For the past few years, I have been involved with an amazing man, “Robert”. Robert and I work closely at times; he was my boss for a short time until I moved into different branch of local government (we did not start dating until after I transferred). Robert is quite happily married to “Cora”, who has known about and approved of our relationship from the beginning. Cora and I get along—we aren’t close friends, but we are cordial and she seems happy that I am there for Robert. There is a lot about our respective relationships with Robert that complement each other–in terms of sex, companionship, some heavy psychology around Robert and my shared work–and we kind of have our own niches. It suits all three of us well.
So here is the problem keeping me up nights: Robert is a well-known, well-respected man in our smallish city in a very conservative area. People around here may have heard of polyamory, but certainly wouldn’t approve of it. Cora is also very known and active in the area’s society—she runs charities, throws parties, etc. And Robert’s position is highly political. I know for sure that if our relationship ever became public Robert would likely lose his job and he and Cora would become the subject of gossip and worse. He really loves his job, to the extent that if he lost it I don’t know how well he’d cope.
Am I being selfish for wanting to keep being with him? I really do love him a lot, and he loves me as well. But I keep being terrified that it will come out and I’ll be the reason he loses everything he has worked for in his life. We are very discreet when we get together and it would take some detective work to find out, but it’s not impossible. (And that’s not even getting into the complication that if I want kids, I should start within a few years…)
Part of me says that Robert and Cora are mature adults who can make decisions about their own lives, and I should allow that. But another part of me knows that Robert isn’t the sort of man who would dump me over other people’s opinions, even if he logically should, and that I need to step up and do what is right for him when he won’t do it himself. One of these parts is wrong, but I can’t figure out which one. I don’t want to lose him, but I don’t want to ruin him either.
-Jane the Housemaid
The post title is the subject line of your email. You ask “Am I selfish for wanting to keep being with (Robert)?” Your letter is full of concern for him – his psyche, his marriage, his wife’s standing in the community, his job, the heroic way he’ll stand by you even if costs him, etc. – and the things you want long-term (like kids) come almost as an afterthought.
I think that “selfish” is good for you. I think that “selfish” will keep you asking your partner questions. Questions like:
- Do you ever see a way that we could be public about our relationship?
- If “yes”… What would that mean, in practical terms? (Buy-in from Cora? Being seen together in public? Telling some trusted people and letting them carry the news? Finding other poly folks for some community solidarity?)
- I want to have children. What do you think about that? Do you want to do that with me? My timeline for wanting to start all that is _____. What do you think about that?
Listen to the answers. Remove the Wishful Thinking filters and listen to them again. Is he telling you the truth? Is he telling you what he thinks you want to hear? Does Robert think about your well-being as much as you think about his? Figure out if this is an Enjoyable-For-Now relationship or one to build your life around. Relationships can be lovely and important without lasting forever.
If the “victory conditions” for continuing your relationship are that you never tell a soul, that you never ask for more than what you have now, and that you never have children (that you never ask these questions), how long would you stay?
While you’re asking questions, shore up all the parts of your life that aren’t about Robert. Is your career where you want it to be? How are your friendships and your family relationships? How are your connections to the community you live in? Do you have people in your life you can talk to about all of this who aren’t Robert/Cora?
Be selfish, dear Jane. Be selfish and ask questions.