Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m currently over 2 years into a poly relationship with a wonderful person. Our policy is that we’re both free to have casual sex, and we’ll treat dating people on a case by case basis. The majority of our relationship has been long distance, but I very recently moved to live a few blocks away from them.
Partner has a friend who was also known them for as long as I have. Over the course of our relationship, they’ve grown very close. Every time I heard about Friend from Partner for the first year or so, they kept assuring me they were “just friends” and that they’d never be interested in anything more with him, even though I didn’t ask for that assurance.
Then, Partner asked me if they could do nonsexual kink things with Friend, which I was okay with. This came with more assurances that they’d never be interested in doing sexual or romantic things with him, again without me asking for them.
Early this year, Partner asked to start dating Friend. I said I wasn’t comfortable with it right then. Partner asked again a month or so later because Friend’s partner decided to open up their relationship. I said I needed to wait until I lived near Partner and see if I felt more comfortable in our relationship.
Over the summer, Friend visited Partner and they had sex, even though I told Partner I was uncomfortable with that. They apologized for being inconsiderate of my feelings, saying that it just happened. A day before I moved, Friend’s new partner referred to Partner as their “metamour” in a place where I saw and Partner brushed it off as a misunderstanding. After that, I told them I wasn’t sure I’d ever be comfortable with them dating Friend while still dating me.
It’s now been two months since I moved and while my relationship with Partner is stronger than before, I’m still not comfortable with them dating Friend. They’ve given some hints that they want to talk about this sometime soon, but they haven’t brought it up yet.
Other than this issue, I am really in love with Partner, although I still don’t feel like I’m getting enough affection (school and health issues make fixing this hard).
I don’t know how to get over Partner giving specific boundaries for their relationship with Friend and then changing them suddenly.
Thinking about this situation makes me have anxiety attacks and cry. I’m working on finding a new therapist, but it’s hard having just moved and needing to find a bunch of new doctors.
Am I being ridiculous about this whole thing? What do I do when Partner brings up the subject again?
– Too Anxious, Too Needy
We’ll come back to how you named yourself in a sec.
Let’s review the series of events in your letter:
Your partner gets wicked mentionitis of someone and you notice it. You don’t ask for reassurance that there’s nothing sexual or romantic going on here, but they reassure you anyway. Huh, that’s weird. Why bring it up at all if it’s totally out of the question?
My read: At this time, your partner wanted to have sex and possibly romance with this person.
Then your partner wants to do kinky stuff with this person. But then they reassure you that it’s not in a romantic or sexual way, even though you didn’t ask for reassurance. Huh, that’s weird. Not only are they doing a thing they reassured you that they wouldn’t do, they are preemptively reassuring you again.
My read: Your partner was already doing/had already done/was like, less than 24 hours from doing whatever it is with this person and it was probably in a sexual/romantic way. Sometimes manipulative people have tells, and “I won’t do that thing, I promise” offered up out of the blue translates as “I am considering doing that thing, so much in fact that I feel a need to tell you about it.”
Okay, we finally get some honesty, after many months, when your Partner requests to start dating this person. Yay for honesty! Yay for adhering to the agreed-upon parameters of your relationship! And you said “Hey, I’m not good with that right now” so the issue should be closed, right? Like maybe you shouldn’t even hear this person’s name for a while.
My read: Your partner was already kinda sorta dating this person. Like, maybe they were using a different word and there are some acts or statements of affection that were painstakingly kept off the table so your partner could later say, well, technically, we weren’t dating…yet. They delayed asking you for your greenlight because they knew on some level it would not be forthcoming and wanted to prolong the potential of the new relationship.
Then your partner and friend had sex. Wait, wasn’t that the thing that was not going to happen, way back in the beginning?
My read: When you hear the words “it just happened” about a sexual encounter from people who have been circling each other with intense fuck-eyes for months, what you are hearing is BULLSHIT. Self-serving bullshit. Your partner might actually believe this bullshit, but it doesn’t make it not bullshit.
Believe it or not I have run across people with whom I have intense chemistry/desire/a sweaty awesome history of poor decisions at times in my life when revisiting those decisions would be a bad idea. When I for sure did not want to fuck them, I did things like “not be alone with them in a private space” and “let their sexy raised eyebrow of suggestion just hang there unacknowledged” and “divert conversation away from flirty/sexy things.” When I wanted to fuck them despite all good sense, somehow we found ourselves sitting very close together on the Couch of Plausible Deniability exactly at Oh Look, My Train Just Stopped Running O’Clock.The Couch of Plausible Deniability cannot move independently and does not sneak up behind people and knock into the backs of their legs forcing them to suddenly sit down. I ended up there because I steered myself there.
What I mean, LW, is that your Partner and this friend may have been pretending to you and to themselves that sex was not gonna happen on that visit, but the drama of whatever “we shouldn’t do this/no no we shouldn’t/so let’s keep talking about how we shouldn’t do it/yes please send the list of the things we’re not going to do/good list we are also not going to do these things/definitely not those things/because it would be bad and wrong/so wrong/don’t worry though we’re just friends/I totally agree/so I’m gonna stay at your place right/sure, my couch is your couch/cool/do you have an extra blanket the couch is so cold/I don’t but you can come share with me…oh wait, sorry, LW, it just happened” they had going on is part of a very predictable pattern where they made it happen.
So, they have sex, and you’re not thrilled, but as long as it’s ‘casual’ it’s technically within the bounds of your agreement even if it is with someone that you’ve specifically expressed discomfort about. Oh wait, the friend and the friend’s partner are talking like friend and your Partner are dating (my kingdom for some pronouns), but don’t worry, it’s a misunderstanding. Whose misunderstanding, I wonder?
My read: I think that Partner has gotten friend’s hopes way up about a dating relationship between them and is keeping them in the wings until your approval can be secured for everything to be out in the open at last.
Present day, you’ve moved closer to Partner, and things are happy except for the part where you’re not getting enough affection and you are having anxiety attacks and crying because the specter of this friend (who your partner is definitely not dating against your wishes, nope, there’s no way that could be happening even though they’re sexually and mentionitis-ly involved) is still haunting you, and you are signing yourself “Too Anxious, Too Needy” where I might sign you “Understandably Wary.”
Rewind back to when the mentionitis started. Parter could have said, “I’m interested in my friend, and I wanted to let you know. Would it be cool if we dated/did sexy stuff?” and you could say “Yes” or “No” or “Maybe” and everyone could decide from there what they could live with. Maybe they didn’t quite know their own mind right then, so, okay, whatever, but what I see is a constant “Don’t worry! I’m not going to do the thing you’re worried I’ll do” and you going “Cool, I trust you and I wasn’t worried” and then Partner coming back a bit later either having done that thing or imminently planning to do that thing and asking you for your sign-off as if it’s a technicality. Dislike.
My read: You are nervous about asking Partner to choose, because you are afraid they won’t choose you, and you don’t want to be right about all the times your instincts said “Huh, that’s strange” over the past year. I suspect you are being groomed into accepting a relationship with friend as a full blown fait accompli, which also means accepting some evidence that either Partner intended this all along or that they have a truly spectacular lack of self-awareness, consideration, and integrity.
Your anxiety attacks and crying and how awful you feel right now might be coming from more than one stressor in your life, but a partner who constantly follows “Don’t worry, I won’t do that thing I promised you I wouldn’t do” with “Yeah…so…about how I did that…” sure is a big fat vector of anxiety and suckitude. There is so much room in your relationship for Partner to have super-fun-sexy times and romantic times without shredding your trust, you seem like someone who bends over backwards to be fair, so why all the goddamn rules lawyering and pretense from your Partner?
