#919:”Metamour vetoed me, he wants a relationship anyway.”

Dear Captain,

This is a bit messy, please bear with me… One year ago, a long time acquaintance, “John”, figured out my interest in BDSM. It turned out him and his wife “Julia”, were a dominant and submissive couple in a polyamorus triad with another woman, who I will call “Katie”. Katie is not a sub, and told John he was free to look for another partner to suit his other needs. She gave him a list of requirements for this hypothetical new submissive and I happened to I fit the bill perfectly.

Unfortunately there was a complete breakdown in communication between John and Katie. Even though I met Katie’s every requirement in an additional partner, she essentially vetoed me from the relationship. She says she is not jealous, but she’s mean to me every time we meet, even though I’ve been nothing but nice to her. I’ve made several attempts to build bridges, and she’s burned them every time. At this point Katie has stopped talking to me altogether, which is kind of a relief, I guess. I know John finds Katie’s behaviour aggravating and nonsensical.

John and I never really got over our almost-relationship. The other day we finally acknowledged the elephant in the room: that we were still somehow having a D/s relationship, just not calling it that. To summarize, John said that he wants to have me as his sub ‘on the down low’. Essentially without Katie’s knowledge. I know John and Katie’s relationship has been rocky lately. I have no love for Katie, but I don’t want to hurt her and I don’t want to be responsible for a breakup… But I care deeply about John and want to be his submissive, even if it is in kind-of-secret… I’m in such a tangled web I have no idea what to do. Any advice?

Lovelorn Sub

Dear Lovelorn,

John asking you to have a secret relationship with him is, pardon my French, shady as fuck.

I know it.

You know it.

John knows it.

Katie knows it (or will, when this all comes to light explosively and hurtfully a few months from now), as does Julia.

John could say, “Katie, sorry, you don’t actually get to veto this. I want to have a relationship with Lovelorn. If that means you want to end things between us, I understand.” Or he could respect the agreement he’s made with Katie and hold off on being with you as long as they are still together. If he doesn’t want you enough to negotiate openly & ethically with Katie, then he doesn’t want you enough, period.

Your ethical path here is “Hey, I don’t do ‘down-low’ relationships, so call me when you’ve sorted things out with Katie one way or another” and then dropping contact with John/Jane/Katie for a while. No making eyes at each other right now, no hushed conversations, no secret texts or sexy photos or whatever your dynamic with John is. Get some space from this little hothouse. There are other interesting people who are into the sexy stuff you’re into and who know how to do it safely and ethically and in a way that doesn’t ask you to compromise so much.

Do not let this dude suck you into a secret relationship with him. Especially one with D/s dynamic where he can mind-fuck you that keeping his secrets and lies to everyone in his life is part of the whole submission dynamic. That is unethical and possibly unsafe. You get to be in the open (relative to his other partners) or he doesn’t get to be with you. He needs to come correct or not at all.

You know what the right thing is here, I know you do. ❤ and strength to you.







194 thoughts on “#919:”Metamour vetoed me, he wants a relationship anyway.”

  1. The Captain is right. Someone who would try to do this on the downlow is not the kind of safe, boundary-respecting partner you want for this type of dynamic. And I’ve dated someone with a partner like Katie openly and would never want to do so again. Are you involved with your local BDSM scene at all? If not, this might be a good time to make some new friends, perhaps especially the kind you’re not interested in sexually or romantically.

    1. This. He can’t abide by the parameters in a relationship that’s all about parameters. This is not a good way to start.

  2. “John figured out my interest in BDSM” is giving me all sorts of heeby-jeebies. LW, this sounds a lot like John has crossed a lot of boundaries and started grooming you to be his secret submissive. This sounds like a terribly, terribly unsafe situation, with lots of potential for badness. Please give yourself some space from John and find some other people who can explore your interest in BDSM without suggesting you get involved in secret relationships!

    1. I really hope it means something like “it came up in conversation when we were complaining about how awful 50 Shades is” or “he happened across my profile on a relevant dating site”. Because the alternative is what you said and yeesh, no.

      1. Oh yeah, I read it as LW was new to kink and John was the one who discovered her unknown kinky side, but “I was into kink but discreet and John figured it out” would be marginally less creepy.

        Though it doesn’t negate any of the rest of John’s shady behaviour!

    2. Yeah, as a fairly kinky person myself, that + “we were still somehow having a D/s relationship, just not calling it that” made all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Life is messy, life is complicated, but the idea that this guy can sniff you out and then you can’t help being his submissive despite your best efforts somehow doesn’t seem like a good dynamic, and I’m trying to put into words why, without seeming judgey. Here’s my best attempt:

      It feels like he’s convinced you that you’re a wizard, Harry, and that’s why all the Hogwarts letters keep falling down the chimney, so you have to take one. But even if you’re a wizard, you don’t have to take his Hogwarts letter, you know? You could go to Beauxbatons instead, if you wanted. You don’t have to “somehow” end up somewhere you don’t want to be.

      Kinky people, submissives, still get to have choices in who they have relationships with, and it feels like you’ve been convinced (by John?) that since you’re a sub and he’s a dom and you’re attracted to each other, that if you are ever in the same room together you will of course by nature bow to his domly domness, and Katie is just standing in the way of that natural fact. But subs get to have choices! Even in the presence of sexy domly doms! And an emotional affair is still an emotional affair, even if you’re a sub and he’s the domliest dom who ever dommed. There’s nothing about this that is unavoidable or inherent. A sub is still a human person who can say, “You know, your agreement with Katie is such that she gets veto power, and she vetoed me as a metamour. If we can’t be platonic in our interactions, we should steer clear of each other”–in the same way that you might cut off contact with someone who was a vanilla monogamist who you were just too into. There’s nothing about being kinky that means that that option is off the table. It may hurt, it may be a sucky option, it may be that you have to avoid this dude to make it stick–but the idea that you have “somehow” accidentally fallen into a D/s relationship, ack, no. No. The attraction might happen “somehow.” But the idea that his being your dom just happened accidentally… that feels like a particularly dangerous brand of gaslighting, to me.

      1. I can actually see a relationship between two people who naturally fell into those roles falling into that pattern very easily, even while keeping it friendly.

        BUT, it’s incumbent on both of them to be able to see that and walk away when it crosses a line. Not say “well we’ve kinda crossed this line on accident FUCK IT.”

        1. Oh yeah, absolutely. But in that sense it’s not that different than a non-kinky relationship, I think? I mean, my friends who are monogamous and not into kink have the “OMG I have pantsfeelings for this guy/gal AND we are so compatible BUT I am in a relationship that precludes doing anything with them, WELL CRAP” moments too, which to me seems like a not terrible analogy for the “he flips my sub switch so hard but we can’t because reasons” feeling–including the sexy frisson of the forbidden–but as you say, the answer is the same: you either have enough self-control to walk it back, or you avoid the person.

          1. For some people dominance and submission isn’t just in the bedroom and you can end up in that dynamic without it being sexual. (That may or may not be the case here.)

            So I do think there is a kink difference here. I can see how you can end up with a more mentor/mentee advice giver/advice takee drink getter/drink drinker dom/sub type thing without meaning to. That’s the weird thing that DS adds I think. I can definitely see how with someone who flips my sub switch I could be totally non sexually submissive to them in a way I would not normally be to another person in a non bedroom context. That’s what I’m saying.

          2. Oh yeah, I know. I probably shouldn’t have flippantly used the term “pantsfeelings,” because I actually don’t think that this is unique to kinky people even with the “it might not be sexual” element. That’s why the term “emotional affair” exists, after all: it refers to a connection that may not be sexual, and that may not even be romantic, but that is considered a violation because it encroaches on another emotional connection that was previously agreed upon to be either exclusive or limited in some way. And an “emotional affair,” like an accidental D/s dynamic, can start quite innocently; in both cases, the ethical issue arises when you realize what’s going on (which both the LW and John clearly do, based on the letter).

            I’m kinky too, and I’m just not seeing how this is that different than a “vanilla” emotional affair.

          3. See I guess the distinction I would make is that we are all used to having some people in our lives that we defer to and or are submissive to. Friends we really respect and want to learn from, teachers, parents, mentors, co workers we look up to. There can be a tendency for that dynamic to fall out naturally even just in friendships.

            It’s clear they have crossed a line. But I think with D/S it is easier to walk across the submission line without noticing. (Which I would classify differently as the emotional affair line, which I think is a much bigger deal and is also a thing they are doing. )

            Having a friend you defer to, to go for advice, and see as an authority isn’t that weird to me and I can’t imagine guarding against that constantly in case things got too D/Sy. We all naturally give some authority over us to people in our lives, just through caring about their opinion and seeking their approval.

            I just think the line “here is where it went to far into D/S” territory is maybe harder to find, especially if their relationship is non sexual and non romantic.

            But we’re really splitting hairs here, so I’ll stop trying way too hard to make my possibly not as interesting as I think it is point. They are doing a thing they should stop doing until he works things out with Katie and that is what matters.

          4. I wouldn’t say “not interesting” so much as just that I don’t agree. 🙂 Dominance/submission dynamics are natural to human relationships, so it’s easy to walk across that border–but other markers of closeness or intimacy are, too. Sharing with a friend is so easy, and so easy to overdo, that the whole phrase “TMI” is a thing–and “emotional infidelity” is often perceived as being basically an extension of that kid of intimacy. I don’t actually think that being kinky means that you’re more likely to overstep boundaries, which seems to be what you’re saying–that dominance/submission paradigms are just so pervasive and attractive and yet invisible to people with dom or sub ‘buttons’ that kinky people are more likely than most people to indulge in emotional affairs. And that hasn’t been my experience.

            But either way, it’s irrelevant to this particular letter-writer. There’s no question that they know they’ve overstepped; if they hadn’t, there would be no reason to hide it from Katie. They might have accidentally begun an emotional affair–and you and I may disagree whether that’s more likely and/or more forgivable if there was kink involved, but at this point it’s not accidental. If they can control their impulses to inappropriate intimacy, kinky or not, sexual or not, then they should do so. If they can’t, they should stay apart until they can.

          5. Responding to S.

            “For some people dominance and submission isn’t just in the bedroom and you can end up in that dynamic without it being sexual”
            There are people who would argue that the definition of kink is deriving sexual feelings/sexual pleasure from non-sexual things.

            If a friend’s dog eats my shoe while I’m visiting, it’s upsetting, but we’re still friends.
            If I catch a friend caressing and sniffing my shoe, it’s a violation. A shoe isn’t a sexual, but they used it and me for their gratification without my consent. Even though the shoe has not been damaged in any way, I’m not wearing them ever again, and the relationship is over.

            It’s not the thing or action that is sexual in kink. It’s the emotions evoked by the thing, and the motivation behind the action.

          6. (Out-of-nesting response to espritdecorps)
            There are people who would argue that the definition of kink is deriving sexual feelings/sexual pleasure from non-sexual things.
            And those people would be wrong, or at the least too narrowly focused.
            For one thing, by that metric, it’s kinky to be aroused by the sight of a naked person taking a shower, because showering and nudity aren’t inherently sexual. Hell, by that logic it’s kinky to be aroused by the sight of a woman with full breasts, in lingerie, because mammaries and underwear both serve non-sexual purposes! Somehow, though, I daresay most of us would consider those particular turn-ons to be pretty tame.
            But if the individual in the lingerie is a man instead of a woman, suddenly the exact same behavior is kinky. And that’s the point: anything that’s not directly biological about sex (and surprisingly little is, when you get right down to it) is culturally defined. Whether something is sexual or not is in the eye of the beholder. Kink is about deriving some kind of intense satisfaction or fulfillment or pleasure from activities that are, by the standards of the prevailing society, “weird”.
            As you say, it’s kinky to derive sexual pleasure from some activities, like handling someone’s shoes. But there are some activities that are pretty much considered kinky no matter what. There are people who get that intense satisfaction and fulfillment from being locked in a cage with a ball gag in their teeth, but who don’t do it for sexual reasons. If you don’t believe me, google “asexual kinksters” and see what turns up.
            This mini lecture brought to you by People Who Really Care About Definitions, and Viewers Like You.

