#841: “It’s only a matter of time before I ruin his life.”

Dear Captain,

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

Dear “Jane:”

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.







123 thoughts on “#841: “It’s only a matter of time before I ruin his life.”

  1. “….. and that I need to step up and do what is right for him when he won’t do it himself.”

    This made me cringe a little. IMO, Robert is doing perfectly fine and can take care of himself. You should focus on doing what’s right for yourself, LW. Don’t spend so much time standing up for other people that you let them step on you.

    1. Eesh, yeah. The whole concept of breaking up with someone for their own good is pretty condescending. Either break up with him or don’t, but do it because it’s what’s best for you, not because you think it’s best for him.

      1. Yeah, if all the cards are on the table grown people get to make their own choices.

        The only time I can see breaking up with someone for their own good, is if you lied your way into the relationship, never intend to be truthful, and know your partner would not have dated you otherwise.

        Eg, I can’t marry you because I am already married.
        I can’t start a family with you because I’m surgically sterilized.
        I am not attracted to your gender/sexual identity, but being with you is convenient.
        I am massively attracted to your gender/sexual identity, but it’s convenient to stay bearded, so I’m gonna gaslight you into feeling bad about your identity and self so you don’t expect to be loved and supported.

        Any of those things, please go ahead and break up preemptively.

    2. Agreed – Robert is making his own decisions here, and it sounds like he’s competent enough to make those choices. Two people make the choice to be/stay in a relationship (well, in this case 3 people), not just the LW.

  2. Robert is an adult who gets to decide what risks he wants to take in his life. It sounds like he feels like what you have right now is worth the risk. I would assume he has at least thought about it, but I for sure think you guys should talk about this issue like the Captain suggested. He has a right to decide what he thinks is an acceptable risk to him, as do you. Plus while the concept of polyamory might be unfamiliar in your small town, the concept of an “arrangement” might not be. Especially in heavy socialite circles, it might not.

    But I think you should definitely talk to him about your concerns. I’m sure he wouldn’t want you losing sleep and being upset over this either, and the best way to resolve this is to talk to him.

    It does sound like the two of you are really good for each other. But also maybe, it is time for you to be pursuing something else on your own, perhaps there is another niche here that needs filling. You also deserve to have someone who can be more of a long term, public, build a future together partner. And if Robert can’t be that for you, maybe someone else can. Certainly just as he is having his needs met by more than one partner, so can you.

  3. I love all of this advice. My first thought was, “This is Robert’s risk to manage.” Your side of the responsibility does not go beyond continuing to be discreet. He is risking a lot, from what you say, but that’s a choice he has made. It sounds like he’s good at adulting and doesn’t need you to help him make those choices. Have fun!

    1. Exactly! And if it all falls apart spectacularly someday, it won’t be “because of LW” any more than twisting your ankle playing soccer is “because of the other team.” Nobody was forced onto the field here, and nothing in the letter indicates to me that Robert and Cora aren’t fully informed and fully able to make their own risk assessments here.

  4. Honest question here, but the LW’s signature is confusing to me. “The housemaid?” This suggests a level of subservience I didn’t get from the rest of the letter. Is that part of the dynamic? Should I just ignore this? With the acknowledgement that I may be entirely wrong, I read that as a sign Robert has power over the LW in a more concrete way than the letter described. It makes me want to second the Captain’s advice very very strongly and also ask how the relationship came about and if he, as the boss, had the LW transferred specifically so they could begin a relationship? Or if that transfer was something the LW sought themselves for reasons other than or in addition to a desire to start a relationship with Robert? I dunno, something is making me think there be bees here.

    1. I think it’s a Downton Abbey reference. Robert and Cora are the lord and lady in Downton Abbey. Dunno if Jane is a particular character (I only watched the first series), but it didn’t come across to me as anything more than a reference.

      1. Jane is actually a widowed housemaid who Robert briefly flirts with before they both decide it’s a terrible idea, and she leaves.

      1. Google says it’s a reference to a character on Downton Abbey, where LW pulled the rest of the names from.

      2. I think it’s a Downton Abbey reference.

        Nevertheless…it is rather telling that she framed herself as a “downstairs” person to Robert and Cora’s “upstairs.” LW, I promise, you have actual societal value that is not eclipsed by Cora’s charity work or Robert’s political adventures.

        Can I suggest that you do something to remind yourself of your value to your community? Volunteer, get into local politics on your own, do religion things if that’s your jam? And think deeply about if the perceived class dynamics of your relationship are affecting it?

        1. Thanks to all who got the Downton reference. I’ll google next time, but I still think it’s a worrisome framing for a relationship (certainly implies inequality to me), but I’ll admit I’m perhaps being too literal.

        2. It’s from Downton. Not exactly the dynamic in play, but the closest I could think of. :p

          You do bring up a good point that I hadn’t really thought of, though. I guess I do think of myself as a bit “downstairs” compared to them–Cora is from a very wealthy family, and Robert is pretty influential. I, on the other hand, am middle class and middle management. Not to say I’m not awesome, because I am. ^_^

          To answer emdashing’s questions above–I sought the transfer mostly because the position I had in his department really wasn’t the right fit for me. I love the job I have now. I won’t pretend my emotions toward Robert didn’t influence me, but it wasn’t the main reason. He definitely didn’t push me into it.

        3. It sounds as if the inequality in the relationship – and belonging to a ‘lower caste’ is the definition of inequality – will work out well for your poly and his wife. They have standing in the community that will protect them. There’s a lot of leeway when you have the museum director on speed-dial. You, on the other hand, are awesome ordinary people. In practical terms: in situations where you would go to prison, they would pay a small fine. Clinton came out of his multiple messes as a senior statesman still married to a presidential candidate. How are the lower-caste women who offered him the affection and support his wife couldn’t supply doing these days? Not so well. Not one of them. Lives derailed.

          1. Wow. “… who offered the affection and support his wife couldn’t supply…” Are we really blaming Hillary Clinton now for her husband’s transgressions? I thought that went out with the last century.

          2. Yeah, while the point that this could affect Jane more than Robert were it to be revealed is an important one, I think, I’m not sure it was necessary to bring the Clintons into this…never mind that I’m not sure how well their story works as a comparison to this since polyamory and infidelity are two different things, they carry different types of cultural baggage, and Robert, unlike Bill Clinton, is not lying to his wife.

