For the record, this letter was a bit longer. I’ve edited it for brevity, but I hope that I kept the salient points:
For almost half a year now, I’ve been involved in a polyamorous relationship with a married man. His wife and I are very different people. I’ve been trying to find some common ground between us, but we might as well be from different planets. I don’t dislike her, but it’s been obvious from our first meeting that there wasn’t anything to connect us apart from our partner. And I’m fine with that. I thought she was too – until two weeks ago, when my partner told me that his wife was upset because of the plans we’d all been making for some festivals. Because we like different things, I’d said I didn’t mind organizing my own trip there by myself, so they could just plan to go together without anyone having to compromise on which performances to see and such. Apparently, this upset her because if we were all going to the festival anyway, she wanted to go together and do things with the three of us. So I thought, ‘wow, I must have completely missed her attempts to make friends with me, I’m such an ass’ – except that further discussion revealed that no, she didn’t feel any particular connection with me either, and she hadn’t been putting any effort into trying to create one. She didn’t want ME specifically to go to the festivals with them, she just wants his other partner(s) to be people she could be friends with and who would form ‘their little group’ and I’m not someone who fit that picture in her head.
I didn’t enter into a relationship with her, I entered into a relationship with her husband; and while I realize that she ‘comes with the package’, so to say, I don’t feel obliged to do anything other than show her general friendliness, courtesy, and honesty, especially after my attempts to find common ground earlier in the relationship failed
I could use some advice on how to reopen the dialogue, or just a fresh perspective on the whole thing. I don’t want her to be miserable, and of course I don’t want my partner to be miserable, but I don’t know what I should do. I know I’m a rather headstrong, inflexible person, so maybe it’s me who’s at fault here. Am I being a complete pain in the backside and should I just adapt? I guess she could be feeling excluded, though she hasn’t phrased it like that.
It is not unusual to go into polyamory with an attitude of what an ex of mine use to refer to as a “group hug” mentality. He said it with a level of extreme frustration, and I think that frustration was pretty justified in retrospect. Part of the appeal of polyamory for some people is you get your gang to hang out with. Many poly people, and I’ll include myself, like the idea of this group that’s all mutually supportive and on each other’s side and hangs out with each other all the time and…
And that’s just dandy if it just works out that way. Trying to engineer it? Forget it. It won’t work and there will be explosions. The more you try to force it, the worse the pushback.
With that perspective, I do have some things to offer about opening a dialog:
Yes, you need to open a dialog
This is a genuine problem that needs addressing. While it is not an emergency, and we don’t need to be waking people up in the middle of the night with it, scheduling a time to get together over a cup of tea and talking is a good idea. This doesn’t have to be some Very Big Deal. You can just say, “Hey, I’m concerned about a couple of things. When you have a few minutes in the next couple of weeks, can we sit down together for a bit?”
Don’t let hubby be the go-between
You are worried about how your boyfriend’s wife is feeling. Talk with her. Don’t let the boyfriend interpret. Don’t have hubby be the manager between you two. You’re grown-ups. You can talk. It is not unusual in V-type relationships for the hinge to be expected to be the go-between. I don’t often see it turning out well. Direct communication between the parties involved is better.
Reiterate that you do feel benevolent
You stated that you feel like you owe her friendliness and courtesy. Yep, you’re right. You owe each other that. True, true, true. When opening up about this, the fact that you do feel kindly towards everyone involved and that you don’t want anyone feeling miserable is a great thing to bring up. Make sure that everyone gets that “We’re not cut out to be bestest buddies” doesn’t map in any way to “I hate your guts”. Some people get a little binary about this and need a reminder that distant kindliness is just fine.
You don’t actually know what your boyfriend’s wife is thinking.
You’re guessing about how your boyfriend’s wife feels. Put that on hold and wait to ask. It’ll avoid some miscommunication if you don’t presume to know what she’s thinking and when you get together simply ask. It might be what you’re guessing, but it could be another issue. Ask her what it is she wants and if she’s willing to explain why. If she’s feeling left out, it’s possible she has a direct idea of what she wants and why. Be willing to listen to that, because it’s entirely possible you’ll be all good with what she wants as a solution.
Take her at her word.
Presume every word your boyfriend’s partner is saying is the absolute truth and act on that. This has a two-fold benefit. If she’s telling the truth, good communication is happening. If she’s not telling the truth, she shoots herself in the foot and either opens up and starts being forthcoming, or solves the problem by causing an explosion. If you try to interpret, you’ll either get it wrong, or encourage her not to communicate clearly. That’s not helpful to anyone.
You’re allowed to say “No.”
You are not obligated to say yes to everything she wants. You’re only obligated to tell the truth and say yes to those things you’re cool with saying yes to. i.e. “Sure, we can all go to that concert together, but I want to go to the post-party alone.”
You say you’re headstrong. That’s okay. But be willing to talk. Be willing to listen and be open to ideas. Chances are very good you don’t have all the information, so getting it would be a good way to make a better decision. You’re quite right that a talk needs to happen. However, you might hear that the boyfriend’s wife doesn’t want to talk. I hope that doesn’t happen, as I can’t see that as ending well. But if she doesn’t want to talk to you, you can’t force that, either.