#1211, #1212, #1213: FeelingsCourt Is In Session On Several Accumulated Matters Of The Heart

I have some questions about romantic feelings and dating and breakups accumulating and I don’t know if they all belong together, but maybe they don’t all need separate threads? I think what they might have in common is people who are trying to rules-lawyer their own hearts.

Let’s find out!

Hello Captain Awkward,

I’m not sure if a good friend of mine [20F] is over me [20] or not, please help!

I’m in a tough spot with a good friend of mine (let’s say Carroll) that I’ve known for about a year at college. Early this past freshman year we both hit it off really well, and she’s a great person. We both seemed to like each other for a while but we both got cold feet around the first third of the year. Thinking about a relationship with her, I constantly came to the conclusion that I was happy with my lifestyle, and starting a relationship wouldn’t be preferable (I haven’t gotten into too many relationships). However, with sophomore year approaching, our living situations seem to be more compatible, and my attitude towards a relationship with her has changed to be more positive.

Over the course of the year, things weren’t really awkward and we are still good friends. However, at several points near the end of the year, there were points where it seemed like she was talking to her friends about me and laughing about it. I wouldn’t consider her gossipy, it seems like the people she hangs with always want to discuss things in secret with her. This might be me just being paranoid (I’m not the center of their universe lol), but there were also points where my own friends poked fun about the whole situation to me (in the presence of her, ugh) and she seemed to think it was funny as well. To be more specific, she didn’t really join in on the joke, she just kinda whispered something to her friends shortly after, finding it amusing.

Thus, I’m in a sticky situation. To be honest with myself, I’ve found it hard to get over her. I’m not sure if we’re both still in the stage of cold feet, or if she’s gotten over me and thinks of me as a joke to her friends. I know a lot of this is paranoia, but I want to be able to get closure on this, since all I feel when talking to her sometimes is that I’m a big joke to her. My main point is how to clarify this with her given this worry. It’s hard to clarify with her because for all I know, it’s the latter and things will only become more awkward by speaking to her, furthering her attitude and preconceptions. She’s a great friend and if she’s truly moved on, then I don’t want to hinder our future as friends. But if she does have feelings, it’s something I don’t want to ignore.

Thank you!

Hi there! You are now Letter Writer #1211!

Do you want to be in a romantic relationship with Carroll now? y/n

Do you want to just go on being friends with her, but without this weird vibe you’re getting that there’s a joke you’re not quite getting? y/n

Have you ever had an out loud conversation with Carroll along the lines of “should we date each other? y/n”? Where she was “y” and you were more “n” (or something else)?

I ask because I can’t tell from this whether you and Carroll had a little bit of a romantic relationship earlier this year, almost had a romantic relationship, talked/joked about dating but never took it there, or whether everything about your attitude, living situation, “lifestyle,” etc. was entirely in your head and she had no idea (or she had some idea but it never got spelled out). People don’t forget the time they confessed a crush and got turned down, so there’s no pretending that didn’t happen if it did, I’m just trying to figure out where “start” is, if that makes sense.

You keep talking about Carroll’s (possibly assumed?) feelings for you but mostly not your feelings. Except right here: “To be honest with myself, I’ve found it hard to get over her.” A-ha! Eureka! Start there, sit with that, work with that. What do you feel and what do you want from Carroll now. Not “what you would be sort of okay with settling for” or “what you would possibly consider” or “what you could make work if you just knew for sure what she wanted.” What do you most want to happen now. If you’re going to risk rejection or  making things slightly weirder than they already are between you before they resolve into the eventual right shape, at least you can know that you’re acting from a place of integrity and honesty with yourself.

Once you’ve got your feelings…”under control” isn’t the right term, let’s go with…admitted? It’s decision time. Awkward or not, there’s no “clarifying” Carroll And Her Feelings without talking to Carroll about her feelings. Depending on what you want, there are plenty of scripts:

  • “Carroll, would you like to go on a date with me on (day) and (time) (and yes it is a DATE date.)” Maybe you don’t have to decide everything about the future with this person, maybe you can take it one date at a time and try.
  • “Carroll, I know when we talked before I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, but I have changed my mind. Would you still be open to that?” If she took the risks of speaking up last time, it is definitely 100% your turn now.
  • “Carroll, buddy, friend, I feel like there’s some joke that I’m the subject of but not quite in on. Am I imagining that? Mind letting me in on it?” If you just want to stay friends but you want to clear up the strange vibe you’re picking up on, this is the way. If you want to be with Carroll, this is not the place to start.

Friendships can survive awkward crushes that don’t quite go anywhere, as long as everyone is honest and kind and keeps their senses of humor. If you want to be with Carroll, ask, try, risk, be vulnerable, put it out there. If you don’t want to be with her, especially if you’ve already rejected her, the kindest thing to do is probably let this subject drop. stay pleasant and friendly, let her have her comic asides with friends, and put your energy into other friendships while the Good Ship Feelings About Carroll rights itself after passing through a few rough straits.

That’s the heart of my advice: Start from what you feel and what you want, and don’t work so hard to manage or predict other people’s feelings. 

Hi Captain! 

I [he, him] admit I’m not a regular reader, but I’ve gone through your advice columns and been super impressed with your words of wisdom, so now that I’m in a relationship pickle, I thought of you.

Anyways. I’m in a polyamorous relationship with a woman, N. Due to life and employment issues, I’ll be moving away from where N has been living; this has been in the cards for a while so it’s not a surprise to either of us, but nonetheless it’s been quite difficult for both of us. N has been worried about feeling horribly lonely after I’ve gone, so she’s been active on dating apps trying to find a partner to keep her company. Most of those dates have been disasters, but t minus 10 on my move date she hit it off with someone she really liked; let’s call him J. They met up, got along great, and had great sex.

At the end of the day, I support her in meeting cool people and having great sex with them. But hearing about just how well the date with J went made me feel quite jealous. I struggle with insecurity and irrationally fear abandonment, and in particular I’ve been agonizing about being replaced by someone new after I leave. In any case, despite vocally communicating my happiness and support for her and her new flame, I also let her know that I’m struggling with some jealous feelings that I’m trying to work through. I asked specifically that I could meet J before leaving so I could get to know him a little and hopefully warm up to him enough that I wouldn’t experience negative feelings when he’s with N. I explained to N that my jealousy stems from insecurity about our relationship and fear of being replaced, but that it’s important to me to be supportive of her anyways.

Yesterday, we made plans for me to take her to work in the afternoon and pick her up the next morning. I drove her home and hung around while she got ready, but then at the last second she decided to go in later, so I went back to my place after she made arrangements to get a ride with a coworker. I didn’t hear from her for a few hours after, which I didn’t think much of. But then, she texts me from work saying that she had just hung out with J. What? Apparently he had called her up asking if he could drop by, she said yes, he went over and saw her, they drank and smoked together, and then had sex again. She told me she knew I’d be upset, but didn’t want to fight with me while they were together and so waited until after he had left and she had gone to work to tell me what had happened.

Honestly, if she had let me know at any moment before they had decided to have sex I would have been on board with them getting together. What really hurt me was that she chose to hide the truth from me until it was too late for me to feel like I had any input. Now I feel like she put aside my needs entirely until it was convenient for her.

Even a day after, I feel pretty gutted. Explicit notice and communication before sexual pairings is a discussed rule of our poly relationship, and I honestly feel like I’ve been cheated on. She offered me, in the ensuing fight, the option to veto her relationship with J. I said no. I don’t want to exercise that kind of control over her love life, stop her from seeing someone she clearly likes, or set us up for the kind of resentment that would create. Despite that, I feel like she created a situation that validated my fears and insecurities about us and I don’t know if I’ll be able to trust her again, especially where J is involved.

I want to be able to trust her, especially now that we’re going to be long distance. How can I work through this? What kinds of things should I tell myself (and her)?

Greetings, Letter Writer #1212!

As a new reader, you might not know this: I have experimented with polyamory/non-monogamy in a bunch of configurations in the past. My heart has been a Winnebago, my pants could have hosted a medium-sized summer music festival or two, but these days I ride a monogamous bicycle built for two. Not! (<3!) because I never thought about it and just accepted the ‘default’ mode, but because that’s what works best for me and the person who best matches me.

I tell you this because: I don’t think polyamorous relationships are less valid than any other kind of relationship, but I also don’t use “what, specifically, makes polyamory work best” or “what will make polyamory accessible and attractive to people who might not already know about it?” as my chief reference points.

Since happy people don’t write to me for help fixing functional relationships that make everyone feel great, I realize my inbox carries a good deal of confirmation bias, so I wrestle with that a lot. Am I qualified to comment on a thing that I’ve Very Firmly Opted Out Of and how do I do it without adding to stigma and ignorance people already face when choosing a non-mainstream relationship style? But how do I/we sort out and help people in situations that have definitely crossed over into WTF?-land without talking honestly about how the specific dynamics are exacerbating the problem? 

Since people keep asking me, specifically, here’s what I try to do: 

1) Defer to and learn from the experts. There is lots of reading to be found if you’re interested in negotiating specifically non-monogamous setups. Have I or will I read every one of these things? I will not! But I’m very glad they exist, I’ve learned a lot about having out loud conversations about complicated things from the ones I have dug into, and I am very happy to recommend them.

2) Go with what I know. Would the kind of behavior described in the letter be a problem in any romantic relationship or configuration? Quite often, yes. I can work with that.

3) When in doubt, follow the “shoulds,” they will almost always lead us to the heart of the problem.  Whenever I see any kind of “romantic relationship = not working” question cross my inbox, I look for the word “should” or the idea of “should,” (often in close proximity to the word ‘just’) and usually I find it.

I’m a nerd/geek/a person who is enthusiastic about sharing knowledge and learning. What I know about nerds/geeks as a group is that we tend to be obsessed with fairness, justice, designing systems, testing and questioning existing rules and systems, seeking knowledge and data, explaining stuff to ourselves and others, optimizing everything around us so that it all works the way it should work, and I love us, I love all this about us, it makes us wonderful in so many ways! Just, when geeks set traps for ourselves? They are elegant ones that are hard to climb out of.

Also, in my experience, a lot, not all, but a lot, (#notall but #definitelymany) polyamorous folks and kinksters (Hi kinksters! ILU!) and other seekers of road-less-traveled-by relationships are sex-and-love nerds (and highly inclusive of/overlapping with all types of nerds), who have created beautiful systems for honoring their desires and speaking up for what they need and having great boundaries and checking in and holding space and having difficult out-loud conversations and honoring consent in all things, stuff that applies to all kinds of human interactions and only makes them more honest and rewarding. It’s all great, honestly great.

Unfortunately, elegantly-designed-loving-beautiful systems are neither jerk-proof nor flawed-human-doing-messy-human-bullshit-proof nor irrational-and-possibly-unfair-but-definitely-strong feelings-proof.

Non-monogamous nerds get all the same “Love just takes work!” and “Being in a relationship is better than being single” pressures everyone does, then they double down on it with extra geeky pressure like, “Since there must be a logical way to solve this, what if I just got more information or worked harder to feel less bad about it?”

They have to contend with the defensiveness that (understandably) arises from being part of a subculture that’s often misunderstood. “Love me, love my geeky obsession” flips around pretty neatly to assuming “People who share my geeky obsession should probably love me.” Add in some low self-esteem, a little history of being overlooked and excluded, you get to “I probably have to love people who share my geeky obsession because nobody else will love us” which putty in the hands of predators and selfish assholes, they can keep feeding you #NoTruePolyamorousScotsman! assumptions forever,  i.e. “Polyamory that makes you feel bad is most likely inauthentic polyamory, so if you just re-apply the frameworks for negotiation and consent better we’ll probably fix it so nobody ever has to be left behind and you don’t have to break up with anyone (incl. me, an asshole who constantly upsets you)!” 

Don’t get me wrong, jerks and abusers can and will  hijack ANY system for their own purposes, just the more welcoming and non-judgmental your community’s stated values are, and the more sidelined you are from the mainstream, the harder it is to admit something’s wrong ’cause there’s an extra layer of “See, doesn’t this just go to show you were wrong for trying this, Grandma told you this sinful crazy weird thing you were doing would never work!” to push through to get help. Here are some resources specifically about abuse dynamics in polyamorous relationships in case someone needs that, right now I’m going to take this back to Geek Stuff.

(spinning a wheel and making cool swervy noises)

Geeks and nerds (whether we self-identify that way or got forcibly identified that way by our grade-school’s most menacing child) love the word “should,” because it helps us imagine a better and fairer world, but we are such experts at making things incredibly hard on ourselves that it’s our kryptonite, too. Naturally suspicious of feelings – Sometimes they hurt and people use them to hurt us! Also, when we were smart little kids, grownups assumed we would just naturally pick up the knack of dealing with feelings the way we picked up facts about every single famous shipwreck so they forgot to explain them to us! – so there are gaps in our knowledge, definitely areas where we sense we are uncomfortably not in the top 99% percentile of Knowing How to Human the way we are in so many other subjects, and it seems too late or too hard to sort that out. Instead we embrace logic, rules, things we can define and  test and apply, things that might right the wrongs done to us and make a fairer world.

From there, it’s easy to see feelings as something untrustworthy and/or as something that can be outsmarted or controlled. I can’t speak for everyone, but for a long time, therapists had to use the reference charts the show little kids to get me to even name feelings, and my internal feedback system in response to negative or upsetting feelings and relationships went like this: This should work –>Ow! Not working –>System failure –> Re-boot system –> Redesign system –> Ow! Still feel bad –> Adjust system again? –> Still Ow! –> Fake being fine –> See if it passes –> Probably avoid situations like the one that prompted the failure –> Choose A New Subroutine = A) Stay Lonely  B) Restart Painful Testing –> Press B –> This should work!

But what if our feelings are just information? And sometimes they aren’t fair, and don’t have to be?

When I see people pressure themselves to be “fair” about matters of the heart it’s usually ’cause they aren’t getting something they need or want to be happy. How many versions of “Am I overreacting here?” or “Am even I allowed to want/need this?” or “How do I convince myself to be okay with something that is not okay?” exist on the site so far, rough guess? Roughly 600 out of 1200? (I’ll take the “over”). What if it weren’t fair but you still needed it? What if you are “overreacting” but it’s still how you feel? So many of us were raised to question our own perceptions and put ourselves last, so I’m gonna fight that impulse wherever I see it.

Again, I am sensitive to whenever people use the word “should” about things that are supposed to make them happy. The polyamory letters often have an extra layer of “should” because everyone agreed in advance that a thing shouldn’t be a problem, then they created a system where it wouldn’t be a problem, so when that thing definitely is the problem (like, jealousy, or people who had every opportunity to be straightforward but forgot/chose not to), it’s a good reminder: We don’t have to serve our relationships (****or the idea/label/design behind them***) independently of our own needs and happiness.

Whenever a specifically polyamorous or other non-monogamous relationship question pings my when it’s good, it’s GREAT, nobody loves ‘Informed Consent’ and ‘Explicitly Talking Out The Difficult Shit’ more than I, Captain Awkward, but when it’s Not Good, why is it a immediately a certain extra level of Not Working?” radar, like this one, it’s often because the “should” (and the gap between what should be happening and what is happening) is jumping out of the screen at me. I’ll find myself ruminating aloud about it to myself or to Mr. Awkward or The Wonderful Goat Lady who kindly curates my inbox about whether something is a Bad Romance problem or a Geek Logic/Subculture problem or (spoiler) both!

That’s when the blog gets words (and today’s bonus content words) because there’s something about the nexus of “helping people be more happy” and “figuring out how nerds can make feelings work” that I am powerless to resist. Which is a verrrrrrry long way of saying, Dear Letter Writer 1212: 

A polyamory-focused blogger might give you lots of very useful tips about checking in with yourself and re-negotiating a workable relationship and adjusting your agreements with N. Such as, maybe, given the imminent long-distance thing, an explicit advance notification/ signed permission slip for each and every sexual encounter with Not-You is not a sustainable expectation, ergo, now that N. is seeing a lot of “J.” maybe it can be assumed that she’s, uh, seeing a lot of J. Since you don’t want to ‘exercise control’ over her love life, what if the answer isn’t more information about her sexual adventures, it’s letting go of the need to know? I’m sure helpful commenters will weigh in with a mix of “Right on, that’s how we do it!” and “Absolutely not, that rule is essential to making it work!” and you’ll have more data. (THANK YOU, COMMENTERS <3)

Since you asked me, the person who read your entire letter and thought: “He knows he’s allowed to break up with people who don’t make him happy, right?” here’s what I’ve got:

Maybe when someone hurts you, you don’t have to do more homework. 