If you’re ultimately okay with Partner dating their friend, I guess that’s good, because LW, I’m pretty sure they already are in everything but name. So they are keeping their interactions just on this side of skirting technicalities while casting a lot of longing glances and “no, we can’t, remember?” admonitions, but there is still *something* going on there. If you’re not okay with this (and it sounds very much like you’re not), the last time you said you weren’t comfortable with it it ended up just…sorta…not mattering? Whatever decision you make next, if “I can’t trust my partner to tell the truth about what they want, and even when they do eventually come out with it my feelings don’t end up mattering” is part of your calculus it is not because you are too anxious or needy or too anything.
Edited to Add: Closing comments. Have a great weekend everybody. LW, I hope you are well.
88 thoughts on “#778: The crimson flags of unsolicited reassurances.”
I’m really wondering about the timeline of LW and Partner deciding that LW was going to move (which I assume was a mutual decision, but LW doesn’t say that) and Partner getting involved with Friend. Did Partner have issues with LW moving, or commitment issues in general, and so created relationship with Friend in response to this?
That said, I agree with the Captain that it looks like the relationship with Friend is a fait accompli and LW can either accept it or not and make their own decisions on that basis. LW can also decide how they feel about being involved with Partner given how Partner came to be involved with Friend in the first place. (and agreed, I have severe side-eye for “it just happened” in nearly any context, though I love how it created Oh Look, My Train Just Stopped Running O’Clock.)
Oh hon. Do you need a hug? I am offering hugs.
I don’t have much to offer except that I don’t get a good feel at ALL from how your partner is treating you in this situation. 😦
Also, I am very side-eye about including their sexual encounter under “casual and therefore doesn’t count”. That’s… not what those words mean. At all.
There’s hair-splitting and then there’s splitting the atom.
*nods* Once you have a long-term relationship with someone and you WANT to have a romantic relationship with them and your partner is saying “no, not comfortable”, the sex isn’t… casual. In my opinion. That’s not how that word means.
I feel like Partner is rules-lawyering over the terms in order to get hir way.
Yeah, I would 100% categorize that encounter as cheating based on all the conversations and agreements that came before it.
I would too, to be honest. Not everyone would! But, uh, I would not be pleased.
Ditto. Partner knew this wasn’t cool and did it anyway, and is continuing to push boundaries. Red Flag time.
Yep. I am poly and I would consider something like this cheating in my own relationships. The rules are being manipulated and broken so that one person can sleep with who they want to regardless of agreements they’re making with their other partner. (I’m also super leery of the fact that Partner asked to date Friend *before* that other relationship was technically open. That’s telling me that Friend and Partner are more invested in having this new relationship happen then treating existing relationships with respect.)
I totally agree. I have had casual sex with a friend but I was very clear in my own mind that they were a bad fit for a romantic relationship and I didn’t want to date them and then… I didn’t date them. Like, casual sex and long term friendships aren’t mutually exclusive but I very much doubt that in this case Partner had “casual” sex with their friend.
“Early this year, Partner asked to start dating Friend. I said I wasn’t comfortable with it right then. Partner asked again a month or so later because Friend’s partner decided to open up their relationship.”
Partner asked LW about dating Friend a month before Friend and their partner opened their relationship. There is nothing about this that is not sketchy. It is the Sketchy Express on the Sketchy Highway to SketchyTown. You may love Partner, and I’m sure they have many fine qualities, but they are not trustworthy in this regard. They are not being careful and respectful of your feelings and your boundaries. Run.
UGH YES that jumped out at me, too. Partner is not a reliable narrator about this situation, LW, and I don’t think you’re being too needy or unreasonable or anything. It’s not unreasonable for you to expect your partner to tell you the truth and to abide by your relationship rules that you have both agreed on.
No kidding! This is totally speculation, but it sounds like Friend might have been pressuring their partner to open up so they could officially start “dating” Partner. This situation has bees written all over it.
Oh, I missed that one. Yes, opening up a relationship in response to the importuning of a new partner waiting in the wings has issues.
Okay, I’m going to out myself as a poly person. This seems really, really shady to me. If your partner has never been in a poly relationship before I’d cut them a tiny amount of slack (along the lines of “Really this is okay? But how do we talk about it?”) – but that slack was used up and then some in the “WHOOPS WE HAD THE SEX WE SAID WE’D NEVER HAVE” episode.
Sex doesn’t just happen. That is a convenient lie that people tell because they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. Oftentimes it’s tied in with the patriarchal myth that men cannot stop themselves from acting on their sexual impulses. That’s also not true.
You do not have to put up with this just because you’re in a poly relationship. You do not have to put up with it at all. You deserve to be with someone who will treat your feelings as important. Sad to say, that is not this guy. 😦
We are (deliberately) left in the dark about the genders of any of the participants. I saw this all through the lens of lesbian drama, with everyone being female–but that’s me bringing my stuff to the table.
That’s fair, Karyn.
Please let the record reflect my comment as “that is not this person.”
Aaaand it was just pointed out that Friend is male–is referred to as he and him.
(climbs off high horse)
The OP does twice identify the OP’s partner’s friend as “him,” though…”that they’d never be interested in anything more with him”; “they’d never be interested in doing sexual or romantic things with him”.
The greatness of this blog is that by removing the gender labels that in some cases do not even serve to identify the soul within the body, we’re able to see problems of the heart as being just that.
Then if someone chooses to use some antiquated shaming labels, it really points up how cruel those were. Like a museum piece. 💖
Yeah. It’s one of those “what, you slipped and fell and landed on their genitals?” things. No. That is not actually a thing that happens. You make decisions that lead to sex. These decisions may include “lying to your existing partner about your feelings,” “lying to yourself about your feelings,” and “removing clothes so that sex can happen.” At any point in this decision tree, you have the capacity to stop.
‘Accidentally slept with’ always puts in my head Toby Ziegler saying ” I don’t understand. Did you trip over something?”.
I always think of CG Cregg swinging through the doorway saying ‘wow are YOU stupid’ about the same incident.
(not about you, LW. You sound wonderful, honestly. Your partner? If they aren’t actually an unbearable ass, they’re sure acting like one)
That really is a spectacular moment with CJ. A whole bunch of the Captain’s letters could include a gif of that, prefaced with “Dear LW’s boyfriend/mom/partner/coworker/fellow-bus-rider…”
I am not poly, although I would be willing to consider being Wife #1 if Wife #2 did all the housework while I watched season 3 of “Orphan Black,” but regardless. It doesn’t matter how many people are involved in a relationship. What matters is the agreement all involved parties have made about sex and affection outside of the relationship. If you have both/all agreed that you guys are it and no [wxyz] with anyone outside the relationship, that is all that matters.
And in this case, Partner has violated the terms of the agreement and LW, you are perfectly justified in being upset. You are not overly needy to want to be able to trust your partner(s). I am sorry Partner has not been treating you well.
LW, you are entirely awesome for not falling for the Chill Girlfriend ™ trap your partner laid with such care for you. Because I am about 95% sure your partner was all, “Oh, I’m poly and in an open relationship, we could totally fuck and date if it wasn’t for your partner not being all Chill like mine” to Friend this entire time. Let me say, as someone who has been That Guy, even if Partner is in every other situation the bestest person (except for the part where they’re not giving you the affection you need, almost as if they’re taking something out on you. . .), in this situation they have acted incredibly poorly, working hard to find a way around not only your relationship policy but also Friend’s relationship policy with their partner. You aren’t needy, you are observant – when it comes to Friend, your partner is not acting like your partner but is treating you like an obstacle. That is not OK, and won’t get anyone what they want. I hope he figures that out before he completely destroys your relationship.
“Treating you like an obstacle” SPELLBOUND. And doesn’t that label so accurately capture that feeling that kicks in, that somehow we’ve been dehumanized?
Yes. This, so perfectly explained.
LW, your partner has been treating you, your relationship, your boundaries and your consent as things to be gotten around so that he and friend could be together. And he has gaslighted you into thinking that being poly means you’re not allowed to have boundaries anyway, really.
