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.