Also. Look. I think that almost every time somebody claims that it’s not THE HURTFUL NEWS ITSELF, it’s “just” the METHOD/TIMING OF DELIVERY that’s REALLY upsetting them, it’s almost always a lie on some level. A face-saving, understandable, relatable, partially-true kind of lie, but almost never the whole messy truth, and almost always a bid for more control over a thing that isn’t controllable, like what people who are not ourselves will feel or do, and how we should react.

I said “almost” and you’re the boss of you, Letter Writer, so when you say: “Honestly, if she had let me know at any moment before they had decided to have sex I would have been on board with them getting together,” I have to believe you, but.. I still don’t, not quite.

If N. had informed you before she had sex on that particular day, I believe you would have talked yourself into being okay with it, and I believe it would have meant something to you if she demonstrated to you she was honoring your agreement, I believe that small act of consideration would have made you more comfortable. And yet, if I had to guess, I’d guess that you still would feel like shit right now because leaving people you love sucks, you don’t want to leave town or have to re-figure all this out, and, while you maybe felt less guilty about leaving her behind when you knew N. would be able to channel her impending loneliness into new partners, you don’t actually want her to see this gross inconsiderate smoker and drinker mentionitis “J.” guy from work who clearly does NOT know or care about you or your Important Agreements and who interferes with N.’s judgment and sense of time and how phones work. There’s a strong “Did it have to be HIM and did it have to be NOW?” subtext in your letter, like, you realize the cat’s out of the bag but some level you now wish N. had waited until you were safely gone to start dating again so she could spend the bulk of your remaining proximity focused on you.

THESE ARE ALL PERFECTLY VALID FEELINGS, IF I AM CORRECT AT GUESSING THEM (AND EVEN IF I AM NOT, BECAUSE I’D MUCH RATHER BE WRONG AND YOU BE HAPPY THAN THE ALTERNATIVE). But you asked: I want to be able to trust her, especially now that we’re going to be long distance. How can I work through this? What kinds of things should I tell myself (and her)?

My read is, you are very unhappy and hurt right now. What if you you can’t trust N. and there’s no way to guarantee that? Possibly more importantly, how can you deal with the feelings you’re actually having vs. the ones you want to tell yourself to should probably have?

You’re saying all the right things to N. about how you want to be supportive and excited, all v. admirable, you are honoring the agreement you made! But she clearly isn’t! And in fact, you’re both “agonizing” and “jealous” and “anxious” and “gutted” and “worried” and “horribly lonely” and mired in “insecurity” and “resentment.” You’re co-opting your negative feelings to exhibit the ones you think you should have, which adds additional pressure on top of, stuff like…getting ignored and cheated on and feeling like crap.

If N. is one of the great loves of your life, nothing I say can tear you apart, but in your story I see a lady who had to do the bare minimum to make you feel good about a difficult thing and when it came down to it, she chose not to.

And worse, afterward, she abdicated it all to you, offering you the chance to “veto” the new relationship with J. if you want to, which reads to me like a dare or a challenge to a duel, a Polyamory Duel: “Well, you said you were okay with this, are you sure you’re okay with this? ‘Cause if you’re not okay with this, I guess we can make decisions based on how Not Okay with this you are, as long as we agree that you’re the one who is being Not Okay with this (vs. focusing on the Not Okay thing I did).(P.S. Reporting Live From Subtext Land: You’re leaving town anyway you won’t ever know if I do decide to still see J. without a signed permission slip.”)

Some relationships thrive in proximity and do not thrive long-distance, no matter how hard everybody tries. But…you already tried telling N. “Go for it with sexy New Dude (please just respect the agreements we made, my feelings are kinda fragile right now)” and she went for it but forgot to take care of your feelings. What if however fair and kind and open you want to be to N., she’s not willing or capable of giving you what you need right now? You’ve got a strong momentum leading you away from her, why not use it to do all the painful leaving at once?

I’d love to be wrong, I don’t want to direct you away from or happiness just because it’s personally harder for me to imagine it. Still, I think this is most likely doomed, and it’s a matter of when you decide and deliver the news whether this is a “hurt a lot now” or “hurt some now and more later” problem, hurt’s still coming, and that doesn’t mean that you failed or that love wasn’t real or that you didn’t try hard enough. What’s the choice that takes the most care of you? That’s the one I’m rooting for.

Dear Captain Awkward,

A man I loved has chosen to block me because he cannot get over his Very Strong Feelings about me, and doesn’t want to see my social media.

Being blocked is mostly fine. Its probably a very very good call on his part, and frankly long overdue.

We were having an emotional affair. Both married, and at the start, I think we were both determined to keep each other in the friend zone? I’m not sure any more, but I guess it doesn’t matter.

We finally both came to terms with the deepening, confusing feelings and rapidly vanishing boundaries, and agreed on a break. I hoped we would end our “best friendship,” which was sad, but maintain an ability to be around each other in our mutually shared space. We have a lot of mutual friends and are “star players” in our SportsClub. I thought, we will break the addiction, have a talk in a few weeks about new boundaries, say goodbye, have some sorrow, and continue to share custody of our club and see each other socially 1-2 times a month, maybe after a few more months of space. He started as a good friend, and I believe is a good person. Just one in a rocky marriage he has chosen not to prioritize, and one that takes boundaries setting personally (yes I know).

But after 1 week of very limited contact and then another of no contact, I signalled via social media that I’d be open to opening the dms again. I was still driven to make our friendship work, and I knew he had a history of poring over my SM. I should have DM’d directly but I thought a little heads up before I asked him to meet in person to set the new rules and objectives for space sharing might give him a chance to think.

I guess it did. Before I messaged him, I got a long, long text telling me how hopelessly in love w me he was, how he couldn’t be around me because of that, a couple other things I won’t share for identity reasons… and that he wouldn’t come to club any more, and he was blocking me for his own pain.

Okay. Sad, difficult, confusing, I felt shame for my role in our affair, heartbroken for how isolated he was choosing to make himself. But. He’s not coming to official club events, but he *is* coming to mutual friend events. And people signal we are coming to these things through Instagram (thumbs up on this post if you’re going to make it!). And I can’t see him, bc…blocked. There are a bunch of events coming up and I cannot be asking our one friend who knows what happened to be telling me what his plans are. Mutual Friend should not be our go-between, and I’ve already cried too many tears on Mutual Friends shoulder. But I don’t want to be chased out of our Sports Thing just because he’s the stronger athlete, and has Feels Forever for me. I wanted to agree on rules of engagement and now I just feel SURPRISE! It’s Himself, and he doesn’t want people to ask him what’s going on, so he’s going to come over and talk to you!

So, how do I find out which events are Safe? I want to respect the new boundaries (if he wants to pretend I don’t exist, fine. I’m not seeking him out). But if we keep fucking showing up to the same thing… would it have killed him to have just muted me on Instagram so I could at least see his “I will also be at this event” comments? Do I ask Mutual Friend to ask him to do that? I just want to keep doing the thing that I love and keeps me sane, even if I can’t do it with the dumbass I loved any more.

-I Fucked Up the Boundaries a bunch, how do I do the New Ones? What even are the new ones? (She/her).

Hello Lucky Number #1213:

Please review all previous content in this post and links re: “It’s not the MESSAGE, it’s the WAY of the message that’s REALLY bothering me” and please accept this mental, long-distance, consensual hug (often called a “Jedi” Hug here, since Jedi don’t need physical arms to do cool stuff, and really I’m just sending sympathy). You are not alone, this is a very common way to try to reclaim control and assign a proportional response to a thing that is actually shaking your world pretty hard, but it’s almost never THE actual problem, and whenever I see this it’s a flashing sign that points toward denial. 

Next, let’s be clear about our terminology. Every time the phrase “emotional affair” has ever popped up on CaptainAwkward.com so pops up a lot of general discussion that covers “What are those, even?” and “Isn’t this just trying to police good friendships between men and women?” and “I, personally, wouldn’t see it as a problem for me, so you’re probably wrong if you think it’s a problem for you?” (and vice versa) and “Come on, it’s not technically ‘cheating’ until the exact second a penis goes INSIDE a vulva, until that happens nobody is ever allowed to be mad!” (and other takes that make me less nostalgic for the 1990s whenever I think about them) and “Wait, are crushes illegal now, are you saying it’s never okay to have feelings about someone outside your relationship?”

This entire post is an attempt to *discourage* rules-lawyering in all its forms, not open up new avenues for it. Feelings are messy as fuck, but “plausibly deniable” isn’t where the standard goes, “in all fairness…” never fixed anyone’s hurt feelings, and “well, technically your partner didn’t CHEAT-cheat, so you’re illogical if you feel cheated on right now” isn’t a foundation you can pour on top of the still-smoking ruins of someone’s blown-up heart. For today’s purposes, let’s agree that “Emotional Affair” most likely means some combination of these things:

  1. Friends of a sexual orientation and gender that would make them compatible as romantic/sexual partners had a lot of attraction and romantic feelings about each other that turned into discussions and interactions with each other that they kept a secret (or wildly downplayed/under-reported) because they are reasonably certain their existing partners would not be cool with it if they knew.
  2. Why wouldn’t the spouses be cool with it if it was all talk and no actual sexy stuff? Perhaps because the specific content, intensity, or quantity of discussion implicitly violates the integrity or mutual understanding of the relationship. Some people (see #1212) might see an opportunity to lean in here, fully discuss it, air it out, redesign the map of what’s allowed. But not everyone would, nor is there mandatory homework called “Why am I hurting and could I decide not to be,” so, if someone thinks their spouse wouldn’t be cool with a thing, they’re probably right.
  3. If you intensely consider cheating or leaving your partner and decide not to, the “decided not to!” part is definitely important, and hopefully the admirable, ethical, and happy choice! But “In the end, I chose you, isn’t that wonderful?” might not land the way you want it to, especially if the “chosen” spouse has to sift through a bunch of texts and other evidence that it was an extremely close call first. Let’s look at the letter for an example. Ah yes: “Before I messaged him, I got a long, long text telling me how hopelessly in love w/me he was, how he couldn’t be around me because of that, a couple other things I won’t share for identity reasons… and that he wouldn’t come to club any more, and he was blocking me for his own pain.” Would either the Letter Writer’s spouse or the Almost Guy’s spouse be relieved, like,”okay, as long as you weren’t fucking,”  if they saw that text? No.
  4. “Affair behaviors” aren’t just sex behaviors, there are a whole host of “Hey look, my attention, money, time, and other priorities are definitely elsewhere, I’m pretending they are not, and I’m not telling you why” behaviors, and cheaters are TERRIBLE at op-sec. There’s the way a person constantly checks their phone, and suddenly never lets it out of their sight, and laughs at secret jokes that don’t include their spouse (and hangs out constantly on a certain person’s social media, as the letter details). Wherever there is a strong crush, there is likely to be mentionitis, and where there is mentionitis there is a high likelihood of gaslighting, including self-gaslighting, since a lot of people genuinely believe in their “Don’t Worry, We’re Just Good Friends!” intentions and “Ha, Can You BELIEVE People Keep Asking If We’re A Couple Just Because We’re Always Visibly Acting Like A Couple When We’re Together (And Glued To Our Phones To Discuss The Problem of How We Are Definitely Not Becoming A Couple When We’re Not Together)” performances. If the crush passes like most do, or the people ultimately do the right thing by being truthful and forthright and ethical in handling pre-existing commitments, it doesn’t mean that nobody ever noticed or had feelings about the time it was all unfolding.
  5. Self-reporting is accurate reporting. If someone says, “I had an emotional affair with x,” then they did. If someone says “X had an emotional affair while married to me,” then that’s what happened, and I promise you, this person does not want to hear “Well, technically, are those even real?” from anybody at that moment. Assume that some joint understanding of what belongs inside a relationship was violated in some way. Maybe it’s something that can be renegotiated by the people at the center of the problem, maybe it’s something that you can negotiate differently inside your relationships, but nobody wants to debate this stuff among the rubble of their own demolished happiness and trust.

Good? Good. Your eventual moderator thanks you.

Letter Writer #1213, here’s what I see:

  • Any time you’re talking about a doomed/failed/past/”we’re definitely not doing this…oh wait…are we?” relationship in terms of counting the weeks & days since you’ve decided a thing or last interacted, it’s a good sign you’re still too far in, everybody needs a longer break, and that all of this is Way Too Soon.
  • Duder was right to block you and wrong to send you that long text right before he did. I think you’re better off out of this particular thing, whatever the state of your marriage is, and you made the right decision to cut things off.
  • Duder isn’t coming to Official Club events right now. Smart! Those are yours. Proceed accordingly. They are yours. Experience them without looking over your shoulder for him, reinvest in the other people that make this wonderful.
  • You’re right, you need to get your Mutual Friend out of the middle of this, both to be a good friend and to cut off an avenue of “Oh, I’m not obsessing, I’m just innocently checking in in a way where I have to pay a lot of attention to him and say his name a lot.” Since Instagram, etc. is closed (good decision), what are you to do?

The Bad News Is Also The Good News: Duder is coming to lots of unofficial hangs. arranged by other people. You know that now. This leaves you several  courses of action! I love action!

Action Steps: 

  1. Respect the block. We do not argue with the block. You are attempting to argue with the block. Stop.
  2. Block him everywhere in return, including his phone number. Stop waiting, monitoring, hoping. It’s time.
  3. What if you a) assume he’ll probably be unofficial hangs arranged by others from now on and b) ceded that territory firmly to him until YOUR heart calms down enough to have it not be a big deal? You might miss out on some stuff, but you’ll both get a breather from pretending you’re not breathlessly looking for each other on the edges of all the invites and “casual” conversation groups.
  4. It doesn’t have to be forever, think in terms of 30-day periods, like a detox of the heart. When you’ve gone 30 days without going to stuff where you think he might be, mentioning his name, or looking at his social media for clues to what he’s up to or what he’s thinking or whether he still loves you, you can stop into a summer happy hour or whatever and see how you feel. Stuff gets weird? You start obsessing? Reset the clock.
  5. Instead: Keep going to official sport/club events. They are yours now. He is making his choice, stop questioning it and second-guessing it or managing it, he’s literally not your problem. The sportsclub loses one of its stars temporarily, oops, too bad, maybe he shouldn’t have been playing “fall in love with me/don’t fall in love with me” with a fellow member and it will be like this for a while. He’s trying to get/give space. Let him.
  6. Also Instead: Arrange your own invite-only hangs with smaller groups and specific friends both inside and outside this social scene. Actively cultivate a social circle that doesn’t rotate around him but still lets you have a thing you love. That’s probably your summer project as far as this is concerned.
  7. The more you try to rules-lawyer this for yourself, and look for loopholes and “when” and “how much is allowed” and “but what if I’m very good and don’t intend to see him” and “but how can I know for sure,” the longer you’ll be in it. The sooner you cut contact, adhere to both the letter and the intent of the decisions and promises you made to give each other space, the sooner you’ll be past it.

Since you didn’t ask for advice on how to reconnect in your marriage [MODERATOR HAT EXTREMELY ON] I’m going to ask people who start typing the words “BUT WHAT ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE” or literally anything judgmental about that or you for having feelings about someone else in a comment-field to just…delete it. Hold back. Leave it unsaid.

The Letter Writer doesn’t need it. She knows what she did, she knows how close she came, she knows why she chose what she chose, she knows what it would have cost and what it’s costing still, she knows that the time spent getting over this Almost-Ran person is time she’s supposed to reconnect with herself and her spouse, she’s heard of marriage counseling, she’s not the person who hurt you, her spouse didn’t write in, she made us no promises and none of us have to pay her debts or live her life.

To dispel this impulse, imagine me as Judy Dench as Queen Elizabeth at the end of Shakespeare In Love sending Thomas Kent back into the playhouse to fetch Lady Viola out and send her to her new life:

Lord Wessex:
How is this to end?

Queen Elizabeth:
As stories must when love’s denied: with tears and a journey.

Cry the tears. Close the chapter. Start the journey.

