Dear Captain Awkward
I’m currently in a happy poly relationship where me and this other individual are dating the same person (X) whom we both have a primary relationship with (the girl and I have a secondary relationship). X recently proposed to us but, for a very good reason, will officially marry Y (the other girl) and will marry both of us in a private joining of hands ceremony. While I love both of them very much marriage terrifies me and I can’t really articulate why. It’s more like a general feeling of no I don’t want to do that. The problem is I don’t feel like I can say anything to X because I don’t want to scare him away from marriage- it’s complicated but basically X didn’t want to get married again ever but outside circumstances have forced the issue and while I’m thrilled to hear he’ll marry Y I wasn’t thrilled to hear that it came with the added secondary wedding.
Thus how do I bring up the fact I don’t want a marriage ceremony even after saying yes because I was drinking and it was a shock and I didn’t want to ruin the moment? Also how do I bring up the fact that I’m holding out for someone I could see myself being married to as opposed to my current two partners whom I can see being with for the rest of our lives and being very good friends with but I frankly can’t guarantee that we will always be romanticly and/or sexually tied? Finally how do I get out of the secondary marragie without jeopardizing the first marrrage which is rather important that it happens?
Uncertain about marriage
You actually seem very certain about marriage, in that you do not want it. Therefore, under no circumstances should you marry (even in a not-legally-binding fashion) anyone. Here is your script:
“I really want you guys to get married and am happy for you and I love you both (all?). However, now that I’ve had a chance to sober up and think it through, I don’t want to participate in any kind of marriage ceremony of my own, and would like to stick with our current jam.”
You don’t actually have to give any reason beyond “I don’t want to.” Having a general feeling that you don’t want to get married IS a reason, nay, THE reason to not get married. “I can’t really explain why, but I know that I just don’t want to.” Marriage, outside of the legal status, means different things to different people. If this isn’t what marriage feels like or means to you, then don’t do it.
If somehow that jeopardizes the first marriage, that’s not your problem. X also gets to decide that he does not want to get married. If your withdrawal is enough to scare him off, then he maybe doesn’t actually want to get married. Which is a great reason to not get married.
Whatever health insurance/work visa/Green Card/spouse exemption from testifying in court/tax deduction reason that this marriage “needs” to happen, it can happen without you. If the others pressure you about this, and try to make it your fault or blame you if the whole thing falls apart, they are WAY out of line. You’re not stopping them from doing whatever they want to do, and if they don’t want to do it, then they must have some reservations of their own that weren’t created by you.
This is because relationships aren’t transitive! Isn’t the whole poly jam is that X and Y can have their relationship, and you and X can have your relationship, and you and Y can have your own kind of relationship, and you all get to define and negotiate your own boundaries for what that means and what you want to do? That means that YOU, Letter Writer, get to define YOUR own boundaries for what kind of relationship YOU want. Which means not marrying anyone you don’t want to marry. If something is not working for YOU, then it is not working, period.
The sooner you speak up and rip the bandaid off, the sooner they can go about planning their wedding, perhaps with you as celebrator-in-chief.
Dear Captain Awkward,
My partner left his wife a year ago. (We’re all polyamorous, and our relationship began with her blessing and permission.) She was emotionally and verbally abusive to him. I had lived with the two of them for many years, and I moved out when I finally recognized the abuse, and admitted to myself that the situation was not improving and not going to improve. It was one of my hardest decisions, and I felt I was abandoning my partner. I thought that when he recognized the abuse for himself and moved out (a year later), things would get better and he would cease contact with her. Instead, he spends time with her every week, because he wants to stay friends with her. And he admits this is at least partly out of fear of what she might do if he doesn’t. He also claims to be testing his ability to maintain boundaries with her, so that he doesn’t “get into a relationship like that again”.
This is hard enough, but he keeps pushing me to talk with her as well. He thinks I would somehow benefit from talking with her, despite the rage and outright hatred I feel towards this person. I accept his right to decide who he wants in his life and how. I accept that he doesn’t want to talk about the abuse, so most of our circle of friends doesn’t realize how bad things were, or why I want nothing to do with her. But damn I’m sick of being told that I need to learn forgiveness for a person who does unforgivable things.
I want to continue being here for my partner and helping him heal. I’ve also recently recognized that when I lived with my partner and his wife, she was also emotionally and verbally abusive to me. This compounds my difficulty in dealing with the situation. My Team Me is very small, because most of our friends don’t know about/understand/recognize the abuse, and I don’t know how to talk with them without saying more than my partner wants known by our circle about what he went through. He doesn’t believe he’ll receive support because he is a man who was abused by a woman.
Any advice from you and the Awkward Army would be appreciated so much. I feel like I’m suffocating on secrets and expectations.
Dear Can’t Forgive,
This is a rough situation. The good news is that relationships aren’t transitive. If your partner wants to unwisely carry on a relationship with his former abuser, that does not automatically obligate you to have a relationship with her, too. And if you need to reach out to a trusted friend or two and be honest about what happened to you, you are allowed to ask for that support from your friends. You can do that without disclosing your partner’s business. You are also allowed to seek friendships that do not touch on your partner at all.
Here is a script for your partner:
“Partner, to be honest, I find it very troubling that you remain so entangled with your ex-wife, and I sincerely wish that you would cut off contact with her and let yourself heal and move on. But I also realize that is your decision, and that you are allowed to manage your relationship with her in whatever way you choose. But I absolutely draw the line at having any interaction with her myself. She abused me. I don’t forgive her. I don’t like her. I don’t want to know her anymore. So please do not ask me again to spend time with her, and please look into some counseling so that you have a safe place (that is not me) to discuss your interactions with her.”
As for talking about it with friends, you can tell your partner:
“Partner, I don’t want to spread your business around among the friend group, but I am not going to lie and pretend everything is great.”
With friends, you can say “Partner still sees his ex-wife sometimes. I prefer to avoid her entirely. I don’t think she treated either of us very well.” That’s honest and to the point. You don’t have to go into why if you don’t want to. But you don’t have to lie and pretend that everything is great and that you all want to hang out – I mean, they know he got divorced, right? They can fill in the blanks themselves that there was some reason for it. And find SOMEONE you can talk to. This is eating you up.
I understand why people feel sensitive about revealing abuse they’ve suffered and worry that people won’t be supportive, so I would never pressure anyone to disclose if they are not comfortable. But shame & silence helps abusers cover up what they did, and you don’t have to conspire to keep this lady’s secrets when they affected you, too.