“To Infinity and Beyond”- What Toy Story Taught Me About Nonmonogamy
Over last weekend, the boy went to PolyDay, a big event/conference in the UK where people get together and chat about polyamory, nonmonogamy, and how it relates to their lives in different ways. There’s a lot of workshops and discussions, and a social at the end. The boy mostly ended up socializing with friends in the end!
Spurred on by the event, we spent a lot of time talking about nonmonogamy, and our agreements, and our anxieties. I used to identify as polyamorous, but don’t anymore, and am still navigating the waters of being half of a nonmonogamous couple rather than a third wheel. After all that I was more than a little stressed out! In need of some chill out time, I ordered delivery and sat at home in my PJs watching movies.
As it turns out, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 was playing on TV, and I was sitting at home, eating sushi and feeling Pixar tug at my heartstrings as it generally does… when I realize that there’s an undercurrent going on in these movies that really hits home for me.
I’ve felt all this. The fear of being replaced. And the fear that if someone tears you a bit, even accidentally, that it might be a marker that they didn’t really want you after all… that they wanted an excuse to shelve you.
Because that fear? That’s been a lot of my experience with nonmonogamy and polyamory.
I cannot even tell you how much I feel for Woody.
So Toy Story, the big plot is that Andy has a primary toy (Woody) but then gets an overload of new relationship energy for another toy (Buzz) and throws his original primary under the bed without noticing, he’s so excited. Buzz gets taken out everywhere with Andy, all of the paraphernalia related to Woody and cowboys gets replaces with Buzz and rocketships. And Woody spends a good portion of time dealing with a lot of feelings about this, dealing with his emotions in a bunch of recognizable ways- self hatred and self doubt, anger at the new toy, depression and anxiety. He strikes out at Buzz, seeing him as the reason for his sudden demotion from primary toy.
Sound familiar? God knows that’s a huge amount of the fear I have currently about the boy starting a new relationship! I think a lot of nonmonogamists I know have felt something along those lines, whether it be sexual or emotional jealousy. I do know some people who say they don’t get jealous at all, and I both admire and envy those people. I wish I didn’t get so wrapped up in the green-eyed monster, but I also have to be true to my own trust issues. Toy Story really reflected back some of my internal musing… much to my surprise!
Toy Story 2, meanwhile, revolves around the plot that Woody’s arm is ripped in play and he is then shelved instead of being brought to camp with Andy, ending up at a yard sale trying to save another toy before being stolen by a collector to join a “complete set”. When Woody insists he needs to go back to his Owner, the other toys in the set scoff, asking why Andy would even let him be at a yard sale where that could happen, why Andy would’ve ripped his arm in the first place. “Sounds like he really loved you” says one of them, Jessie, with a sneer.
Bring this into the nonmonogamy sphere, and I kind of see it as relevant to the experience when your primary hurts you in some way, and then, rather than take the time and care to fix you, they run off to pursue other adventures. That’s a really confusing and difficult thing to deal with, and when people turn and say to you, “man, that does’t sound very loving” you do have a lot of self-doubt. If they cared, why would they not focus on the mess they made first?
Then there’s the bits where the other toys resent Woody for his relationship to Andy. Jessie is reminded of how her Owner loved her dearly, but outgrew her, eventually leaving her in a donation box and moving on with her life. What’s particularly heartbreaking is how she looks so happy in her Owner’s purse after being rescued from under the bed, dreaming of her perceived future as, again, her Owner’s beloved toy. Instead, she’s dumped on the side of the road, in a move that felt incredibly crushing. That reminded me of the time a lover and I took space for a month, and I worked so hard to deal with our relationship shit… only to find at the end that, while I still loved him, he had moved on and moved in someone else within a week of us agreeing to take space. That betrayal was particularly wounding, because not only did I lose my lover, I felt like a fool for thinking it was going to get better.
Stinky Pete, the prospector doll who never was bought and loved by a child, additionally asks Woody if he really thinks things with Andy will last after college. And Pete, it ends up, even manipulates things so that Woody stays with the gang instead of going back to his Owner- basically Pete plays mind games with Woody until some accidents by his Owner, Andy, become hints that Andy was abandoning him.
Am I the only one who’s witnessed that kind of drama in the polysphere? That same kind of “ooooh, well, your lover obviously wants to fuck with you, you should leave them and stay with us, we’re better than that”. Mmmhmm. Been there!
And I love this interaction:
Woody: I have no choice, Buzz. This is my only chance.
Buzz Lightyear: To do what? Watch kids from behind glass and never be loved again? Some life.
Ok, so I’m totally reading into this (which is basically what this whole essay does, don’t judge me) but I learned from this too. When you feel hurt, and maybe betrayed, by someone you love dearly, it can be tempted to hide behind constructed walls and not let people close again. It’s hard to confront those anxieties! Far more tempting to do what feels safe and hide, right? But is that the right thing to do… or the easy thing?
So yes, I think there’s a lot of understanding and reassurance around the fears and anxieties a primary might have about being replaced in the relationship between Andy and Woody, and the Woody/Buzz relationship is a classic case of a primary dealing with and being jealous of NRE. And, of course, in the end Buzz and Woody realize that Andy can and does love them both, and that loving another toy doesn’t take any love away from the first- they’re just different.
But what I also find really interesting from a poly perspective is the relationship between Buzz, Woody and Bo Peep. I mean, what’s going on there? In the first movie, Bo flirts with Buzz but obviously also holds a torch for Woody. When she makes out with the cowboy at the end of Toy Story, she even says how she doesn’t care of Buzz watches (aw yea).
And then in the second movie, as Buzz goes off to rescue Woody, she kisses Buzz pretty intensely, impishly saying he should pass it along to Woody when he finds him. Gotta love Buzz’s sheepish, awkward response of “it won’t mean the same coming from me”, hehe!
Buzz: You still worried?
Woody: Who? About Andy? Nah. It’ll be fun while it lasts.
Buzz: I’m proud of you cowboy.
Woody: Besides, when it all ends, I’ll have old Buzz Lightyear to keep me company. For infinity and beyond.
What more could a nonmonogamist hope for than that kind of loving commitment?
So, Toy Story… thank you for teaching me that it’s understandable to be afraid of rejection and replacement, but that, in the end, if you let that fear keep you from the possibilities of your own heart, the only one you really hurt is yourself.
“Self-preservation threatens us all” Malcolm Middleton sang, and I believe it- I hold the Fool card close to my heart, summon my strength, trust in myself, and fall in love and lust, again and again.