On loving two people at once (inspired by Ben Higgins on The Bachelor)

Inspired by Ben Higgins of The Bachelor, this week on the blog I examine what it means to love two people at once - brain versus heart, logic versus fear.

My brain and my heart are embroiled in a fierce disagreement, and over The Bachelor no less.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that I can hold two contradictory truths inside of me, two realities, and as uncomfortable as it may be and as confusing as it may feel, it’s more honest than trying to force an outcome.

In fact, we do it all of the time, don’t we? Contradicting ourselves, espousing a truth with deep passion, only to claim a different stance as soon as the circumstances change.

For instance, I can be the most confident person in the room one day and then feel unlovable and unworthy the next. It is not a character flaw or something to be fixed. It is simply a truth that I am learning how to navigate – it does not make the confident days any less confident, nor does it make the unlovable days any easier.

We are walking contradictions, especially when it comes to love.

You see, The Bachelor – Ben Higgins – is in love with two women and it all will come to a head tonight (March 14th) on the season finale.

I’ve seen countless tweets weighing in on the drama, many of them angrily insisting you can’t possibly love two people at once, that it’s not REAL love if you love more than one person, that true love is a one-time-only deal (until, of course, that relationship ends and then there’s another true love waiting around the corner).

Ben Higgins has even said he wishes there was a book that told him how to love two women at once (there is – Tristan Taormino’s “Opening Up” is a great place to start).

And I am angry…

I am angry that Ben is being forced to choose between the two women he loves. I’m pissed that the world is insisting he can only be with one woman.

Because I know that it’s possible to love two people (or more) at once, and to do so successfully. It might be a tad unconventional for mainstream television, but it’s not all that uncommon.

More and more people are exploring open relationships, non-monogamy, polyamory, relationship anarchy, and all sorts of relationship configurations that upend the Disney (and biblical) fairy tales of one true love.

After all, we know that 50% of first marriages, and 75% of second and third marriages, end in divorce. We know that serial monogamy is considered normal…that it’s not about being in love with one person for life but being in love with one person at a time.

Logically, it just doesn’t add up. (And the truth is that all of these sad statistics are less about monogamy, and more about communication, expectations, and sexual awareness…but that’s not what this rant is about.)

We love multiple family members easily and effortlessly, multiple friends for all their differences and the various ways they support us, and if we’re parents, we can love multiple children, unique as they may be.

Love isn’t limited in quantity, but it is bound by things like time and energy.

So, I wonder, why can’t Ben Higgins, or any of us, for that matter, love more than one person in a romantic way at the same time? Where is that against the rules?

If each woman (JoJo & Lauren) feels loved, valued, respected, seen, and nurtured, is it all that different for Ben to romantically love two of them than to…love one woman romantically and also love a good friend or a sibling that he enjoys spending time with, too?

My head understands all of this and fiercely defends his experience of loving two women at once.

It doesn’t make sense that he has to choose one over the other…because if the one he chooses doesn’t work out, what happens next? He labels the relationship a “failure” and then finds someone else to love?

What if loving both of those women at the same time is what creates the kind of support and connection that means all three of them are endlessly happy for many decades?

Love isn’t the fairy tale we’ve been led to believe.

Love, once the rush of new relationship energy fades, is more about hard work, turning towards each other through the mundane and the pain, and TRYING a lot. Trying every day.

Love isn’t terribly glamorous when you get beyond that drunk stage.

In fact, I could go on for days about the ridiculousness of how we’ve been trained/tricked into valuing romantic and sexual love above other kinds of love, but that’s a different post for a different day.

My brain gets it.

I know many people who are polyamorous or non-monogamous or in some form of open relationship and they are happy. They thrive. It makes sense – not having to choose just one, but instead getting to live in a way that honors the different people who come in and out of your life, the different types of relationships that might form.

But, my heart sings a different song.

My heart worries that if I speak these things out loud, they may come true for me. Because, as much as my head may know one thing, my heart isn’t quite sure what it believes just yet.

I know that I crave depth, intimacy, connection that grows deeper and stronger as time passes, finding novelty within the safe container I’ve built with someone who I finally let all the way in. I know that I want to know that when shit gets tough, people aren’t going to give up or turn away because it’s easier and less painful or because there’s someone new on the horizon.

My heart, in the end, really just wants to know I am special.

And so I get it. I understand why people are reacting so strongly to Ben’s confession that he is in love with both of these amazing women. He is turning the fantasy that so many of us cling to on its head.

It all comes down to fear and worthiness.

That little demon inside which whispers, “If the person I love can be in love with two people at once, then why would they ever choose me?”

If Ben can love JoJo and Lauren, have the stories we’ve been telling ourselves been wrong all along?

The uncertainty is terrifying. And then there are the personal fears that start to bubble up as we question the ways we define love and what makes us lovable.

We may not know how to name it, but that discomfort is a mask held up by our fear.

The fear of not being enough, or of being too much. A fear of how worthy we are that someone would ever choose us if they have other choices available to them.

Fear and unworthiness can make us do and say wild things. It can force us to the edges, to either-or, black or white, yes or no, instead of recognizing the power of remaining fluid and uncertain and curious.

For many of us, we wonder…if we can’t make one relationship work, what makes us think we can successfully manage two or three or more?

Despite all of the fear, though, on a personal level, my heart does break for Ben, JoJo, and Lauren, knowing that these are real people, with real feelings, and because Ben will be forced to choose one, someone will be devastated on tonight’s finale.

I can imagine the collective sigh of relief that millions of people will share when Ben makes his choice and brings his story back into alignment with the fantasy so many of us are desperately clinging to.

All of us wrapping ourselves, once again, in a blanket of false certainty that offers us a sense of relief in an uncertain world, even if it’s a lie.

Because even though there are no guarantees in life or in love, we like to tell ourselves that there are.

I’d love to know…what do you think? Why are people so angry at Ben Higgins for loving two women at once? What might happen if he decided to choose them both, and if they, in turn, chose him, too?


 

*Note: I am a fierce believer in successful monogamy, but only when the two people in the relationship are consciously choosing it for themselves, and not as a social default. I also believe open relationships, non-monogamy, solo polyamory, polyamory, and all of the other relationship styles can work, too. But again, only when everyone involved is choosing it and living in integrity with their needs and desires. I also believe that you can move in and out of monogamy, polyamory, and various relationship styles as your needs and circumstances change – it’s not a one-and-done, no going back thing, either.

 

  • Alyssa Borden

    This was a very bold post and I commend you for writing it. It definitely got me thinking about my views and what I was brought up believing about love. I liked your point about how we can love family and friends effortlessly, so why is romantic love any different; that was a valid point. I also know, we look back on all of our relationships thinking we “loved” someone until ..we didn’t. I think its easy to think you love two people when emotions are flowing; but in the end I truly believe you can only love one person. Here’s why I think that. Relationships who are polygamous, in my opinion, are selfish. They aren’t really in love..they are seeking immediate satisfaction based on feelings. They want to constantly “feel good”, they don’t want to commit to one person. Love is not always a feeling, its a commitment. To get through the good, the bad, and the ugly..together. I believe thats why divorce rates are so high, because people think love should always have this “butterfly” feeling, when thats in-fact false. Marriage/Commitment..is hard..its really freakin hard..and we now live in a society where people want everything easy.
    Also, if you watch the bachelor we all clearly know who he’s really in love with. We’ve known it from about episode 3. Also, word around the internet was he was told by producers to tell the other girl he loved her as to not ruin the ending.
    Again, I admired your post a lot. It really made me question what I believed and I’m still thinking about it! Great job!