If it pains you to think about leaving Friend and Partner together (and of course it will!), consider how much their relationship dynamic is going to change once they no longer have the Secret Forbidden Relationship thrill going on.
Partner has indeed been gaslighting you. He has sex with Friend, he dates Friend, he is trying to make you think this is all O.K.
For you, it seems, this is not O.K. Next phase = are you better off with him or without him? You can’t trust him, he does not care about your feelings or your boundaries. How long can you put up with that? Falling deeper into being disregarded and disrespected.
Perhaps realizing that Partner is no longer good for you or to you will start the long think of how you deserve better than this; and a new relationship.
Just repeating a correction upthread – Partner had a neutral pronoun. Friend is a “he.”
My apologies, I got caught up in the “that was me, I did that” line of thinking and I am male enough for he/him/his pronouns.
“[B]ut what I see is a constant “Don’t worry! I’m not going to do the thing you’re worried I’ll do” and you going “Cool, I trust you and I wasn’t worried” and then Partner coming back a bit later either having done that thing or imminently planning to do that thing and asking you for your sign-off as if it’s a technicality. Dislike.”
Very much this. The whole letter reads like the relationship is in some kind of “circle mode” where the problem is just spinning faster and wider and Partner would actually be able to stop it but decides not to. It’s “Don’t do A!” – “Um, I did A.” – “Okay, but don’t do B!” – “Sorry, I did B.” – “Alright, but don’t do C then.” – “Sorry again, did C.”, a situation where I see Partner taking more and more and LW relenting again and again and, well. If you follow that pattern in your mind, you’re now at situation “You slept with Friend, okay, but don’t date them!” and, logically, looking at the pattern Partner and Friend have created, this will be followed shortly by “Ooops, started dating Friend, sorry!” and hoping LW will continue to not enforce any consequences. I mean, obviously, humans aren’t machines that are programmed to work in X way again and again, no matter the situation, but I’m not really seeing any willingness on Partner’s end to actually break that pattern they’ve established for themselves so I feel like we can say with reasonable certainty that this is where it will be going eventually.
On another note, something that, as far as I can see, the Captain didn’t address but made me wonder: The LW wrote Friend’s new partner referred to Partner as their “metamour” and I’m unclear here terminology- and language-wise (I’m not a native speaker) – does this mean Partner as a lover of both Friend and Friend’s new partner? Like the Captain says, the pronouns are confusing in this one so the “their” might as well just mean Friend but man, if there were something going on with Friend’s partner as well, oh my.
All that is to say, LW, you don’t seem very happy right now. You say your relationship is great except for this one thing and yet… this “just one thing” is actually pretty big and significant, isn’t it? You don’t need to accumulate a certain number of bad things before you can declare a relationship not-so-great. This whole mess causes you anxiety attacks and crying fits and yet you still feel like you’re being “ridiculous”. LW, you aren’t being ridiculous at all, you’re reasonable and way kinder than Partner deserves. I hope you can direct that kindness towards yourself instead.
No, “metamour” is a term poly people use to refer to someone who is dating someone the speaker is also dating. So if I’m dating Dick and Dick is dating Jane (but I’m not), Jane is my metamour.
Ah, I understand, thanks for clarifying!
Whoa, learning this (I’m apparently not as familiar with poly lingo as I thought!) makes the red flags like, NEON AND BLINKING AND PLAYING DIXIE LOUDLY (it’s ALWAYS Dixie) AND SENDING OUT SMOKE SIGNALS. I mean, I figured Partner was secretly dating Friend, but yeah, that seals it. Partner is being straight up turd-like.
Right. “brushing it off” as a “misunderstanding” – gosh, I wonder how Friend’s partner got the impression that Friend and LW’s Partner were dating? What led to that “misunderstand” if not, you know, actual behavior by Partner and Friend consistent with dating?
LW, you know that they are, and have been, dating. And you know that this is Partner’s pattern: you say “I am not comfortable with X”, Partner says that’s OK, Partner does X, and then says “Whoops, sorry, we just sort of did X already”. My money is on Partner ONLY not having told you they are dating because he is hoping to talk you into agreeing he can date Friend, at which point in their mind it will all be retroactively OK.
Oh LW, I have just come from a place much like yours, where I spent a lot of time sensing that Something Was Not Right, and asking Partner about it, and being told that, no, I had nothing to worry about. And so I thought that I was too anxious and needy, and maybe just didn’t know how to recognize a good thing or be happy. And it turns out that all my instincts were right. I was perfectly capable of seeing what was in front of me, and Partner was unwilling or unable to do the same.
However this turns out, please be kind to yourself. You are not overreacting, you are not needy. You sound like a kind and thoughtful person, and I’m sorry this situation is so full of unhappiness and anxiety.
Looks like “Understandably Wary” to me too. I’m sorry. I see how this kind of strain would be even more difficult to deal with after you’ve just moved. I mean, the people who have longstanding friendships with just you, rather than you-and-Partner, are suddenly a lot farther away. And your support network in your new home is likely to have a lot of people who have known him for longer than they’ve known you. Can you stay connected with your old friends? (More online chats? Visits?) Can you make new friends in your new home? It’s really hard to be so dependent on one person for all your emotional needs.
Are you dating my ex husband? Because that sounds like him. In every way. Like, I could have written this letter five years ago. You may love Partner, but if Partner is not respecting your boundaries and making you feel like you are being too anxious even if everything you are expressing (i.e. I do not want you to date his person) is within the pre-defined bounds of the relationship? Well, darling, this (I’ve been given to believe) is what poly is all about – you are not confined to a do or die forever relationship and you may need to rethink it. Maybe the boundaries, maybe the relationship itself, I don’t know. But all the love in the world won’t make up for a lack of respect.
“But all the love in the world won’t make up for a lack of respect.”
THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS a million times. This is true in ANY relationship. Family, friends, lovers. You name it. Respect is the foundation of a relationship and it sounds to me like Partner isn’t respecting LW’s wishes and boundaries and feelings. I know I’ve got “my straight-non-poly goggles” on, but this is the kind of behavior that would raise so many red flags for me and I’d bail.
The Captain gave excellent advice, LW, I’d follow it.
I’ve got a pair of those goggles too, and what I know about closed relationships telles me that this is a facade of a poly relationship and is going to move back to a closed relationship around only the two we have identified. These people don’t sound honest or ethical enough to be in poly relationships. They’re just using the term to blind everyone and get what they want.
I’m really sorry, LW. I had an experience very like this and was planning to move. I stopped short of that, but my feelings didn’t. Reading about narcissism and trauma bonding has helped me, as well as telling myself I deserved therapy so I could heal. If you ever needed confirmation that you are a person of integrity and good character who is willing to commit to your own heart, let this event shine that truth to you.
Dear LW. You have every right to saddle up a nopetupus right now and go find someone who loves your poly, delightful, communicative hind end and will actually respect your comfort.
I was in a position with an ex who had a similar thing occur. I’m a pretty laid back poly lady, but my boundaries be my boundaries. I explained where the line was to dude. Dude did the one thing I said I would not tolerate. Dude became an ex. dude was then *flabbergasted* that I would so summarily dump him when he apologized and it was an accident and it just happened and everything. Cue dramatic whining of epic proportions. Nowhere did dude clue into how he got himself dumped (no biggie, some people just can’t find it in themselves to commit an ounce of self control in order to protect their lovers’ feelings and boundaries. I don’t sleep with them and you don’t have to either.) I no longer share air with self centered dude.
You’re worried for good reasons. Partner is acting in name only, as they are doing whatever feels fun to them in the moment and not caring a whit for your comfort (or potentially safety) and potentially lying to Friend about what, precisely, your arrangement is and what you are okay with. Partner is not being a good partner to you and you’re feeling stressed and anxious because you’re being lied to and manipulated by someone you love.