          7. @HeyNonnyNonnyMous Well, you said you liked definitions, so… 😛 Please remember that asexuality is much more commonly defined as “not feeling, or feeling very little sexual attraction” (as asexuality is a spectrum) and while many people may choose to identify as asexual based on not being interested in sex at all, that is not true for everyone.

            So um. Please don’t use us as a generic example of not getting sexual pleasure from stuff? It’s pretty inaccurate due to the vast range of experiences of ace peeps. You really can’t say that ALL asexual kinksters aren’t having sexual feelings.

          8. I want to jump in here and say that if Lovelorn is new to kink and is submissive, it’s worth googling the term ‘sub-frenzy’ because that will impact the situation in a way you just don’t see in vanilla situations.

            The one time i experienced sub frenzy I ended up making a terrible choice of partner…

          9. Jumping back up to Turtle Candle and S’s comments – I’d be interested to know why you’d consider those situations as examples of a dynamic resembling D/S? To me, they just seem like the normal give and take of relationships – and also like generally isolated interactions rather than relationship dynamics.

            Like, if I am doing DIY with my very handy friend, of course I’m going to defer to her knowledge of plumbing, because let’s face it, she’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know. So I can see that as a D/S-esque interaction. But three days later, I’ll be giving her advice and support about a relationship problem, so the “dynamic”* is switched. And an hour after that we’re viciously trying to wreck each other at Catan and the “dynamic” doesn’t apply at all.

            So, I find it hard to conceptualise that as a submissive dynamic because the roles are changing constantly. There are discrete interactions that fit that description, sure; but the relationship doesn’t.

            And to me, if I was in a relationship where that dynamic wasn’t fluid, where I’d feel like I was always in the same role relative to the other person… I would conclude that one of two things was happening: either I was at work, or school, where the relationship is founded on a formal hierarchy; or I was in an unequal relationship, which I would have to really look hard at to satisfy myself that it was healthy.

            (Obviously this would be totally different if I was in a relationship which was deliberately and consensually designed that way; or where there was a mutual feeling of interest in creating such a relationship. I’m talking strictly about otherwise mundane relationships developing this way seemingly organically)

            *I want to clarify that I’m using quote marks here because what I’m talking about isn’t really a dynamic, not in order to belittle the general concept of a D/S dynamic.

          10. There isn’t necessarily a natural ebb and flow with some d/s dynamics. (it highly depends on the people involved. ) So what you would recognize as “unhealthy” is probably what they are recognizing as an accidentally d/s relationship. They aren’t letting that natural ebb and flow happen, and chances are it feels quite natural. (she probably feels comforted but not restrained by it and he doesn’t feel overly burdened)

            I think that is something it might take you some time to recognize like if it does not feel uncomfortable to defer to a person, when do you realize you are constantly deferring to them?

        2. Replying to your comment below here (“For some people dominance and submission isn’t just in the bedroom and you can end up in that dynamic without it being sexual…”), because the threading wouldn’t let me reply there.

          That’s the case with vanilla relationships too, though. Things can have a romantic/flirtatious dynamic that isn’t just in the bedroom, and you can end up in that dynamic without it being sexual too.

          I get what you’re saying about how kink relationships play on pre-existing power dynamics and you can fall into those by accident. But a lot of vanilla relationships (especially opposite-sex ones) play on pre-existing gender role dynamics and social expectations about those, and people can fall into that by accident as well. Or can set limits on it and watch for the line as well.

        3. Fwiw, as a dom, I don’t agree with that at all. I know d/s means different things to different people but to me being dominant is a particular side of myself I express to a partner. In general, I’m not an especially bossy, authoritative, or mentoring type person, and if I do happen to end up in that role (i.e. like making a decision for a friend or teaching someone to do something), it wouldn’t feel or be anything like d/s. I’ve sometimes acted a *little* dominant toward people I had a crush on who I thought or knew were subs, as a flirtation strategy, but even I feel like that’s a bit dicey. If I just found myself acting dominant toward a friend I’d see that as really inappropriate! Not as gross as the sniffing-someone’s-shoes example someone used before, but just not appropriate for the type of relationship.

          Just my two cents because I don’t relate to treating dom/sub as personality types rather than how somebody prefers to express themselves in a certain setting. (Though I realize some people see it as a more consistent part of their personality than I do.)

          1. See I am sub I am totally bossy and mentory and authoritative all the time and very resistant to people being at all dominant to me. However not all subs that I know are like that. And many Doms that I know are naturally authoritative and take on a more dominant role in general. (I know several that are teachers.)

            So I think it really depends on part on the personalities at play here. And it could be easy to fall into those roles if that is how they are in a more social setting anyway.

      2. Very well said. “It just happened” – no, it didn’t, even if the Couch of Denial is made of black leather and has D-rings set into the frame.

    3. Yeah, that line and the whole “I happened to fit the bill” thing rub me the wrong way. “I happened to fit the bill” sort of seems to remove all agency from John in this. Like, how people just “happen” to fall in love with married people. Or with people their polyamorous partner disapproves of.

      It also implies that Katie isn’t allowed to dislike LW because s/he meets all technical specs. You don’t always know how you’re going to feel about someone till it’s happening – you can’t map out a personality and have it work out every time. Something about LW might rub Katie the wrong way, or – and this is just a wild guess – Katie was LW once and some other woman was Katie. I doubt this is the first time that a guy who “figured out” LW is interested in subbing, and who wants to cheat on his partner has ever, you know, cheated on his partner with a secret sub.

      So LW: If you start a relationship with this guy – on the downlow or in the open – know that he’s the kind of guy who’d rather lie to someone he cares about in order to get his way than to be open and honest if it means he can’t have everything he wants. You might be signing up to be Katie someday, is what I’m saying. All signs point to “AVOID.”

  3. Oh dear. I think there’s two ways to look at this, one with BDSM and one without, because the presence of BDSM is allowing John to, no pun intended, do some emotional switching around.

    Looking at it as a just-two-people thing, the phrase you’re looking at is ’emotional affair.’ They happen, but they generally end up with either someone getting hurt or everyone getting hurt.

    Looking at it with BDSM as a factor … look, John has told you straight-out that he’s a person who doesn’t feel bad about breaking the trust of his partners. You really, really don’t want a Dom you can’t trust. That’s a way to getting hurt in more ways than one.

    Listen, you say yourself that you’ve been nothing but nice to Katie and she’s been cold with you for no reason that you can work out. John’s calling her behavior ‘nonsensical’. Now, that’s a bad sign in itself: it’s a disrespectful and dismissive way of talking about your partner, ESPECIALLY since he’s talking about her behind her back. Again: he’s telling you he’s not a great partner. If he treats Katie like this, he may do the same to you one day.

    But I think you also need to consider that her behavior might not be all that nonsensical. Honey, you are the person her partner is planning to play with whether she agrees or not; I think I’d be pretty tense in that situation. And that’s just going from what you already know; there may be all kinds of other reasons why she’s prickly that John is choosing not to tell you.

    Look at what the situation is showing you rather than what John is telling you. Katie is with a guy who plans to cheat on her and calls her nonsensical when she’s tense around the person he’s planning on cheating with. That guy now wants you to be with him as well. If this were happening to a friend of yours, would you advise them to be with that guy?

    If I were you, I’d put some distance between myself and John and work on getting over him. This dynamic he’s giving you? It’s not BDSM: it’s standard ‘I want to cheat and I’m gonna call my partner crazy if they aren’t happy with me.’ Not groovy kink: old-fashioned skeeze.

    Step out of that tangled web, gorgeous. You deserve more than this.

    1. >>Katie is with a guy who plans to cheat on her and calls her nonsensical when she’s tense around the person he’s planning on cheating with

      Yup! LW, you’re simultaneously saying that Katie has no reason not to trust you, and that it’s unfair and unreasonable of her not to trust you, and also considering going behind her back and doing something profoundly untrustworthy. You’re better than that, LW!

      1. To be fair to Lovelorn, at the point when Katie started being ‘mean’, Lovelorn was presumably hoping that they could be with John on the up-and-up. It seems like Katie’s coldness predates John’s proposal to cheat on her – at least from where Lovelorn is standing.

        But even if Katie has taken an unreasonable dislike to Lovelorn and is in fact a not-very-nice person, that doesn’t mean John’s justified in fooling around behind her back. You don’t have to be a perfect partner to deserve basic faith to the however-you-defined them terms of your relationship. Even supposing Katie is being completely unfair here (of which I am doubtful) … well, you know, people get to take unreasonable dislikes to other people. Maybe she doesn’t like Lovelorn’s voice, or Lovelorn looks just like someone who bullied her in school, or it’s an ‘I do not like thee, Doctor Fell’ situation. And ‘I can’t explain it, I just can’t stand Lovelorn and don’t want them involved in our relationship’ is something that an honest partner should respect. Or else say, ‘Okay, but I’m breaking up with you to be with Lovelorn.’ One or the other.

        John is trying to sell Lovelorn on the idea that Katie’s refusal shouldn’t have to be taken seriously because it’s ‘nonsensical’. That … is not how it works. If I have a whole packet of biscuits and you ask me to share one, and I say no, am I being mean? Yes, I probably am. But that doesn’t mean you can just go ahead and steal one anyway.

        1. Katie and her behavior is a MacGuffin. Here’s the real core question: should I have a relationship with someone who requires I keep it a secret?

          Everyone can make their own decisions, but my personal answer would always be “no.” There may be a small number of situations – perhaps someone in a difficult work situation – where it might be reasonable to have a relationship you are somewhat private about. But this isn’t being “all business” in the office, this is duplicity and lying that he wants you to be complicit in.

          That’s just crappy. Never mind what hurt it may cause Katie or another partner. It’s just a lousy way to live in general.

        2. I assume that LW and John hadn’t started anything at that point – but if her reasons for “essentially vetoing the relationship” was just, “I don’t know, I sort of have this gut feeling that I can’t trust the two of you together” – like, subsequent events seem to be bearing that out.

          Even without the meanness, it reads to be like LW thinks Katie needed a better reason for vetoing a relationship, since she met all the criteria, but if John has given her the right to veto his relationships, she doesn’t need a better reason than just, “yeah, no.” To me, LW’s attempts to paint Katie as in-the-wrong for vetoing the relationship, then violating the veto in spirit and considering violating it in letter feel a lot like the guy who tries to buy you a drink and doesn’t take no for an answer, proving how very right you were to say no on the first place!

          1. “I assume that LW and John hadn’t started anything at that point – but if her reasons for ‘essentially vetoing the relationship’ was just, ‘I don’t know, I sort of have this gut feeling that I can’t trust the two of you together’ – like, subsequent events seem to be bearing that out.”

            Wow, that just got personal for me fast. I’m having a flashback I hadn’t even thought to link to this letter: In my first and only experience with polyamory, I’d fooled around with the couple (J & W) I was dating a few times and we’d started to become friends. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, J put on the brakes. She said she just didn’t feel comfortable with W and I together anymore.

            He and I both sulked about it (I had a huge crush on him, which J probably knew damn well) and badmouthed her in a very faux-concerned kind of way. We all stayed close. He and I had a pretty inappropriate relationship (I sent him naked pictures of myself at one point) though we never had sex. But years later, J found out he’d been sleeping with their married best friend behind her back. Then she found a secret stash of creep shots he’d taken of nearly all his female friends without their knowledge, including stuff of one of them *nursing her baby*.

            She found my pics too. I apologized and felt all the shame and we talked and cried and she forgave me and we tried to stay friends, though it didn’t work out. She was a really good person. She’d gotten played by everyone involved – her terrible husband, her terrible best friend, and me, her less-terrible-but-still-pretty-awful friend. Thankfully, she is fully rid of those people, and without her presence to give him a thin veneer of social acceptability, his predatory behavior got him shunned by most of the group – so she pretty much won the friends in the divorce.

            All that to say: I’m finding myself sympathizing with Mean Katie here. Though her behavior may be truly inappropriate, there’s also a good chance that she’s acting on instinct, and an even better chance that John is encouraging it – fanning the flames of dislike between the two of them so he can play them both.

          2. As a poly person, my thinking was “probably Katie doesn’t really want John to have a new relationship with anybody but isn’t OK with just saying so, so she came up with a long list of restrictions hoping no one would meet them”, rather than her not liking something about LW specifically, but either way it’s a situation to stay away from.