          3. “offered him the affection and support his wife couldn’t supply”

            Which is definitely the only possible reason why a powerful middle-aged man would be sexually interested in much younger female subordinates.

          4. “who offered him the affection and support his wife couldn’t supply”

            I find it ironic that in comments to a letter about a high profile political couple keeping their open relationship in the closet… you don’t even entertain the possibility that Hillary and Bill Clinton are/were keeping their open relationship in the closet.

          5. Nobody knows whether they were closet-opens (that sounds totally backwards, if there’s a better phrase LMK) or if it was straight-up infidelity, and nobody knows if Bill just wasn’t gettin’ enough love from Hillary or just couldn’t keep it in his pants. Nor will we ever unless this hypothetical polyamory goes public. I think it’s stupid to attribute any responsibility to Hillary for Bill’s infidelity (if that’s what it was): if he cheated, it was his choice and his fault. I also don’t see how anything about their story suggests it was anything other than infidelity, but if you want to speculate, go ‘head. The point remains that Bill was fine afterwards, relatively speaking, and Monica was not, which I agree is totally unfair. If we want to draw a (very imperfect) parallel with the LW’s situation, she should look after herself and her own interests here, because if this comes out she’s the one who will be blamed and ostracized, not (just) him.

        4. Sorry, I saw no need to bash either Hillary or Monica in my response, and offered both the respect they deserve. Obviously a failure — why oh why can’t I learn to trash every woman in sight while making a point? They’re in public! They’re women! No matter what the convo, women are always fair targets. Even to other women, apparently.

          1. You… did bash Hillary, though.

            Marriages are complicated things, but the narratives we put on infidelity in heterosexual marriage are simple, and the men always seem to come out less damaged.

          2. Yeah…this response doesn’t make a whole neck of a lot of sense to me, really, given the context of the other responses…

    2. Though it does sound to me like the LW is underprioritizing herself, I wouldn’t read too much into the signature. All of the aliases in this letter are characters from “Downton Abbey.”

    3. I think this is wonderful advice by the Captain 🙂 Nothing to add, except my best wishes to the LW.

      emdashing, I thought it was kind of a strange sign-off but it could be nothing more than a way of explaining why Jane is at their house so much (LW says at the beginning of the letter that she works for local government, so it’s improbable that she’s literally a housekeeper) or of communicating a feeling of “I hate having to talk about our relationship using code words like Housemaid and Special Friend.”

      I, personally, hate it when I or my same-sex partner are introduced as “So-and-so’s Friend”. I mean, I like to think we *are* friends, but let’s not use that as a euphemism for lovers. It’s 2016, people!

    4. I think it just means she picked her pseudonyms from Downtown Abbey.

      Poly woman here & I think the Capn’s advice is excellent!

    5. I had a reply that got eaten, but in case it shows up: I didn’t get the Downton Abby reference, so feel free to disregard my speculations about housemaids.

      1. Yeah, I thought this might raise some flags, but 450 words…

        Basically, we both work in an area where we see the aftermath of some pretty dark sides of humanity. Cora is, well, the sort of Southern Gentlewoman who prefers to not think about bad stuff so Robert can’t really talk about work with her sometimes. But since I’m right there seeing the crap with him, he can talk to me about how it affects him emotionally. I don’t really know if this is a healthy dynamic or not, but it’s okay with me. (It’s not like it’s the only thing we ever talk about. I don’t think I’m just a FEELINGSDUMP for him or anything. Just a shared experience that he doesn’t have with Cora.)

        1. As someone who was once convinced that I was a good secondary for a poly relationship that was full of bees, I used to feel like I was ‘special’ for being able to talk to A about things that B just didn’t get, or tended to respond poorly to. As it turned out, the communication skills between A and B were… sorely lacking, to say the least, and A used their relationship with me as a buffer to realizing that their relationship with B needed some major repair work. I’m not trying to dismiss the connection you have with Robert, but it’s something worth pondering.

          1. Oh man, I feel this. I was never officially poly and too naive even to know it was a thing, but ended up being the feelingsdump (this was long before I found CA) for two male professors who then broke up with their oh-so-limited primary partners. I really, really regret this. I thought I was “being a good friend” when actually it was me having no boundaries…and of course all I thought about was their needs and how wonderfully generous they were for allowing me into their lives. Bleuch.

            All that said, LW seems to think this is not her situation, and I don’t think it’s fair to say “I’ve been through X and therefore dismiss your other reading.” Not that anyone’s saying so directly, but just to clarify.

    6. You make a very good point, and it goes in the same direction as the Captain’s good advice that the LW can and should think about and act on what is best for herself rather than just subordinate everything to what is best for a man who has a lot of power in their community.
      I also think there might be a more lighthearted interpretation. I think Robert and Cora are the names of married characters in the TV show Downton Abbey. I stopped watching it some time ago, so I don’t know if there is ever a plot line where Robert has an affair with a maid called Jane, but I imagine that’s where the “maid” label came from.

  5. One thing I have noticed is that white men with power don’t generally get destroyed by revelations of this nature (or revelations of actual sexual misconduct). It’s easy to believe that someone will be brought down by news getting out, but it doesn’t seem to happen – there’s a scandal, there’s some moderate career blowback and then everything goes back to normal.

    What I’d be worried about, frankly, is the fact that Robert will be pressured to throw you under the bus. He may not want to, of course, but he might end up doing it. And even if he stands by you, what will happen to your career if you’re “that girl who had the affair with Robert when he was cheating on poor Cora”? Will you have to split town? Will it be your first Google result? Women get it in the neck in these situations.

    It may well be that Robert is a great guy who really loves you and thinks of your well-being – he is, after all, being open to his wife about this when a lot of dudes just have affairs. Stranger things have happened. But i s “breaking up with Robert for his own good” possibly a way for you to assert power in the relationship? It seems like you don’t have a lot of power here, even if Robert is a great guy. You don’t have the marriage, you don’t have a share in the assets, you don’t get to appear in public with the guy, you can’t tell your family and friends about this relationship. That’s real inequality even if Robert is sincerely wonderful and caring.