Advice? Were it me, I’d buy all new underwear, tell Partner to lose my number and have a good cry. For you, some talking to Partner where you explain that your arrangement does not include time with Friend for Partner for a while, not kink, not sleep overs, not sex, not dinners alone looking soulfully into each other’s eyes, not anything that looks like a date. Partner has broken your trust, you feel shitty, and they can carve a moat around the issue to help you feel safe or they can show how much they don’t actually care about you feeling safe. (And if Partner starts arguing about how your trust can’t possibly be broken because nothing’s really happening… well… I don’t know if I have enough side eye.)
Oh, LW. You may be anxious (justifiably anxious!) but you are not needy. You are with someone who has broken your trust repeatedly and then keeps asking you to trust them! No, no, that is not how trust works.
My ex of 10 years cheated on me three times. (Three times, good people! I have so many things to say to my younger self.) Each time would start with a case of mentionitis, and an insistence that he and this person were “just friends.” They were obviously never just friends, and my anxiety about it was telling me I knew they weren’t, either. The Captain is spot on that this was a tell being used by a manipulative liar, because here’s the thing: he never had to insist to me he was just friends with people he was actually just friends with. I and he and everybody knew who he was friends with, and who he was “friends” with. The best part is he had the audacity to accuse me of not trusting him when I became suspicious of his behavior with #’s 2 and 3.
I’m not saying you can’t fix broken trust, but there’s really only so many times the mirror can crack before it’s not possible to put it back together again in any functional way. (Thank you to Lady Gaga for the metaphor: ‘Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that mother fucker’s reflection.’)
This looks so very familiar, minus the poly aspect (which, given that Partner is breaking their rules with the LW, doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference). Once upon a time, I was seeing a guy who also spent a lot of time with a mutual female friend, and I didn’t have any issues with this really. They were friends, I felt that was normal. I knew her and her husband quite well. Then my bf became a lot less available, and I started feeling attention and affection-deprived. I asked him if we could spend more time together, especially since he seemed to be spending a lot of time with this other friend instead. His response was to skip right past the whole time&attention issue and start insisting that they weren’t sleeping together, which in retrospect was a big huge red flag. MASSIVE. I should have dumped him right then. Because hey, while it’s possible that they weren’t doing anything just yet, that’s the direction things were going in and eventually got to. And I too felt anxious and needy, with good reason — I wasn’t having my needs met, and there was something I didn’t consciously notice that was very off.
As that relationship of mine tailspun to its end, I felt a whole lot worse, with both of them treating me like my feelings were of no importance at all, I was just someone to be maneuvered around. And yes, the claim is that “it just happened.” BS — it was clearly on the agenda of things-they-were-thinking-about long before. I wish I’d had the Captain’s advice then.
Dear LW, believe that you deserve better than how you are being treated. There’s nothing negatively “needy” about needing the affection and honesty of your Partner, and a whole lot wrong with being made to feel that way by these oh-no-I’m-not-really-doing-it claims and the use of fait accompli to paint you into a corner on something you’ve explicitly said you don’t want.
Also, the end to that relationship, and the fallout thereafter, involved significant rules-lawyering about whether I was allowed to be mad (just as previously I was being talked out of whether it was appropriate for me to be anxious). This also appears to be the case here, with Partner maneuvering on technicalities like this “not really dating except we are” veil. It is a ploy, and a very hurtful one because it sets your brain against your emotions and twists you up, all to get you to go along with something they know you don’t like. You get to feel however you feel.
You’re right that being poly or not really doesn’t factor into this, and I think the LW needs to keep that in mind. LW…if you weren’t poly, do you feel you’d respond differently to a situation where your significant other did the same routine? Do you think you’d have more of a ‘right’ to be angry or anxious or upset?
I just have a feeling that the partner may be using the poly part of the relationship to downplay their actions. But what the partner is doing is no different then a non-poly person breaking an established expectation of monogamy in a relationship. LW, you get to set boundaries. Period. It doesn’t make it anymore okay for your partner to trample over them just because those boundaries may look different in your relationship as compared to the ‘standard.’ This isn’t about being poly…it’s about a partner who puts their own desires on a pedestal and ignores yours.
Yeah, it definitely seems like Partner is just using the poly thing to sow confusion and let themselves just do whatever they want and to hell with anyone else. Everyone has the right to decide on boundaries and promises they make to each other and what is OK with them in a relationship. For many people the promise is monogamy. Others may find that different agreements work better for them, but that doesn’t mean the promises they do choose to make magically don’t count or that their boundaries are less real. Partner promised certain things, and broke their promises. You had boundaries that you cared about, and Partner stomped all over them.
I loved this answer. I love how the Captain takes a many-layered question about a many-layered situation and just sorts it right out.
One of the fantastic things about being poly, as opposed to being mono, is that you can ask the friend. I mean, if you were to say partner could date them, there’s a recognised relationship term between you and them, and you would be considering each others’ calendars and significant event days.
So stop getting your information from your partner. Go talk to the friend. Specifically, I would, in this situation, go raise the point about their partner using the metamour term. Do they (friend and partner both) think that is what is going on here at the moment?
My feel from the letter is that Partner is rules lawyering you both, and so a spot of clarity all around might help. If the friend is ethical, they can get off the couch and give Partner a piece of their mind. If there’s an established relationship between them (and if they are long-term local to your partner and you only recently moved, that could be the case, possibly with it being presented as ok on partner’s side but an affair on their side until the relationship there opened up), then you need to look at the shenanigans partner put you through and decide if you want to DTMFA. Also, in that case, I’d be cautious around the friend.
Either way, anxiety is not good for you, and I’d be exploring the hell out of my casual and friendship options in the new place you moved to if I were you, to build a team you that isn’t partner focused.
Awesome idea. I agree – going to a poly partner isn’t like spilling details to an “other woman”. You guys should know each other and chat occasionally (if you decide to continue the relationship with partner at all, of course – if I were you he’d be on his last chance if I kept him at all)
I think the Captain summed it up nicely at the end, but I also think, “I can’t trust my partner to tell the truth about what they want, and even when they do eventually come out with it my feelings don’t end up mattering,” can be awfully complicated in some relationships. Can you trust your partner to tell you the truth in other contexts? Some people have a hard time being honest around any subject that’s emotionally fraught.
One of my partners once told me up front, “I’m going to [verb] this person. I’m sorry it makes you sad, but I believe the decision is between me and her.” I was angry and hurt, and I seriously considered walking away from the relationship…but I eventually decided I’d rather keep him (even though he was being a jerk) than walk away. It was a very near thing. If he’d also been dishonest with me, I would probably have decided the other way.
I’m poly, myself, and I’ve talked with a fair number of other polyamorous folks over the years. My perception is that trying to make a clear distinction between “casual sex” and “dating” is always harder than it looks. If you want to give somebody veto power over “dating” but not “casual sex,” it gets even harder to see where the distinction should be. The people having the sex have incentive to round down, and the person (or people) who might want to veto have incentive to round up.
my kingdom for some pronouns
Not sure if this is what is going on, but LW calls Partner “they” and Friend “he”, so I was assuming “they” was partner’s pronoun?
Once we added partner’s friend’s partner we reached a confusing place in the middle of that sentence. Forgive me.
This is where fake names come in handy. Pat, Chris, and Sydney to the rescue!
Just not A, B, C. Graphing relationships can be mathy, but let’s name our variables descriptively. Single characters are only okay when i is counting a for loop.
For the record, I really liked the lack of gendered pronouns! It helped me push some of my biases to the wings. Although, Karyn’s fake names thing would help with clarity.
All the names are gender neutral, so, helpful and awesome!
For the record, LW, needy isn’t a bad thing. Every person has needs, to have security with food and shelter, to be clothed, and to be loved in a fulfilling way. You aren’t the ‘bad kind’ of needy because you’ve been neglected and know it. Your needs are valid.
I had this thought as well.
LW, you’re anxious because bad things are happening that your brain is pointing out to you (i.e., that’s what anxiety is for when it works right) and you’re needy because you’re a healthy human being and not a robot and human beings have needs.