[***Speaking of “You Do Not Exist To Serve Your Idea/Label/Identity/Structure”

Confidential to the avowed asexual folks, plural, who are blowing up my inbox lately to say: “I am asexual, so why am I DEFINITELY secretly doing highly addictive sexy stuff with this incredibly-hot-yet-inappropriate person?” = Some asexual folks have enjoyable sex sometimes, additionally your labels exist to describe who you are, they aren’t there to proscribe your choices, set a standard for you to aspire to living up to, or beat yourself up with. If someone tells you your identity isn’t valid or suggests that “It means you just haven’t fucked the right person yet!,” they’re wrong. Only you can decide if this is a rogue outlier vs. passing experimentation vs. new information that means you might want different descriptors for yourself down the road.

In the meantime, you’re probably not letting “The Spirit of Asexuality” down by enjoyably and consensually exploring this aspect of yourself, though if you keep Doing It with [housemates][the assumed-monogamous-partners or polyamorous partners of said housemates (but you keep it a secret and never discuss it)][housemates’ siblings][housemates’ parents (!)][coworkers esp. bosses/people junior to you][other people you can’t avoid if/when it all blows up][seriously, there are smarter and safer ways to experiment with sexual activity than letting your landlord-who-is-also-your-housemate’s-relative fingerbang you when you drop off the rent!] …you might end up letting some specific people down…in a way that has fallout beyond ‘is my identity the right one’…so please consider something you can “explore” more safely and in the open? Happy Pride!***]

Feelings are information. Rules aren’t magic.

Toldja I was knocking a bunch of things out today.

Reminders:

  • There’s bonus content at Patreon, this is a very good time to support the site.
  • Review the site policies before you comment if it’s been a while and keep comments on-topic, constructive (helping the letter writers vs. general expounding/exploring that might be better done in your own webspace or at the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com), kind, and a whole lot briefer than my answers.
  • I categorically do want to read accounts of what you (nonspecific you) would consider “cheating” vs. “not cheating,” please refrain from mapping out your personal boundary-garden in detail as evidence for what “should” be happening and how anyone should feel about it. My whole deal right now is, quit arguing with and redefining the “shoulds.” Work with the “actually happening stuff,” including the feelings, including the scary ones. Much appreciated.

 

 

 

144 comments
  1. isabeausuro said:

    “when we were smart little kids, grownups assumed we would just naturally pick up the knack of dealing with feelings the way we picked up facts about every single famous shipwreck so they forgot to explain them to us”

    HOLY FUCKING SHIT THIS EXPLAINS STUFF FROM MY CHILDHOOD

    …holy fuck. I had never considered that aspect in words, but.

    ::stares at sentence::

    • Reed said:

      I crashed face-first through several friendships and relationships during my teens and twenties into ‘wait, how are feelings again?’

      *solidarity fist-bump*

    • scrapworks said:

      I had the exact same reaction.

    • Cora said:

      And let’s add parents who specifically told you that your feelings were wrong. E.g., Mom says something that hurts, I feel hurt, Mom says “no, that doesn’t hurt” or “you’re not allowed to be hurt” or “you’re not supposed to be hurt”, so you grow up expecting other people to tell you how you should feel. {Eek! A Should!}

      God bless the therapist who told me, matter-of-factly, that “you feel what you feel. It’s not wrong.” That statement has become my Sheldon’s Spot, around which the rest of the universe revolves. Odd that a fixed point should be so freeing.

      • Jenny Islander said:

        Ohhh yeah. And sometimes we get both “You’re a smart kid, you should figure this feelings stuff out on your own” and “Your feelings inconvenience me, you shouldn’t have them.”

        It took me two entire decades, plus a few years, to go from “I experience a sensation that is not equilibrium and words fly out of my mouth” to “This emotion is called anger” to “These sensations indicate impending anger, time to run through the ‘Defusing and examining my anger’ procedure.” I had to repeat this for every single emotion I had. No, seriously, every single one. And meanwhile, of course, I had to fake being a functioning adult well enough not to be unemployed, evicted, or arrested…

        Parents-to-be reading this: Don’t do what my family of origin did. If you are filled with speechless panic at the prospect of modeling emotional intelligence for a little kid whose vocabulary is small, you could do a lot worse than looking up “Free to Be You and Me” and just…playing it. All of it, every song. Human Dignity and Emotional Competence 101 for Tots and Everybody Else. Here, this should bring up a playlist:

        • Spicy Onion said:

          I personally come from a family of Big Emotions. ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Suicide Attempts, Massive public explosions on each other. Imprisonment due to not handling Big Emotions. Big Emotions.

          My parents would handle this with their own Big Emotions – screaming, yelling, whatever.

          Now my son has the Big Emotions, the ADHD, the Anxiety , The depression, and the Suicide attempts – all before age ten. So I had to learn how to deal with all this from almost day one with him. That meant I NEEDED TO LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH MY BIG EMOTIONS FIRST. One of the first books I read was that corny little book “You Can Heal Yourself”. That is what made me realize all of these things on here. And taking other people’s “shoulds” and transforming them into my own “coulds”.

          My son has obviously needed very in depth and immersive therapy. And I am lucky enough to live in an area that provides these services free of charge (Yes there are states where this is free – check out Pennsylvania’s history of socialized care for an example). My daughter is more like the rest of us in our family, where it is not as pronounced. I noticed she was struggling with emotions. I started her in therapy to learn how to discuss them, mitigate the big blow outs, etc. I usually answer her Big Emotions with “It is normal to feel that way. Now how can we come to terms with it, though?” I mean I don’t think a lot of people realize you can talk to your kids like you would any other human being – just at their age level. And when i say age-level, I mean in words they understand and in a way that won’t give them nightmares. You can even define new words for them.

          Another thing is started doing? Opening up the conversation about mental health with my extended family. My aunt, for instance, is in the midst of her second or third suicide attempt. My uncle is in jail for pulling a drive-by on my father’s house. We are middle class white people. One thing middle class white people don’t do is talk about all that ugly mental illness. It helped my son come acceptance a lot faster when I started pointing out that he wasn’t the only one in our family who has mental health issues. And just because he is the first kid to get help, doesn’t mean others in our family shouldn’t have help sooner!!!!!!!

          I am in an unfortunate position where I had no choice but to do these things, or my little family wouldn’t survive. But that doesn’t mean this all cannot be applied for kids with “normal” ranges of emotions either. Emotions are tricky! Check in with your kids about them. If they are mad at you, ask them why! Help them process that! Tell them about resources outside of yourself where they can seek help. Also, and please please please do this, begin to educate your local schools on mental health, the serious signs to look for, and the numbers/addresses to local support agencies!!!!

          • Cathy Boo said:

            I’ve dealt with a kiddo whose big feelings have led to suicide attempts and mental health hospital stays myself and know it’s hard to talk about and hard for others to respond to. I just wanted to pop in and say you’ve done a great job. I hope you’ll be kind to yourself and occasionally look around proudly at the choices you’ve made. (((hugs)))

      • Emma9 said:

        “You’re too sensitive.” If there was one phrase I could expunge from use, I think it would be that.

        • slythwolf said:

          God, yes, same. Also: “Don’t let it/him/her/them get to you,” because I can and should choose what hurts and what doesn’t.

      • Tortoise said:

        Oh, yes. The parental voice of reason, annulling all feelings:

        – You want $X? It doesn’t make sense to want $X! You’re being daft!
        – There’s no reason to be angry/sad. You’re being unreasonable to feel that way about this.

        Later in life, I realised I practiced feelings-quack-a-mole to myself all the time, wondering why those moles just KEPT COMING UP WITH A VENGEANCE in my mental garden. I’m still unlearning.

        • Jake said:

          The hardest ever thing to unlearn. Solidarity.

        • AnnieB said:

          Irrational feelings, they are the monsters under a child’s bed. Objectively, there is no monster. In reality, just saying there’s no monster won’t fix things.

      • Forsworn Memorialist said:

        Solidarity, Cora. I was a long time finding that fixed point.

        “How do you feel, Daughter [grade school age]?” “A way I shouldn’t feel, Mom. If I tell you you’ll be angry.” “If you don’t tell me what you DO feel instead of SHOULD feel I’ll be VERY ANGRY WITH YOU!”

        A double bind is not the same thing as permission-in-the-form-of-a-direct-order.

        Dr. Alice Miller, pray for us.

      • A phrase I really love it “feelings are like the weather”– they happen, they’re just a fact, it’s occurring to you right now. The fact it is April didn’t mean it wouldn’t snow almost a foot this year, no one argues that weather should not occur or is wrong, or morally inappropriate. The weather can be pleasant, or unpleasant, we can take steps to mitigate the unpleasantness or to enjoy the pleasantness more, but it’s going to occur whether we want it to or not. We can recognize when weather is coming, and adapt, but sometimes it surprises us anyway (see “snowstorm in april…”).

        Feelings are just like this, we can manage them, learn to recognize patterns and handle how we react to them, but into each life some feelings must fall.

        • Int said:

          A couple months ago I did think, “It’s MAY, it shouldn’t be SNOWING.”

          That didn’t stop the snow, or that I needed to deal with it.

        • nnn said:

          Building on this, another reason why I find the feelings = weather metaphor useful is that yes, the weather will pass, but it’s still real and still affects you when it does happen.

          People around me tend to say “This will pass” as though that somehow makes it irrelevant. But you still have to put on a coat in the winter (or during the April snowstorm) even though it will eventually get too warm for a coat. And if the April snowstorm makes the roads impassable, they’re still impassable, even though the snow is eventually going to melt.

      • redgirl said:

        Wow, your mom and my ex-husband have a lot in common!

      • InsertCleverHandleHere said:

        Parent of a 4 year old and 2 year old here, who says “do you want to tell momma about it” while holding a weeping child instead of “it’s ok” because since said child is weeping, it is most definitely NOT ok at the moment. That was such a valuable gift that my parents gave me.

      • TootsNYC said:

        One of the best things I think I ever did for my kids was push back when Grandma told them, “You’re crying over nothing.” I’m like, “No, she’s crying because she’s disappointed. Kiddo, it’s OK to be disappointed, I’m sorry you are; but it IS time to go home, nobody is being deliberately mean to you. You cried, and now we know, but it has been enough minutes, and now is the time to figure out how to stop crying, because while we are sympathetic to you, this is too many minutes for this small of a disappointment.”

        Or I’d tell them, “You are extra tired going to school today, so if you find that you are really, really upset, remember that this is probably influenced by how tired you are. You are probably upset for a real reason, but it will FEEL bigger than it is because you are so tired.”

    • Ealasaid said:

      Add me to the list of “hard same” reactions to that bit, holy shit.

    • Bunny said:

      This sort of heart-jolting wisdom is one of the main reasons I come here! I feel like I am dragged along into becoming a more complete Me every time I read something like this.

    • Perlandra said:

      I sometimes joke that I was raised by books.

      • Britpoptarts said:

        That’s accurate for me as well. For better or worse. Including adult books I read before I understood subtext well.

      • Jenny Islander said:

        Same hat!

        One good thing my neglectful, abusive mother did: she read to me early and often, and got out of my way when i turned out to be a precocious reader. I was raised by books and a thoroughly decent, welcoming, and safe church. (I don’t blame them for not figuring out what was going on. Nobody else did either…)

    • Jen said:

      Or, alternately, grownups had an eff of a hard time living with our strong feelings, and said “I’m pretty sure you don’t feel that. What you really feel is what you SHOULD feel. Here, let me tell you what that is.”

    • beautiful_blue89 said:

      I am an early childhood therapist and I am literally figuring out feelings shit of my own AS I teach it to children, like “OH this would have been wonderful to hear/see/read a picture book about at 3, 4 or 5!” One of the biggest things I’ve gained this year is the ability to feel and acknowledge my emotions in real time stop in the middle of doing something and say, “oh, I don’t like this, let’s stop/talk about it/do it later” rather than realizing 5 hours after the fact that something upset me and blowing up at “nothing.” This site has helped a lot with that as well.

  2. RS said:

    Oof. Lw #1212. I’m a longtime polyamorous person who’s been in a similar situation (he hosted a sex party which I only found out about afterwards through another person who assumed I knew about it). I have to agree with the Captain’s advice. Like yeah we hadn’t technically said it wasn’t OK, etc. etc. But he deliberately decided to avoid telling me. And one of the things I’ve learned from being around polyamorous people is that once the trust is gone, it’s very very difficult to get it back. Which is why I decided that this one thing was a bridge too far and I was not really happy in the relationship, so I knew I needed to get out. This was no longer someone who I could trust with my heart. I didn’t want to keep giving this person second chances.
    I have also done the thing in the past of “relationship broken, add more people.” Turns out that letting other people invest more time in other people doesn’t fix the part where our relationship is broken. It just makes it worse. I suspect that both you and your girlfriend has other issues going on and this was also just the last thing for you. Either way, I agree with the Captain that you have someone who is not willing to invest more energy into a relationship with you or respect your discussions/agreements. Sometimes people show you who they really are.
    To me this decision to hide that she was going to hook up with other dude was, either consciously or subconsciously on her part, an indication that she’s not happy in this relationship with you. I personally think it’s better to rip off the band-aid at a go because I don’t think it’s going to get better.

    • Joyce Byers said:

      I agree on all points! My ex and I had a one-sided open relationship for a while – he was free to explore, I was not. At the time, that didn’t bother me (horrible relationship + he was pushy = yes please go and have sex with other people!) but I later found out he slept with tons of people he didn’t tell me about. To this day, he won’t admit he cheated on me, because of our arrangement – even though a key part was he had to be open and honest about with me about what he was doing.

      I think generally for most reasonable people, if it feels shitty and like trust has been broken… then that IS what happened, regardless of logic or rules or previous agreements. Which I guess is what the Captain is so wisely saying here – if it hurts, it hurts, and you don’t have to pretend it doesn’t because logically you think it shouldn’t.

  3. Jaybeetee said:

    Emotional honesty: it’s what’s for dinner.

    I should be cool with “just friends” – but I’m not.
    I shouldn’t be jealous or upset – but I am.
    I should be totally over this – but I’m not.

    CA’s answers: How about we talk about the stuff you actually feel??

    Remember, all anyone “has to” do is die (and, perhaps, pay taxes).

    • like an angry apple tree said:

      As a frequent feelings-rules-lawyer, thank you for this punchy summation!

      This was a terrific column, and I will reread it. And sometimes I need a shorthand reminder to punch through the having-the-wrong-feelings panic. Like “I should feel x but…” is a red flag.

    • Ixolite said:

      I love how well summarized this is.

      Mine right now would be like…

      I shouldn’t be so terrified to ask Crush out – but I am.
      I shouldn’t be so terrified to move to my new town – but I am.
      I should be cool with being by myself now that my best friend is away – but I’m not.

      Also, seeing those feelings like information and not automatically actionable items is a very helpful perspective. That’s often why we try to deny our feelings, I think – because on the other side of accepting them lurks some action we don’t want to take, and we mistakenly think that accepting the feeling means we *have* to take the action, because Rules and Systems say so.

      But we don’t actually have to act on every single we have, no matter if we think they’re legit feelings or not, feelings are there to be felt first and the rest can be figured out afterwards.

      • misspiggy said:

        Ooh! That is chill-inducingly helpful for me. Thank you.

    • Kat said:

      Also, for #1212, I gotta ask a very much Not-Rhetorical Question:

      When you have self-described jealousy issues, insecurities, and fears around abandonment in relationships — WHY are you choosing to date polyamorously?

      You do know that IT IS OKAY to need monogamy? It is a valid relationship style, and perhaps consider it might be better suited to how you actually feel about/with your partner, in your relationships, than trying to “should” yourself out of your actual feelings and needs?

      IT IS OKAY to need to be important to someone, even to the point of exclusivity.

      Please listen to yourself — your own words and your own feelings. If you feel terribly hurt when your partner has a relationship with someone else, I’m not seeing how polyamory is for you. (Captain Awkward has already addressed how it’s probably not actually about the timing of the reveal.)

      • ISO said:

        It was great to see the Captain’s answer going through the disclaimers and avoiding the trap of turning the question into a poly – vs. mono issue. I think the LW would probably feel (some of the, or all of the, or more of the) same feelings of jealousy issues, insecurities, and fears around abandonment in a monogamous relationship. And then we wouldn’t want the answer to be, hey, have you tried non-monogamy, it would solve so many of your problems!
        Of course it is okay to need monogamy! For those who choose it! But that wasn’t the LW’s question.
        For myself , stepping from monogamy into polyamory, it was a way to open up to my real feelings in relationships and learning to deal with them in a way that was better for me, and I think they will always be present to some degree, because they are a part of the human condition, and we have to learn how to deal with them, no matter our relationship style.
        I really appreciate that that’s the approach I see on this site.