        3. It predates John’s concrete proposal of an affair with Lovelorn, but I highly doubt it predates Katie getting any sense that John was interested in Lovelorn and doesn’t care about Katie’s feelings in the matter. Secret relationship proposals don’t come out of nowhere.

          1. Yeah, I suspect there may have been a case of mentionitis going on here and John was being really unsubtle or possibly talking up LW in ways that did not make Katie feel comfortable.

          2. I wouldn’t be surprised if Katie’s been to this rodeo before, either in Lovelorn’s place as someone upthread suggested or with a pre-Lovelorn. Based only on the info from this letter (so I could be totally wrong), John reads to me as the guy who’s poly because it gives him permission to cheat, and if that’s the case I seriously doubt Lovelorn’s situation is the first time he’s tried to pull something like this.

    2. This x 10000000000.

      “John has told you straight-out that he’s a person who doesn’t feel bad about breaking the trust of his partners. You really, really don’t want a Dom you can’t trust. That’s a way to getting hurt in more ways than one.”


      Love and strength OP!!! ❤

    3. Depending on how Katie and John’s relationship works (Is she actually a a Domme? Is she vanilla? how does this work between them?) I can actually see how that part of the relationship could inform her behavior. It’s possible she’s less OK with him having a sub than she lets on for a number of reasons. And her rules and behavior could also be her trying to maintain control of someone that she sees as subordinate to her outside the bedroom, or trying to eliminate kink relationships which she feels are more threatening than vanilla ones.

      She can be “nonsensical” AND John could be way out of bounds.

      BUT as someone below said none of that really matters. What matters is he is not handling his conflict with a partner well. Rather than addressing it with that partner he’s going around them to get what he wants. That is not good or responsible or fair.

      1. Right at the beginning of the letter it says that John is already in a d/s relationship with his wife, Julia, and Katie is in a triad with both of them, so it seems unlikely that Katie is opposed to him having a sub at all or feels threatened by kink relationships.

        Part of me wonders if John is the type of person who thought he could “turn” Katie submissive (whether she’s vanilla or a Domme) with the power of his manly domness, and is now frustrated. It’s mostly because I was also skeeved out by that line others have pointed out, about how John “worked out” that Lovelorn was a sub (and possibly just me being suspicious).

        I’m also curious where Julia plays into all of this, since I don’t think she’s mentioned after that initial sentence in the letter (which is why it looks like a lot of people seem to have missed her entirely)

    4. “John has told you straight-out that he’s a person who doesn’t feel bad about breaking the trust of his partners.”

      There it is.

      It’s entirely possible that Katie gave him what she thought was an impossible-to-match list in the hope that he would give up the search eventually and is frustrated that he found a “match” and that’s why she’s now pulling this (true story: Husband was in a supposedly “open relationship” when we got together, but when he told her about us it suddenly turned out that I was the one secret exception. Such people do exist.) But even if that’s the case, that relationship needs to be sorted respectfully before John can set about vetoing her veto. His version of events could be complete bullshit, and she could have excellent reasons for being so cold and cranky – we don’t know, because our story is being filtered through He Who Wants To Get Some.

    5. ALL of this.

      “Looking at it with BDSM as a factor … look, John has told you straight-out that he’s a person who doesn’t feel bad about breaking the trust of his partners. You really, really don’t want a Dom you can’t trust. That’s a way to getting hurt in more ways than one.”

      D/s goes *deep*, for many of this. Being submissive to someone puts you at great psychological influence from them. Damage from the wrong dominant can be devastating (I have lingering PTSD from a bad choice in one that I made).

      There are other, better, more trustworthy dominants out there. No matter how exciting it is to be feeling this for the first time, I promise you can do better. Please take good care of yourself.

    6. THIS! I think Polly had a column that said almost the same thing: “Attention, Every Single Human Reading This: If you’re flirting with someone who’s currently attached, and they start to badmouth their partner? That is a giant red flag. Even if the partner in question is verifiably not so great, it’s fucking weird for a person to hang out and whine to attractive others, rather than simply, say, dumping said malignant partner and THEN bagging on his/her irredeemable ass with vim and vigor (and with other dickish friends with weird lowercase names).” (Source here: https://theawl.com/ask-polly-a-chilling-cautionary-tale-about-the-dangers-of-getting-involved-with-attached-people-69fb3218b1b5#.b8jiykmt9)

      I mean, it was written for a person in a monogamous relationship, but surely the same duty of care and respect applies for poly relationships, too. Badmouthing a current partner to a potential partner tells you less about the person being badmouthed than it does the person doing the badmouthing. John is signaling that he doesn’t respect his partners’ wishes and feelings when they don’t suit his needs, and he is also telling Lovelorn that he would rather feign compliance and have subs on the down-low than actually acknowledge Katie’s feelings and decide together whether they want their relationship to end or progress. What will happen as his relationship with Lovelorn progresses? How do you know he will treat her any better than he does Katie?

      TL;DR: I agree with all the commenters, AVOID THIS DUDE!

    7. As an aside, I suspect that John told Lovelorn that he minds doing this, a lot. But he has such a strong dominant pull towards her submissive self that he can’t help himself. He needs her to be strong for them both and accept that their relationship must be secret.

      Or some such drivel. 😠

  4. I’m wondering… Katie does not look like a very comfortable metamour – lists of requirements, rude behaviour, sudden inexplicable veto – but I’m also thinking that maybe John’s relationships with others have not turned out so well in the past, because if he’s being shady and manipulative right now (and keeping up the BDSM dynamic while offering only a secret relationship is manipulative), he’s probably been shady and manipulative in the past. Possibly Katie is reacting to the fact that every time John wants a submissive it ends up being a problem?

    I also don’t like that he tells you he finds Katie’s behaviour aggravating and nonsensical. In my experience, talking to someone outside your relationship, but with whom you’d like to have a relationship (or sex), about how difficult your partner is being, is a way to garner sympathy and persuade them into doing things that are unwise and unethical, out of sympathy and pity. You feel sorry for John, LW, because you are a kind person. Don’t let that kindness lead you into doing things you will regret.

    1. Yup. “My kinky paramour doesn’t understand me!” is a new phrasing for an oooooollllld tactic. If this guy was on the level this is a conversation he would be having with Katie, not with you behind her back.

      1. This. And I wonder – since Katie is being unfriendly – how much of this information about Katie’s unreasonableness is coming to the LW through John, who by his own words is perfectly comfortable being dishonest. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this “list of requirements” that just! so! happened! to perfectly match the LW is something John invented.

      2. Yeah, exactly. Just change a few nouns/adjectives and we’re straight back to that old song “My Wife Doesn’t Get Me, Only You Get Me (But I Can’t Break Up Because Reasons).” If he has issues with Katie, he can and should talk to Katie about them first. Not to use them to keep both you and Katie dancing at the end of his string.

        1. Definitely. Which also leads me to wonder – what’s Julia’s take on the situation? There’s barely any mention of her in this letter, and yet as John’s wife and part of the foundation triangle, she’s presumably got a stake in everything too. Is she as annoyed by Katie’s “I’m fine with you having a(nother) sub/No, not that one” as John appears to be? Or is she with Katie on the “Metamours get a veto, and there doesn’t need to be a reason” front? Or is she not even aware that this “crossed wire”/subterfuge is playing out?

          Because from what I’ve heard, poly relationships rely on open communication. The signs aren’t good for this one, as either Katie’s being unreasonable and her metamours would rather go around her than call her out, or she isn’t being unreasonable and John’s deciding to cheat (on at least one and possibly TWO people). Either way, that relationship’s one miss-step away from a blow up, and I wouldn’t want to get in the middle of that for anything!

          1. This stood out to me, too – other than a brief mention that Julia and John are married and in a triad with Katie, the letter is entirely about John and Katie.

          2. I have been trying very hard to quash the feeling that because Julie is a sub (like John discovered Lovelorn to be), there is an assumption that she will be fine with whatever John decides.

            (This, in case anyone was wondering, is not an okay assumption.)

          3. I am having a fantasy where Katie and John were the original couple, and Julia married him for immigration related reasons, and in six months when the living together time is finally up Julia is divorcing John and she and Katie are moving to Oregon.

    2. Yup! I thought my shitty ex’s girlfriend was SOOOOO uptight and unreasonable… until shitty ex pulled some truly awful manupulative crap on me, and I realised he’d been subtly undermining my confidence, abdicating emotional labour, and straight up lying to me for our whole relationship. Then her insecure and jealous behaviour made a ton of sense – in an instant my thinking reversed from “why is he with HER?” to “why is she with HIM?!”

      Considering how John is treating the LW, I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar is going on in this dynamic.

    3. While it skeeves me out, I don’t think it’s intrinsically bad to complain about one’s primary partner to one’s secondary partner, for a certain value of “complain.” I actually do complain to my secondary about my primary, but it’s all really banal stuff “Lol, my big doofus boyfriend leaves his wet towels on bed/tells SO MANY dad jokes/puns for days.” The sort of thing I would complain to my female friends over a good-natured cup of coffee, telling stories about my loved one who is occasionally a bit annoying. It’s not “I swear to god if he does [serious thing] again I will dump him.”

      That said, complaining about big stuff while trying to convince someone to have a secret relationship? That’s so sketch I don’t have words for it. It’s worrying in ways that other people have said better, and LW, I promise there are no shortage of sexy dom men so you have to stick out a bad deal. There are other people who will like you and will give you pantsfeels and tie you up to bop you. NOPE out of this one and find someone else.

  5. Dear LW,

    The Captain is right. John is a dishonest and possibly unsafe partner. John is lying to Katie, probably lying to Julie, and probably lying to you too.

    After all, all you know about cold horrid Katie is what John tells you.

    Please drop the lot of them. Find nicer friends.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. When the Katie I knew was being cold to the Lovelorn I knew, the John I knew was telling Katie that Lovelorn wouldn’t leave him alone but he felt bad for her because [untrue story] so he didn’t want to cut ties altogether and it was just so uncomfortable, you know? that she wouldn’t keep her puppy dog eyes off him and her hands out of his pants but he was TRYING.

      Katie was angry because John was saying he’d drawn clear lines that Lovelorn wasn’t respecting.

      (Katie and Lovelorn are great pals, now that they’ve both jettisoned John.)

        1. Perfect analogy, Ice and Indigo.

          (Also, personally, I am shocked by how completely exhausted by all of these people I am just reading about this multi-level relationship tangle (with the possible exceptions of Jane and Lovelorn). Clearly I would stink at this poly thing, although I don’t think my emotional intelligence quotient is THAT stunted…it’s probably too complex for my poor brain. I suck at physically juggling things, too.)

          Dear LW, I will say that I second all aforementioned advice to stop listening to what any person says someone else has said or thought about you or a situation you are currently experiencing and to go directly to the source. If you can’t go to the source due to Reasons, that’s probably a good sign that the entire situation is going to give you a headache somewhere down the road.

          Privacy and secrets are two different things. I’m a fairly private person, but I don’t have any secrets. I might not be happy if someone took my personal business and plastered it on a billboard, and I might even be embarrassed or annoyed about them doing that, but no one would arrest me or be angry with me. If someone is trying to rope you into keeping secrets, it might be a burden not worth your peace of mind. Secrets can be toxic. Don’t confuse them with personal / private things.

          I’m REALLY disturbed that John is trying to drag you into a deal to keep interactions with him secret.

          Here be dragons…and angry bees.

          1. I might not be happy if someone took my personal business and plastered it on a billboard, and I might even be embarrassed or annoyed about them doing that, but no one would arrest me or be angry with me.

            … okay, but my grandfather is not aware I’m queer or trans or poly and would be angry with me if he knew; he’s not aware I’m living with my partner outside of wedlock, and ditto; he’s not aware that I’m a sex educator, in addition to being a Nice Respectable PhD Student at a Russell Group University.

            He’s also 98, and while I’m pretty sure he’d come around eventually it wouldn’t necessarily be before he died. I’m not going to introduce any of my friends to him, but I nonetheless acknowledge that he loves me as best he can, and that I love him, albeit in somewhat exasperated fashion.