    I do sympathize on the break-up-for-his-own-good front. For me, I think it’s okay to take some responsibility if you feel confident that you’re part of a process where another person is driving their life off a cliff. I don’t think that’s illegitimate at all. Sometimes someone close to you makes a really, really bad decision, and while you can’t literally control what they do, you can certainly say “I care for you, and I’m going to refuse to participate in this thing that I think is a terrible idea”. Sometimes I feel like online advice culture tends to assume that this impulse is controlling or weird, but to me it just seems like being able to take moral responsibility for the fact that our actions often do impact or enable others. We are not all contract-based creatures who go around rationally assessing risk, and it’s not always okay to do something that you think will hurt another person just because they’re an adult and should nominally be able to watch out for themselves.

    So basically, it’s possible that you would break up with Robert, he’d start up another relationship, that would come out and his life would be ruined. You can’t control that. But to me it’s okay to say “I think this is a bad idea and I won’t participate in a process that I think is going to hurt you”.

    Also, if you really think you won’t be able to live with being part of what brings Robert down, that’s a good reason to break up. I think it’s perfectly okay to say “If this happens, I am going to feel so bad that it will be a torment to me, and I want to eliminate that risk”.

  6. What about you, LW? You’re also in local government; are you afraid your relationship with him might impact your job as well, and your reputation? Do you get the impression that he worries about the potential fallout for you the same way you’re worrying about him?

    Ultimately, you need to worry about your needs and trust him and his wife to be adults and manage their needs. If his choice is to be out about your relationship despite the risk, then what that means is that your relationship is more important to him than his career; that’s not uncommon and not necessarily a bad thing, although it’s true that the two usually don’t cross each other as drastically as they do in this situation. The fact is that important relationships impact and shape our lives, and it’s not your job to manage how much you impact his life; only to manage how much he impacts yours, as per the questions CA posed.

    I’d like to urge you to make some poly friends/find a poly-familiar support community if you can. Maybe one you don’t necessarily introduce your guy and his wife to, or at least not right away.

  7. LW, a few questions that might be worth asking of yourself, to inform your decisions going forward:

    If you do decide that you want kids, do you want them with Robert, or would you be willing to look for another partner and potentially have kids with them? Are you interested in dating more than one person at a time, or do you only want to date Robert, in which case staying with him means ruling out other relationships? (And if you are interested in dating other people, then that’s another conversation to have with Robert.)

    You say you’re terrified that people will find out–is that terror worth the positive things you get from the relationship? And is that terror only about what would happen to Robert and Cora, or would there likely be social and/or career consequences for you as well?

    1. Yes, I was going to mention this. LW, you are full of concerns for the potential consequences for Robert and Cora. But, in a small enough community (or career field), the consequences for you could be disastrous. Like “move across country/change career fields for a fresh start” disastrous.

    2. What happens with Cora’s broad-mindedness when Robert is asked to come to the birthday celebration/ put the kid in college/ split the inheritance- of children he has with Jane? And now that I’m hep to the Downton reference, they had to deal with this, too.

  8. Speaking as someone in a Robert-like situation: Robert is a big boy. He gets to decide for himself whether the risk of being polyamorous in his situation is worth it. He gets to decide that even if his decision is a bad one — making your own decisions means you get to take ill-advised risks for yourself.

    So if the LW wants to be with Robert and is feeling guilty and looking for reassurance: you’re in the clear. Keep on doing what you’re doing.

    If the LW wants to break up with Robert and was hoping that protecting him would be a good excuse: Sorry, you have to dump him because *you* want to dump him. You can’t hide behind “it’s for his own good.”

    1. Thank you for articulating this so clearly. It’s also an interesting perspective on the first rule of breakups: it’s OK to break up for no other reason than “I don’t want to be in the relationship anymore”.
      And yes, having been faced a couple of times with the line it’s for your own good when people were breaking up with me, it’s… well, as other people said, it really feels condescending. You can think it, but best not to say it.

  9. LW, if the people in your smallish city in a very conservative area will “ruin” Robert and Cora if (when) they find out, they will *destroy* you. The sexist double standard will make Robert’s situation look like a cakewalk next to yours: you will be labelled every awful sexist slur that can be thrown at a woman and it will all be your fault. Are you sure your job would be safe if the news got out?
    If this blows up as big as you think it would, you might have to relocate to another city to avoid being an unemployable pariah.
    Robert and Cora are adults. If Robert is as savvy as you say he is, I’m sure he’s considered the risks.
    On the other hand, if he’s become one of those men who are so successful that they reach hubris (cf: long list of scandals involving high profile men doing really dumb things), then you really don’t want to be involved because he surprise and shock will make hard on you.

    Take care of yourself, LW, Robert and Cora can look after themselves.

    1. Ooof, yep, especially if it can be construed by outside observers that LW’s career has been in the least helped by Robert. Experience and references don’t count for as much if people think you got them by sleeping your way up. It doesn’t matter if everyone involved claims the relationship only began after he stopped being LW’s boss; the outward appearance is going to look bad.

      1. This. You should seriously start your exit plan now. Try to disentangle yourself professionally and consider relocating. That would be beneficial even *if* you and Robert choose to continue your relationship, as it would be easier to be discrete. Moving would also put you into a larger social and dating pool. Also, you need to protect yourself in case Robert reacts badly if you were to break up. Make sure you are not in a job where he could retaliate against you.

    2. This. Also, I am sure Cora is a lovely understanding person, but if the excrement hits the fan and her lifestyle is on the line, are you 100% sure she won’t just immediately throw you under the bus, claim she had no idea, and generally carry on like a woman wronged in order to save her position?

      I’ve seen this situation play out before, and I have never yet seen a Cora who didn’t throw Jane IMMEDIATELY under the bus to save herself.

      1. I…am not 100% sure, actually. I feel like she could go either way. She has a pretty nice streak of “F* ’em if they can’t take a joke” to her personality, and she’s pretty big on personal integrity, but who knows really.

        1. I left a longer, more detailed comment which has either been eaten or trapped in the spam filter, but it basically broke down to this: I used to be poly. I was in a relationship with a married man who, by virtue of his job in the company owned by his in-laws, could not be open about his open marriage. Our situation was sustainable for him indefinitely. For me, once the NRE wore off, I was tired of only being able to go to dinner two towns over, of having to pretend, when he and I went on hobby weekends together, that he’d just given me a ride because his wife was busy. Blah, blah, fishcakes. When that wore thin and I started seeing other people in addition to him, my awesome cool kind understanding married boyfriend lost his shit the first time I was gone when he came over wanting to have sex.