  4. Elizabeth Friar said:

    An interesting series of questions. They remind me of something I had to go through some time ago. I self-identified as Vegetarian. As such, I would sometimes order shrimp. OK, I only eat things without a backbone. And then I would sometimes eat a chicken dish, and feel guilt about it. I broke a rule!

    At some point, I realized that the rules are mine. I own them. No one else needs to hold me accountable. If I want to change the rules, I can. No one else gets to define my rules. You know what? 99% of the time I eat vegetarian. Because *I want to* not because I *should*. I’m not going to rules-lawyer myself.

    Admittedly, this is different than a relationship, where there is one (or more) other person (people) involved, whose wants and needs need to be taken into consideration. But, to me, it comes down to a positive vs. negative form of decision making, i.e., “I can’t eat that” vs. “I will be happier if I don’t eat that.” Rules-lawyering focuses on the negative, i.e., “I can’t eat that for 30 days” vs. “You know what, eating that makes me feel crappy for some time. I’m going to lay off for a bit, so that I feel better in the long run.”

    “Should”s are self-punitive. Instead, ask yourself “What can I do to make this situation better, and me happier, in the long run?

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      it comes down to a positive vs. negative form of decision making, i.e., “I can’t eat that” vs. “I will be happier if I don’t eat that.” Rules-lawyering focuses on the negative,
      Mind blown. Recalculating…

    • Jenny Islander said:

      This, all this.

      I developed a medical condition that required a drastic change in diet or else wheeee, back to the emergency room I go. But for a long time it was so hard to stick to a diet (that I designed for myself!!!) because, like most of us, I grew up being told, constantly, that The Rules are paramount and you must never, ever break The Rules or you are Bad. At the same time, being that sort of kid, I observed for myself that The Rules were actually often baloney. (And also I’m neurodivergent, so sometimes The Rules were impossible, but that’s a whole other rant.)

      So I regarded my diet–that, to repeat, I had designed for myself–as yet another list of Rules that I must inevitably fail to fulfill, because all lists of Rules are at least partly baloney or impossible. And I ate things that were dangerous, or skipped meals, or refused to eat things that improved my health, or what have you, because if I didn’t immediately fall down in pain and have to be taken to the emergency room, it meant that I hadn’t gotten caught.

      I started keeping to my diet after I rewrote The Rules. I threw out the notion of “good” or “bad” food and pushed away all feelings of guilt. I told myself, “These are the things/times/amounts you eat/drink because they feel good and prevent pain and danger.” Last week my spouse brought home a big container of [nope, no way, this is gonna hurt]. And I had a small portion, because I couldn’t stop thinking about how tasty it is, and stopped eating before I hurt myself. And then the family ate up all the rest of it over several days, even though I had ample opportunity to go get more helpings, because every time I opened the fridge I was able to remember, “Hey, that stuff may be tasty, but it’s painful; I can think of three things to eat instead.”

      Because I’d stopped should-ing on myself, life got better.

      • Spicy Onion said:

        When you turn “shoulds” into “coulds” everything becomes “unrules”. Literally. Like, “I should be making a lot of money” Turns into, “I could be making a lot of money … or … maybe I chose to focus my attention onto other things”. Here it could be “I should be following this diet.” turns into “I could follow this diet and feel good, or I could not follow this diet and feel bad” Both are just choices – and there is no shame in either! Changing Should to Could just removes the shame.

        • Forsworn Memorialist said:

          Wow, Spicy Onion, I had completely misunderstood how “shoulds into coulds” was meant to work. I had thought it was about Reframing Obligations into Opportunities with a Positive Attitude and Making Better Choices, which had made even “could” feel desolatingly compliant to me rather than empowering. I had no idea it was about removing shame. Thank you!!!

          The PointyHeadManager *inside* is the most Dilbertesque one.

  5. Nelalvai said:

    @1212, your situation is so much like something that happened to me last year that for a moment I thought my partner had written your letter (nope, different details).
    My story: our relationships with other people ended and we were effectively monogamous for several months. Then one day I visited Partner at his dorm with a big pot of stew, and heard the words “thanks for the stew! I’m dating someone new.”
    I was really upset by how he brought it up. He apologized. I was still upset. What else could he do? Eventually (like last month) I realized I hadn’t been happy with our relationship before that day with the stew. I wasn’t getting enough us-time, I felt neglected and unwanted.
    In polyamory your existing relationships have to be healthy to adjust to new ones. Sick relationships just get sicker. Ours did.
    Take a hard look at how you were feeling *before* the new squeeze came around. And no thinking about fairness or practicality or whether my partner was just really focused on school! And get yourself a copy of More Than Two, it has a lot of good advice on dealing with jealousy.

    • “In polyamory your existing relationships have to be healthy to adjust to new ones. Sick relationships just get sicker.”

      That’s what I was struggling to verbalize. It sounds like the LW wasn’t feeling great about the relationship before. He’s taking responsibility for his feelings of jealousy and the like, which is fine, but it felt a little bit like this relationship was something he was afraid to lose more than something that was a ‘hell yeah this is awsome!’ thing for him.

      Also, I’m not clear from the letter of the LW is also polyamorous himself or if he sees himself as more generally monogamous but okay with being in a relationship with people who are polyamorous. (E.G. a person who is okay with their partner dating others but generally keeps to one partner themselves–I can’t find if there’s a special word for that?)

      I may be totally misreading it, but it sort of felt like a monogamous person who tried dating a polyamorous person and–even before this incident–it just wasn’t really working for him. I feel like there’s a sense (in the letter, not in Cap’s response) that if he decides he doesn’t want to date polyamorous people in the future, that he’s not being accepting enough. But it is totally okay to accept that polyamory is legitimate and that polyamorous people should be free to be in their relationships without harassment, etc. while also deciding that you, personally, are not cut out for dating polyamorus folks.

      • boo bot said:

        I think that the fact that he’s leaving town matters a lot here: part of the deal with polyamory is, if your partner has a new person, that doesn’t mean they’re abandoning or replacing you – but right now, it’s got to feel a little like being replaced because he’s literally going away, while someone new is arriving.

        • TO_Ont said:

          I might be being totally unfair, but to an outsider it does pretty much read as her deciding that since he’s not going to be around much, she needs someone to kind of replace him.

          • boo bot said:

            Oh, yeah, I think that’s true! It’s kind of what I meant, I guess – his position in the relationship is literally being taken by someone else right now. And I feel like that’s sometimes assumed to be a monogamy-only situation: if you’re polyamorous, usually a new partner is supposed to just mean a shift in the status quo, not “oh no, she’s replacing me!”

            But here, she’s actually kind of replacing him, so… of course he feels like he’s being replaced!

            I was responding to the idea that he’s not really polyamorous: the “new partner = I’m being replaced” dynamic is more associated with monogamy, so sure, it sounds like the reaction of someone with that perspective. But because he’s leaving, he and N are actually in a real situation where “new partner = I’m being replaced.” He’s reacting to something that’s really happening, is basically what I mean.

          • johann7 said:

            I’m going to generally apply the sentiment underlying the mod note on “emotional affair” and not do a deep dive regarding how little sense the concept of (not temporary qua a specific, defined period of time e.g. “I’m working on this project in Uruguay for six months,” or, “I’m doing a two year grad program in Canada”) a long distance sexual/romantic relationship makes to me.

          • Turtle Candle said:

            In a lot of ways it’s not even unfair. If physical sex/date night in person/someone to go to concerts with/board games/Netflix parties is important to you, and your someone who does that for/with you leaves physical proximity, it’s completely reasonable to see an alternate. It’s just that in monogamous relationships you break up with absent person first (hopefully).

            The problem isn’t, frankly, that she’s replacing LW for these things. It’s that she’s doing it in an unkind way.

        • Jadelyn said:

          From personal experience, yes. I’ve been poly before, and the biggest difference in my comfort levels with various experiences around my partners having new partners was whether I felt augmented or replaced. And doing it long-distance inevitably, no matter how carefully we implemented things, would kick off my “oh no I’m being replaced” feels.

          Some people can do poly long-distance. Some can’t, or don’t like to, or don’t want to. I’m one of the latter. OP, please understand that if you, too, fall into the latter categories, it doesn’t make you less poly, it doesn’t mean you’ve Failed Polyamory at a conceptual level or you’re a Disappointment To The Movement or anything. It just means this particular configuration doesn’t work for you. You’re allowed to say “You know what, this isn’t working for me” even in a polyamorous relationship. You’re not required to be cool with everything all the time in order to be a Good Polyamorous Partner(tm).

      • hummingbear said:

        litandnovels, the word you’re looking for is “mono-poly relationship.” Those are famously REALLY challenging. Like, polyamory is hard enough if you’re getting something out of it yourself. Mono-poly is all of the suck and none of the fun.

      • trixtah said:

        There’s also the fact that “polyamory” and “open relationship” are not synonymous. Being into polyamory just means you’re open to having multiple relationships. A harem qualifies as a polyamorous relationship.

        However, I think the gf is being completely mendacious about their agreement, and the “invoke the veto clause, if you must” is a ridiculous level of passive-aggressive emotional blackmail would BE a deal-breaker for me.

        One of the things about learning you’re into non-monogamous relationships is to understand that polyamory is not the be-all and end-all of non-monogamy, and even if you do ID with the polyamory label, you STILL have to figure out what that actually means in terms of being “open”, “closed” and when to inform people (if ever) of what you’re up to with other people.

        If this woman would prefer a more open scenario where she’s not required to check in with the LW before shagging someone else, then:
        1. she should grow some gonads and discuss it. At least give the LW the courtesy of deciding whether or not they want to have that kind of relationship.
        2. NOT agree to check and then fail to do so and then try and force the issue back on the LW. Look, I’ve done some awful shit before realising that fooling myself into thinking I could agree to involving my partner(s) in my choice of who and when I will shag was just doing all of us a disservice. But at least I never tried to blame my PARTNERS for my own fuck-ups.

        Me, I won’t have a “veto” clause – I mean, if I happen to be involved with someone who treats my other partner(s) with disrespect, then you SHOULD break up with me (because then I’ll be the arsehole too!). Second, I will inform partners when I’m shagging someone else, but it’s most likely going to be after the event. There are many many many people who are into open relationships or polyamory who would not agree to those terms, and it is absolutely fine they refuse to get involved with me.

        If the LW discussed an agreement in specific terms with the gf, that she in fact did agree to, but ended up not adhering to, nor did she resolve not to do it again in future, then the LW should DTMFA and choose to to be with someone who respects boundaries.

      • Personally, one of my pet peeves is when someone assumes someone else can’t really be polyamorous if they experience jealousy ever.

    • Perlandra said:

      “get yourself a copy of More Than Two, it has a lot of good advice on dealing with jealousy.”

      Franklin Veaux, the co-author of “More Than Two” was abusive to his partners. https://polyamory-metoo.com/

      Well before I found out about that, his https://www.morethantwo.com/jealousypractice.html essay really rubbed me the wrong way. It comes across as very dismissive of the person who is jealous or hurt. All of the responsibility is on them. They aren’t allowed to ask for any boundaries.

  6. Shad said:

    “Also, when we were smart little kids, grownups assumed we would just naturally pick up the knack of dealing with feelings the way we picked up facts about every single famous shipwreck so they forgot to explain them to us”.
    Oh hi my childhood. I got so much “just don’t react to bullies” without any explanation of how I was supposed to do that that managing how emotions turn into action was basically an entire course in my therapy.
    And here’s the super quick takeaway: be honest with yourself. You have feelings and they are allowed and real no matter what reason says. Feelings have causes, but they by definition do not adhere to strict logic. Name them, know them, then decide what to do with them.
    And if a certain string of causes consistently elicits bad/harmful emotions? Maybe the answer is to change circumstances so the causes aren’t there. Whether the problem is a partner who has other partners, the specific other partner, or the way they interact with you around other partners, if it doesn’t work FOR YOU, then change it. Yeah, all you can really change is yourself, but if your surroundings don’t work, you can build a metaphorical tent by asking for what you need from someone else and giving them a (single) chance to listen or you can leave. You don’t have to try to do the impossible work of changing how those surroundings affect you without changing them. Really, you shouldn’t. That’s a good way to disappear.

  7. heffalumps said:

    dear #1213: as someone who has had “emotional affairs” aplenty in the past (untreated depressive disorder! self-medicating behavior! coulda been worse!), this song in particular has helped me come to terms with… pretty much the situation you described more than once. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SN2GeDnZv8
    “all that we can do is smile / it will be like this for a while”
    remember to be kind to yourself.

  8. Tawg said:

    Jumping off from that mention of never being taught how to feelings… Does anyone have a chart that’s like… Body feelings and thought keywords that leads to “this is the word for the thing you’re feeling”? The lil face charts don’t do much for me because I never know what my face is doing.

      • Nine said:

        Why does Shame look like Spider-Man?

        • johann7 said:

          Anthropic Principle: Spiderman’s origin lies in the shame he feels regarding his uncle/guardian’s death, so he picked a motif based on the universal visual representation of shame. 😛

    • mountainshadows299 said:

      I could see where the feelings chart may be confusing or unidentifiable for some people. Honestly, I will say that my physical body feelings usually lead me to my emotional feelings (but no, I’m not sure that there’s a chart for this)… But I have to figure out what triggered the body feeling first. So at some point, I will think to myself, “wow, my chest feels really tight and I’m breathing quickly, what’s that about?” Then I’ll start to trace it back to, “well, I started feeling like that after Sally came by my cubicle and made a rude comment which really made me think she was mad at me for some reason that I couldn’t place and that made me feel upset, afraid, etc,” Quite frankly, a lot of it is general curiosity about my own physical state.

      I say this as a person who has a generally good emotional read on others (my degree is in the social sciences). Part of why I sometimes have to go through the above process for my own feelings, is because I’m often in denial that I’m feeling anything negative OR I know I’m feeling something negative, but I have this self-image of being able to “handle” everything. It’s an old bad habit that I picked up from years of being into peaceful affirmative spiritual practices, being highly empathetic to others, and from years of bullying where I had to sublimate my own desires and reactions for the benefit of others.

      Once I figure out what’s going on though, I really try to be mindful of the source and the cause and my response to it (and also whether I need to preserve the relationship with the individual who is bringing up the negative feelings for me). I don’t always reflect in this way because I’m human, but hey, I try…

      Also, I do tend to see emotions/feelings as more of a personal compass. Like, wow, that person just caused me to feel really angry- why? What do I need to consider about myself here, and what do I need to consider about the other person (situation, etc) here? As I said earlier, general curiosity about why you’re acting or reacting in a certain way, whether it’s physically or emotionally, is often the key to being able to identify what you’re feeling more accurately. (That’s my opinion on it anyway).

    • Well, this isn’t a chart, but you might look into the practice of “focusing” (the specific therapeutic term). There are some good YouTube videos about it, but it’s basically a (light) meditation-based way of noticing and interpreting emotions for those who have a hard time with that. Whereas a chart might be, “tight chest and clenched jaw = anger” (I’m just making that description up randomly), focusing is more like, “I have this tight chest and clenched jaw feeling,” and eventually you figure out that that, for you is anger. Or maybe it’s specifically defensive anger related to your relationship with one person. Or anger, for you, feels orange and sits in the pit of your stomach and reminds you of mushrooms. The point being, emotions can show up physically in different ways in different people. And oddly specific emotions can be a big deal too, for instance for someone with PTSD related to [X], the emotion of Fear Related To X is probably more relevant to their everyday life than, say, the fear you feel when preparing for a hurricane. And they may feel different, physically. In “focusing,” you ask the feeling what it is, but also what it wants. Sometimes you never figure out what it is, in proper terms, but if you’re lucky you figure out what it wants.

      • ggxx said:

        seconding. eugene gendlin wrote the definitive book on this and there are second hand copies still around. it really helped.

  9. Allya said:

    LW1212, in my experience, my jealousy flares up worse when I don’t feel secure in my relationship. Part of that comes from my partner honouring our existing agreements, but part of it also comes from things that are harder to formally negotiate – things like treating me like a priority in their life, making time for me, being with me when they’re with me (so I’m happy to hear a bit about their other partners but if that’s all they want to talk about or they’re constantly checking their phone for messages from them, that’s a problem for me). How is your relationship doing on those counts? Does it feel like your partner is happy spending time with you or do you feel like you’re fighting for her attention at the moment?