            This is at the mild end of possible negative reactions to completely reasonable things it should be completely okay for people to be, from someone living in a country where being queer/trans/poly/living in sin are not currently, legally, crimes. I’m really glad that nothing about you that you’re aware of could put you in danger, but I think that making the implication that anyone who wants to keep aspects of their private life private or secret is likely toxic is, charitably, questionable.

            Secrets can be toxic, yes, but I really don’t think that the problem here is inherently the secret: it’s that the thing that’s being kept secret is dishonesty.

          2. kaberett: I would never say that what works for me works for everyone, and I do see your point. A caveat to my comments might be something along the lines of “There may be people who are not going to be comfortable with certain things I am or do, and I can choose not to share those things with them, and that doesn’t mean my personal business is wrong, bad or shameful, but rather that I am choosing not to engage with someone on these topics for my own well-considered personal reasons.”

            I could also have made a note about the kind of secrets people keep e.g., throwing someone a surprise party.

            My definition of secrets usually implies that someone in addition to myself is telling me not to share some information, and my definition of private includes things that no one but myself may know, or things only trusted and close friends might know, but which I generally don’t share freely with just anyone, but those definitions have a little wiggle room. If no one is compelling you or pressuring you to choose not to tell your elderly loved one your personal business and you are making a unilateral decision For Good Reasons not to share, I’d call that private stuff, not secrets, but I’m not you, and I accept that you are comfortable referring to these facts as secrets where I might not be.


          3. The problem here isn’t poly; it’s that at least one of the people involved (John) not only isn’t being honest or communicating well, he is trying to stop other people he is involved with or wants to be involved with from communicating honestly. I wouldn’t be someone’s dirty secret, and neither would most of the other poly people I know. If a partner asks me not to tell their mother, or the government, that we’re involved, I’m probably OK with that, but I’m not hiding our relationship from a partner’s other partners.

            I think part of the disjunction between you and kaberett is that you’re assuming that nothing about you might be private to someone else. “You must be out to all your relatives, friends, and neighbors” goes beyond “I am not anyone’s dirty secret.”

            There are still a lot of countries where my sexuality could get me arrested, and many places in the United States where it would be legal to fire me for being bi. There are also nontrivial numbers of places where adultery is a crime, and the “cheated on” spouse’s consent may be legally irrelevant; we don’t know whether the OP lives in one of them, but I am virtually certain some of the people reading this website do.

      1. Well, yeah.

        The people who tell you that they have Nothing To Do With the messy emotional situation they’re embroiled in are attempting to deceive you.

  6. Run, don’t walk, away from all of them! This cannot possibly end well. Besides, if you agree to be in a secret relationship, you are depriving someone else the opportunity to be PROUDLY in a relationship with you. You deserve better than to be someone’s embarrassing secret.

  7. Dear LW, I find that in situations where I don’t want to do the thing I know, deep down, that I should be doing, that the relevant question is not: What should I do? It is: What are the reasons that I am resisting doing this thing? Until I figure that out, and address it, I am going to keep pushing back against doing the thing.

    Maybe it’s that you are lonely and not in a place or mental space where you are easily able to find D/s partners other than John. Maybe John’s willingness to break the rules of his relationships makes you feel extremely attractive and desirable. Maybe it’s secretly kind of exciting to be having a relationship on the down low. Maybe acknowledging what John is doing would require you to think badly of someone you’ve thought of as a friend and that’s hurtful. I’m just spitballing here, because there could be plenty of reasons I haven’t even thought of – but that’s something you need to figure out for yourself. When you know the answer to “Why am I considering making a choice that is ethically wrong and will blow up in my face?”, then you will know what steps you can take to walk yourself back.

    1. Oh this is really good advice. I was the “Katie” in a similar-ish situation, and “John” became the guy I now refer to as my Useless Ex or perhaps The Ex Who Wouldn’t Recognize Emotional Labor If It Bopped Him On The Nose when I’m feeling generous. It wasn’t even a question of what the ethical thing to do in that situation was (Useless Ex and his New Shiny Toy were the ones behaving unethically), but asking myself “Why am I resisting doing the thing I know will be best for my health and happiness in the long run (ie, dumping Useless Ex)?” would have helped me move on a lot sooner than I did.

    2. “I find that in situations where I don’t want to do the thing I know, deep down, that I should be doing, that the relevant question is not: What should I do? It is: What are the reasons that I am resisting doing this thing?”

      Oh, wow, that just hit my feels pretty hard. I’m currently on a horrible ambivalent teeter-totter right now, myself, and I need to look HARD at the reasons I’m resisting what seems to be the right thing to do.

      Thanks for that.

    3. Hey! After sitting with your advice, I decided to finally directly confront the thing on which I was ambivalently teeter-tottering!

      And it very unexpectedly worked out okay!

      So thank you so much for volunteering your wisdom. It really helped.

    4. “Dear LW, I find that in situations where I don’t want to do the thing I know, deep down, that I should be doing, that the relevant question is not: What should I do? It is: What are the reasons that I am resisting doing this thing? Until I figure that out, and address it, I am going to keep pushing back against doing the thing.”

      Minor tangent, but I also say thank you so much for this. I have a difficult situation that I’m wrestling with right now (totally different from the LW’s issue) and I know what needs to happen but not how. However, if I stopped resisting it then I could probably figure out logistics. I will think about your question and see if it helps shed light on the subject.

  8. “I know John finds Katie’s behaviour aggravating and nonsensical.”

    Wild guess here, but I think maybe John is portraying Katie’s behavior as “aggravating and nonsensical” to paint himself as the good guy and keep you feeling sympathetic towards him and keep you in what is, essentially, an affair that probably meets a lot more of John’s needs than yours. It’s quite likely that he’s fed an equally distorted view of you to Katie.

    In my ideal world I think this is how this situation pans out:

    step 1. LW breaks up with John
    step 2. Katie breaks up with John
    step 3. Katie and LW make nice
    step 4. Katie and LW have a long and fruitful friendship fueled by commiserating over what a manipulative dick John is

      1. Oh damn, you’re right! For some reason I kind of got the vibe from the letter that they were already divorced, but rereading it it looks like no, they’re still together.

    1. step 5. Katie, Julia and LW end up lifelong friends and forget John’s name. Maybe they date each other or marry other people, but they become godmothers to each others children/pets and in their later years all move in together and have great fun.

        1. Where they grow older, with children and pets and other decent lovers and every now and then one of them tells a new friend how they met and then they all wonder for one brief second whether John still wreaks havoc but then Julia calls over the puppy and Lovelorn spills the V8 and Katie laughs and things are normal again.

    2. I feel like Step 1.5 should be “LW calls Katie and says hey, just so you know, John was trying to pester me into a relationship behind your back. I don’t want to see him anymore, and I’ve told him that. I thought you should be aware.”

      Katie will PROBABLY not take this well, but there’s a level on which that doesn’t matter too much? Katie deserves to know that John is a cheating cheater. And she’s already not LW’s friend.

  9. I have so much sympathy for you here Lovelorn. I’m not sure if you’ve been in D/S relationships in the past? (I’m guessing no? or not a lot?) For me, the emotional component of D/S things is so intense. It’s almost as if most of my self defense mechanisms are turned off,emotionally and intellectually.

    It’s so much harder for me to walk away from a bad situation when I have that particular wire tripped, than when I do not. It’s very difficult to describe. And it’s also very difficult to turn off this kind of bond once it has started being formed. Early on especially it can seem as if saying the word “No” requires herculean efforts, the desire to please and to be in a safe warm place is just so strong and so satisfying.

    And that is why negotiations and discussions around BDSM need to happen with a clear head. And that is why you need to be SO careful about who you let into a dominant position in your life.

    You can have the bond you feel with John with someone else, you can find someone who likes the same things, he is not your last hope for this. And you may find someone who is EVEN BETTER in the future. I know it doesn’t feel real and the fear of losing the bond you already have is real, but the consequences are real too.

    I would follow the Captain’s advice, and I would see how he takes it. It’s his job as your dom to act in your best interests, that’s the responsibility of being a dominant. So if he can’t see how a secret relationship is NOT in your best interests, then he’s not being responsible. (And doesn’t deserve you!)

    I completely understand the impulse to do something that is not responsible because it feels like it is your only chance to feel amazing feelings. But it isn’t. There are other better options that wont end in tears. All of the Jedi hugs for you.

    1. “And it’s also very difficult to turn off this kind of bond once it has started being formed. Early on especially it can seem as if saying the word “No” requires herculean efforts, the desire to please and to be in a safe warm place is just so strong and so satisfying.”

      Oh help … this is too familiar. I kind of want to plug my ears and sing la la la I can’t hear you. Which means I need to hear you. Thank you for sharing.

      1. That quote describes my default state of being. :/ (the other state being panic/meltdown)

        I’m not sure if that’s just a part of my brain’s weirdness, or something learnt.

    2. I watched a young, vibrant, educated, woman give up more and more of herself to her older Dom. Over four years he encouraged her to give up her profession, income, and non-kink friends.
      He collared her. She stayed home to tend to him. Wore what he bought and picked out for her. Played with the people he chose.

      There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that. What was terribly wrong was when she had mental and physical health issues that made her less fun, he told her that her problems were her responsibility, not his.
      After asking her to trust his judgment and give over all her decisions to him. After the implicit promise that her service to him meant that she was his top priority, that he would always keep her best interests at heart.

      After all that, the second real work and commitment was required of him, he washed his hands of her and found a shiny new sub to play with. He left her sick, vulnerable and without emotional or financial resources of her own.

      If a Dom gives you any reason to believe they’re not committed to their partners’ well-being, even if that person is only their partner for an hour, they’re not a good Dom.

      1. Point of order/opinion: there is a hell of a lot inherently wrong with this: “…give up her profession, income, and non-kink friends.” That’s bad, full stop.

      2. Agree with Emmers on this one: preventing someone from having outside friends is not a “lifestyle difference,” it’s an abuse tactic.

        And while giving up one’s profession and income to “tend to” another person is a valid lifestyle difference, it’s a dangerous one to adopt without an exit strategy. Maybe that’s small-minded of me, but that kind of financial and practical powerlessness can be a hard thing to un-mire oneself from.

        1. I have a bit of an immune reaction to “quit your job to take care of meee/the house/the kids/whatever it is.” It’s probably unfair of me.

          But I think your comment about “exit strategy” is key. If the cared-for partner is abled and has a job, they need to also have things like insurance /etc to really support their “s” partner. It’s complicated.

          My rule of thumb is: would I be horrified if a Christian Patriarchy guy did this with his wife?

  10. Lovely, here is what I’m seeing: Katie has set a boundary in the relationship and John is intent on plowing straight through it.

    Maybe Katie is, in fact, irrational and her boundary is ridiculous. Maybe Katie’s boundary is one that would make perfect sense to you if you knew her side of the story. Maybe she’s an unredeemable asshole. None of that actually matters.

    What does matter here is you, your health, and safety, and you do not want to put any of those things in the hands of a Dom who has shown you that when you set a boundary he doesn’t like, he will ignore it and call you irrational.

    There are many, many Domly dudes in the world, Lovelorn (or even vanilla people who are happy to be good, giving and game with their kinky partner.) Don’t waste any more of your precious time and energy on this one.

    1. “…you do not want to put any of those things in the hands of a Dom who has shown you that when you set a boundary he doesn’t like, he will ignore it and call you irrational.”

      Ding ding ding ding ding!

      LW, the power imbalance that makes a D/s relationship so attractive is EXACTLY the reason you need to a vet a Dom so very carefully. Your emotional and physical safety is at risk if you don’t.

      1. Yes THIS! It is what I was trying to say earlier and failing. They have to be held to a super high standard of relationship respect.

        A friend of mine described BDSM as like a club for people who like to dress up as evil clowns. We all get together and do evil clown things in an environment where no one is actually dragged into the woods or into the creepy carnival ride. We ride our creepy clown cars and practice our scary clown faces. But the thing is, it is impossible to tell from being in the club who actually is an evil clown. Most of us are just pretending for fun, but there are some people who are legitimately bad clowns who will do whatever evil things evil clowns actually do as soon as they can get the chance to get away with it. (Something with rubber noses?)

        So you have to vet super carefully to make sure they are just pretending to be an evil clown, and not just pretending to pretend to be an evil clown.

        This guy is definitely exhibiting Actual Evil Clown warning signs.

