Category Archives: Ask the Misanthrope

Participating in Cheating

I am a woman who is a solo polyamorist.  I experienced a painful break-up with a FWB over a year ago, and I took it very hard (I have never taken this long to get over a break-up before), so I’ve been a poly without any relationships for a long time.  Over the past six months or so, I’ve become tired of my loneliness and feeling ready to get back in the love game – but I am not interested in a “primary type” of relationship.  I like being solo and having slightly more casual parameters to my relationships, though that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to be loving and caring.  I just value my alone time, too

Anyway, now that I have been putting the “available” vibe on, it seems I keep attracting married men who would be cheating on their spouses. I don’t know what to do.

I used to date married men years ago, when I was much younger.  I know what it’s like, and I used to justify what I was doing in many ways.  But now that I practice poly – you know, everything is supposed to be above board and totally honest.  However, I can’t help but wonder if it really is so bad to be someone’s mistress, in certain circumstances.  I am lonely and an introvert.  I don’t meet available guys very often, and have never been attracted to anyone at my local poly group’s gatherings.  I want a lover/casual relationship, not a boyfriend to be closely intertwined in my life, so dating someone that I can only see once every week or two works fine for me.  If I have a couple of casual partners like that, it would be my version of poly heaven.  If I’m also a relationship anarchist, is my partner’s choice to cheat really my responsibility?  Aren’t relationships supposed to be on our own terms?

If staying in an unhappy marriage would hurt him, and coming clean about affairs or wanting to open the marriage would hurt her, what is to be done?  There are two guys I cannot stop thinking about.  I know they both want to have affairs with me.  Doing so fits into my life, and I can’t be sure that their wives would be hurt by their cheating, can I?  I kissed one of them, and got naked and fooled around with the other (no intercourse).  I know that there are many married, monogamous wives who assume their husbands will eventually cheat and would rather not know for sure.  It seems a relationship is starting with the one I got naked with, but we’re still getting to know each other.

I would like to get some logical perspectives from other poly peeps on being involved with a cheater, on both sides – meaning other than the usual poly view that all cheaters are as evil as Hitler.  I am in a quandary because of both societal expectations surrounding marriage, and the influence of poly dogma over the last four years since I embraced polyamory.  I feel that it is important to make my choices based on reason and my own ethics, rather than what others tell me I should do.  I just would like some insights from others that perhaps I haven’t yet seen.  Thanks, in advance, for any words of wisdom you can offer.

If you’re asking for compassion, yeah, that’s all yours. I can summon that.

Approval? Logical permission to participate in cheating?

No. I’m sure that a reader or two of mine would be able to do so, but I’m going to tell you now, that we’d be coming from very different ethical systems.

This isn’t about open=good and cheating=Hitler, honest no kidding.

This is about ethics and who and what you are as a human being, and who you want to be. Where are your principles based? Really, what’s ethically important to you? What are the principles on which base your actions? This is less about polyamory and what sort of human being you are going to consciously choose to be.

No-one can do this for you, and there are going to be people who will choose to judge you harshly no matter what choice you make. There really are people in this world who, because I do not believe in monogamy, consider me so morally bankrupt that I’m worthy of nothing more than a death by torture. That’s not hyperbole, but is a real thing you can find in news stories less than six months old.

So, what are you doing? What do you want to be about and why? Think hard about it, because this is a big question.

You asked if your partner’s choice to cheat is your responsibility. Of course it isn’t. But I don’t give a damn how introverted you are (and I’m pretty far out there on the introvert scale, myself) you don’t live in a vacuum. The behavior I am most ashamed of in my life, the worst choices I have ever made, were when I allowed myself to be intimately involved with people whose ethical standards were not in harmony with the person I wanted to be. No, it’s not anyone else’s fault I chose to behave the way I did. That’s on me, forever and always. But I can tell you that it is astronomically easier to live up to your own standards when you surround yourself with people who also share those values.