    What is your long-term plan for the relationship? I think if it being long distance isn’t a short term thing (and especially if you have no plans at all for it to change going forward) then chances are the nature of your relationship is going to change. I know not everyone likes the primary/secondary partner terminology but if I had to guess, I’d say part of your emotional turmoil is coming from the fact that, since you’re leaving and her new partner isn’t, it feels like he’s going to be taking a place of more importance in her life while your connection with her is weakened (if you use the terminology, then you’re going from a primary to secondary partnership, while he might become a new primary). The bad news is that it’s true your relationship with her is going to change. It has to. The good news is that if you understand explicitly what you want and what you don’t, it’s easier to manage the fear and build a relationship that still works for both of you. Easier, but she has to want it too.

    Has she offered a sincere apology for breaking your agreement? It sounds like maybe she just made excuses to the tune of “I knew you’d be hurt but I did what I wanted to anyway,” which might be part of why you’re having trouble thinking about trusting her again. I do think it’s worth exploring why she felt that telling you beforehand would cause a fight when you claim you would have been fine with it. Being honest with yourself, are there times in the past where you’ve thought you should be fine with something but in your heart you’re not so instead of being honest about how you feel, you create friction around the thing instead? That’s something you might want to work on, especially if you want to pursue polyamory.

    I honestly can’t say whether you should break up or not. I can say that in your position, these are the kinds of questions I’d be asking myself:

    What do I envision our long distance relationship looking like? How often will we chat by text, voice, video? How will we stay connected, eg through creative long distance dates? Do my ideas and desires match her ideas and desires?

    What’s at the root of my feelings of jealousy and betrayal? Do I feel like her new relationship is highlighting areas of lack in our existing relationship? Am I scared that it will cause her to stop meeting my needs, and if so, has it? If I’m worried about being “replaced”, what would that look like? Are my feelings trying to tell me something or, as occasionally happens, is my brain just doing a thing and I need a little time to adjust to the change but otherwise nothing is wrong? Am I *happy* being in a relationship that occasionally makes my brain freak out in this way because the trade offs are worth it and the jealousy isn’t that bad, or would I be happier in a relationship that was less likely to trigger that feeling? If there’s something deeper behind the jealousy, what would it take to resolve it and do I want to do that work? (Does my partner?)

    Since she can’t change the past, what can she do going forward to earn back my trust? Can I imagine a future where we’re happy again, even after everything that’s happened, or am I more focused on how things used to be?

  10. Fleet said:

    To the polyamorous Letter Writer, if you’ll find it helpful to hear random thoughts of another polyamorous person, here are mine.

    My very personal reactions (which are all about me, not not really meant as advice), in no particular order:
    – I don’t think it’s right to agree to something and then go back on it, just because you felt like it.
    – At the same time, I do think that telling one partner every time you plan to have sex with another person you’ve started dating (so not just the first time, but every single time) feels like an agreement that’s very difficult to honour in an ongoing dating situation.
    – I would not personally date somebody who needed to tell their other partner every time we had sex, but, I’d be fine dating somebody who checked in with pre-existing partners before the first time we had sex.
    – If somebody told me that they just knew I’d get angry about something, that would piss me off. If that’s the reason for them lying, I’d be more pissed off.
    – I honestly don’t know how I’d react if a partner agreed to something they didn’t want to (or initially wanted to but then changed their mind?), and didn’t feel they could tell me that they want to change that agreement.
    -I don’t know how I’d react if somebody I love broke my trust. Probably, if it was a long term person who had put a lot of energy over the years into nurturing and supporting me, I’d find a way to forgive them. A lot of good can help me make peace with one bad decision. If it was somebody whose track record was more flaky, I might just write them off. For somebody in between? I think it would come down to what I’m getting out of that relationship, and whether that is something I want in my life and adds positively to my life.

    As far as advice, I don’t have much. I will say, it’s worth considering whether what you and N want different types of relationships. You mentioned that you don’t want to control her love life, but you also did mention that the reason you were upset at not being told in advance about her having sex was that it denied you the chance to have any input. Is it possible that what you want is closer to an emotionally monogamous primary relationship where you only have physical relationships with others with each other’s okay? And if so, maybe a polyam relationship isn’t the one that’ll make you happiest. (This advice is just based off of one letter, so take it for what it’s worth.)

  11. Lily said:

    Polyamorous advice here: #1212, did you negotiate that she’d tell you every time she’d sleep with someone you already know she’s sleeping with? It sounds like you did, and I’d strongly advise you to stop that. It doesn’t give you anything good, you already have the information that she is seeing and sleeping with that guy, and it makes for awkward situations like you went to bed early and get a text at midnight of her, informing you about something you already knew about.
    While you are at it, I’d also suggest you to drop the “tell before” rule at all, because if you hit it off at a party you want to able to just have fun (or her to just have fun) and tell the next morning instead of awkward nightly texts (see above).

    There’s no point in both of these rules/agreements, so I’d suggest something like “information at least the next day (customize that time for you)” and “general information that you’re now dating Apple and body stuff is happening”. That’s all you need to know; of course you’ll likely mention Apple again, in the sense of “we went to a Farmer’s Market that weekend”, but the sexual/relationship disclosure is done then.

    So, I basically see two problematic actions:
    1. She lied to you, by omission or otherwise – but she did so because she was afraid of a fight with you. Why did she think a fight would happen if she told you she’d fuck that guy again? That’s not a thing to fight over. That’s a thing to say “I hope you have a nice time, call you tomorrow” and then to go home and deal with eventually happening feelings yourself. So, assuming that both of you are basically nice people,

    problem 2. is: apparently you’re making your insecure feelings her problem. You need to stop that. It’s okay to tell people (once or twice) how you’re feeling about them dating another person but that should be similar to “How are you feeling?” “Well, I have a headache today” and then you go on and talk about literally anything else. You don’t vomit your fears over them, you don’t make them reassure you (you can ask for a short reassurance but the way to do that is “I’m feeling a bit … right now. would you please tell me you love me?” and not by asking them if they still love you, especially not several times, etc), you don’t make them dissect your feelings or dissect your feelings for them, you just have a nice time with them and later go for a walk/write into you diary/call friends or whatever you do to get over your feelings of insecurity. They are your problem and not hers, and you can’t make them her problem.
    The fact that she was afraid of a fight is a warning signal: you need to manage your feelings in a way that doesn’t put a strain on her.

    So, the way to go from here is: a) acknowledge that you made your insecurities her problem and tell her explicitly that you’ll stop doing that and have started doing X, Y and Z actions to work on your insecurity yourself, b) re-negotiate the agreements/rules of your relationship to something that is more practicable, especially long distance, and c) (comes with a) don’t force them/him to meet you right now. Your insecurities are not his problem either. Stop engaging other people into your self-admonished therapy attempts (and to make it clear, acting as meeting him will stop you feeling insecure will actually exacerbate the problem because the problem are your fears, inside you, and believing something externally will stop them gives them more power). If he is down to meet you during the next days, fine. If not, well, there will be other situations to meet him. I consider it good practice to get to know your partner’s partners, but not everyone sees it that way, and even if they do, “stuff me into your schedule during to next days, urgently, so I can vomit my fears over you, too” is not the way to meet them.

    • Infinity said:

      “Explicit notice and communication before sexual pairings is a discussed rule of our poly relationship,” This statement is not an clear agreement that the partners will notify each other before every sexual encounter. Maybe they actually negotiated to mean that, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they both used that phrase in their discussion and intended different things by it. I certainly would have interpreted this as explicit notice and communication before sexual pairings with a new partner, not before every sexual act.

      I have been “rules lawyered” in the past where a general agreement in casual conversation to “keep each other informed of other people we’re dating” was twisted into “You promised to notify me in advance of each date you have with a new partner (that you’ve already notified me in advance that you were seeing and you’ve communicated updates on the evolution of that relationship). I can’t tell you what I mean by ‘in advance,’ but whenever you tell me about an upcoming date, it won’t be early enough for me. Therefore you are a liar and you violated our rules.” He would get so hurt and angry when I told him about an upcoming date (and I always got told my timing/ method was wrong and therefore I had violated the agreement), that I dreaded telling him about dates and tried to pick a time when I thought he would be least likely to get upset (this didn’t work). I couldn’t get him to pin down what he thought I *should* have done, when he was telling me how wrong I was.
      Eventually, I figured out that my partner was just upset about the fact that I was entering an intense relationship with the new partner and he was afraid of being replaced. He dealt with these insecurities by trying to control me and the situation with an increasingly complex net of rules, making sure I was always the “bad guy” so that whatever painful feelings he had would be my fault. I second-guessed myself and deferred to his interpretation of our “agreement” for way too long. And it took me a long time to realize I never actually agreed to the rules he was imposing and his asking me to agree to that was really inconsistent with all of our other conversations about polyamory and autonomy in our relationship. This rules-lawyering episode almost destroyed our relationship and it is definitely not something I’m going to engage in again. We have agreed that if he thinks I am doing something that goes against his understanding of our agreement (or vice versa), we are going to start with the premise that there has been a misunderstanding and try to work from there, rather than casting the partner as a bad actor to manipulate them into changing their behavior.I think he is also doing a better job of identifying his own feelings and expressing them in a more healthy way.

      • Hushidh said:

        My emotionally abusive ex did a kind of similar thing with me. I was with partner B and we did X thing together, which I didn’t think was especially noteworthy (especially since I promptly forgot about thing X after). Now-Ex questioned me after to see if there was anything noteworthy that had happened, since we agreed we’d share such things, and I said there hadn’t been anything. Next day I remembered a detail about X that I asked partner B about via text, and then promptly forgot about again after getting a response. Ex then snooped in my phone and found out about X and got super angry that I hadn’t told him, and no matter how much I insisted my lack of disclosure had been a misunderstanding about our concept of “noteworthy” and my own perception of what X was to me, my ex insisted that I deliberately deceived him and broke our rules and was furious, and that his own snooping was “wrong but ultimately justified” by what he had found.

        On the other side of things though, I have stayed far, far too long in polyamorous relationships because I have managed to explain away other people’s behavior so well that I completely discount my own experience of the thing. I *shouldn’t* feel jealous, I need *too much*, I AM *too much*, therefore I have no right to ask for anything or bring up anything that bothers me. Both sides of this thing are, unfortunately, very easy to stray into toxic or abusive territory (especially for someone like me who has struggled to set boundaries and tends to default to the ’empathetic to other people’ response).

        • This comment was such a gut-punch I had to screencap and send it to my husband. You put into words something I spent most of last week trying to explain with ” need *too much*, I AM *too much*, therefore I have no right to ask for anything or bring up anything that bothers me.”

          It’s not healthy and I know it, but I have no clear path out of the feelings either.

      • AUGH yeah, when someone tells you that you delivered news/information “wrong”, they’re trying to make you responsible for their feelings. My (abusive) father used to pull this shit all the time.

    • ashbet said:

      I’ve been polyamorous for 20 years, active in various polyam social groups and online forums, and am the admin for a large polyamory community.

      I have observed, over and over, that “I need you to tell me in advance before you have sexual contact with someone you’re already involved with” is a known, repeated, frequent failure point.

      (Note that I have ZERO objection to “let me know if you’re interested in pursuing a new person” or “we need to discuss testing and boundaries before you become sexual with a new partner” — in fact, that’s how I handle things in my own relationship.)

      But, specifically, asking to be informed before each instance of sexual contact is, by its nature, a request that is really prone to encountering human fallibility.

      People get in the moment, they don’t WANT to stop and have a maybe-contentious conversation, and this is a relationship boundary that basically sets people up to fail.

      I’m immune-compromised, I absolutely *cannot* have partners who spontaneously jump into bed with others without testing and discussion (and I don’t expect everyone else to practice my flavor of polyamory, unless they are in a relationship with me), but I don’t have the unreasonable expectation that once they START a new relationship, they need to check in with me about their sex lives with those partners, unless a health/safety issue comes up.

      I’m not blaming the LW for his feelings, it’s HARD to be moving away, hard to feel like he might be replaced in his partner’s affections, hard to feel like their agreement wasn’t respected…

      …but I think he’ll be happier overall if his takeaway from this is that *this particular issue* is probably not an expectation to set in future, if he wants to succeed (in this relationship or others.)

      As I read the letter, it sounds like his girlfriend DID uphold the agreement before the first date/sex with the new guy, but his issue is that she didn’t tell him in advance that she was going to sleep with her new partner again.

      I would also be feeling especially tender and vulnerable before a geographic parting, and it sucks that the timing feels like he’s not getting the time/love/reassurance he wants in the last week before his departure. Those are valid feelings!

      But, yeah, asking for advance notice before sex with an existing partner has been a stumbling block for SO many relationships, and maybe part of the lesson from this painful experience is that it’s a hard standard for most people to live up to, regardless of what happens with this relationship.

      • “I have observed, over and over, that “I need you to tell me in advance before you have sexual contact with someone you’re already involved with” is a known, repeated, frequent failure point.”

        Yeah, this. On top of the person in your girlfriend’s position not wanting to stop a date to have an awkward or contentious conversation, *you* are going to have a rougher night either knowing exactly what’s going on without you or fretting about getting a call. The J’s of the world wind up feeling controlled by the whims of someone they don’t even know. It’s a thing that feels like it will give you more security, and in practice sets you all up for failure.

        That being said, I think the Captain is right to keep the focus on figuring out what you actually want here, rather than on trying to tinker with the rules of your relationship. You’re moving away, it hurts to see your partner hit it off with someone new who’s will geographically be there when you’re gone, and what feels good to your girlfriend feels like cheating to you. If everything else were great I’d just say ditch the rule, but I think right now the bigger question is whether being in a long distance relationship with your girlfriend will actually feel good, or whether you’re just putting off breaking up. It’s ok to put off breaking up until you’re more sure, or have the emotional bandwidth to break things off and heal. But if it feels like that’s the case, at least sit with it yourself and don’t try to put a lot of energy into fixing things, just coast until you can brake.

    • Busy said:

      I am not sure you are reading that letter correctly? I don’t know how to put it into words, but I don’t think this is what is happening? At least not with the part where the partner lied? I think you are making a lot of assumptions there.

      It is funny, because when I read this letter, I was thinking wow these two people aren’t in the right head space/mature enough/well suited for this lifestyle at all. I mean pick any part of it.

      With that said, its like the captain says, no one says the OP can’t feel this way. I am sure you will feel some kind of way if someone told you X, then suddenly switched their mind to Y for reason Z and then later told you because of reason U. I mean I think we can all feel kind of betrayed there. And I think if we wanted to put language to it, it would sound kind of a lot like “Why didn’t she want to spend that time with me?” And honestly there is literally nothing wrong with wondering that or asking that question. It is a valid question. And sometimes that is hard to articulate as the captain points out as well.

      I think this is being overly harsh. I am actually quite surprised that people write into this column when the responses are like this. It doesn’t feel like a totally emotionally “safe place” for really basic questions? I know it has put me off for loooooong periods of time either the captains or the comments section getting overly harsh on OPs about really basic questions on how to navigate bad emotions.

    • Erica said:

      I’ll have to offer up a strong disagree with “drop the ‘tell before sex with a new partner’ rule” – that’s a perfectly reasonable boundary. For one thing, when you’re non-monogamous, any sexual health risk-taking you’re doing doesn’t just affect you, it affects your partner(s), and it’s reasonable to expect to have some input on what level of risk you’re willing to assume. In my past relationships, we had an “It’s okay to let everybody know about X with a new partner afterward, but no Y or Z with someone new unless everybody knows the sexual health situation” rule. It cut down on spontaneous fun at parties with people we had just hit it off with, but that wasn’t a risk-reward ratio I was willing to accept.

      If LW has decided, for health reasons or emotional reasons or whatever, to put up that boundary, that’s the right decision for them and compatible partners will be okay with that.

  12. Emma9 said:

    SportsClub LW:

    I like the Captain’s idea of hosting your own events, which he cannot see and will not know about, but bear in mind: he also presumably knows how social media works and how blocking works. He knows that since you can’t see him, there’s a chance he will show up to a thing and there you’ll be.

    Making his decisions about whether to go or not go given that is his lookout, not yours.

    Without more information about what the social events entail, I can’t say whether there’s potential for ignoring each other from opposite sides of the crowd if y’all both do come, but if there is, I don’t think it would necessarily be a bad thing to risk it.