          1. Co-signed.

            Sometimes “seems like an X” is safe, but “actually IS an X” is not safe. When it can be hard to tell the difference between “seems” and “is,” you need to be even more alert to red flags, IMVHO.

        1. I mentally star some comments as “high-value comment, from someone who has personal knowledge I don’t, and communicating some part of it to me.”. Your previous comment was one of those.

    2. “What does matter here is you, your health, and safety, and you do not want to put any of those things in the hands of a Dom who has shown you that when you set a boundary he doesn’t like, he will ignore it and call you irrational.”


    3. YUP. One of my dear friends is fond of this adage about guys who disrespect their current partners to cater to new ones: “If he’ll do it for you, he’ll do it to you, too.”

  11. What John is doing/asking you for isn’t even close to ethical nonmonogamy. Not all poly people give their partners vetoes–but as the Captain says, since John and Katie have agreed that she does have a veto, his ethical choices are to tell Katie that he’s taking back that veto power, and will understand if she breaks up with him because of it, to break up with her (which would have the side effect of removing the veto), or to honor the veto. You shouldn’t keep hanging out on the Couch of Plausible Deniability, and he shouldn’t be asking you to sneak around behind Katie’s back.

    1. I would say whether John and Katie have agreed to vetoes or not doesn’t matter. What we have here is a situation where Katie has said she is not okay with something and John’s proposed solution is lying to her about it. That is simply not okay, regardless of what agreements John and Katie may or may not have made re: poly.

      1. I’m glad at least one person pointed out that polyamory doesn’t REQUIRE veto power.

        Jake, you’re right that it doesn’t really matter in terms of what LW should do right now. I’m thinking though, that if the LW wants to have poly relationships in the future it’s probably worth it for her to work out what she is and isn’t OK with in terms of rules, metamour relations, and so on. Some people would see a long list of requirements as a warning sign, unless they’re things like “doesn’t steal stuff” and “doesn’t bring a dog over because I’m allergic.” Single women starting a relationship with someone in an established couple (I realize in this case it was a triad, but same principle) sometimes end up stuck in relationships that aren’t working for them because they think that’s how poly is done — and being a submissive can make it even harder to ask for and get decent treatment.

        The Poly Weekly podcast and More Than Two (the book and/or the website) are good for breaking down “but this is just how poly is”. Also seconding the comment upthread about finding some other people, preferably IRL, who are also into D/s.

  12. LW, here’s what I see in your letter:

    *John figured out my interest in BDSM
    *I happened to fit the bill (for Katie’s requirements for John’s sub)
    *were still somehow having a D/s relationship

    The words “figured out,” “happened to,” and “somehow” are important here. I get the sense that you don’t feel like you have a lot of agency or control in this relationship – the way you describe it, it’s all about what John wants and Katie apparently does not want. Obviously there’s more to this relationship than what you wrote in the letter, but I’m not seeing a lot of love or excitement or passion from you here.

    I’m with Captain and the others about vetoing the “secret” option right away. Maybe there’s a way for you and John (and/or Katie and Julia) to be together, maybe not. But if there is, it needs to be worked out with everyone involved. And, this is key, your voice is *not* less important than anyone else’s in this relationship. You may not end up getting what you want, but don’t let anyone talk you into something you don’t want or are only lukewarm about.

    Whatever kind of relationships you have in the future, please hold out for ones that are passionate and amazing and with people that you really really REALLY want to be with – and who feel the same way about you. You deserve better than just “I happened to fit the bill.”

    Good luck to you!

    1. YEP, this comment is sending off a giant klaxon in my head. I scrolled back up and reread your letter–a lot more of it presents John’s perspective than your perspective. You: have tried to “build bridges.” You: don’t want to hurt Katie or be responsible for a breakup. You: “care deeply” for John. Meanwhile everything else has happened TO you, or been thought, felt, or said by John or [presumably John’s representation of] Katie.

      So I want to query your conclusion that you want to be his submissive come hell or high water: bluntly, how much of that is what you want, and how much of that is what he wants? It can be easy, when you are a caring person who wants everyone to get their needs met and all bridges to be mended, to get other people’s wants mixed up with your own. And when you are that type of person it can be really difficult to tell which wants are whose; who you just want to make happy; what you also want; to what extent; etc. So it could be worthwhile to, as neverjaunty suggested upthread, gently investigate why you are not yet inclined to tell them all to go soak their heads—usually when one is thusly embroiled there are a number of reasons, of course, but it will probably eventually suggest some parts of yourself that need love, care, and consideration, and that are perhaps not being as well served or well heard as they might be in this arrangement.

      1. This. Been there, done that, burned the fucking t-shirt. Some years back, I got mired in a D/s emotional affair with a way older dude who practically required an 8 page research paper arguing why he didn’t get to see me naked. Or be my official secret Dom. He was emotionally manipulative and gave me many guilt trips about how he had missed out on soooo much sexually. And he told me he couldn’t handle “just” being my friend. I was 19, had never had a serious relationship before(or anyone who really wanted me), and got taken in hook, line and sinker. Being cast as his sub(why yes, he did invasively “discover” my submissiveness). Cue more time than I care to think about feeling physically ill over the ethical issues, nauseated and defiled by the frequent demands for nudity on webcam, and other skeezy things. I argued against these things and always lost the argument. It would take years after it ended to understand that i hadn’t had to play the game– I could have instead thrown the board on the floor and walked away. I didn’t feel i had that right at the time. There were bees. There were so many bees.

        I finally escaped the quagmire when I moved away from his route to work. Reading CA helped me understand what had happened and that I really didn’t have to put up with people like that.

        Run, dear LW, run. Do not walk away, run. Your dude is showing you how underhanded he is. You deserve better. Katie deserves better. Julia deserves better. I deserved better and so did my shitty Dom’s wife. We need to stop enabling these skeezy dudes(and ladies) and find someone who respects their relationships.

        1. I’m so sorry you ran into such an asshat. Speaking as a dom here, I think we need to do a lot more checking on fellow doms, considering that submissive might not be in a position to assert their rights – when we see couples at clubs etc that strike us a skeezy, we should be checking if the submissives are truly comfortable with what is being asked of them. I am tired of the whole ‘no interference in another dom’s business.’

    2. … Wow. This is right, I hadn’t realized it myself, but yes, this is very right.

      LW, you may be thinking of course I have agency here. And you’re the one living your life. I will just say, when I was in this kind of low-agency personal state, it was hard to pick up on until afterwards, looking back. I really, strongly suggest, whatever you end up doing later on, arrange yourself a chunk of time away from John and the other two. Be busy at work, or immersed in writing a hasty novel, or whatever you can? For, I don’t know how this works in other people’s brains, but for at minimum two weeks for me, better four or more, I know it’s a long time.

    3. This is a good point.

      I find submission to be a very thoughtful and conscious stare to live in. When I met the man I submit to, it took a year or two to get to grips with a dynamic that nurtured us both because submission and codependence are different things. My Dom actively seeks that I set boundaries and that I am aware of what motivates me. He held off on sex stuff until we had really discussed and agreed on relationship issues, including monogamy. I began our D/s knowing that I was initiating on my terms.

      Sort of ending up in a D/s thing full of unspoken assumptions is the beginning of many a heartbreak story.

  13. Both poly relationship and kinky D/s relationships have some core, non-negotiable components. Without these things, the relationships Do Not Work. Without these things, the relationships can even fail at root to *be* poly and/or kinky relationships.

    Those components are Trust. Communication. Honesty.

    A poly relationship in which one partner is breaking the established, mutually-agreed rules of the relationship, is lying to their partner about someone they’re seeing, and is pursuing “secret” relationships with others is, in fact, NOT a poly relationship. It’s cheating. To be clear: John and Katie and Julia are in an open relationship (Assuming John isn’t lying about anything there). John and you are not.

    A D/s relationship in which one partner habitually sneaks around behind the back of people and violates the explicitly agreed Hard No lists is not only a bad relationship. It runs the risk of being a physically dangerous one and definitely raises some rather glaring red flags for having the potential to be an abusive one. You do not want to hand over power in a relationship to someone who has proven they will ignore any request from a partner if they find it personally inconvenient, and will lie and cheat to get what they want.

    “Do not enter a D/s relationship with LW” is Katie giving John a Hard No.
    “Let’s have a secret relationship behind the backs of my poly wife and partner” is John being a cheating cheater.

    LW, you deserve better than this. Run!

    1. This. I think it bears repeating, since Captain Awkward talked about the ethics of this situation but didn’t specifically use the word “cheating”– This is cheating. What John is suggesting to the LW is cheating.

      The fact that John and Katie are in a polyamorous relationship, not a monogamous one, does not make it any less serious or less harmful for him to start a relationship with LW– something he KNOWS Katie doesn’t want him to do– and then lie to Katie about it.

      1. I have to agree with that one. My poly friends expect their boundaries to be respected, even if their relationship involves more than 2 people sometimes. Being poly doesn’t mean you can’t be cheated on.

    2. And at that, John, Julia and Katie’s relationship may not be open (with a veto option on metamours). It may be a closed poly relationship (with negotiation required to add exceptions).

      But either way, I agree – neither poly relationships nor D/s ones can work long-term without trust, communication and honesty – and those three things are what John’s been telling LW he’s willing to ignore.

  14. Lovelorn, this sentence alone should send you running for the hills: “John said that he wants to have me as his sub ‘on the down low’. Essentially without Katie’s knowledge.”
    – No. John wants to cheat on Katie and wants you to lie for him. This is not ok. It’s not fair on Katie and it’s not fair on you. John is being unbelievably shady. That is one HUUUUUGE deal-breaker right there. Drop him like a hot potato for that reason alone; you deserve so much better.

    The rest is pretty much beside the point, but here are a few parts that stood out to me:

    You didn’t mention what Julia thinks of all this, LW, but even without her voice to factor into all this, it’s complicated enough to throw up several red flags.

    “Unfortunately there was a complete breakdown in communication between John and Katie.” – If you know what that “breakdown” entails, what does that tell you about John’s ability and willingness to communicate with his partners?

    “Even though I met Katie’s every requirement in an additional partner, she essentially vetoed me from the relationship” – Love is not a check-list kind of deal. You didn’t meet all of the requirements, because Katie felt strongly enough about this that she vetoed you. There’s no way to play through this on a technicality; End of negotiations, do not proceed.

    “we were still somehow having a D/s relationship” – I don’t understand what “somehow” means in this context. It seems unlikely to be the sort of thing one could do accidentally. What kind of communication is there between you and John if you are “somehow” having a relationship without acknowledging the fact? Think hard about what this situation is and how it has come about, and put a stop to the relationship immediately.

    “I know John and Katie’s relationship has been rocky lately.” – Yes, because John’s continuing to pursue a relationship with someone Katie vetoed, and is proving himself to be a very selfish and untrustworthy person. Don’t allow John to use this “rocky” situation with Katie to garner sympathy from you, because he could easily smooth this out by being honest and ceasing his relationship with either one of you, and he’s choosing not to do that. Instead, he’s choosing the most hurtful and dishonest option that will damage everyone.

    Lovelorn, you know what the right decision is. The Captain’s told you how it is, and you need to cut your ties with John.
    I know that you have a lot of feelings around John, and you have a lot of love to give. It’s going to suck, so steel yourself for the break-up and give yourself time to process that sense of longing and loss. Concentrate on how awesome you are, and do stuff that reflects that awesomeness.
    Then go and pour the love you have into someone who is worthy of your time and is free to love you back. There will be partners who are better suited than John.

    1. “I don’t understand what “somehow” means in this context. It seems unlikely to be the sort of thing one could do accidentally.”

      Agreed. Having a D/s VIBE can happen ‘somehow’ – but a vibe is not a relationship unless both parties agree that it is.

      And that John is trying to skate over this suggests one of three things, all of them bad:

      1. Deliberate bullshitting. He knows Lovelorn is hesitating about stepping over a line, and is trying to end that hesitation by convincing them that they’ve stepped over it already.

      In which case: he’d be a manipulative dom who made a nightmare out of negotiating limits. (He certainly doesn’t respect Katie’s.)

      2. Not quite deliberate bullshitting, but serious wishful thinking. He feels the vibe, wants it to be more, and has convinced himself.