These things aren’t someone wrong with you. They’re your brain working right, reminding you to take good care of yourself.
Yes, this. My therapist refers to a state of “needless and wantless” as a _bad_ thing — it’s the state where one is denying one’s own wants and needs and only responding to the wants and needs of other people.
I need to embroider “No-one should be needless and wantless” on a cushion or something, just to remind myself that it’s not a good state to be trying for.
LW, I’m sorry you’re in this situation; it sounds really stressful.
I am someone who worries, at times, about being “too needy” in relationships, and being poly & having some long-distance relationships has, at times, made those worries stronger and harder to deal with. The tradeoff is worth it, for me, but I do find that it happens. What I’ve come to learn, though, is that when I feel “too needy” it’s usually because I’m afraid to admit that I need anything at all, and I’m trying to scrunch myself into the smallest hole possible so I won’t take up space or time or attention with what I need to be happy. And that’s not ok for me to do to myself at all.
In my experience poly relationships only work when there’s a lot of communication, and everyone’s acting in good faith. If you’re in a situation where you have any sort of ground rules or expressed boundaries between partners, trying to rules-lawyer your way into getting what you want when you know a partner is against that situation is a pretty shitty thing to do, and that seems to be what’s happening here.
Also: sex between consenting parties doesn’t “just happen.” It can’t and it doesn’t. It’s an excuse people love to make, but it’s one that holds no water at all with me, and I had an intense eyeroll reaction to that part of the letter. I do youth sex ed and talk about this with teens and if they can get it and understand the concept, I’m sure Partner can too.
LW, you can wait until you find a new therapist/doctor team before you really dive into dealing with any of this, and that may be the best idea. But I (as an admittedly outside stranger who does not know the full context of your life) am willing to bet that if you get yourself out of this relationship, you will experience an increase in your anxiety and crying episodes followed by a marked decrease. Whereas if you stay in this relationship, I am willing to bet you will experience a constant, steadily escalating sense of dread and anxiety *forever,* or rather, for the duration of the relationship.
I suggest you work very hard on strengthening your support network outside of this relationship, both as an outlet and source of comfort and so that you have people and things to fall back on while you make your exit. Because I, like everyone else, do not foresee things getting better. There are honest mistakes, and then there are consistent patterns of mistakes, and your Partner has successfully proven that they are not to be trusted and are not likely to ever change their behavior with regard to you and your relationship with them. I know that sucks to hear, especially during a difficult time of upheaval, but there it is.
LW, I have a few questions.
You say you are in a Poly relationship and that the majority of the relationship has been a long-distance one. Are those two factors related? That is, did you and Partner decide to allow casual sex and dating other people because you were geographically inaccessible to one-another? The sort of “I love you and want you to be sexually satisfied but I don’t have enough frequent flier miles to do it myself and don’t want you feeling guilty for cheating” kind of arrangement? Or is this a relationship that, from the start, you said “I’m a poly, and the only kind of relationships I want right now are poly”?
I ask because if it’s the former, (polyamory as a concession to geography) then once you moved to be much, much closer, that would be cause to re-examine the poly-ness of the relationship. If it’s the latter, then how have you handled these kinds of breaches of trust in previous relationships? (and use that language in your conversations with Partner, because their actions have repeatedly, and consistently, been violations of the trust you extended in this relationship) If this is your first poly relationship, look to existing poly communities and ask them how they have handled these issues.
How far did you move, LW? Longer moves mean leaving behind family, friends, co-workers and associates that make up a lot of your support system. When you move to a new place and only have one or two connections there, you tend to lean on those folks more than usual, and those folks should be comfortable giving a little more time and affection to help you get your roots down. If this was a fairly distant move, then it’s OK to say to Partner “hey, until I’ve made some new friends at school and found new folks to hang out with, I’m going to need you to be around a little more and be a little more affectionate than usual. This is tough for me, and I need your support a little more than usual. Not forever, but for right now.”
You mentioned you’re going to school and have health issues, LW. Join study groups, or go to school events, or do other things to meet people you can hang out with from school who have shared interests. See if you can find support groups for people with similar health issues, ideally in-person, but on-line if you can’t, so that you have another group of people you can connect with and who will be supportive of some of the stresses you’re facing. This is what the Captain calls “Team You”, and if you’re in a new city/town/state/whatever, building up Team You is a really good idea.
Seems to me that Partner is acting unethically. They are not respecting the boundaries of your relationship and they are not being forthright about what they want.
Seems to me Partner wants their cake and eat it too; the rush of a new relationship and exciting kinky things with Friend and the security of the existing relationship with you–without being honest with either of you.
In my experience, when introducing another partner into the mix (or when it becomes apparent at least two parties want to make a commitment to each other) and when behaving ethically, everyone meets and talks about their needs, boundaries, and expectations–and on a continuing basis. (Because these things and feelings can change over time). And it bothers me, LW, that Partner is behaving the way they are for the same reasons the Captain outlines in her response.
While considering the next steps LW, may I recommend “The Ethical Slut” by Hardy & Easton”? I found the book very helpful to me when trying to navigate (and heal from) a similar situation.
And no, I do not believe you are being too needy or clingy either. I like how the Captain reframed your Signature/Sign off
Not having ever been in a poly relationship, I am genuinely curious about what taking dating on a case by case basis generally means?
It varies by relationship. If I said that, it would be “we are open to casual flings with others but the idea of repeated non-casual sex with an individual is to be brought up ahead of time and will be assessed for suitability on an individual basis”.
Full disclosure: was poly for many years, am now happily monogamous.
Personally, as a person with polyamorous relationships, I’d understand it as being a state where when the Partner wants to date someone other than the LW, they discuss this with the LW before making any moves in the direction of actually dating, and it’s understood that both “yes, dating this person is ok with me” and “no, dating this person is not ok with me” are likely answers.
In particular, I’m making a distinction between this and a “dating other people is generally fine but I want to know first” sort of arrangement. I’d hope that people to whom this distinction is important will use enough words so that they don’t find themselves in a situation where one person assumes it means the latter and then is surprised by a “no, not this person” answer, but I’m in a slightly cynical mood at the moment, so.
Oh LW, I’m so sorry this person that you care about has broken your trust and your (really well established and crystal clear) boundaries.
You have every right to be upset about this. Your feelings matter.
I wanted to add something that I don’t think I read in the previous comments, and that is the issue of safety.
Partner isn’t being honest. They could just not be honest about their feelings, but they have already (at least once) engaged in a sexual activity and only told you after the fact.
I of course have no idea about the precautions you both take around sex. But it is a worry if Partner isn’t honest about their sexual activities and therefore might leave you in the dark about how YOU can make the best decisions regarding YOUR sexual health.
Take care of yourself! You have every right to be with people that take your feelings and your health into consideration and that respects your boundaries.
Oh, my dear LW.
It is 100% okay to change your mind about what you’re comfortable with in a relationship. You aren’t comfortable with what’s going on between your partner and their friend. You’ve made that clear. Your partner is ignoring you. That’s 100% NOT okay.
Nothing to add except that as usual, the Captain has hit it out of the park. LW, this sounds like a really crappy situation to be in. You are not too anxious and needy for not being okay with all this. You were very clear about what you were okay with and what you weren’t, and you’ve done nothing wrong. Take care of yourself, and I hope you end up in a situation that’s better.
This is kind of a bad scene. Your Partner has been having a relationship with their Friend, regardless of your rules. It’s easy, from my position in my armchair, to say “I wouldn’t put up with that; I would GTFO.” But I know that it’s one thing to say it but another to be in the position. You just moved, your relationship is still finding its level when you’re in the same place, and you really really like this person.
However, you are also being groomed to accept duplicity from your partner, and you are being groomed to accept repeated and deliberate encroachments on entirely reasonable, clearly communicated boundaries that you mutually established for your relationship.