          In the end, while the secrecy was a drag, the actual thing that ruined it was that my boyfriend was happy for me to be an accessory to his life who sat on a shelf when he didn’t want to play with me, and was much less sanguine about me being a person with wants and needs. If that’s not your situation, it’s not, and the worst you have to worry about is being ruined professionally when it comes out, but given that you talk about kids etc…I’m not sure how sustainable this is moving forward *for you*.

          Be more selfish, not less. Do this while it works for you, with your eyes open, and enjoy the hell out of it, but when it stops working for you, get out. Let Robert worry about Robert’s reputation. He’s a grown ass human, after all. 🙂

        2. Yeah…she might be good at other people having to put up with crap, but how is she when she’s the target of it? Can she handle nasty little giggles, pity, or even anger that she wasn’t good enough to keep her husband scandal-free? People can be real assholes. Even if she knows of and approves of you now, she might not feel the same later.

      2. This is what I was thinking: however wonderful Robert and Cora are now, LW might end up with tire tracks up her back.
        Robert and Cora could limit the damage by spinning it as your basic garden variety affair, which would generate gossip, but probably not the nuclear reaction that polyamory would. Big important powerful man has affair with co-worker can be lived down as boys-will-be-boys.
        Setting the record straight that it was polyamory will only damage Robert and Cora, but won’t help LW.

    3. This is exactly what my first thought was, too.

      The letter is full of concern for Robert, but he’s not the one in real trouble. If the situation went public, the person who comes out with their life truly destroyed is not Robert, it’s the Letter Writer.

    4. This. Plus, that kind of story follows you, when all someone has to do is Google your name and there you are as The Mistress, because even if Robert has your back-and he might not- the media isn’t going to report this as poly, but as another cheating guy and his side piece.

  10. LW, you will not be “the cause” of Robert’s problems should your relationship surface. That should rightfully be blamed on the small town, or the conservatism, or the local gossips… but it will definitely not be your fault.

    However, it does suggest that you have sensible trepidation about the present and future of this relationship, and that is where the Captain’s advice to “be selfish” rings so true to me. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself, or consider how this affects your goals and plans. It is perfectly all right to treasure this relationship, yet it seems (on some level) that you already realized it has something of an expiration date.

    It is not, and never can be, a full and open relationship unless massive upheavals take place. And that seems both unlikely and unwanted.

  11. LW, it’s also worth remembering that even if *you* broke up with Robert, he or Cora might (probably would?) in the future date other people. They could be outed as poly at any time, and that isn’t on you. You can’t protect them from negative responses to how *they* run *their* lives by breaking up with him.

    1. I was going to say exactly this. If they’re poly, he’d be likely to date someone else if you weren’t in the picture, at least eventually. It’s his polyamory and the lack of societal acknowledgement that would cause the problem, not you. He’s decided those risks are worth it to him.

  12. yeah, and this is why i’m leaning towards “you might want to break off this relationship”. not because its a bad relationship, bug because your job security/mental health/future depends on this remaining a “dirty little secret”. you are not living in a place, or in a relationship with people, where it’s safe to be open. it’s a risk for *you*. you will get hurt the most.

    the closet isnt a great place to be. and there are people you can be in a relationship with, where the entire relationship doesnt depend on you never telling anyone/being open/someone finding out anyway.

  13. I must admit, I can’t help but wonder if this is the same advice that would be applied in the same “if we are found out, it could ruin him” situation, if LW was male, and Robert was single. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s something you have to think about realistically and have a plan for.

    But you’re both adults – and breaking up with someone for their own good, just in case their career is ruined is, IMO, a move that says you have decided their priorities for them. Making this decision for your OWN personal security is absolutely a valid thing, but be honest about it. Robert can decide for himself if the risk is worth it for him – think, as the Captain says, of your own risks and desires.

    1. Should it be? (And I don’t mean that provocatively, I’m genuinely curious about this.) My initial reaction is that maybe the advice wouldn’t be the same because, beyond the basic similarity that monogamous gay couples and poly groupings both face unfair discrimination, I’m not sure they are all that analogous.

      Definitely agree with your second point though.

    2. The meat of the advice for a gay couple would be essentially the same as for LW: LW should do what’s right for LW.
      I think the “get out now” side of advice for LW is coming from the fact that LW’s relationship with Robert is kind of a dead end street because he’s already married: she can’t marry him, she probably can’t have children with him, and he’s already got someone he’s apparently happy with. The only way she can “advance” in this relationship is if something happens to Cora.
      The third person with a legal interest in the relationship makes LW’s particular situation very different from a closeted gay couple’s.

      1. I can’t speak for LW, but the “relationship hierarchy” you seem to be assuming isn’t how everyone looks at relationships. Especially not poly people. LW needs to figure out for herself whether she sees it as “dead end” or not.

        1. My comment was specific to LW’s situation. Katzenfrau wondered if the advice would be different if LW and Robert were single men. I was trying to say that the specific advice – which for the most part is “get out” – was prompted by LW’s indications that the relationship was not going to meet her long term needs: LW indicated she had doubts about whether it was what she wanted in the long-term but she was avoiding thinking about that because the immediate was good.
          I worded it poorly, and perhaps I misunderstood LW’s comments, but mine was not about anything other than LW’s situation.

      2. Okay, you seem to be saying that a relationship is a “dead end street” unless it can lead to legal marriage and/or children. Is that actually what you intended to say?

        Yes, if the LW wants children and there’s no way for her to have them in the relationship as is (either with Robert or a different partner) that would work for her, she needs to start looking for something else in the long-term.

        That’s a bit different from what you seem to be assuming is inherent truth for all relationships.

        The only way she can “advance” in this relationship is if something happens to Cora.

        That’s … a bit film noir. The LW doesn’t express any desire to supplant Cora or a wish for Cora to be out of the picture. In fact, she says the relationship suits all three of them well.

        I’m not sure why you assume that Cora’s existence is inherently a negative for the LW, in a consensual poly relationship.

        1. No, that’s not what I intended to say, and I was not assuming any inherent truths about anything.
          I was reflecting on what I perceived – perhaps erroneously – to be a recognition that LW already seems to doubt the relationship is what she wants in the long term. She said she was avoiding thinking about the long-term because the present situation is so good. That to me says on some level she knows it’s not what she ultimately wants.
          Cora’s existence in a consensual poly relationship is not an issue; but if LW wants something other than a consensual poly relationship, it’s not happening with Robert while he’s married to Cora.