      In which case: he’d be an untrustworthy dom quite capable of convincing himself that Lovelorn ‘didn’t really mean’ one of their hard limits, and could hurt them.

      3. He doesn’t distinguish between ‘Part of me is tempted to do this’ and ‘I actually consent to this.’

      In which case: he could do a sub a ton of damage, in a way that could leave the sub feeling horribly confused – because they sort of wanted that violation of their consent, right? Part of them did, right? And they’re a sub, right? And he’s the dom, right? And BDSM is partly about pushing limits and seeing secret desires, right? So why do they feel so awful? Maybe they’re a bad sub. Maybe they should let John do more things they’re not sure about to prove they’re a proper sub. Maybe there’s something wrong with them. Maybe they just can’t trust their own ‘irrational’ feelings … and that way lies immense harm.

      1. Gah! That thought process you used as an example made my shoulders collide with my ears.

        Which is a good thing. Because it illustrates very clearly how Seriously Not Good a dom John would make.

        1. Any suggestions for how to get one’s shoulder blades out of one’s ears again? ‘Cos mine are still there.

          Powerful piece of writing, that.

      2. Yup. Just because John is already a Dom to someone else (if he is? The direction of John’s D/s relationship with Janet wasn’t established) doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a good or safe or responsible Dom. And he’s not sounding very responsible to me. Again, having friends in the scene and maybe a mentor *who you are not doing D/s with* can sometimes help with straightening out this stuff — something hard to do if you’re supposed to keep the relationship a secret, I might add. Does John know other people into BDSM? Has he introduced you to any? Has he said disparaging things about the local community and wants you to keep away from them? You should get away from John regardless, but at least those are some things to think about in regards to other potential Doms. Don’t submit in isolation. It’s not a good idea.

      3. I read the “somehow” bit as indicating that John has managed to convince Lovelorn that the back-and-forth they’ve been having as a prelude to cheating has been sexual and therefore cheating in itself, and that Lovelorn is now in too deep to back out from it. A “you’ve burnt the bridge and now you can’t go back” rhetoric to trap her.

        Run for the hills, LW

    2. “I don’t understand what “somehow” means in this context. It seems unlikely to be the sort of thing one could do accidentally.”

      Agreed. Having a D/s VIBE can happen ‘somehow’ – but a vibe is not a relationship unless both parties agree that it is.

      And that John is trying to skate over this suggests one of three things, all of them bad:

      1. Deliberate bullshitting. He knows Lovelorn is hesitating about stepping over a line, and is trying to end that hesitation by convincing them that they’ve stepped over it already.

      In which case: he’d be a manipulative dom who made a nightmare out of negotiating limits.

      2. Not quite deliberate bullshitting, but serious wishful thinking. He feels the vibe, wants it to be more, and has convinced himself.

      In which case: he’d be an untrustworthy dom quite capable of convincing himself that Lovelorn ‘didn’t really mean’ one of their hard limits, and could hurt them.

      3. He doesn’t distinguish between ‘Part of me is tempted to do this’ and ‘I actually consent to this.’

      In which case: he could do a sub a ton of damage, in a way that could leave the sub feeling horribly confused – because they sort of wanted that violation of their consent, right? Part of them did, right? And they’re a sub, right? And he’s the dom, right? And BDSM is partly about pushing limits and seeing secret desires, right? So why do they feel so awful? Maybe they’re a bad sub. Maybe they should let John do more things they’re not sure about to prove they’re a proper sub. Maybe there’s something wrong with them. Maybe they just can’t trust their own ‘irrational’ feelings … and that way lies immense harm.

  15. Lovelorn, Maybe this part was cut from the letter you wrote for brevity, but I didn’t see you addressing whether you are poly/interested in polyamory. It seems like there is an assumption that you are, and if so, good, no need to address that! At least one thing isn’t complicated.

    Otherwise, is that something you signed up for in your interest in BDSM? You obviously have no objections. But if it’s something you weren’t already enthusiastically interested in, maybe along with all the other problems, you should take that into account when deciding whether to engage with John.

    And where is Julia in all this? Again, maybe it was cut for brevity or maybe she is on board and thus wasn’t the subject of the letter and didn’t need to be mentioned. As written, though, I’m wondering if Katie is calling all the shots on who gets to be in the relationship, even though she gives lip service to being ok with John seeking another sub (in addition to Julia. Katie better be ok with him having a sub, him being married to one and all). I know I only have 1/4 of the story here, but what I read about Katie makes me want to run the other way.
    I hope it all turns out in the best way for you and everyo
    ne involved.

    1. You know, what really weirds me out is that we have no idea what Julia has to say about this. His wife gets one tiny mention and then everything is about Katie. This makes me wonder what his current sub is feeling. Does she get an opinion here?

      This whole situation is a hive of bees carrying red flags.

  16. The absolute best way for the guy I can spin this is that Katie maybe thought she was more okay with a sub than she actually was. This can happen. You don’t want to be involved in that.
    The more likely way is that he is lying to you to make Katie look worse so you will agree to cheat with him. You don’t want to be involved with in that either.
    There are other doms in the world that are not this guy. I understand how hard it feels, but you can break it off with him and find one of them. You will be happier.

  17. Never seriously date a cheater. You avoid them or you have them for their body (if you’re not afraid of drama later I suppose) but you never have “feelings” for a cheater. They’re a cheater.

  18. LW, once upon a time, I told my partner that yes, of course, he could ask out the pretty woman he was mooning over. And he did, and she said yes, and the three of us talked about what it would look like, and the two of them did everything that we had agreed was okay for them to do, and did not do the things that we had agreed was not okay for them to do. Everyone followed the rules.
    Except for my brain. Which was not okay with any of it, and felt threatened and unhappy and scared all the time. And my partner was trying very hard to be reassuring and comforting to me, but still keep the pretty woman he liked over there so much. And finally I said I couldn’t do it any more, and told him that I needed it to stop. I agreed that she had done nothing wrong. That he and she had followed my rules about their relationship. That I had agreed at every step of the way that this was okay. But I needed him to break up with her.
    And he did. That week. And then stepped way back from her and spent about a year going to couples therapy with me to work on our relationship (which I cannot recommend enough for committed relationships having issues). He didn’t (much) try to argue that my brain wasn’t following the rules. He didn’t try to logic me into letting him keep seeing her. He’d made promises to me about the priority our relationship took over all the other ones he might have, and he honored those promises.
    Your John isn’t doing that. Katie may or may not have a concrete reason for vetoing you, but she did, and that should have been the end of it for John, unless he was willing to break up with her for you. Which would have been sad for her, and happy for you, and totally ethical all around. But what he’s doing instead is not ethical and not kind, and should lead you to distrust *everything* he says. A person who lies to one of their partners about the existence of another, will do the same thing again and again.

    tldr: John had a chance to do the honest and ethical thing if he really did want to have a relationship with you. He didn’t do it. You deserve someone who respects their partners enough to tell you they’re sorry but they cannot have a relationship with you, if that’s what their situation is.

    1. Hey thanks for this. My poly baggage is full of people wailing BUT YOU PROMISED when someone’s uncomfortable, or lecturing them on poly ethics and how they should get over it. So I’m really glad to hear this story of one version of things going well.

      Having been involved in both gay and straight poly drama, I do think that men who date women do need to be even more careful about building power dynamics where people feel like they can speak up and voice objections. It’s just different. Our culture weights men’s worth in relationships with women really heavily. It weights their votes in how a relationship will be really heavily. It’s just there. It just is. Even if d/s power differentials weren’t involved, I’d be worried for gender reasons and telling you to proceed with care.

      1. I still regret hurting the poor woman who had done nothing wrong. It was the best for me, and he kept his promise that I was the primary and most important relationship. But I’m sorry she got hurt.
        And ever since then, when the discussions happen, we talk about what we hope will happen, and then very explicitly point out that you *cannot predict emotions*. They do whatever they do, and only once they happen can you can decide what you are going to do about them. You can make decisions that are as kind to everyone involved as possible, but making promises about what you will or won’t feel in a situation you have not yet reached is impossible. You can’t logic emotions or reason them away or decide they don’t matter because they don’t line up with what you want them to be.

    2. I was in a similar if somewhat less clearcut situation; I’d started dating A, they were already dating B, and they started dating C shortly after starting to date me. For a while, this was all fine (including me cheerfully taking the excuse to finally get to know with C, who I’d been aware of on the edges of my social circles for years!) — and then for a variety of reasons, I stopped being able to cope with being in a relationship with A while they were in a relationship with C. I flagged up to A that this might be starting to be the case, for their own planning/awareness, and did what work I could to mitigate circumstances; when it finally unambiguously became the case that I Could Not Date A While They Were Dating C, I told them this, left it at “I was going to come and see you in five days’ time anyway, so let’s have that be the occasion when I pick up all my stuff/return yours, once you’ve had a little space to make a decision”, and five days later we broke up.

      … and then A decided that actually they needed some more time to think things over and sort their feelings out while not dating *either* of us, and also broke up with C; and after spending Some Time mulling it over A asked about resuming the relationship with me, on the *explicit* understanding that it was Very Much An Experiment and we’d be revisiting whether that was still something they thought they actually on balance wanted at one-month intervals, with the default assumption being “no, let’s break up again,” until A was completely confident those (scheduled) check-ins were no longer warranted. (Unscheduled check-ins are still v much on the table, but the purpose of scheduling was to manage our concern that A would end up defaulting to the Easiest Situation i.e. not causing conflict, and that I was sufficiently invested in Them Making Me Feel Good that I might – hopefully unintentionally! – ignore it if they did turn out to be unhappy about the situation but not speaking up about it. And then we got confident enough about communication again, in this new world order, that neither of those concerns felt relevant to either of us any more.)

      Complicated sad tangled situations with hard boundaries and competing or conflicting needs can be handled honestly and ethically. They will frequently still be painful and possibly heartbreaking for all involved, but they… look fundamentally very different from what John is doing. I’m sorry. Katie saying “I can’t date you if you’re also dating [this other person]” is a boundary she absolutely gets to have; even if it’s “irrational” or “unfair”, “I can’t deal with this” is a judgement people get to make while looking out for themselves. John’s refusal to be honest with Katie, thereby preventing her from having agency and making her own informed choices even though they’ve not agreed any kind of power exchange, says really bad things about the extent to which he thinks he gets to make decisions for other people. That concern is only amplified in a context where he’s pressuring you, in a variety of ways, to hand over control (and I think the ways he’s doing that have been covered well by other commenters, but I could reiterate if it would be useful to anyone — I am not going to make the assumption that anyone asking me to clarify is the LW!).

      This is very much a thing that’s one of the fundamentals of my relationships: us responding compassionately to each other where we thought we could cope with something, or would be okay with something, but turned out not to have that capacity. That doesn’t mean that we’ll all necessarily be or remain compatible — but it does mean that we treat each other with respect, and understand that we’re acting in good faith, and want what’s best for each other even if that means the end of our relationship. That’s… not how John is treating you, or Katie, or apparently anybody.

  19. Lovelorn, for a second let’s assume that you go along with John’s suggestion. How do you imagine that playing out? You and John are secret lovers for… how long? Are you happy with that? Are you hoping that you can be secret lovers until Katie comes around and decides you’re ok or John finally gets it together and breaks up with her? If it’s not happening now, how long until it does? To modify the Sheezlebub principle, where do you see this realistically taking you in a month, 6 months, 5 years? Are you cool with whatever that outcome is? What do you expect is likely to happen when (not if) Katie finds out? Are you ok with that?

    I think the fact that you wrote in at all is a sign that you know where this is likely to go, and deep down you don’t want that outcome. You’re smarter than John thinks you are, and I, Internet Stranger, think that says a lot about John as a partner and a human being.

    1. I think, also: what do you think John will do when Katie finds out? What would you like him to do? If there’s a discrepancy, how do you feel about that? (And if that’s the point at which you hope he’ll say he values the relationship with you enough to keep it, he… should be willing to take a punt on that now, not keep you as a dirty secret to be discarded when inconvenience outweighs pleasure. :-/)

  20. “One year ago, a long time acquaintance, “John”, figured out my interest in BDSM. It turned out him and his wife “Julia”, were a dominant and submissive couple in a polyamorus triad with another woman, who I will call “Katie”. Katie is not a sub, and told John he was free to look for another partner to suit his other needs. She gave him a list of requirements for this hypothetical new submissive and I happened to I fit the bill perfectly.”