How confident do you feel that this will be the only time your partner ever does this?
You say you’re still not getting enough affection; if Partner was once upon a time affectionate and now is not (rather than always having had a problem with being affectionate), that tends, in my experience, to be a warning flag that said affection is being transferred to another person. Partner is clearly not taking your feelings into consideration at all; is that because they are a generally inconsiderate person, or because they are really getting much more emotionally envolved with Friend and are trying to hang on to you as insurance for a rainly day?
There should be enough affection to go around. If Partner cannot manage to be affectionate with more than one person, perhaps they’re not cut out for polyamory. And yes, they behaved badly, broke your trust and quite possibly also that of Friend’s partner (asking to date Friend before Friend was in an open relationship is kind of majorly icky). Basically, I think it comes down to a)can you get over this? You don’t have to and b)is the rest of the relationship worth it?
“Other than this issue, I am really in love with Partner, although I STILL DON’T FEEL LIKE I’M GETTING ENOUGH AFFECTION (school and health issues make fixing this hard).”
That’s the nugget that stands out for me. All the rest is important, but if we didn’t have the rest of the letter, we’d still have this. It’s not unreasonable to expect affection from the people we’re in our closest relationships with. When you winnow away all the rest, there’s still one person loving another who isn’t loving back.
I’m sorry. I know that sort of mismatch rejection is tough.
This perfectly describes the several months leading up my ex-gf of four years leaving me for the guy I “had nothing to worry about”.
LW, of course you are anxious and “needy” (i.e. needing things) and upset! Partner has repeatedly gaslighted you, and used your love for him to make you feel like you can’t question that. It would be a wonder if you WEREN’T anxious.
Wait…how did me from the past get this letter to Captain Awkward in 2015? Did she find this email washed up on a beach in a bottle?
Dear Me From The Past…er I mean LW. This dude does not prioritise your feelings and comfort and does not respect your wishes so much as just slither around them without ever discussing the times he disagrees with them. This is a very bad person to do polly with. Hell, once you realise someone is not trustworthy enough to do polly…then you start to wonder if they’re a good person to date in any capacity because respect and honesty are necessary in every type of relationship…
But there are a few fun traps that polly has, psychologically. For starters, you’ve made a choice to live in a non traditional way and reject traditional relationship jealousy and this often, in my experience, comes with some (or a lot) of scorn for monogamous relationships with all their limits and “closed minds” and stuff (I don’t hold with this, but I did when I first discovered polyamory). You’re not one of those people! And then when you start to feel bad about some relationship your partner had you’re all primed to assume the problem is you, and to attempt to quash your feelings as terrible illogical jealousy (that you’ve rejected as invalid). And because polyamory is this big huge non-standard choice you’ve made its easy to assume you’re just struggling with doing polly right. Except…polly people can be butt-heads just as much as monogamous ones and there can still be a horrible lack of communication and respect.
It’s just, if you get hurt by something they’ve done instead of flying off the handle along the lines of the monogamous “you’ve cheated on me argh!” script you’re left flailing around wondering what reaction is appropriate. Because you’re super cool and chill right and it’s not actually cheating because you’re polly only actually, it is cheating because they broke the boundaries of your relationship and there are lies of omission and outright lies and you’re not even sure who knows what or said what but your partner is telling you one thing and other people who would surely know are saying another (that he’s their metamour for example).
Look, I’ve dated the guy who said all the right things and then did whatever he wanted. Whose actions did not match his words. A guy who repeatedly broke the rules of our polly relationship…rules like the other person has to actually be available, don’t be someone else’s cheating partner. Oh look you slept with a really good mate’s monogamous partner and now there’s epic drama and it “just happened”. Or, no sleeping with people I haven’t met. Oh you really want me to meet this lady you’re into but unfortunately I’m in the middle of a bout of depression and stress and can’t deal? So no you can’t go ahead? Only…it just happened, at an event location, where you’d driven my car, which got locked into the car park because you didn’t notice closing time because you were too busy bonking in an undisclosed location in violation of our relationship rules while the care taker locked up. And now I don’t have my car that I need to drive to work at my incredibly stressful shitty job….
LW every time these things happened I flailed around not even sure I was allowed to be upset. I mean, I was crying all the time and really anxious. And he wasn’t giving me the affection I needed while also letting me know that his other lady had asked that he stay at her place three nights a week in a relationship which, I might add, was always supposed to only be casual. But you know, I understood that people do get attached to people they’re intimate with so I dropped the “only casual” limit. And he managed to frame her as really needy and demanding so I was super keen to be chill and relaxed and not needy like her… But you know, there was the crying all the time and the part where sometimes I would just lie unmoving on the couch in the dark for hours at a time because depression is a thing that exists… And you can guess how much sympathy he had for that, how much concern he showed (none).
LW I’m sad to say I didn’t leave this dude. This dude left me for the woman he was dating because she said she wouldn’t see him any more if they weren’t monogamous, and he made a choice and the choice was not me. And as sad and gutting and horrible as that experience was, it was the absolute best thing. Because that dude was *terrible* for me, and on hind sight the polly screw ups were just the tip of the iceberg and he was terrible to me in lots and lots of other ways. Because he didn’t respect me, and he didn’t care about how I felt or how things impacted me, especially if caring about them meant he’d have to sacrifice something, no matter how tiny.
He was quite good at *saying* the right things though and seeming kind and affectionate and loving when it was convenient for him, and that was as confusing as hell. It made it hard to see all the disdain and betrayal for what it was because when we were together and it was casual and chill and I didn’t ask for anything and nothing bad had happened that day and there wasn’t something he wanted more he was super nice and fun and cool and wonderful to be with. And he said all the right things. And after he left me, after about 6 months to a year of crushing misery, I felt like a horrible weight had lifted from my life.
LW people who say all the right stuff but confusingly go and do all the wrong stuff, are telling you what you want to hear because they’re not willing to engage with you honestly about something they disagree with. And they’re often lying to themselves too – if they never admit they want stuff and it just happens they don’t have to consider whether or not they should deny themselves something because it will hurt someone they care about. They didn’t *decide* to do the thing you said they shouldn’t do, it just happened! So sorry! But it’s cool right?
Look loooong and close at your relationship LW. Dudes who do this stuff around relationship boundaries are probably also gaslighting and manipulating you in other ways. They’re probably not holding up their end of the bargain in all sorts of ways. And they’re usually great at creating this confusing fog of ambiguity that leaves you wondering all the time if the problem is you.
Oooh, LW, I feel you on this.
I could tell you abut my ex, about how for the entire first year of our relationship I was Friend in this situation, and he made me lots of promises and got many sexy things from me while not having to actually call me a partner on par with his other partner — who may not have been as okay with our Totally Not Dating as I was led to believe. I could also tell you about the years after that, when Ex made many a mention of becoming poly and would I be okay with that (not really), how we were so chill that neither of us minded when the other did sexy things in costume for a fan thing (I knew he was far less chill than I was expected to be), and hey how about that poly thing again? (no) Okay cool there’s just this friend, TK, and they are so very special to me, it’s not dating but our relationship is so very awesome and unique and we’re “platonically” in love, TK you’re just being so unreasonable with your anxiety! Nothing happened! Except for that one time! And maybe this other time but that doesn’t count!
Anyway, I could give you a detailed story. We could sit here and parse through all these odd behaviors and signs. We could try to solve the mystery of what exactly is going on with who, and which person wants what and what promises have been made, but you know what? The details don’t actually matter. What matters is that you, LW, have been made to feel crazy, possibly gaslighted, and insecure about the relationship to the point of panic and tears.
What would happen if you told your partner this? Would they apologize for the dishonesty and try to fix things? Would they listen and be a better, more honest partner to you from now on? Would all the misunderstandings clear up right away? Or would they tell you you’re “too needy” and dismiss your concerns with yet more promises about how NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT, FOR REAL THIS TIME! !!