    FEELINGSTEXT aside, he’s the one who seems to be sending very clear ‘stay away’ signals in all this, so I don’t think he would voluntarily engage with you, and I think you’re wise enough not to engage with him.

    One thing I would do your utmost to remove from your considerations is your worry about him being ‘isolated’. If he would rather stay away from club events than be exposed to you, that’s his choice. If he fades out of the friend circle because of this, that’s his choice. His social life, his feelings, his mental state, his marriage = not things you could manage for him even if you were still friends, SUPER not the case now.

    • 1213 said:

      I made an update post, but it may have gone AWOL. This is really good insight based on what I wrote to the Captain, but I was also self-blaming and deeply in my feels when I wrote it. Events have transpired that have shifted the management of things a bit, and clarified for me why it all went as wrong as it did.
      I’m sticking to the Caps advice as much as I can, within my power.
      I had blocked him already before Caps response, which is good, because he had FEELINGSREGRET very shortly after blocking me, unblocked me, couldn’t see me, had feelings about that, and it just came to light he was using a ghost account to follow me. A lot. So….. more information for me to deal with.
      Everything’s private now. It hurt and was borderline scary but now I’m clearer.

    • emil86nl said:

      I got the impression that they got some kind of (implicit) agreement about dividing their social circles. She got the sports club, he got other meetings with mutual friends. If this was a situation where they could just ignore each other/not engage, then I don’t see why he couldn’t come to official club meetings as well. It’s just that LW would like to go to friend meetings if he’s not there. The other way around, I think he would go to the club if for some reason she wouldn’t be there (and he’d know about it). So if my take is right, the question is more “how can I know which mutual-friend-meetings are without him”, and I think the captains answer is fine, just assume he’ll be there and steer clear of anything where he might be present, just as he is steering clear of club meetings.

      I agree she doesn’t have to go with this setup, she has no obligation to him to “give” him friend meetings. But if you both feel you need to be seperate and can’t (or don’t want to) handle going to the same events, I think that dividing up events is not a bad idea. And to me it looks like his telling “I won’t go to the club anymore” (“, but will go to different events”) kind of is a proposal to do just that. Not really an agreement yet, but if LW also feels they need to avoid each other, and that this is a fair division, it may be best to just go with it.

      • 1213 said:

        I wrote this letter after a race we both attended, 4 days after his FEELINGSBOMB. I reference the time bc 4 days is not nearly enough time for dust to settle, which I knew. I knew he’d be there, I presumed from the letter that he would not want to talk/interact, and I planned to just be busy elsewhere the whole time.
        He came over and talked to me, twice. Held onto my hand when he high fived me when I came in first.
        I was confused. First, feelings and blocking, then… pretending things are normal. Not okay.
        Since then things have become more clear. But I wrote this from a very hurt and confused place. What were the rules? I thought I was abiding by them, but he came and talked to me in moments I could not get away (ie literally the race lineup before the start sounded)

  13. Emma9 said:

    College LW:

    I definitely know the feeling of having a person in your life who you like just fine and they act like they like you just fine and are never anything but perfectly pleasant and there’s no rational reason to think they’re quietly looking down on you…but when you spend time with them, you get the impression that that’s what’s happening.

    Setting aside time spent with your friends and her friends (sidebar: are you in a place with any of your friends where you can say “Can we please not make ‘jokes’ about my relationship or lack thereof with Carroll, and in fact my relationships or lack thereof in general, because I’m still working out where I am on those subjects?”? I hope you are, and if you are, I think you should.), when you’re alone with her, do you *feel* happy and relaxed and like you can be yourself? Is the prospect of more of such time appealing?

    I would suggest factoring this into your internal examination of what you actually *want* out of this situation.

    • Turqoise Dragon said:

      #1211, Not attempting to diagnose anything, just remembering a thing. I had diagnosed but untreated Seasonal Affective Disorder going into my freshman year of college. It was summer, so I didn’t think much of it. Until January, when I became convinced my new boyfriend just couldn’t figure out how to dump me, my friends were wishing I would leave so they could start on the fun, and I was crying myself to sleep every night. And then I went to talk to the health center, and they bought me a light box, and a week after I started using it, it turns out that my brain lies to me really well – but only when I don’t have enough (real or fake) sunlight. Treating my SAD with a light box has meant that for the past fifteen years, I have been a reasonably functioning adult even in the winter — and that boyfriend hasn’t dumped me yet. 🙂
      LW, I really hope that using your words can help you figure out this situation. If you want to be in a relationship with her, ask. But if you don’t want to be in a relationship with her, and you’re just worried that she’s being weird about it . . . . your brain might be making things up. I don’t know that you have to do anything about that. You can just ignore it.

  14. Snailiana Grande said:

    1213- I have been in a similar situation, and the Captain’s advice is extremely, extremely good. I also want to tell you that this shame, hurt, confusion and anger you’re feeling- it scabs over, and the wound will scar, a bit, because it’s deep and probably a bit infected (mine was, to stretch the metaphor, particularly gangrenous by the end), but it will eventually be just something that happened to you, a long time ago. Be kind to yourself. Some time in the future, maybe not soon but (if you follow the Captain’s advice) definitely coming, you’ll just have a scar and a story.

    I’m rooting for you.

    • 1213 said:

      Thank you. The comments about “should” really strike home. I keep thinking that I shouldn’t feel so bad. It’s wild how much it hurts. I know time heals all wounds, but big old yikes on being stuck in the moment.

  15. PintsizeBro said:

    Hey Captain, thanks for giving relationship advice that is sensitive to polyamory. As a longtime reader, I appreciate the advice for its own sake, but also because too often the alternative elsewhere is polyamory advice that may or may not work for the people and relationship(s) involved.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m trying! The community of readers has so many people who articulate all of it so thoughtfully, so sometimes I post the questions because I know I’ll learn something new.

  16. I am so glad this is being addressed. I feel like most the conversations with my friends struggling in relationships (romantic, sexual, and platonic) are mostly me saying “I don’t care what you *think* about this situation – what do you *FEEL* about this situation?” and them arguing with me about how “stupid” their feelings are.

    For #1212: I’ve been in the ethical non-monogamy world for a few years and if I had a dollar for everyone I met who was “practicing ethical non-monogamy” of any sort because they *think* this is how relationships *should* work based on their values/politics/beliefs OR as an unacknowledged work-around to get some needs met – I’d have a lot of dollars.

    I have met people who thrive in non-monogamy/polyamory* – this isn’t a case against it. But you do have to be really, really honest with yourself and figure out how you actually FEEL and what you truly NEED to be happy – *without judgement.* Autonomy and sex positivity and communication are all great – but I think in these situations they are taken to the extreme and Having Needs is misinterpreted to Being Controlling. Forcing someone to meet your needs is controlling. Acknowledging and honoring your needs (often by walking away from people who don’t meet them, and opening yourself up to finding people who do) is self care.

    [*I am not one of these people. Non-mongamy is work-around for when I am single, no one has romantic feelings for each other, and everyone is emotionally mature.]

    • Vicki said:

      Yes. Don’t prioritize the relationship as a thing above the people who are in the relationship, and don’t prioritize a hypothetical relationship shape above either the people or the actual relationship. The only meta-rule I would offer for ethical non-monogamy is also a good rule for ethical monogamous relationships: you get to decide what kind of relationship(s) you want, but you *and your partners* are the ones who define the actual relationship(s) you’ll have with them. If your core needs can’t fit together, that doesn’t mean that you are doing something wrong or unkind *to* the other person, or vice versa.

      Communication is a tool, a valuable one, but you can’t communicate what you need, or want, or don’t need but would like, unless you know what those things are. Sometimes it may be “I don’t know what I think until I see what I say,” but if you’re that kind of person, do pay attention to what you hear yourself saying.

      • Nanani said:

        “Don’t prioritize the relationship as a thing above the people who are in the relationship”

        This is broadly applicable to so many things – family structures, hobbies, even entire governments.
        How much nicer a place could the world be if we stopped putting abstract structures ahead of people

        • Emmers said:

          A lot of people have told me lately: don’t worry about your marriage. Worry about the people in it.

          It’s a helpful reframing.

    • Sarah said:

      Your first paragraph sums up my first year trying to date while in therapy.

      “We broke up, but this is good information to have! Now I know he does not want x thing and I do not want y thing and it makes absolute sense not to be together anymore since those are dealbreakers! This is good news!”

      “Okay, sure, but um…breaking up can’t feel *good*, right?”

      “Well, no, but look! Now I know a new thing!”

      LWs, it is SO IMPORTANT to listen to your feelings and not argue with them. You can have them and not let them rule your life! You can have them and act in ways that align with what your core values are, even if that core value is nearly-Spock-level logic. Because your feelings are actually facts about how you’re experiencing the world, and you can weigh them as facts. (This does not mean you get to use your feelings and apply them as facts to other people, nor does it mean you get to use your feelings and apply them to large-scale social systems, but it does mean that you can use them to determine who you spend time with and how.) What if your facts were “I feel bad about x” and also “Feeling bad means there is a problem” and also “If x makes me feel bad, how do I avoid x?”

      Feelings. They’re actually good for you to have, and they’re valuable information.

      • 1213 said:

        Thank you, I’ll remember this. I think I often treat facts and feelings as different categories. Combined with the “shoulds,” I’ve got all sorts of heart mess to tidy up.

    • purps said:

      Yep. I realized I was allowed to just bail on polyamory (which, never let someone guilt you into a relationship style you hate, oh well) when I realized I kept thinking “but how do people manage all this open, honest communication while holding in the words I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS AT ALL AND ACTUALLY HATE IT? Where’s the advice on how to be polyamorous while resisting the urge to say that that in every relationship conversation?”

  17. -offer of Internet Blanket Fort for all LWs as they process their feelings-

  18. Jen F said:

    “So many of us were raised to question our own perceptions and put ourselves last, so I’m gonna fight that impulse wherever I see it.” Yeah, so I need to hear this a billionty more times. Right now I am lucky if I IDENTIFY the impulse hours afterward, much less actually fight it in the moment, so I have a ways to go. And it’s always worse when I’m around my bio family, reverting to type. I am getting better at it, little by little. Definitely want to sit with that phrase for awhile and see what happens

  19. LoquaciousWug said:

    Hi Cap,

    I always love how you treat polyamorous advice. I’m nonmonogs but have a lot of polyamorous burnout.

    What I came here to say is that since you don’t run in poly circles, you might not be aware that the author of More Than Two has been called in to an accountability process regarding patterns of abuse and harm he has caused. The harm specifically throws into a new light his works and “expertise”, and I know you are very conscientious with your platform and who you recommend, so I thought I would let you know.

    If you are interested in reading about the transformative justice process or the survivor stories, here is a good place to start: https://medium.com/@fv.survivor.pod/on-light-and-shadow-polyamorys-metoo-411e0275c2fe

    Thanks as always for the great work you do untangling Nerd Feelings and faulty programming. ❤

    • JenniferP said:

      I appreciate this, I definitely do not follow the gossip in the circles. How awful.

    • Quick note to say that Veaux is the co-author of More Than Two, not the sole author, and that one of his ex-partners (and one of the survivors), Eve Rickert, is the other co-author.

      • Eve said:

        Thank you for that correction, nothingintheverse.

        • JenniferP said:

          Yes, thank you! How awful for her!

  20. Queerperson said:

    As someone who has done a little polyamory and a lot of moving, I think 1212’s situation is probably happening because moving is horrible and traumatic and always causes tons of anxiety and problems in your relationship. It is much easier to obsess about some shit your partner did than to face the reality that your life is about to be totally different and you have no idea how and this is way harder and more expensive than you thought it would be. Yes, the partner fucked up, but also you will be 1000% happier if you focus on having some end-of-the-world sex, taking care of your mind and body, doing the move, and settling into your new plac. You can revisit the relationship problems, if you still have a relationship and you still have problems, when the dust settles.

  21. Thanksforallthefish said:

    LW 1212

    This sounds like the situation was: I showed up to do a thing we planned that would involve spending time together, she bailed on me last second with a lie, turns out she ditched time with me to hook up with new guy.

    That’s just rude. Even if “ride into work” isn’t a proper DATEtm, it’s still an arranged spending of time together on busy schedules and she re-prioritized a different person over you AND betrayed some of your basic agreements. Not cool.

    Jedi Hugs if you want them.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      That was my take too. I cannot imagine a relationship in which that is okay.

    • Hrovitnir said:

      Yeah, honestly, the whole thing is pretty upsetting. OP wanted to meet J, OP had communicated extra fragility, girlfriend drops OP to hang out with J and *lies about it* – and the thing that gets me is that if OP and girlfriend were going to hang out and it turns out J is free that was actually a potential opportunity for them to meet! Like. Why? 😦

      /person who’s polyamorously orientated but has been monogamous for a long time and finds monogamy kind of jealousy-inducing? My partner’s ex was being super weird and trying to meet up with him and refusing to meet me and it was really unpleasant… and even with a bunch of crappy behaviour all round finally meeting her made me feel way better pretty much immediately so boy do I relate to OP.

    • Devin said:

      Not sure, there. It kinda sounded like there was a ride from LW’s place to her place? And then maybe the ride on to work was, you know, “since I’m in the car anyway” more than actual social time. If it’s just a practical thing, then changing plans when her work-plan changes makes perfect sense.

      It does look pretty bad, especially with the didn’t-want-to-argue-so-I-dodged-ya thing, though.

  22. Vicki said:

    LW 1212:

    Long-distance can work (I’ve been in a long-distance relationship since 2003), but it’s not the easy setting. It’s okay to decide that you don’t want to turn your local relationship into a long-distance one.

    I’m not sure there is a good answer to your “how can I trust her again?” because trust isn’t entirely volitional, and there’s less to build it on now than there was a few weeks ago. You asked for specific things to help with your insecurity, she said yes, and then didn’t do that. And she said that she did it that way because if she talked to you beforehand you’d have been unhappy and there would have been a fight.

    The question here is something like, what if anything can she do to help you trust that this won’t happen again, that if she says “OK” when you ask for something, she’ll stick to that. Maybe she has an answer that would be good enough, for you and from her–but it’s something to ask her, if you want to stay in this relationship.

    • Fewer people need to ask, “How can I learn to trust someone who violated my trust before?” and more people need to ask, “how can I figure out if someone is trustworthy and then act wisely based on what I’ve learned?”

      Similarly, people (and institutions like, oh I dunno, local police departments, school administrators, a certain church everybody’s mad at right now) need to stop asking, “How do we get people to trust us again?” and need to *start* asking, “What do we have to do to become a genuinely trustworthy institution / group of people? How can we fix the problems that led us to betray the public’s trust in us in the first place?”

      For LW 1212, unfortunately I don’t think his girlfriend is asking herself how to fix the problems that led to her betraying LW’s trust. Nor is she asking how to become more trustworthy in the future.

      Which is rough. It…kinda sucks. I don’t really see a way out of it.

  23. Cec said:

    Wanting to drop in as an “Experimented with poly, firmly put myself in monogamy-land” person. I reallllyyy had beef with More Than Two. While it has some good concepts… it blows straight by “Should you actually be poly?” and lands straight into “How can I browbeat my reluctant partner into being fine with it.”. As the less poly-inclined one I felt like it was trying to talk myself out of every boundary and feeling I had, because of insecurity, or not being evolved enough. The recent stories coming out from his exes definitely support this – his partner who insisted her boundary was not to live with any other of his partners…. partner moves in. I think its potentially a great book IF everyone involved is very emotionally aware and great at communication and most importantly, acting in good faith… but a lot are not.

    • Kaila said:

      I feel exactly the same. There’s a paragraph at the end that says, “If you’re lonely, get a dog.” I was so insulted by that. I hope his partners and the co-author are getting the support they need

    • purps said:

      As someone whose poly experiences were seriously poisoned by involving partners who were of the genre “This Fucking Guy ™”, it’s interesting to see that Veaux was also apparently a This Fucking Guy ™. Polyamorous or monogamous, “you choose to be upset by me upsetting you” is… sure a move.

    • E.C. said:

      So very much agreed. I was zero percent surprised when I read the “Polyamory’s #metoo” link. Reading Veaux’s own essays about the failure of his marriage, my gorge rose at the way he bemoaned how his wife was so ~limited~ that she couldn’t embrace his unilaterally moving his other partner in with them and simply ~refused~ to view spending time with him and his new partner as functionally equivalent to couple time.