    3. Being gay is a lot more socially accepted these days than being poly. A closer analogy would be to a gay relationship 50 years ago.

      1. Off-topic, but that depends on where you live. Where I’m from, open relationships raise eyebrows (with the caveat that a woman who sleeps with “too many” men also gets every misogynistic slur under the sun thrown at her, but that’s an issue of sexism and not related to polyamory as such) but being out as gay ruins your life.

          1. Overall my home country is relatively progressive, but I grew up in a conservative rural area where people have strict interpretations of the Bible and how to be a Proper Woman(tm).

      2. Ooof can we please not throw assumptions like this around? This doesn’t seem like the right place to debate Oppression Olympics tbh

      3. I really do feel so sad when poly people (of which I am one) try to claim the “gays have it better” mantel. If you’re in a straight poly relationship, you still enjoy all the straight priviledge. Get yourself together.

  14. LW, as many have said, you need to be looking out for yourself. Nobody else is going to look out for you. If you have goals for your life that can only happen on the right side of the green baize door, you are probably not going to realize them as Jane the housemaid.

    Also, speaking from experience…if you go out in public together AT ALL, ANYWHERE, even the next town over…someone has seen you together. There are people who know that you and Robert are seeing each other, and given what you say about your setting, they think that Robert is having an affair with you. That never bothered me for myself, when I was in that position, because for me it didn’t matter, but for my partner it mattered a whole lot, because he held a high position in a company owned by his in-laws, etc etc, and even though he and his wife legitimately had an understanding, and she and I were friends, and everything was above board *personally*, it could never be publicly legitimate because of the position that would have put him and his wife in.

    A further note: when I wearied of the annoying restrictions on my life and ability to go out socially and started dating other people (because we were casual, as he kept telling me), it turned out he meant that *he* was casual about *me*, not that I was allowed to be casual about him. The first time I was away for a weekend with a new (casual) boyfriend and didn’t notify him, he came to my house looking for me, interrogated my housemates about where I was, and then spent the weekend working up a head of steam which he vented on me when I got home. The money quote from that particular fight was him saying “I only agreed to let you see other people on the understanding that it wouldn’t interfere with my rights!” I’m sure Robert would *never* do something like that, and I’m sure that he genuinely loves and appreciates you, and I’m sure that he values your presence in his life and wants you to be happy. But I also know that if you had asked me a week before that fight if that dude would ever in a million years act like that toward me, I would have said that he would *never* do something like that to me.

  15. Mandatory mention of the Sheelzebub Principle: How long are you content to let the status quo stand? A year? 10 years? That should inform your actions and decisions. If you *are* happy with it, that’s important to know too.

  16. Am I the only one here who thinks the problem is really not that big? Yes, polyamory is not looked upon kindly in conservative circles. However, the whole affair will look just the same like a man cheating on his wife. Which I would just bet lots and lots of those conservative men who respect Robert so much, do themselves.
    This will of course not prevent them from being bigoted and judging him should it be found out, but it’s like, there’s lots of people living with that risk, and most of them aren’t poly, they’re just cheaters, which is 1) amoral and 2) more likely to be exposed by the spouse who has been cheated on.

    And then there is, of course, the interesting question whether Robert wants to live his life with a lie. I, personally, aim to find work in circles where people respect the person I really am. Which is not a way to earn lots of money, but a way to be at peace with yourself.

    Be selfish, Jane. Ask yourself what you want out of this relationship. And whether you get it.

    1. It certainly seems like this is a dilemma predicated on something else going on. Presumably LW believes Robert is a competent person who has a right to make his own decisions about risk in most things, so why is she second-guessing it here? Is the driving force here really that LW would like to be able to do X, Y, and Z thing which she cannot if she’s going to be circumspect on his behalf? Is she simply tired of being circumspect? And if she is, that’s surely her right – everyone in a relationship should be getting what they need or feel righteous about deciding to end it.

      They should just do it on their own terms, for their own reasons. Let Robert and his wife manage their own decisions like grownups based on their own analysis of their needs. You do the same, LW.

  17. I don’t know where exactly the LW lives, so I can’t comment on the specific culture there, but I would like to point out that their relationship—a man being married to one woman while also long-term involved with another woman—is actually fairly common, traditionally speaking. Of course, it hasn’t usually been called “polyamory,” and the wife’s knowledge/approval of the situation is less common but certainly not unheard of.

    It strikes me that, though there may be a lot of gossip, the man in this kind of relationship actually experiences the FEWEST repercussions of anyone involved, while the “other woman” experiences the most—especially in conservative areas. Again, I don’t know where the LW lives specifically, but generally speaking, it’s the “other woman” who needs to worry about losing jobs, receiving judgment/hatred from strangers, etc., not the man.

    1. I have to wonder if “Robert” is as worried about the consequences to LW as she is worried about him. There is a point where each person has to prioritize their own self-interests. He’s made his choices based on his priorities – it’s time for LW to think through her priorities and see where Robert falls, and how much he helps or hinders them.

    2. Yes, I was thinking the same thing. I’ve only been in a very shallow approximation of this situation (favorite student and emotional hankie to partnered male professor) and remember quite clearly having no concerns whatsoever about myself or my feelings or my future because I didn’t even consider the possibility that I could be hurt from serving this “innocent” role. Their lives were so hard, and so full of drama, and so important compared to mine, and I was just a kid who lent a listening ear in exchange for their approval and attention, which for me felt totally intellectual. Things did go south and I did get hurt, even though in retrospect I was totally blameless of anything but naivete. I wish I could have seen that while it was happening, but I was way too happy and privileged even to have exciting and important friends like these who treated me like the grownup I wanted to be one day.

      All of this sounds pretty condescending when applied to LW’s situation, and I get that they aren’t perfect parallels at all. But I do remember clearly being in that headspace of “I care so much about them and their priorities and their success and their feelings” while totally dismissing/disregarding my own, not even consciously but as a matter of course. I felt 100% trusting. I was very, very wrong. I was not as safe as I thought and deserved to be. It sucked. I hope the LW at least gives this some thought and puts the focus more on herself. It’s seriously not selfish, it’s very, very important to make sure YOU are (going to be) ok.

  18. Robert and Cora should reasonably know that public folks who have to look like they’re conventionally married probably shouldn’t be practicing polyamory. Technically speaking, that’s more their decision as to whether or not to risk it.