Because here’s the thing: you are hurting. This relationship is making you anxious and driving you to tears. The Friend is not the problem — your partner and their treatment of you is the problem. And this, at least, I know from experience: the pain and distrust will not go away when Friend does.
First, as the Captain and others have said, sex isn’t something that “just happens.”
Second, if your partner can’t count on themself/their subconscious/their friend not to maneuver onto the Couch of Plausible Deniability, and they want to keep their word to you, the answer isn’t to spend a lot of time on that couch and ask for retroactive consent. The answer is to either avoid being alone with that friend, or come to you and ask explicitly to renegotiate the terms of the relationship.
The thing is, if they do that, you might say no, you’re not renegotiating, they either stick to what was agreed on two years ago or you’re breaking up. You might ask for time to think about it and come back with something like “if we’re staying together, we each get vetoes on outside dating and casual sex” or “right now, I’m feeling neglected. I need more of your time and attention right now, and once that’s stable we can consider outside partners” or “casual sex means occasional encounters. If either of us wants to date someone else, we won’t have not-exactly-casual sex with them unless we get an okay for dating” or “I’m willing to renegotiate, but one of the things I need is that you not date Friend, because I’m not comfortable with that.”
One question to ask yourself is, even if your partner asks to renegotiate, and that ends with an agreement you’re comfortable with that isn’t “they get to have a relationship with Friend, and anyone else they want,” would you trust them to keep an agreement other than “they can do whatever they want, with whomever they want”? Because it sounds like that’s not the shape of poly you want, at least not with this partner.
You might ask for time to think about it and come back with something like “if we’re staying together, we each get vetoes on outside dating and casual sex”
While generally this is a good approach, here LW has already vetoed certain things, and Partner either jetpacked right past them, or pretended to go along with the veto while ignoring it. Partner has already shown that his understanding of “veto” means “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission”.
I suspect you’re right, hence the “would you trust them?” part, but it’s possible (though not likely) that a broader “anything sexual, and that includes the following things other than PIV intercourse” would leave less room for LW’s partner to rules-lawyer and/or tell themself that they aren’t really doing anything wrong.
Jedi hugs aplenty! This sounds awful. I hope you’re able to do some good self care.
Personally I think some great scripts for Partner if they ask about dating friends again is…
“No. Also, you’ve seriously broken my trust by not doing what you said you were going to do in the past. I need you to do xyz to address that.”
I would liberally sprinkle in other strategies CA has mentioned in the past for dealing with people that you need to do boundary adjustments with who are also people who are likely to derail you. I’d recommend going back to this (https://captainawkward.com/2011/12/05/derailing-how-not-to-talk-to-people-who-are-telling-you-something-sad/) post for a primer on derailing.
LW, I also do not think you’re being too needy or too anxious.
In my experience, anxiety tells me when something is dangerous so I can do what I need to do to take care of myself. Needing attention helps me function as a social being; needing gets me to seek attention from others. Being anxious about needing attention usually tells me that something threatening in a social relationship that I value. My emotional cues can be incongruent with the situation or out of proportion, though, and sometimes in response to my emotions I do unfortunate things like yell at people or sit in my room stewing. I know this because I’ve spent a lot of time observing what it was like to be me while being very gentle with myself.
You know one thing that’s helping to manage my emotions? Being with a partner who’s trustworthy, validates my feelings, and can respect and set boundaries.
If you are having problems with feeling anxious all the time or needing way more attention then you judge to be healthy then you extra need to be with someone who is actually safe in my opinion.
Even if you do have some problems, you get to choose who’s around you while you work on those problems!
Again, I’m not saying you are being too anything. I just wanted to burn the “if I’m too xyz in a relationship I need to change to make the relationship work” idea with fire.
I’m a poly person, married to three people (19/15/11years), all of us having or having had outside relationships of varying seriousness. I’m saying this not to pull some kind of non-existent rank but to give you something to evaluate my comments against when trying to decide if they’re useful to you.
One of my mothers-in-law said to me, many years ago: “If you think you don’t have any unresolved issues in your relationship, go on a road trip or redecorate a room. No matter how it goes, you’ll learn a lot.”
I would add to that “or add a new person to the situation.”
I’ve had it go great and I’ve had it go very very bad, but I have yet to have it not be true: new partners (and I think at this point we have to say that your BF has a new partner) destabilise everything, and you get to take a long, hard look at the foundations of the relationship.
The other thing I have found over the years is that jealousy and insecurity are only partly individual, personal issues. If you’re feeling jealous, part of dealing with it is working out what you want, don’t have, and feel like someone else is getting – _and then reality-testing that_. As poly people, we collectively have a bad trick of skipping that last point and treating jealousy as an entiely negative, invalid emotion that needs to be fixed by learning not to feel it.
The same goes for neediness and insecurity: before you decide that the problem is you, that you’re a bottomless pit of wants and needs and anxieties and need to fix yourself, it’s important to reality-test: are you getting what you need? Are you feeling insecure because you are standing on shaky, unreliable ground?
My sense of how your BF is acting right now is that he is not meeting your needs, he is not giving you what you want, and your situation is not secure, because you aren’t being given enough control over what happens. But that’s my sense – it’s important to do your own reality testing, if possible with the help of a trusted member or two of Team You. (Writing to the Captain is A+ reality testing, by the way, and I think the Captain and the commenters have said some good stuff.)
Ultimately, the question “has BF behaved badly thus far” is important, because it helps you shape your understanding of the situation and of your own responses, but it’s not the question that I think will decide what you do from here.
I don’t think that BF is going to drop this new relationship, and I don’t think that’s necessarily what you should push for. Even if he did, sooner or later one of you would meet someone you wanted to be somewhat serious about and you’d be right back here, staring at the foundations of your relationship and wondering if they were going to take the weight. Acquiring new partners is a thing which happens in poly, and it’s rarely done perfectly, and truly, some of the messiest new relationship energy moments of my life have had the best long-term outcomes. But it took a shedload of work, all ’round.
In general, though, “I don’t like how it started so I’m going to hold that as a grudge forever” just … makes a mess. I’m not saying you’re doing that, more, warning you against it. It’s happened. BF has a new partner. You have legitimate cause for hurt and anger. You get to feel and express those feelings and ask for apologies and amends. But _so long as BF listens to your concerns about things between you and him and addresses those honestly_, don’t buy those feelings a kennel and feed them twice a day until they take over the whole place or BF breaks up with one or both of you; at some point in long-term relationships the statute of limitations has to kick in.
I don’t think you have a “new partner” issue so much as a “trust and respect” issue, IOW. You need to be able to trust that your partners will listen to your wants and needs and either say yes or say no, and mean it and be reliable. You deserve to have that.
You may have seen this before, but may I commend this Buzzfeed/Cirque du Soleil short video on trust and why it’s worth it?
You may also want at some point to show it to BF, if it seems useful. It may clarify some things for him, in terms of why you are hurt and angry.
Simply put, though, trust is the limiting factor in any relationship. If you can only trust BF a limited amount, then that’s the limit to how much intimacy and entanglement you can afford to have with him. Right now, BF is not being very trustworthy, and I suspect that your feeling of being needy is partly the realisation that you can’t relax into expecting that you’re going to be safe and loved and treated well in this relationship.
The question is, where do you (individually and collectively) go from here?
I’ll be personal for a moment: my marriage has survived worse, because we’ve done worse. It took a metric fuckton of work and time and growth, but we did it. Once in awhile the scars ache a bit, and we deal with it. So if you AND BF want to go on from here, it is absolutely possible.
Here are some questions I hope will help:
The first question is, do you want to try to fix this relationship so that you’re happy again, or do you want to stop now?
The second question is, can you accept that what’s happened has happened, and that however you all got here, this is where you’re starting from now?