  24. Oof to the asexuality feels at the end there. I identified as asexual and more-or-less aromantic for nine years– from age sixteen, when I first discovered the term, felt very seen and relieved, and began ID-ing as asexual among friends, to age 25, when many things in my life changed, mostly for the better, and I began feeling sexual attraction…and feeling guilty about it.

    Two things helped. One, I began watching the YouTube show “Sexplanations” beginning with the episode on asexuality. In the episode, Dr. Doe, the sexologist and host, gave a lot of factual, ace-positive information and answered viewer questions like, “I’m asexual, but I’m really interested in sex education; is that okay?” She was very encouraging about how nobody should be the “label police” and that “curiosity is for everyone.” With that sort of, er, official permission to keep the asexual ID while exploring sex and embracing curiosity, I watched almost every episode, read recommended books like ‘Come As You Are’ by Emily Nagoski and ‘The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability,’ and began seeking out self-pleasure tools and safe people to explore with who were in a similar place. (I had the most success on OKCupid, where it seemed easier to find people who had honest conversations over chat about where we were at and what we wanted, and how we could respect each other’s boundaries; I still had asexual in my bio at that time.)

    The other thing that helped was reading Malinda Lo’s essay about coming out twice– first as a lesbian, then as bisexual. She linked to an ‘Oprah’ episode about sexual fluidity with people talking about how their sexuality changed over time. Not from a religious, “pray away the gay” perspective, but from a perspective that our bodies aren’t necessarily logical. Like, you can’t “rules-lawyer” your orientation just like you can’t rules-lawyer your feelings.

    All this context helped me understand that I wasn’t lying to myself (or others); neither was I repressing my sexuality. My sexuality just…changed. And that’s fine, and it happens to a surprising number of people.

    Hopefully this info helps other asexuals in a similar position 💜

    • +1

      In the queer community, I think we’ve really embraced the ‘born that way’ narrative. It’s totally understandable, especially in reaction to people who have tried to tell us we can just try to not be queer or that our identity is ‘just a phase’. Some people definitely experience their sexuality as something fixed that doesn’t really change over their life (I’m one of them so far, for that matter). But I do think that narrative risks ignoring or downplaying people whose experience of sexuality or identity is more fluid.

      • Yes. I’ve been somewhat increasingly concerned about the impulse to downplay diverse experiences or nuance on the grounds that acknowledging that diversity within our group can be used as a weapon against our group as a whole by people who are antagonistic towards us.

        Whether it’s, “well, her sexuality changed, so why can’t yours?” Or “that non-binary person doesn’t want HRT / surgery, so why should insurance cover it for you?” That’s an awful thing that people do, but our response can’t be, “tell the people with divergent experiences to hide or keep it to themselves.” We need to honor diverse experiences while still fighting for our rights. It’s tough though.

        • Inahc said:

          I really like the comics at Assigned Male that cover this stuff 🙂 they helped me reframe some stuff in my own head and just, like, legitimize this stuff? Somehow seeing it in a comic makes it feel more real to me.

          (Off topic: is anyone else having issues with this form forgetting their name/email? I’m sad I can’t remember the capitalization that got me a nice gravatar before. Maybe I should get around to setting an official one.)

        • It is tough. I honestly think that the hardest single thing about organizing for social change is that groups tend to fracture on themselves so easily. A lot of times, it seems like opposing people don’t even have to do anything directly to get groups to break up internally.

          It’s a weird balance! On one hand, if you’re not careful, you can end up with a cult of personality that treats big name leaders of a movement as sacred and defends them even if they do horrible things (and in that scenario, you often get big groups that marginalize certain parts of the population it’s meant to support). On the other hand, you can end up with groups breaking up hopelessly fighting over small points that are less important than the big picture everyone agrees on.

          I dunno how you fix that, honestly.

    • Anon for this! said:

      “you can’t “rules-lawyer” your orientation”

      Goddess, I wish someone had told me that at 19!

      Fun Fact: Genitals don’t listen*. No matter HOW many times you say you just want a conventional husband and kids, they will keep right on only getting physically aroused by women if that’s what they want!

      It took me 10 years and, oddly, a brief thing with one of the handful of men who *does* make my bits go zing, to own that. I waver between bisexual and lesbian as an ID now… lesbian is easier in a lot of ways but it excludes the 1% of my sexuality that goes “him? ok, yeah.”

      TMI/CW for physical description of arousal below…

      * In all my m/f relationships, I had massive issues with lubrication. I did not get “wet” at all – didn’t even really understand what other vagina-having people meant by that. It wasn’t until my first encounter with a woman (reader, I married her) that I understood. When I eventually told my wife about this, she laughed until she cried. I am, well, more than sufficiently self-lubricating with her.

      • Oh whoa. That’s awful; I’m sorry. I’m glad you finally found your wife though!

        I think it’s definitely true if your orientation is anything other than straight, there’s a lot of external pressure to figure out a way you might possibly *could* be straight if at all possible.

        And I think there should also be more taught about the distinction between sexual and romantic orientation. Not sure if that was your situation, but I know it can be hard for some people who fall in love with someone of a given gender but just aren’t sexually attracted to that gender. Or are asexual but not aromantic– a lot of aces in that situation feel ashamed or think they have a sexual dysfunction, when in fact they’re just asexual and there’s nothing wrong with that.

        • PrettyMuchGay said:

          Oh yeah, the difference between romantic attraction and sexual attraction messes with me all the time. I am romantically attracted to other men but sexually attracted to some degree or another to just about everyone. I ID as gay because that feels right to me, especially because I’m in a currently monogamous marriage with a guy, but there is definitely a part of me that screams, “dude, you should probably call yourself pan if you want to be honest.”

  25. hummingbear said:

    Another long-term poly person chiming in here with two things that jump to mind. These are just my observations but they’ve rung true over 10 years or so.

    First, I’ve noticed that people who are doing nonmonogamy because Logically It’s A Good Idea or they think it’s more evolved or their partner pressured them into it are the ones who tend to flame out when things get tough. For me, there are moments when I get annoyed or frustrated at the drama and logistics – but the concept of going back to monogamy is laughably unimaginable, it’s like the concept of moving to Saudi Arabia or the moon. Monogamy felt like a prison for most of my life; it’s not optional for me. I also really, truly don’t feel sexual jealousy – time and attention, yes, sex, no. I’m sure this helps. 🙂

    I think of poly kind of like having a career in the arts: you’d better REALLY REALLY want it and find it painful to imagine doing anything else. If you’re *not* that person and you mostly are doing this for your partner, it’s ok to opt back out!

    Second, I’m one of those curmudgeons who is pretty anti-rules. The more rules you feel the need to have, the less confident you are that the other person will take loving care of your feelings *on their own*, because they care about you, and not because of a rule.

    There’s this great Andrea Zanin piece that sums this up really well and which I will excerpt at length:

    “Here’s the thing. Rules have an inverse relationship to trust. They are intended to bind someone to someone else’s preferences. They are aimed at constraint. I will limit you, and you will limit me, and then we’ll both be safe.

    When two people are well matched in their values, and have strong mutual trust, they don’t need a rule to know how they’ll each behave. I mean, how many times do you hear “I’ll agree not to kill anyone if you agree not to kill anyone, okay? That’ll be our rule. No killing.” Of course not. Psychopaths aside, this kind of thing need not be said; we can assume that everyone shares the value of “killing people is bad and I will not do it.”

    But it’s not the least bit uncommon for “poly couples” to create elaborate sets of rules to keep each other strictly bound to only behave in ways that are not scary, not dangerous, and not threatening to the primary bond… The more rules you put into place, the more you are indicating that you don’t trust the person subject to those rules to operate in a considerate fashion with your shared values at heart. Or, on the reverse, you are indicating that you need to be under strict supervision, failing which you will shit all over your partner’s well-being. If you have to legislate something, it’s because you don’t expect it to happen sans legislation. This is a sad state of affairs in what are ostensibly supposed to be loving, possibly long-term relationships…

    …rules are best when they are used quite sparingly, and even then, only when other solutions are unavailable.

    What other solutions am I talking about? Trust. Plain and simple. Trust is the soil in which polyamory should grow, much like any other kind of love. Say what you mean, always, and all of it. Follow through on your commitments. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Assume positive intent. Ask questions. Listen, listen, listen.”

    (it’s so good and worth reading all of it!)

    link: https://sexgeek.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/theproblemwithpolynormativity/

    • Emma9 said:

      Disclaimer that I am neither polyamorous nor particularly experienced in defining relationships in general, so I could be wildly off-base, but it seems to me that ‘rule’ is a term some use loosely.

      So not rules in the sense of laws, “You must not do X or there will be consequences”, but more along the lines of preferences. Since every polyamorous person (every *person*, for that matter) has their own personal boundaries and comfort levels, I think a frank establishment of what your partner wants and needs from you (and honesty as to whether *you* can and want to meet those wants and needs) is better than assuming that if you love and trust one another, you’ll automatically know what behaviors would hurt the other person.

    • This is really insightful. I’m not poly at all, but that essay was really powerful.

    • Violet Rose said:

      This explains something I’ve been slowly discovering for myself recently. For context, my current partner and I are sexually non-monogamous in very specific circumstances, and through a combination of watching him and exploring my own feelings, I realise that I care a lot less about what he actually *does* and a lot more about the *approach* of everyone involved. For example, I got really uncomfortable when he was simply spending
      lot of time with a particular person because I felt like I was in danger of being replaced – turns out she had zero respect for me or our relationship, so my intuition was clearly trying to tell me something. Meanwhile, Partner can get suuuuper flirtatious with some of his female friends, and I don’t think twice about it because they always check in to say “Hey, is this cool?” Even beyond the *act* of checking in, the mere fact that they care enough *to* check reaffirms the trust I have in Partner and his friends.

  26. I've been cheated on too said:

    One of the things about a successful poly relationship is that, when it works, none of the parties feel like an encounter or a relationship is “cheating.” You feel safe, you partner feels safe, their/your partners feel safe. In this current configuration, you don’t feel safe—because your trust in your partner has been diminished—and she doesn’t quite feel safe either—see: hiding things to avoid a fight. (And yes, she might be sneaking around to get what she wants out of the situation with limited or delayed blowback….or she might be avoiding a fight because she doesn’t want a fight. Either her feels aren’t safe, or yours aren’t.)

    If you feel cheated on, it’s because she violated the terms of your relationship agreement with you; she cheated. And now you have to grapple with that, and decide if you want to try to mend your feelings about it (not manage her behaviour, because you can’t control her behaviour and what she shares with you or when), or if you want to use this geographical split to be a relationship split as well. There’s no right answer that someone can hand you; on the plus side, you get to decide if this is all worth it to you.

    • Erica said:

      Yes! to your second paragraph. In my first open relationship, “Barrier protection, always” was an established, hard rule. We used it together and that was explicitly the expectation with other partners as well. And yet, my partner was “so surprised” that I was upset when he told me after the fact that he’d been going barrier-free with someone. I was upset because he cheated! LW, you are upset and feel cheated on because she cheated on you.

      Lots of people are telling LW that “always tell *before* every sexual encounter, even with pre-existing partners” is an unsustainable boundary. I just want to let LW know that that might be good information going forward but it doesn’t invalidate your feelings of being cheated on right now. It may be true for some people (it was never a problem for me), just like monogamy is unsustainable for some people; but self-control exists, and “Disclosure before every encounter is unsustainable!” is just as crappy of an excuse as “Monogamy is unsustainable!” for cheating. It really would not have been hard for N. to hold off on having sex with J. until *after* talking to you about changing the boundary, and she chose not to do that because she didn’t want to give you a chance to say “That’s non-negotiable for me.”

  27. Nanani said:

    1213: 100% seconding the Captain’s advice about the sports club activities being YOURS NOW.
    Definitely do NOT let this messy situation kick you out of your sports club. Do not let anybody in the middle push you out. Do not let some vague notion of taking one for the team push you out of YOUR hobby.
    Not even if he’s “the stronger athlete”.

    Maybe it’s different where you live, but in my experience co-ed sports venues that are actually welcoming to women (as opposed to “it’s really centered on the dudes but girlfriends can tag along I guess”) are rare and precious.
    If you need and want to step away, that’s one thing, but it sounds like Dude is the one stepping away. The space is yours.
    Anyone who tries to push you out of the sport in order to lure him back in is being shitty – you didn’t mention that happening but, let’s call it a premonition. There is no Temptress Penalty in any modern sport. Don’t let them invent one.

    Signed, I Don’t Know Shit About Relationships But I Have Opinions On Sports For Adults And Gender Dynamics Therein

    • 1213 said:

      Hey! 1213 here.
      I’m an UltraRunner/Trail Runner. It’s really nice to have words from someone who cares about Sport. I am also a nerd in the traditional sense of the word, but “I ran 50km on Friday as a tune up for my big race” is not generally well understood outside the ultra running world.

      Almost-Ran is really active in this world. Like. Expect him to be borderline famous for this community in 1-2 years. It’s a weird place to have been his #1, joined at the hip, those two are going places partner, and now feel like I’m not invited. I’m throwing energy at counseling, my marriage, myself… but I don’t want him to win that space. I deserve to be there too. So thanks for the sports encouragement. Girls be winners too.

  28. lasslisa said:

    LW1212,

    I got through your whole letter on the mis-reading that you were moving away and *therefore going to be ending the relationship*. And in that context everything made perfect sense – you’re going away, and your partner is going to become distant from you both physically and emotionally, so they are preparing by distancing from you now, to get ready for the move. My high school boyfriend and I spent less and less time together as we began to get ready to go away for college; that sort of thing is fairly typical behavior when you see an end point in the near future.

    But it sounds like you think the relationship is not ending, only going to long distance. To make that work, you will definitely need to have a clear vision, along with your partner, of what that means and how you will keep your relationship alive in its new form. You won’t be able to keep the exact same relationship you have now, and it sounds like your partner is seeing your future role as a more distant, lower-intensity relationship than you may have had in mind.

  29. Geeky long-time polyamorist here, to chime in on 1212!

    I am reminded of an experience from my younger years. I was married and had just started dating T. T then met A, and they hit it off majorly, but A was leaving on a year-long study abroad thing within a few weeks. I nobly informed both of them that I would back off and give them time to be together before A left. They took me at my word, shockingly enough, and I became incredibly jealous. After beating myself up for the jealousy (couldn’t my heart SEE that I was being NOBLE and SELF-SACRIFICING??) and some regrettable posts to social media, I ended up hanging out with A, finding out for myself that they were really pretty awesome, and *poof* the jealousy was gone.

    I don’t like absolute Rules in polyamory, for me at least, because of that uncertainty and the layers of complexity that arise when in relationships with multiple people. I do my best to act within certain guidelines, and if those guidelines get crossed or feelings start getting hurt, then it may be time to put things on pause and it is ABSOLUTELY time to sit down and talk more. We can’t always know what will trigger our lizard brain or what will calm it down. You seem to have a good handle on why you are feeling the way you are, which is a great start.

    I have a couple of questions that might clarify things for you, LW. First, has your rule of “explicit notice before sex” has been exercised before or if it has been theoretical until now? Lots of those sorts of rules can sound great in theory but get awkward and anxiety-inducing when comes time to put them into practice. Limerence makes it even harder! I am tempted to give N the benefit of the doubt on this one, at least until/unless it proves to be a pattern – but it is valid for you to be upset, because she did hurt you, even if she didn’t mean to. Trust is not an on/off binary – damaging it once doesn’t mean Everything is Ruined Forever, but rather there’s a thing that needs to be talked through. How she moves forward from this will also tell you a lot. Did she acknowledge she hurt you and apologize? If not, did you give her room to feel safe doing so?

    The second question is whether you and N have discussed what your relationship expectations will be once you’ve moved. “Long-distance” can mean a lot of things, from the once-a-month Skype call to check-ins every night and visits every weekend. If nothing else, the rule about notice before sex may need to change if you aren’t constantly in contact. If you haven’t talked about this, establishing a baseline for regular contact might calm some of your fears. Or it might reveal that one or both of you are not up for a long-distance relationship.

    Due to my experience above, I do really think you should meet J, if just to hang out. It might make things better, or not, but it should give your jerkbrain less room to spin a tapestry of all your worst fears. More information is good, even when it’s not the information you want.

    TL:DR because I got so verbose:
    Question 1: has your rule been exercised before r has it been theoretical up until now? If the latter, I have a lot more sympathy for N’s position.

