about that I need to take a deep breath and acknowledge instead of smothering.
‘Too much’ is generally speaking a myth. We’re all just right for someone(s) out there. But the process of finding our people in the world definitely leaves some of us with more baggage around the idea that we might be overwhelming - and trying not to pass this on to our partners, but also not to punish ourselves with it, is a tricky proposition I’m figuring out more every year. I hope many of you are too.
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