The third question is, what do you want and need? How do you want this to look in six months’ time? What do you need to feel secure and happy and fulfilled without – at least initially, because you are not the one who violated the trust and boundaries here and so I would warn you against agreeing to be the first one to do heavy emotional labour – altering your expectations or boundaries at all?
The fourth question is, is BF willing and able to take responsibility for the choices he has made so far, make changes and amends, and work at rebuilding the trust and security he has damaged? And, are you still willing and able to let him?
I’m not involving BF’s new partner here, because they have to decide whether and how much they’re going to support this. You are absolutely entitled to take their actions into account when you make choices, but you have no control over them, and shouldn’t have control over them. (This is also true of BF’s choices, I’m saying this for emphasis. No good will come of letting your relationship become the hostage of someone who isn’t a member of it, whose agenda may be in conflict with yours.)
I wish you luck and love and happiness, no matter how things go from here, LW. You deserve and will have relationships with people who recognise your terrifying awesomeness and treat you accordingly, whether BF is one of those people or not.
LW, you don’t name this as cheating in your letter. Perhaps you just haven’t thought about it that way. Perhaps you have thought about it and reject the term. Everyone reacts differently when an intimate partner betrays their trust this sort of way. You are the only one who can name and voice your own experience. However – a lot of people (self included) will use the term “cheating” because your partner did behave in a way very similar/near identical to what they/we have experienced themselves in the past and understand for themselves with that word. Regardless, there’s a lot to be learned from people who have been through, or been close to, this type of relationship violation.
Having been through such an experience myself – going through an extended series of events like the LW did; being groomed to accept the outside relationship as normal and cool (and to accept the role of the Chill Partner); then having my partner admit his fault, commit to change and then seem to actually change… for five years until he did it again – I have come to believe a few things:
* Relationships rarely recover from wounds this deep. Don’t let Partner fool you: this is a deep, deep wound. Not because of any of the mono/heteronormative bullshit narratives around cheating, but because…
* They (the cheating partner) fundamentally don’t respect your autonomy. What they are saying when they cheat is: “I am deliberately overriding your stated preference not to fuck someone you’ve told me not to fuck (either on a categorical or specific basis).” This is also taking away your ability to make an informed choice to continue and work on, or to end the relationship.
* When there exists some dissatisfaction in their head or heart, they have the obligation to decide whether to work with you on that dissatisfaction, or end the relationship. Those are the two honest options. When they skip that step, they are denying you your choice – to continue and work on, or to end the relationship.
* They want to be able to make their own choices but not let you make yours.
* The reason relationships rarely recover from this sort of wound is because changing is very, very hard. Either you are willing to cross that line or you aren’t. If you are, turning that off is hard. I’ve watched someone genuinely struggle to do it. (This is not to say that no one does. My experience is one datapoint.)
* I do still have hope in my heart that some lucky people might recover from one partner cheating on the other(s). It is more likely if the cheating partner admits to the cheating without prompt and closes out the offending relationship immediately. I do strongly believe in couples therapy, and believe that can be a great tool to help save some relationships too. (Like any sort of therapy, it might take a couple tries to find the right fit therapist.)
* That said, most of these relationships, if they don’t break up immediately upon revelation, go downhill from there. LW, I just want to give you a word of warning to be ready to jump early. I was determined to stay in it for the long haul with my partner and ended up investing around 2.5 years altogether, between the downhill slide/cheating and therapy. I wish so much I could get those years back.
* Everything I’ve been told is that cheating partners are confused; their minds are fraught and muddled; they don’t necessarily know emotional up from down at the time; etc. Taking this at face value, because I can understand being in that position (not that I understand it leading to that result). Add onto this that Partner is a person that you love and care for, a person you see (presumably) on the daily, and know their tics and habits, and they know yours, and you can fall back on each other in times of need, and have probably done so in the past. Basically – this person is as humanized as human gets. And oh but trust me, when the topic comes up, Partner will be telling you all about their woes, whatever woes supposedly led them to this point. And these woes will seem so legitimate.
But here’s the thing: this is a part of the grooming Captain mentioned above. This is preparing you to accept this new relationship without qualm, or in other words, to contradict your own stated needs. And consider what kind of example that sets for Partner in other areas of your shared life together.
* It doesn’t matter what they say, what sort of excuses they come up with or what sort of deficiencies they try to pin on you; their cheating is not a reflection on you. Ever. It is 100% a reflection of what is going on in their mind at the time. If they are dissatisfied with something in their relationship with you, it is on them to bring it to you to help fix. But for as long as it stays locked up in their head, it is 100% their own responsibility.
The end of a relationship might be a reflection of different things from the different partners… but when a partner cheats, it is 100% wholly on that partner. Do not let yourself be taken in by guilt or shame over this! It is not your fault.
Speaking of guilt and shame: The worst mistake I made, either time I got cheated on, was isolating myself from my support system. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to tell people what he had done. I think I wanted to protect him, and I felt some shame around the whole event. Plus it would have created a schism in part of our social circle, as the person he cheated with was a friend. (Thanks bunches, ex-partner!) I decided it would be best to keep it wrapped up. Yeah – it wasn’t. My shame just grew and grew, and I had anxiety attacks, and still have them to this day unexpectedly when I hear stories about cheating or see that stupid fucking State Farm commercial with Jake in the khakis. What should have been something that happened to me (but I learned and grew from it) became something that somebody DID to me (and feels like a traumatic event even now). I can still remember vividly feeling locked up, cold and alone, cut off from everyone else. I’ve opened up to friends since breaking up with that partner, and it feels amazing to have their love and support again. Please don’t deny yourself their support, even now, LW.
Incidentally, an excellent book on this topic – shame and guilt – is The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.
Best of luck to you, LW. Do let us know (if you feel able) how things go, if you bring it up with Partner.
Good stuff in here, but 1000+ words for a comment…have mercy!
Wow, this is… weirdly relevant to me, but from the opposite end.
See, LW, I’m mono with my hubby. We’ve discussed poly before, but decided that due to various factors, it wouldn’t be right for us.
Enter new guy. Mutual attraction, sexual tension, blah blah. And then he propositions me.
The thing is, I IMMEDIATELY went to my husband to talk to him about it, and then we all had a big sit-down over it. The idea that I’d just “accidentally” try to slow fade in a sexual or romantic relationship past him… no fucking way! We have been discussing possibly changing our relationship structure, but even if we DID decide to be poly, that doesn’t change how I’d behave on that matter! Just because I’m attracted to someone doesn’t mean I should act on it! What the hell?
Just wanting to speak from the opposite end, as someone who IS having big attraction to someone and thinks Partner’s behavior is totally shitty. Accidental sex, my ass!
This is not ethical poly behavior, partner is not treating you like a living partner who cares about your comfort. If this relationship survives this bad behavior it’ll be because partner agrees to communicate with you about this situation and communicate going forward. I too find the timing of friend’s relationship opening up quite suspect. In your shoes I’d have a serious talk with partner and reconsider the relationship. My gf and I are not mono, we have a different set of agreements but they basically boil down to treating each other gently and kindly. We also attempt to be fair to anyone else involved with either of us, and the best way to do that is to take things slowly. It doesn’t sound like partner is willing to prioritize your needs over their NRE (new relationship energy) high. If this relationship works, it’ll be because you’ve explained to partner clearly and thoroughly how their behavior (gaslighting, rules lawyering) has made you feel, and partner agrees to communicate, and partner is genuinely remorseful and partner does a whole lot better.
LW, no earthly way are you too needy. Wanting to not get pecked at and rules-lawyered at and expecting Partner to not make your life on a net balance more stressful than if they actually weren’t there at all? Not too needy! That’s a bare minimum baseline expectation.
I feel like you are not being unreasonably anxious, but I am sorry that your (totally understandable because good god, Partner, that is at the very least not respectful) anxiety is hurting right now, and I hope you can find the help you are looking for ASAP. I’m very sorry that you need it right now.
Jedi hugs offered, if you want.
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