    Question 2: Have you and N discussed what your LDR will look like in terms of when, how, how often you will be in contact? Uncertainty about the future could be bleeding into, well, everything else, and making it even messier.

  30. LW 1213 said:

    Hi all – LW 1213 here.

    I have been doing the things the Captain suggested since sending in that letter. I was still pretty deeply rocked by the message AlmostRan (an appropriate name – our club is a running club) when I sent in my letter, and obviously full of Feels.

    I blocked him back, as I thought that would be a good idea to keep the boundaries in place. I took him at his word that Club was mine and had 3 good weeks of going. It was still stressful to think he might change his mind, but I went. He continued on with plans we made together and I got to see other people’s social media with him in them, so I took a social media break. My husband and I are in counseling; I’m in counseling. That’s going… not amazing, but that’s another story and I have a Team Me member helping me out with that.

    I’ve told other mutual friends. It was good to do that, although I struggled with whether or not I should. I kept a lot of secrets, and most of our mutual friends saw us as just being “really close.” As I told trustworthy people – and exhorted them to not choose between us, but please don’t invite us both to the same events – I got support, and confirmation that the things that I had been glossing over in an attempt to Make Things Okay! This is Fine! We are Friends! Were not OK things for him to do. (e.g., be jealous when I ran with other people, ask me to stop for coffee every time I drove past his office in Center of Town, push my physical boundaries by rules lawyering “it’s no different than how I would touch my kids” yes okay I know it was Not Great).

    Then he bullied Mutual Friend into sending me a message. That he regretted confessing his love for me and that Goodbye Is Not Forever. “I’ve unblocked you.”

    To which I told Mutual Friend “Fuck That.” And Mutual Friend said “yes, good response.” I promised Mutual Friend I would not ask him to reply or mediate, and that I would sit on my response for a full week before I said anything.

    Four days later, I got an Instagram message request. I know you all know where this is going, but I… am naive. It was a number-and-letter combo user name, and I have a small Instagram that is public because I want to be seen by Running Pros, and I don’t often get message requests, and they’re usually funny bot ones that I read, laugh at, and delete. You all already know.

    It’s Almost Ran.

    He misses me. He’s coming back to Club to see me.

    So. That helped clear things up, although I also had a panic attack and cried for 2 days straight. I told my husband first chance I got (he was away on day of message receipt, go figure), and told a Team Me Member and cried through a 7 hour run. That meant that another Club Member ended up getting drawn into my mess, but… I’m not saying bad things about Almost Ran. And the two women I ran with were able to help me name the behavior and see that that was a whole bunch of Not Okay, and that he’s infatuated with me.

    I blurred boundaries. But I’m starting to see how pressured I was to blur them. That obsessive love is not kind love. That I was bandaging hurts on my own heart with a dangerous relationship, because I thought I was strong enough and my marriage was strong enough to endure some risky/boundary crossing behavior.

    I messaged Almost Ran one more time, to tell him that making a throwaway account to stalk me (turns out he’d been watching my stories, Big Yikes), and message me was SO. INAPPROPRIATE. And that the blocks stayed up so I can take care of my mental health.

    The Captain is right that I can’t go to anything where I’m watching for him around the edges, but Nanani is right too – I’m not fucking giving up this sport that I am really fucking good at, just because of him. I’m going to figure out how to keep it, and how to keep being good at it. This all SUCKS, and I have like… no emotional bandwidth left. But just an FYI for everyone here – I’m following the rules. I’m doing everything I can to choose the right choices. I’m tired to death and I’ve run 120 km over the last 5 days to exorcise him from my mind and heart and reclaim the ground we both tread, but I’m going to get better. Eventually. It’s okay that I’m sad and worn down, that makes sense. I’ll get there. Just like ultrarunning, there’s no way through it but through it.

    • Sarah said:

      Hey, LW? I am super proud of you. You’re doing a lot of REALLY HARD things at once. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  31. Indie said:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Captain for the dissection of an emotional affair and how one (even a mostly-severed one) suuuuuucks for the victimised spouse; OP it really is time.

  32. Koala dreams said:

    #1213
    I’m reading a very different question than the Captain, it seems. The Captain is answering the question of how you avoid unexpectedly meeting an ex-friend that you don’t want to meet without losing your entire social life. If that’s your problem, great! The Captain’s response is excellent! And you can just ignore the rest of this comment. 😉

    But. I read another question in that letter, that is, the question of how much emotional work you need to shoulder on behalf of an ex-friend who don’t want to see you anymore. And my answer to that is: zero work. Of course you shouldn’t contact them in any way, but you have no duty whatsoever to ensure they never run into you again. You have no duty to plan where they might show up and preemptively disinvite yourself. You can just show up to hangouts as usual and talk to people that aren’t them. If you know you won’t be able to resist the temptation to try to strike a conversation with them, sure, stay home. Other than that, you can trust them to do the planning and disinviting themselves if they want to. That’s part of the whole not being friends anymore. There are no emotional work duties now.

    • C said:

      Yeah, I read this more as “I want to respect his wishes and not show up at places where he’ll be, but due to social media settings it is literally impossible to tell if he’ll be at an event or not without asking someone directly. If he’s made it impossible to reliably avoid him, how realistic an expectation of me is that?”

      While “don’t argue against the block” is basically a categorical imperative, I don’t think it really fits the LW’s situation. My interpretation is that she’s not trying to gain or maintain access to him, she just doesn’t want to make the concession of “I will preemptively refuse invitations to group social events on the off chance that he might be there too.”

      And I might just be cynical, but the description of what he’s done reads to me like a performance of martyrdom. He’s stopped participating in the hobby because the mere sight of her countenance would cause him so much feelingspain, or something? Sounds to me like he’s setting up the LW to be the bad guy.

    • minuteye said:

      Yeah, that’s similar to how I read the question too. Like the LW was thinking “Okay, this is going to be tough, but we’ll talk and figure out some boundaries that let us both participate in shared spaces and create some room to recuperate from what happened”, i.e. there’s some emotional work to be done so that everyone can be comfortable in these spaces.

      And then ex-friend blocks LW, and it’s like… they just decided to opt out of that emotional work and boundary setting. Which is fair enough, but the way that they’ve chosen to do that means that either LW doesn’t get the boundaries they want (i.e. they show up at social events and have to see the ex-friend), or they have to extract themselves from the social events entirely (i.e. never going because ex-friend might be there).

      So I kind of don’t agree with the part of the Captain’s response to the effect of “You’re saying you’re upset about *how* they did it, but you’d be upset anyway”… because in this case, *how* the ex-friend decided to assert boundaries (i.e. blocking the LW) has dumped a whole bunch of extra uncertainty, anxiety, and emotional work on the LW. That plus the FEELINGSBOMB that was sent right before blocking, and I’m getting a very selfish vibe from the ex-friend here.

      • 1213 said:

        Yes.

        And he keeps adding on to it. Eventually my update will get out of moderation.

        But all of this. It’s been emotionally exhausting.

  33. Violette said:

    LW 1212 – I have been polyamorous, to varying degrees, for twenty years. I have four partners of a variety of intimacies, all of whom have multiple partners.

    And I have some questions about your letter.

    When you say that N will be terribly lonely when you leave, that implies to me that she doesn’t have any other partners. But, since you describe the relationship as polyamorous, I am guessing that you do. Is this the first time she’s been with anyone else while she’s dated you? Is it possible that you might need to reflect on whether you’re imposing a bit of a double standard here, where you get hurt every time she sees someone else but you expect her to be cool with your other partner?

    I completely agree with other commenters that asking for a check in before each repeated sexual interaction with a recurring partner is infeasible. It’s also pretty insulting and dehumanizing to J – it treats the relationship unfolding between J and N as subject to your whims and availability, and there’s a significant chance that J won’t put up with it. J deserves some baseline consideration as well.

    Most of all, you should remember that YOU’RE LEAVING N. You probably have very good reasons to move; I’m sure you have compelling opportunities or obligations. But she’s finding company to fill the absence you’re leaving behind. Even if you’re continuing the relationship long-distance, she’ll clearly have a lot more time on her hands, and it’s inconsistent with all the other things you said to begrudge her some New Relationship Energy to sustain her through that.

    People aren’t replaceable. I’m sure N will miss you, personally, all the specific traits you have, very much. But you can’t expect her to sit at home staring at the wall while you’re gone. If you were monogamous, then the expectation would be that she would fill her time between visits with hobbies and books and pets or whatever, but if you’re polyamorous, then half the whole point is that time when you have literally made yourself unavailable to her is time that she’s open to spending with others.

    So what should you tell yourself to trust her again? That down shifting a relationship to long distance is hard. That she got scared and is looking for a lift raft. That maybe it feels easier on both of you to pick a fight than to bear the torment of loving someone who’s far away. That maybe you both need fewer rules and more trust.

    If that doesn’t ring true, go ahead and make a clean break.

  34. GG said:

    #1213

    I had a lower stakes version of your problem about a year ago. It sucked, and the dude in question did not see anything wrong with coming to events where the two of us would meet. It was awkward as fuck but the thing I wished I did sooner was block him. My life got a million times better when I stopped waiting for a call.

    Also helpful – if you have him blocked, it takes out the pressure of curating your social media for him. I say this because I look back to my pages from when I was infatuated, and I am embarrassed at how hard I was trying to “impress him without making it obvious I was trying to impress him.”

    I now have no photos on my social media.

    Blocking was such a relief.

  35. Chiara said:

    Lw1212

    First of all, I love your advise captain! (also on 1213, I wish someone said that to me before).
    Anyway! I personally idenfity as polyflexible, so depending on circumstances I might decide on a monogamous relationship or clearly communicate that I am poly and not looking for monogamy in the first place. Because of this and a lot of trial and error I’ve realized that dating and relationships are often not as binary as society makes them out to be. I’m currently seeing someone and I don’t care at all about who she sees besides me and when she does it. But to not feel jealousy we don’t meet too often, because with time I feel more attached to people. This helps me keep it fun and nice and she is cool with it. With other people I asked them to not tell me but clearly told them they should do whatever (as long as they are safe). I have also dated people who I prefered a monogamous relationship with. If they said no I either broke it off (and did feel guilty because of they ‘you should stay friends’ but thats another story). I’ve given it a try with people not familar with polyamory as well and failed because the communication part didn’t work out.

    Now I don’t think you should literally do what I did but I do think it is good to check in with yourself and really ask yourself what you feel comfortable and content with. Maybe something that worked in the beginning doesn’t work anymore, maybe the ‘standard’ way of doing poly doesn’t work for you now. Or perhaps you are just not compatible with your partner in the way that works for you and works for her. I can also imagine that now the situation is changing with you moving it might take some time to stabilize, perhaps the distance will make things easier than they are now. Perhaps not, but I hope you listen to your feelings LW ❤

  36. Persia said:

    In my relationship, going for dinner or a hike by myself with a man or a lesbian/bisexual woman is cheating. That is considered the precursor to an emotional affair. Going on the same activities by myself with a straight woman is not cheating, because no affair could happen. I am a woman married to another woman.

    For context, my previous marriage was a mixed mono-poly relationship with a man. I was poly, he was not. I took full advantage of this and caused many people much pain. Given my previous history, this makes sense for myself and my wife.

    • First off, I want to say that of course it’s up to you and your wife to run your relationship in whatever way works for you. But I also want to gently suggest that these rules sound very limiting, and even if you made relationship mistakes in the past, that doesn’t mean you deserve to cut your range of one-on-one friendships by more than half forever. (And do you have to find out the sexuality of every woman you might want to be friends with before you can hang out one-on-one?) Again, if you’re happy with this, it’s fine, but if this is something you don’t actually like but feel like you have to do to be trustworthy, this internet stranger has confidence in your ability to make good decisions with fewer restrictions on who you spend time with.

  37. 1213 said:

    Not sure if my replies and updates are just stuck in moderation, or if the internet are them.

    1. Thank you all for the kindness, gentleness, and Jedi hugs I needed. It’s been a few weeks since I wrote in and it’s been a wild ride.

    2. I was doing my best to make strong, Captain-endorsed decisions before my letter got published. I blocked back, I stopped asking Mutual Friend to arbitrate etc.

    3. I got perspective. This was written from a sad place, and tbh I’m still sad. But since I wrote in stuff has happened that made me realize… a lot of things. Things I’m working on in therapy. But a big one being that I was blaming myself a lot but Duder was… not great at respecting my boundaries. Real bad even. It’s a good thing I did block him back because shortly after FEELINGSTEXT he changed his mind. And started low grade stalking me (throw away Instagram acct to see my social media and then eventually send me another FEELINGS message).

    A lot of this hurt comes from all the rules lawyering that happened. I think I did genuinely want him to be my friend, and got gas lit by him and myself. I’m not blameless but the bullshit he has been pulling since I wrote that letter… hoo boy. Big Yikes, guys.

    So thanks again… and if this is my second update, oops, sorry, the internet is full of wormholes.

    • JenniferP said:

      They have been, sorry! Had family in town, catching up now.

      • 1213 said:

        No worries! I also had some crappy internet, so it was a very real possibility that my comments went Into the Void

  38. Camel said:

    I was wondering if you could talk (or have already talked, maybe I’ve overlooked it in my archive binge) at some point about what you mean by the “nerd” and “geek” labels. You talk about these concepts a lot in your posts, this being a prime example. And it’s good and kind and insightful; the “Geek Relationship Fallacies” are definitely a useful tool for understanding a lot of the messy relationship stuff LWs come in with. But there’s also usually a lot of identity-affirming language, a lot of “we”… with the implication that there are some people who are *not* geeks and who are somehow *not* as awesome.

    Over-identification with the “geek”/”nerd” label is definitely a thing, and I’ve seen it lead people down every path from snobbery (“well my life sucks but at least I’m better than other people”) to paralysing self-depreciation (“well how could I ever learn to be social/cool/popular, I’m just a nerd”).

    You’re the boss of how you write about things, of course, but I was just wondering if you’ve considered this angle before and what your thoughts are.

    • JenniferP said:

      I haven’t broken this down anywhere (and not sure it’s a priority that I will).

      I don’t think that geeks/nerds are *better* than others.
      While people did get bullied for liking nerdy stuff, I definitely don’t think it’s an axis of oppression on its own.

      But I do think it’s a…self-identified thing. That you don’t have to be one of, but I am one of? And there are tendencies in geek spaces around logic > feelings and wanting fairness and thinking that explaining things is how you fix them. Idk. Interesting question.

    • Emma9 said:

      Cap’s using ‘dork’ in the latest short answer batch reminded me that I see that used in the same positive sense as ‘geek’/’nerd’, and how anymore I really see the broadest definition of all three of them as being ‘person who is enthusiastic about a thing’.

  39. LW #1212:

    Weighing in as a polyamorous person, albeit a not super experienced one: I don’t think it’s a good idea to have an agreement to ask permission before every time you have sex with someone else. Every time you have sex with someone completely new, maybe, especially if new partners are an infrequent occurrence. But every time N has sex with J, someone she has already had sex with before? That seems excessively controlling, for a polyamorous relationship.

    In point of fact, if a partner told me they wanted explicit notice and communication before sexual pairings *I would assume that meant before having sex for the first time with someone new*, not every subsequent time. So you miiiiiight want to check in with N and see if maybe there was a misunderstanding going on, unless you’re really sure from past experience you both know it means every time with any other partner.

    This is, IMO and given limited context etc and I could be very wrong, about 95% about your insecurity/jealousy and about 5% about N not telling you something you were going to have big feelings about before it’s too late. Unless you really think you should have had the option to tell (or even ask) N to not have sex with J at that particular time. In which case the way you’re doing polyamory is so far from the way I think polyamory should be done that I don’t really have advice for you at all.

    It’s not that people can’t cheat in a polyamorous relationship, they can. It’s that I don’t think you’re drawing the cheating line in a very good place. (People do this a lot, by the way. It feels like cheating, therefor it IS cheating. Common polyamory failure mode.)

    I would take this as a “LW is having challenging feelings” problem, not as a “N did something maybe unforgivable and how can I trust N ever again” problem.

    I think otherwise you’ve been handling this fine: what you said to N (that you’re supportive and also experiencing jealousy and here’s where you think the jealousy is coming from) is a very good thing to do in that situation, as is intending to meet up with J. Most polyamorous people feel jealous some of the time, whether their partners are doing anything wrong or not. It’s a thing that happens.

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