    Okay, so from what you’re saying in the above, John and Julia are in a D/s relationship, with Katie as a polyamorous third (so presumably Julia knows about Katie). Katie is not sub (is she vanilla, domme, or what?) and apparently gave John a “hunting license” to find himself a(nother?) sub (no mention of what Julia thought about all of this, or indeed whether any of this was mentioned to her at all). You fit the criteria for the job, and apparently have pants!feelings for John as well. Katie is now “being unreasonable” (according to John) by not allowing you to become a fourth in the relationship.

    So, big flashing red danger signals I’m seeing here, simply for the sake of advice:

    * This is a relationship of purportedly three people, where we’re only hearing about two of them.

    This is a big problem with any purportedly polyamorous relationship. It’s an even bigger problem when part of the relationship is apparently affected by D/s dynamics. In a straightforward “vanilla” poly relationship, this lack of Julia in the whole thing points to possible future problems between yourself and Julia when the nature of your relationship with John comes out.

    In a BDSM context… the complete lack of Julia in this discussion hints at Julia effectively being told as a sub she doesn’t get a say in things – which in turn hints John is not playing within rules of “safe, sane and consensual” or “risk-aware consensual kink”. Essentially, he isn’t giving off vibes of being a trustworthy dom.

    * In this relationship, one partner apparently feels entitled to ignore boundaries placed by other partners.

    Katie has said she’s not happy with you being brought in as John’s (second?) submissive partner for BDSM play. She’s said this clearly and distinctly, and has set a clear boundary. Now, in a vanilla relationship, this would be concerning enough (someone who ignores other people’s boundaries is likely to ignore yours). In the context of a relationship with BDSM overtones… it is a gigantic flashing “DANGER” sign, complete with emergency klaxons hooting at top volume.

    If he ignores the boundaries of someone he’s in an established relationship with, in a non-BDSM context, why should you believe he is going to respect the boundaries of a person he’s not in an established relationship with in a BDSM context?

    * In this relationship, one partner is bluntly and blatantly proposing to cheat on his other partners.

    Again, this is dodgy enough in a normal vanilla circumstance – being someone’s “secret lover” means you’re essentially without recourse if that person chooses to behave in an abusive way (and quite frankly, as far as I’m concerned even the request to become a “secret lover” is somewhat indicative of an abusive tendency). In a BDSM context? Again, giant flashing “DANGER” sign, with emergency klaxons at full volume and Forbidden Planet robot waving its arms about yelling “Danger! Beware Lovelorn!”

    LW, there are bound to be better doms out there. You don’t need one who is giving off such strong “Beware” signals.

  21. What I am seeing here is Manipulator Dude 101. He has a wife and a sub. He spies you. Somethingsomethingsomething and Katie doesn’t like you.

    It may be that Katie just didn’t like you at first glance. That happens. It might also be that John is feeding Katie a bunch of stuff (fiction)about what you have allegedly said about her (or John) to make her feel off balance, jealous, and to hold onto John more tightly as his attention wanders away to you. John not so covertly pursues some secret thing with you, and creates a scenario which is isolating for you. He has built a barricade between you and Katie, somehow – so you guys can’t communicate or check in with each other – like adults in complicated BDSMpolyamorywhatevers are KNOWN and encouraged to do. While John may be attracted to you, he may be more attracted to what a useful TOOL you are to hurt and control Katie.


    I knew a Narcissist dude who did exactly this but his name wasn’t John.

    1. [CN fairly detailed description of abusive and predatory behaviour, including deliberately misrepresenting or withholding important information from people while persuading them to have sex with him]

      Yeah, this is an excellent point: LW, if he makes it so Katie doesn’t believe a thing you say, *he doesn’t jeapordise his relationship with her by doing whatever the hell he likes with you*, because he’s setting her up to believe *him*. (Though the fact that their relationship is currently “rocky” suggests she isn’t falling for it.)

      I was also in a similar situation at one point (also not called John); let’s call him D. He consistently had two socially isolated, insecure, lonely, preferably people on the go at once, while lying to each of them about the other, while telling each of them that he wanted a serious long-term relationship with them (up to and including planning weddings, though thankfully he never got that far with me!). As far as he was concerned, it was even better if his target was already in a relationship with someone else, so he could convince the target to sleep with him and then, the next morning, tell them (yes, the same them he’d planned a wedding with) that he didn’t want a serious relationship with them and never had (I didn’t get sucked in that far, but it was… a tactic that Became Apparent once various of us started comparing notes).

      I called him, directly, on his behaviour — why he thought it was okay, did he know what he was doing to people, in case he was unaware here was exactly what he was doing and why it was unkind and inappropriate.

      He spun me a sub story about how stressful his life was. He kept pulling the same damn’ shit.

      I started warning people who fit his profile about his past behaviour.

      He started telling people he was stringing along that I was stalking them.

      (This is grimly hilarious because a. I’m faceblind, of which he was WELL aware, and b. in at least one case, if I’d wanted to find out what she looked like I could have just joined the orchestra I knew she played in that rehearsed in the same venue as my main orchestra, rather than purportedly following her around town, what the fuck even.)

      He no longer lives in the same country as me, and I am endlessly fucking grateful for this, but — yeah, LW, be aware that he’s setting both you and Katie up to disbelieve and distrust each other, specifically so that you *won’t* ever compare notes on what he’s saying about you.

      It might be worth you getting in touch with Katie to let her know how John’s been representing the situation to you, and what he’s been suggesting, with the explanation that this is entirely for her information and you’re not asking her for anything and you don’t expect any kind of response, but if she would like to compare notes with you further at any point then she’s welcome to (if that’s true!). That might make it easier for Katie to get out, in terms of having something concrete to point to. It might also entrench her further, and it may well invite more drama and accusations your way, which you are entirely entitled to want to avoid the hell out of. Just… he is not treating you well. Please believe that you deserve being treated well. ❤

  22. John has not shown himself to be trustworthy. He could end up giving you an incurable disease because he is the type of person who would have an STD, lie about it, and refuse to use protection and/or persuade you that a good sub would trust her Dom without question in all things.

  23. You deserve to have a dom in your life who can devote his energy and time to you and who can be open about your dynamic. BDSM is hard enough as it is, I dearly wish my collar didn’t greet so much stigma and it was a simple to accept as a wedding ring. It will get so much harder on the down low.

    An ethical healthy poly situation is such a nourishing place to be, don’t cheat yourself out of that by settling for John and his house of bees.

    A reputable dom who saw potential in you would never cheapen it by asking you to participate in cheating. It is disrespectful to you, Katie and Julia.

  24. Dominant lady chiming in here! John is being a terrible dominant, both to you and to Katie (yes, even though she’s not a sub). Firstly, it’s not fair to Katie that he wants to enter into a covert D/s relationship with you, when that is outside the terms of their relationship. Secondly, and most importantly, John is proposing to enter to a D/s relationship with you that you have to hide, because of his agreement with Katie.

    That is absolutely unacceptable behaviour from a dominant – he is proposing a relationship where he would be in a position of power in relation to you, so you need to be able to talk about what is going on in it, both with John and with those you trust. As a domme, I recognise that a D/s dynamic can facilitate dominants abusing subs, or manipulating subs into sex acts they are uncomfortable with, *because* of the power imbalance inherent in D/s play. That is why communication, openness and respect for boundaries are absolutely vital in D/s relationships.

    Part of John’s responsibility to you as a dominant is to ensure the dynamic between you is safe and positive for you. You need to be able to communicate openly with John about what you want and don’t want, without worrying John will ditch you for Katie/Julia if you set a boundary. You need to know that you can discuss your relationship with your confidants, including being able to raise issues or worries, without feeling like you have to keep things a secret because your relationship is on the ‘down low’.

    LW, seriously: forget John, and find the dominant you deserve… one who wants a healthy, mutually respectful, open relationship. They are out there, and I guarantee you will have much better kinky times with a dom who truly respects you and wants the D/s dynamic to be one that makes you feel valued, safe and happy.

  25. Dear LW

    You may feel that we are all piling on John, and that might get you feeling defensive.

    We are piling on John, not so much because he’s evil, mostly because he’s asking you to behave badly.

    Please think about why you’re considering it.

    1. Also, I’d suggest: since you seem to know it’d be acting badly … how would you feel about yourself if you did it?

      Being someone’s sub should be a source of pride: pride that this great person chose you, and pride in pleasing them. You don’t have to tell the world, but you should be able to be open and proud among people who accept D/s. It should be something you feel great about.

      I think if you did what he asks, you’d feel bad about yourself. You’d know you were both acting badly, which would lower your respect for both him and yourself. He wouldn’t be acting like a great person, and you’d be pleasing him by acting against your conscience and living with a secret that isolated you. It would sour the whole thing.

  26. LW, I haven’t read any comments because your letter has urged me to say this first as someone who is kinky, submissive, and poly: If John won’t respect Katie’s “no”, why would he respect your safeword? You may want to argue that Katie is being unreasonable, and that may be true, but boundaries don’t need to be rational or thoroughly understood to be respected, and having them respected is the crucial foundation on which healthy submission is based. A person who ignores the boundaries of one partner will ignore the boundaries of other partners. Please stay safe.

  27. Katie better be ok with him having a sub, him being married to one and all.

    Where are you getting any implication that Katie has a problem with John and Julia’s relationship? As you say, we’re missing a lot of the picture, but the idea that Katie is unreasonable for having boundaries about who is in her relationship structure because she’s in a triad with a couple is pretty off-base.

    1. I read that meaning “clearly there exists a sub that Katie’s okay with”, not “she must be okay with any sub he could have.”

    2. This was meant to be a reply to goldenpeanut’s comment above. I didn’t read it as “she has to be okay with any sub” so much as a dig that because she’s not okay with all outside subs, she must not really be okay with Julia,” which seems like a leap.

  28. 1. John wants you to be his side chick. Not cool.
    2. John is a dom who has made it clear to you that he feels that “no” is just something irrational that he has the right to maneuver around.
    3. John does not respect his other partners- he’s willing to lie to Katie to get what he wants.

    At this point, the red flags look like May Day in the old Soviet bloc. It is time to run like Godzilla is after you.

    1. There have been so many amazing thoughtful replies on this thread, all of them valid. I especially love this since it cuts right to the three reasons this situation is full of bees.

      LW, these 3 facts are solid truths that you’ve been presented with and they’re serious reasons for running no matter if you’re kinky, vanilla, poly, monogamous, ace, aro, pan, ANYTHING. You deserve better than someone who behaves this way.

  29. I think it is reasonable to assume that your long time acquaintance is just as dishonest with their partners as they want you to be.

  30. LW, the only thing I have to add to this conversation is this piece of advice: don’t get involved with people whose other partners have explicit veto power over your relationship with them. All kinks aside, that’s not usually a great dynamic – it’s usually just an attempt to control insecurities by allowing someone to maintain power in their relationship at the expense of other human beings.

    Also, you may be interested in reading up on couples’ privilege – the dynamics aren’t exactly the same since you’re entering a triad, but the scenario I’m reading in your letter sounds super-similar, in that the existing relationship has got rules set up in such a way as to protect that relationship at the expense of whatever relationships you form with individual members of that relationship.

    1. I get… really, really nervous at people saying that poly people shouldn’t have vetos and shouldn’t have rules. Because boundaries are really important. And yeah, rules and boundaries should get checked occasionally, but implying that people in relationships shouldn’t be able to set boundaries and enforce them really rubs me the wrong way.

      1. Mmm, I misspoke, then, or at least did not make my point clearly enough. Poly people, like all people, need the ability to set boundaries for themselves in their relationships.

        The difference is, though, that a boundary says, “Here is what I will tolerate.” A veto is “Here is what I will allow YOU to tolerate” – it’s about controlling another person, not about doing your own work and taking care of your own stuff; it’s about having the ability to grant and revoke permission. Which is a pretty big difference.

        I mean, you’re still free to disagree. But vetoes really rub me the wrong way, for the reasons I listed, and since it seems to be part of the LW’s (many) issues with this developing relationship, I brought it up. If they don’t bother you, that’s cool, you do you.