    What’s up to you is whether or not you are okay with your name being thrown around during the inevitable shitstorm when you are found out, which everyone inevitably is in the age of social media. That choice is up to you.

  19. Thanks for the response, Cap and friends. You really put things into perspective for me–I hadn’t realized how much I was putting myself in the background. I am going to have to think long and hard about my answer to the Sheelzebub Principle here. I know that short-term it’s worth it for me, but I really have been shoving long-term to the side in my “happy fuzzy relationship” feels.

    I know if it becomes public I’ll really get stomped on, but I’m not in love with this town and will be happy to move to one of a number of places that I know I can get a job pretty easily if it comes to it, so that’s not so much part of my mental equation. Robert and Cora are older and they’ve lived here their whole lives, so relocation isn’t quite as easy an option for them as for me, which is part of why I’ve focused on repurcussions on them so much in my letter.

    1. If you’re going to move for a job, get the job now, before the excrement hits the fan. If you get fired or “laid off” it might not be as easy as you think to get another job.

    2. That’s something else to consider, though: is this relationship keeping you in a place that’s ultimately not where you want to be? Is it worth that, especially if the prospects of it evolving beyond what it is right now or being able to adapt to changing circumstances are limited?

  20. Don’t want to undermine the “be selfish for once” advice with “save the children! (that don’t even exist yet),” but I do feel like somebody should maybe point out to the LW that if they are planning on having secret kids with Robert, they will likely appreciate being his scandal-in-waiting even less than you do. If they are planning to have kids with someone besides Robert, they should know that kids are terrible at keeping secrets, so they will have to double down on the lockdown.

    This is all just to say that status quo + kids = really not a good idea–something will have to give. .

  21. Dear LW

    My comment was eaten (I think) and reading your response doesn’t really change what I would say, so here goes.

    You know that the big hammer would fall harder on you than on Robert, you know that the relationship isn’t really open to children or permanence.

    Think for a bit what discretion will mean over the long term. As you’ve described things, you’ll probably be isolated. Will you have Robert (and Cora?) to dinner with your friends? Do Robert and Cora expect you to have a beard if you see them socially? What do your family and friends think of Robert?

    tl;dr Be more selfish.

    1. Agree. I had some eaten comments too, but this is the main point: it’s not all about them, and if it seems to you as if it is/should be, that’s messed up. Truly.

      1. Whoops, just read your reply–you obviously got this already from the other comments, so now I see why my comments got eaten. In addition to their being mostly about my own not-really-analogous situation, but I really felt you on the “their priorities and happiness are what’s most important here because hey, I’m young, I’m fine, I’m happy, nothing’s weird about this from my POV so I should make sure to take care of them now.” It’s hard to shake that mindset in a culture that calls it “selfless,” but in the long run it can almost be addictive and prevent you from seeing your own problems or admitting to yourself that they matter. Best of luck!

  22. Relocation isn’t the magic bullet it used to be. Even NZ is on the interwebs now. Relocating now, rather than waiting for the *inevitable* fireworks to go up — even after you end the relationship, because there will be another, and you are on the backtrail — is probably a better idea. At the least, you’ll get a better price on the house (yes, people will low-ball a scarlet woman).

  23. Is it possible that you are actually backgrounding yourself because you are not willing to admit what you want to yourself? That is seems noble to make the breakup you’d like to do for their sake but not your own? I got married at 21 and I very much like the life I have but it does have a few complicating factors that would be at least different if I had stayed unpartnered for longer and I would be absolutely lying if I said that I didn’t see there was a whole other path my life could have very happily taken. It’s possible that that other life – as a free agent romantically or a primary partner with equal say in a relationship, a job in a bigger town with new connections, somewhere new where you don’t feel like the caretaker of someone else’s romantic arrangements – is calling to you and the only filter you’re letting those questions in on is the self-sacrificial one. It’s not the end of the world if you break up with Robert, move out of town to an exciting new life and Robert and Cora have to deal with their own set of icky feelings and negotiated desire &c. It feels to me like they may have used up some of the surplus emotional space of your relative youth and are now running into the real boundaries of a shared life together. It’s ok if you want to opt out at this point.

    1. I like this too. It’s hard to admit when things are going really well in some ways (LW said more than once that she herself is having a lot of yay-relationship-feels) that maybe it’s not all good, because that seems like asking too much. Maybe that’s where some of this “am I selfish?” is coming from, because in other ways the relationship feels so good.

  24. I’m married and polyamorous. And I think that the Captain is being just a bit more negative here than is warranted.

    First of all, being out about polyamory isn’t necessary for a happy and satisfying life. Being out is a political choice, and a force for good, but staying closeted about the details isn’t necessarily painful.

    What’s toxic is not being able to talk about the people in your life who are important to you. My partner and I are polyamorous with another couple. We can be open about them as our best friends; I can tell work friends about joint vacations, and include our other partners at Thanksgiving with my family.

    But I’m not “out” because I don’t mention all the sex. I’m fine with that; those aren’t people I would discuss sex with my primary partner with either. It feels like discretion rather than oppression.

    So my first question to you, Jane, is whether any part of your relationship with Robert is acknowledged by others. Do Cora and Robert come to parties at your place? Are you and Robert acknowledged as collaborators by others in your work field/industry? Can you talk to your family and friends about a hike or museum trip with Robert?

    Or is every little instance of your interactions clandestine? Do you have to manage a second secret phone line, or travel for hours to have dinner in a restaurant?

    Sometimes cracking the closet door open is enough, but it gets awfully stuffy if you can’t do even that.

    Secondly, are you exclusively committed to Robert? What would happen if you found another partner, one who might want to raise children with you?
    How much time does Robert take up in your life? If you’re hypothetically open to dating someone else, does he really give you the advance scheduling and breathing room to do that?

    It can be absolutely heartbreaking to be permanently stuck as someone’s secondary partner when you don’t have a primary partner of your own.

    (I know many polyamorous people don’t like primary/secondary/tertiary designations, but if someone is legally married, that spouse is de facto the primary partner. Letter #740 has the ugliest version of a perma-secondary, if you want a Terrible Warning.)

    There are versions of Jane and Robert’s relationship I could see being happy and sustainable for the indefinite future. Suppose Jane and Robert have a regular date night twice a month and text occasionally. That could easily give Robert two meaningful relationships, leave plenty of time and attention for Cora, and make plenty of space for Jane (and Cora?) to cultivate other relationships as well.

    Does that sound like you?

    I agree with all the other commenters that Robert and Cora’s public profiles are not yours to manage. As long as you keep your word to him about whatever level of discretion you agree on, other people’s potential detective work is up to them to handle. If some political opponent digs up your relationship, and small-minded people cost Robert his job, that’s a consequence of his choices in the face of their pettiness. You won’t be the reason; other people’s intolerance will be the reason.

    1. There’s some really good advice. As another poly person, I feel like there’s definitely some overreaction to that part in this thread, too.

      Some people can handle being in closeted relationships, others can’t. You get to decide, LW, which one you are, and what you want long term, and whether that’s compatible with your current relationship.

      1. “You get to decide… what you can handle.” My life would have been so easy if my gut had been able (or willing) to go along with what my brain “decided” that I could handle… but in the end, my gut was smarter. YMMV.

        1. Maybe “you get to figure out what you can handle” is closer: but either way, what the LW can handle and what I could handle may not be the same. (I am much more open about my poly relationships than LW and her partners are about theirs; that this means it wouldn’t work for me to be involved with any of the three of them doesn’t mean they’re Doing It Wrong.) Either way it’s likely to be a trial-and-error process, for all the people involved.

          LW should prioritize her own needs, and possibly ask Robert and Cora to pay more attention to that. It sounds like a lot of the decisions have been made (by her, Robert, Cora, or some combination) based mostly on what Robert and Cora need—or what one or more of these three people think Robert or Cora needs. (How important is Cora’s social position, to any of the three of them? It could be anything from the center of her emotional world, to something she does because it’s expected of her as Robert’s wife, and otherwise she’d be as happy building models or enrolling in grad school.)

          1. Agreed, although thank you for being so gracious when I was being a lout; no excuse, but I was not being deliberately obstreporous.

    2. Hey, all of this is great advice, but I feel like there is a slightly different power dynamic between two couples, and a couple with another person.

      Two couples have a “screen”. They have a balance. A V where one of the relationships is public and one of them is secret is a different situation.

      A situation that really hurts. Or at least, it did for me.

    3. I actually disagree that legal marriage necessarily = de facto primary. I’ve been in a five-way marriage in which there were two couples who had legal standing plus one member who had no legal spouse, and none of us were more primary to any of the others than the rest were. I’ve also been in a four-way relationship in which my primary was very clearly one of the two who *wasn’t my legal spouse. My husband’s primary was the other one.

      But, of the factors which make up primary partnership, the big three are legal marriage, whom you live with, and whom you’re acknowledged to be with by monogamous society (if you’re not publicly out as poly). Cora’s got all three of those, in this situation, and LW zero. So yeah, that makes it kinda clearly a primary/secondary situation on practice… not because of the legal marriage alone but because of it in combination with the other two factors.

    4. Yes, my main thought though it’s easier said than done is LW could look for another partner potentially for children? There are a lot of variables and the potential hit to their career is kind of scary but in terms of living your own life the stand out for me is “you too can have a second partner if you like”.

    5. I really appreciate this response. I’m getting a weirdly negative vibe from the tenor of the Captain’s response and some of the commentary, which seems strange to me given how poly-supportive this place has been in the past.

      I mean, I don’t disagree with the Captain’s advice. It’s absolutely important to be asking those kinds of questions. But I know that for myself, as a polyam lady-shaped person with a husband and a boyfriend, when I get into “oh my god what if I am ruining their lives,” for me, that’s typically coming more from a depressed place, a place where I’m not capable of acknowledging my own self-worth and am utterly convinced that I destroy everything I touch. Everyone else has covered other possible angles, so I just want to add – LW, is that where you are? And if it is, could you seek reassurance from Robert and Cora?

      1. It’s not the Poly stuff that is making me look at this with non-rose colored glasses. It’s the self-abegnation of the letter writer who is/was the secret protege and lover of an “important” man, which is a VERY old story. I want it to be a good story for the LW. Robert & Cora can take care of themselves.

  25. I am mostly commenting to say that more letter-writers should use pseudoynms from Downton Abbey. It’s great. 😀

  26. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold is a novel that might help you think about your position, LW. It’s a book written from your (Jane’s) and Cora’s perspective, three years after Robert’s unexpected death. It’s about choosing what you want the rest of your life to be, to have kids or not (sci fi, so having Robert’s kids) and whether and who to out yourself to (Robert and Cora’s adult son). It isn’t a magic solution to your trouble, but spending some mental time with a person who made your choices and kept a big party of their core self secret for decades might help you think about what you want.

  27. “…Robert and Cora are mature adults who can make decisions about their own lives, and I should allow that.”
    I have done a lot of work unlearning my codependent behaviors, which I developed as coping skills as a child in a dysfunctional home. For many years, I tried to make sure everyone in my world had everything they needed, even if it was in direct conflict with my needs. I think you’re well-positioned to approach these two wonderful mature adults in your life and have this exact conversation with them: your need that isn’t being met may be for reassurance, and they can provide that. In general, it sounds to me like you’re in a solid triad with healthy communication — kudos!

  28. “…Robert and Cora are mature adults who can make decisions about their own lives, and I should allow that.”
    I have done a lot of work unlearning my codependent behaviors, which I developed as coping skills as a child in a dysfunctional home. For many years, I tried to make sure everyone in my world had everything they needed, even if it was in direct conflict with my needs. I think you’re well-positioned to approach these two wonderful mature adults in your life and have this exact conversation with them: your need that isn’t being met may be for reassurance, and they can provide that. In general, it sounds to me like you’re in a solid triad with healthy communication — kudos!

  29. Jane, you have made some choices that show considerable depth of character- managing your work environment and BTW, your career!) negotiating your relationship openly with your partner’s wife. But your sign-off – Jane the Housemaid- doesn’t match. It reads like graffiti, like someone else’s voice. Why is that?

    1. Ah, the Army had the answers. -The perils from not watching TV! But aspects of the implied servitude are getting the airing-out they warrant.

  30. LW, it’s OK to want a family, and to think through how that might work in detail. Some things to ponder – can you discuss this with Robert? Is it on the table at all? If not how do you feel about dating other people and finding someone else to have a family with? Is Robert taking up all your emotional energy (and a bunch of the time you have for meeting new people) such that you won’t date anyone else while you’re together? Are you avoiding it because it’s a can of worms, trying to find someone else who’s also poly, who’ll be cool with your existing relationships, in a small conservative town?