      2. (I cannot for the life of me figure out whether my previous comments got trapped in the spam filter or just disappeared into the aether – my computer does that sometimes. I’ll give it one last college try because it is rankling me beyond belief to be so grievously misunderstood, so apologies if this shows up a third time.)

        Hrm. I tried to reply from the notification comment form, but I’m not sure if it went through. Apologies if you get something like this twice.

        Basically, though, if you are hearing that I “implied people in relationships shouldn’t be able to set boundaries and enforce them,” I didn’t speak clearly enough. Boundaries are important, and people in relationships should definitely be aware of theirs and have the expectation that they’ll be respected. But a veto isn’t a boundary. A boundary says, “This is what I need to do.” A veto says, “This is what YOU need to do.” I’m super-uncomfortable with the idea that a person who isn’t in a relationship with me gets to have any say over the kind of relationships I have, and that’s exactly what a veto does. It’s about control, having the ability to grant and revoke permission, both of which are no-goes for me. And since the LW has encountered this (among the many other issues present in this letter), this is the piece I felt most able to address. If you’re cool with them, great! You do you. If it turns out LW is cool with them, also great! But a cursory glance through the commentariat didn’t show me anyone pointing out the danger of that dynamic, and I’ve known of too many people burned by it not to speak up.

        1. What’s the difference between “if you are in a relationship with Amy, I will break up with you” and “I veto your relationship with Amy”? I realize this probably sounds like a super snarky question, and I don’t mean it that way–but while I am open to my partner having other partners, my boundary is that I am unwilling to be metamours with some people, and it seems to me that that is fundamentally equivalent to a veto in every meaningful way. I assume that you aren’t saying that that boundary is wrong to have, so–what am I missing?

          1. The difference is that a veto is a rule whereas leaving is the result of a disagreement, if that makes sense. If A says “B, I don’t like C and don’t want you dating him”, and B dates C anyway, then A gets to decide whether the relationship with B is worth tolerating B dating C. But if A and B had a veto, then B dating C isn’t just something A doesn’t want – it’s a rejection of the existing, agreed-on boundaries of their relationship.

        2. Personally, I’m keen on the metamour veto – not so I can veto my partner’s choices, though in principle I could, but because it ensures that anyone else I get together with is going to be someone that the person I share my life & home with is comfortable, and enjoys being, around. And more than that, it ensures that someone who knows me very well, and whom I know without any doubt has my best interests at heart, has checked out Shiny New Person without the -3 Goggles of I-Really-Really-Fancy-Them on, and thinks they’re a Good Thing.

          (This isn’t just theory – I’ve tested it out a few times over the years, and their intuition has saved me from a couple of what would have been Really Bad Exes, to whom I would doubtless have been a Really Bad Ex as well.)

        3. I just really, REALLY need to push back against this idea that vetoes are horrible and boundaries are okay, because people who use the language of rules and vetos can be absolutely up-front and non-abusive, and people who use the language of boundaries and feelings can be totally sneaky and abusive. I hate the privileging of one kind of language over the other in certain sections of the poly community, because it really seems to be a way of staking out a claim on the cool kids side of poly rather than actually engaging with the issues. I have seen too many respected leaders/advice givers in the poly community be assholes to their primary partners in the name of “not having vetoes or rules”, and I don’t like it because it’s another way of pressuring people into dropping their boundaries. Like, I have literally watched IRL a dude who gets quoted a lot as a positive poly influence, who has a firm “no vetoes, no rules” stance in his writing, do this to one of his partners.

          The way to not be an asshole in your relationships is to not be an asshole. It doesn’t matter what language you use.

          1. people who use the language of rules and vetos can be absolutely up-front and non-abusive, and people who use the language of boundaries and feelings can be totally sneaky and abusive

            Yes yes yes. I would eight thousand times rather date someone whose life partner has explicit veto power and I know that up front, than get into the morass of constantly changing boundaries and awful abusive passive aggressive FEELINGStalks with a metamour who is insecure and jealous and subtly trying to sabotage my relationship.

            ALSO in my experience, (and my experience may not be representative) while I’ve been vetoed by potential-metamours with veto power, that hasn’t been fun, obvs, but it’s always happened at the beginning, before I or my potential-partner had gotten very invested in each other. OTOH, I had one really horrid experience with a metamour who made my life a living hell for six months, and eventually drove me away from someone I had been with for years and was very much in love with and had made long-term plans with.

    2. Why is that general advice? I can understand if you personally choose not to get involved with anyone whose partner has veto over their other relationships, but it’s not a bad thing per se.

      “an attempt to control insecurities by allowing someone to maintain power in their relationship at the expense of other human beings” – this seems like an attempt to cast normal human experiences as pathological. Having insecurities is normal, wanting to maintain power in your relationship is normal. Lots of poly stuff is how you manage both of these normal human experiences as positively, fairly and openly as possible, not pretending they don’t exist.

      If A chooses to give their partner B power of veto over their other relationships, that’s an explicit statement about A’s priorities and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not at anyone else’s expense if A accepts it and is OK with it. Nobody has a right to a relationship with A that supersedes A’s right to prioritise B’s wishes.

      1. It’s general advice because I feel that strongly about vetoes. You don’t have to agree, though. They’re a pretty divisive issue in the poly communities I’ve been part of.

        Lots of poly stuff is how you manage both of these normal human experiences as positively, fairly and openly as possible, not pretending they don’t exist.

        I agree with this, which is why I don’t like vetoes. A veto in use is a get out of jail free card that doesn’t help the people using it explore their insecurities; it’s a rule designed to protect those insecurities from scrutiny. So instead of talking about whatever is happening in A and B’s relationship now that C has entered the picture, B just pulls the plug.

        If A chooses to give their partner B power of veto over their other relationships, that’s an explicit statement about A’s priorities and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not at anyone else’s expense if A accepts it and is OK with it.

        Superficially, yes: if A and B want to practice hierarchy in their relationships and grant that A+B will always be top priority, that’s fine, so long as they’re upfront with their other partners about it. I think that kind of prescriptivism is strange, but people in those kinds of relationships find the way that I do relationships strange, so we’re even. More deeply, though, it does come at the expense of another person once there is another person involved with A, because what happens to that person once their feelings grow beyond the “acceptable” limits of B’s threat level? Relatedly: on this website, I’ve never once seen anyone defend a parent who’s come in to say, “I think my child is dating the wrong person,how do I make them stop” and there’s arguably greater reason for a parent, who has actual authority over a minor child, to exercise this kind of control.

        Nobody has a right to a relationship with A that supersedes A’s right to prioritise B’s wishes.

        I also agree with this, but that’s not what my argument is.

        1. Hey Jacbuncad, your “I don’t like vetoes” position is noted and explained. No need to elaborate or spend more of the thread on this sub-topic or respond to every reply.

          1. Okie dokie. Sorry. There may be one more caught in the spam filter but you don’t have to fish it out; I replied to Turtle Candle before I saw this.

    3. I feel like there’s a big difference between a partner having veto power about new relationships versus a partner who holds their veto like a Doom of Damocles over the relationship permanently.

      I guess in general, I’d ask, what is the partner who can’t handle the metamour meant to do in your eyes? Pretend they’re okay with something they’re not okay with? Break up with their partner or threaten to? At least a veto puts everyone’s position on the table, and allows the partner in both relationships to make a decision in a case where everyone gets what they want.

      I’m not trying to say couple privilege isn’t a thing, but I don’t think the solution to it is to say people aren’t allowed have boundaries about their partners’ behavior.

  31. I must say, even after John sorts allll his stuff out, and starts looking ethical, I wouldn’t want to enter a relationship with him. Not a relationship of trust. At least I’d step back and observe him for a year.

    I know, his down-low offer is not tantamount to killing a dude, and people sometimes are cheaty and then not-cheaty. But it says something not good. There are lots of attractive tops in the world who haven’t shown this red flag.

    Another reason to say go out and see some more of other people.

  32. Katie sounds like a piece of work, and John a coward. Good luck, letter writer. I wish you all happiness.

  33. LW, John appears to be A-Okay with cheating on, lying to, and blatantly ignoring the clearly stated desires of the two women he’s already involved with. John is not a considerate man. John is not an honest man. John may in fact be three beehives wearing a trench coat. Please get out of there and be safe.

  34. Seems like maybe Katie has good reason to dislike the arrangement. Maybe it has nothing to do with LW but until she realizes that john is an unethical ass, it makes sense that her gut alarm would focus on the new element of LW. In consent, it’s generally true that if no isn’t an option, yes means nothing. In other words consent isn’t possible. The same is true in poly. If there is nominal veto power but she’s not really supposed to use it or it’s not respected when she does, then the outline of their relationship and what they’ve consented to is false. Katie will eventually figure this out and will probably find out in painful ways. I’m guessing this won’t be the first indiscretion John makes. LW has the chance to escape from that and not be part of John’s crash and burn. That would be the best option. In poly and BDSM it’s dangerous as hell to relationship with someone who doesn’t respect boundaries and agreements with all involved. He’s sending a clear message, and that message is: I can’t be trusted.

  35. “…Him and his wife “Julia”, were a dominant and submissive couple in a polyamorus triad with another woman, who I will call “Katie”. Katie is not a sub, and told John he was free to look for another partner to suit his other needs.”

    Wait, what? How is this a permission-to-find-a-sub-to-suit-my-kinky-needs situation when John is already *married* to a sub? That seems like the kind of thing that begs an explanation, but there’s none in this letter. Also, why is there no mention anywhere of what Julia thinks? The best case scenario is that we are to assume that Julia is cool with John and LW having a relationship, and therefore Julia’s opinion isn’t worth mentioning in the letter, but based on the other information, it seems possible that it’s being treated as a given (by everyone) that Julia doesn’t get to have an opinion because she’s a sub.

    I’m not saying there are no plausible, reasonable explanations for these things, but based on the incomplete information in this letter, I’m comfortable putting my money on “dude is a garden variety manipulator, the end.”

    1. Yeah, to me it reads like Katie is allowed to voice an opinion (though it may then be ignored) because she’s ‘not a sub’. This whole situation sounds scary and not good.

  36. To be honest, one of the painful things about trauma is that the suffering can be triggered by things which are not harmful in themselves. Veterans feeling awful in days with fireworks? Survivors of sexual abuse fighting flashbacks when attempting consensual sex with a good partner? People who were yelled at as children feeling uncomfortable in cultural contexts where yelling is normal? Anything having to do with the trigger warning discourse?

    like… Of course someone with combat experience will be good at recognizing actual danger, too. But giving a blank check to anything a survivor might feel as dangerous to actually be is unhelpful. Yeah, one is entitled to avoid someone for wearing the same perfume as their abuser, but being triggered by that fact does not mean the perfume-wearer is objectively abusive.

    now Bob is of course an asshole, that’s not what I amsaying. But a blanket statement of “your PTSD is always telling the truth” is hurtful and misleading.

  37. At minimum, this dude clearly needs to sort shit out with his current partners before you tangle with him again, LW. I largely agree with most of the other commenters saying that he is sending up a lot of red flags. But LW, if you’re not sure you agree with that assessment, please remember that at the very least, he needs to figure out his current relationship stuff because that is a mess. At the very least, make a rule for yourself that you’re not allowing yourself to get involved with him UNTIL he figures stuff out with Julia and Katie.

    Note for Captain… Your sentence here: “Your ethical path here is “Hey, I don’t do ‘down-low’ relationships, so call me when you’ve sorted things out with Katie one way or another” and then dropping contact with John/Jane/Katie for a while.” I think you meant to write “John/Julia/Katie” instead of “John/Jane/Katie”. Not a huge deal, necessarily, since these aren’t their real names, but thought I’d let you know for clarity’s sake.

  38. So if a woman’s feelings and personal boundaries get in the way of doing what he likes, then her feelings and boundaries are irrational and ridiculous, and he should do whatever he felt like anyway because her feelings are silly which means her boundaries don’t count.

    I’m not sure I’d f feel safe being in a room with this guy, never mind dating him.

  39. Also, the wording actually does sound like only Katie gets a say in who he dates (presumably because she’s ‘not a sub’), and not Julia. I hope it’s just condensed for space and isn’t as scary as that sounds.

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