    It’s worth remembering that a lot of “temporary” situations that you intend to change in some vague future “later” can go on for a very long time, especially if they’re comfortable. So, for example, if you want to have a relationship that isn’t secret later or have a relationship in which you can have children (I can’t see how you could have children in a secret relationship where their father was involved in their lives), it might be a good idea to look at the steps that would get you there and pursue those.

    Obviously there are no guarantees in life, and our best laid plans can be completely overturned by circumstance, but we still have the power to at least try to choose the sort of future we want and set things up so that it’s at least possible for that future to happen. Maybe it is possible to have the future you want with Robert, but it sounds like you and he need to talk and think about *how*.

  31. I wonder – and this is conjecture on my part – is that part of your desire to protect Robert and Coras work life is because it is the sort of work you admire and aspire to? You have mentioned that you transferred and that you are willing to to move and have the employability to do so. This suggests you have a career worth investing in. Maybe an aside to this poly dynamic is to learn what it is about Robert and Coras life that draws you in and if you have any unfulfilled career or political aspirations of your own? Sometimes the effort of maintaining a complex private life means you neglect other areas of your life. Robert began as an inspiration. Maybe his role in your life could be to build on that love and mentorship to build a career further?

    Just a thought.

  32. Rhetorical question for the LW:

    Is your stress about being outed, and your concern about how this could hurt Robert, something you’ve been worried about the whole time you’ve been together, or is it a more recent development?

    I think the answer to that could be helpful.

    If it’s been stressing you out for the entirety of your relationship, you might need to ask yourself if the relationship is worth that mental burden. Or at the very least what changes could be made to reduce your stress.

    If it’s a more recent development the question would be why now? Is there some change in your, Robert, or Cora’s lives that increases the risk of being outed. If there isn’t a outside cause is it possible that your focusing on how an outing could effect Robert as a way of avoiding addressing other aspects of the relationship. Like the fact that if you want to have kids some day that might not be able to happen within this relationship.

  33. Dear LW, a few questions for you to ask yourself, if you want: Have Robert and/or Cora thought about these things? Have you talked to either of them about it? If you think they haven’t, why haven’t they? Why is it your responsibility to make decisions for other adults in this situation?

    If *Robert* said to you ‘I’ve decided this relationship has to end because it might hurt your job, dear Jane, and I couldn’t live with the guilt of ruining your life here,’ would you think ‘How helpful of you’ or… something else?

  34. LW, you seem concerned about the fallout for Robert and Cora, but have you thought about the possible fallout to yourself? The world being what it is, women get blamed for these situations far more often then the men. It’s unfair, but probable. The Captain is right, you should be selfish and think about yourself, but also think about what happens to you if this comes out. Are you ok with that?

  35. Can we not apply the language of “out”/”closeted” to het poly relationships, please? These words have a history and a context and removing them from that context is both homophobic and makes them lose their meaning.

  36. To me, this letter could be re-phrased one of two ways:

    #1. Dear CA, I’m in this great relationship with a wonderful man with his wife’s support. We have a great time together, and I’m super fulfilled. I can see this relationship as something I’m in for the long haul (or alternatively, I’m not worried about the future because I’m currently only pursuing “for now” relationships), but I have this one stressor in that I’m so worried that this will all become public, and the lives of people I care about will be ruined due to polyamory not being compatible with their public life. This makes me feel like I’m being selfish, because the life I’m enjoying so thoroughly could end up contributing to their demise. How should I deal with that?

    #2 Dear CA, I’m having a relationship with a married man with the permission of his wife. Because this has to be kept secret, I feel like this relationship lives in this kind of limbo, with the threat that at any moment, everything will blow up and it will be all my fault, since the relationship dynamics and the cultural norms that would be thrust upon me in the event that this is found out make me feel like the one who is the “transgressor” here. This threat makes me feel like I can’t make plans about the future, and I have to stuff all of my needs, wants, and dreams into this closed compartment of my life. Since this couple has so generously risked their reputations to allow me to have this relationship that is meeting my short-term needs, is it selfish to feel like this might not be fulfilling in the long term?

    While the letter on the surface asks #1, there is something in the tone that makes it feel like #2. LW, if #2 rings true, then you probably know what you should do.

    If #1 is really how you feel about things, then my advice would be to 1. Remember that you can only make decisions for you, and recognize that Robert and Cora are likely fully cognizant of the same things you are, and seem to have made their decision. 2. Assume that this relationship becoming public was a 100% sure thing, and then ask yourself, would you be willing to go through that to stay? It’s OK if the answer is no.

  37. LW, what concerns me is that both you and Robert work in government. I do agree with other commenters that you probably want to make some decisions about the personal aspects of your life (kids, the role their father would play in their lives, can you have that with Robert, etc.), but . . .

    As far as the career implications of your relationship with Robert, I’m not sure that it’s relevant that it’s polyamorous and Cora consents. If you both worked in the private sector in completely different fields (if Robert was VP of Sales and you were in Finance, for example), it would just be gossip. But with both of you in government and him being your former boss, your relationship might be considered newsworthy by the local media if anyone ever finds out about it. Because of both of those things, even if both you and Robert were unmarried, I’d still think you should very seriously consider what it could mean to your career if your relationship became public.

    Government work can be really ridiculous when it comes to public perception. You say you love your job. If your relationship with Robert costs you your job and makes it impossible for you to find work in your field, will you still consider your relationship with him to have been worth it?

    I hope this isn’t too harsh. But I don’t think the government angle had been brought up yet, and I thought someone should mention it because it can make fall-out nasty in a way that it wouldn’t be if he were just a famous VP of Something at Local Megacorp.

  38. I just want to add that if you do want kids, but you and Robert can’t/don’t want to have them together, that doesn’t automatically mean the relationship has to end. Maybe that’s what you would prefer, or maybe living in your conservative town would make alternatives difficult, but it’s worth considering that you could continue your relationship with him as it is now while also seeking out a partner you could coparent with. The nice thing about polyamory is there are as many possible relationship configurations as you can imagine.

    In any case, sit down and ask yourself what you really truly want, both regarding your relationship with Robert and regarding your own life and goals. If you’re honest with yourself and allow yourself to want the things you really want, it’ll put you in the best position to know whether this relationship is right for you and on what terms.

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