Now, I’ve gone all into values and stuff, and that’s really important. But here’s my reason for not participating in cheating. I’ve done it in the past and I’ve decided I don’t want to. Sure, sure, lofty principles and all, but there’s another, utterly base and selfish reason I don’t.

If you get involved with a cheater, you already have proof this person is utterly comfortable lying to get what he wants, and that his desires in the moment are more important than any long-term commitment. He’s also proven he will not negotiate openly and honestly in a difficult or emotionally risky situation, or he would have tried to have a discussion with his wife about open relationships. If he wants something from you, he will lie to you to get it. If there’s information you think you should have that would be painful or risky to give you, you won’t get it. He doesn’t think you’re special enough to treat you differently in the long run. He’s already proven that. I’m chicken. That sort of thinking scares the bajeebers out of me, so I don’t go there.

Trust and Self-Control

I am in a non-monogamous relationship with my partner of about 18 months. We are both inexperienced in that we have both only ever had monogamous relationships before and have only been open for about 6 months now. My previous monogamous relationships did not end well and I have been cheated on, though my partner has said he has never been unfaithful in any of his previous monogamous relationships. My partner and I are still figuring out our boundaries. We started exploring by going out on dates together and a few months ago my partner found himself attracted to someone that I do not feel an attraction for. We have discussed this and he has been out on a couple of dates with this person in order to get to know them better. I have not been out on a date with anyone without my partner, but am comfortable and open to the possibility of dating another. We have discussed being transparent and open about our dates, and when he has told me about his dates I find myself reacting poorly by making snarky comments and then feeling awful about myself afterward when initially I felt comfortable discussing the situation/our boundaries and have told my partner to go have fun.

My partner has been as patient as he can be, but we have talked about it and my actions are pushing him away. I’m not entirely sure why I act the way I do when I know that I trust him, we love each other and he is not doing anything that we haven’t already discussed prior to a date with another person. We haven’t been intimate with anyone else outside of our relationship, but my partner has kissed others.

I feel like part of my reaction is a feeling of jealousy and my insecurities/baggage from my previous unfaithful “monogamous” partners. I know in my rational brain that my current partner is not lying to me and in fact is being completely transparent with me about everything, but I have this sort of knee-jerk reaction and act poorly when he’s trying to have a conversation with me about a date which of course, leaves us both feeling bad. I’m not sure how to deal with these feelings in a healthy way that will not harm my relationship and I don’t know if I could be completely comfortable with a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.

Are there ways to get over feelings of insecurity/jealousy or am I just not cut out for non-monogamy?

 

I’m not seeing anything that has me wincing or concerned that you’re fundamentally not suited for non-monogamy. And by the way, “I just don’t want monogamy” is a completely valid reason for not doing it, though then you need to find a partner who feels the same way about it.

It does seem like there are trust concerns, at least because you’re dealing with a historical trust problem with partners.

So, let’s step outside of romantic relationships for a minute. I think a huge mistake we tend to make when dealing with romantic relationships is to set them aside and give them different rules than other relationships. At a very basic level, you don’t need to. For instance, you do have non-romantic relationships. Do you have any people you really trust? Who are they? Why do you trust them?

Once you get to that point, you’ll have a starting point in what creates trust for you. When you know that, compare it to your partner’s behaviors. Do you see a common thread? If so, does it make you feel more relaxed?

If it doesn’t, while feelings are not facts, if you keep getting a niggling feeling you shouldn’t be trusting, re-examine the facts. Did you miss something? Yeah, I know. It’s subtle and that’s a pain. Something that little voice is telling you something important, and sometimes you’re reacting to the past and the present. I wish there were an easy way to tell the difference.

Thing is, that takes a lot of digging and self-exploration. You have a slightly more immediate problem – the snark when you feel insecure. Oh, do the personal work, but I’m telling you that this kind of thing takes a long time. While you’re doing that, practice a habit.

Self-control.

Wait before you speak. I am not going to say you should not show your feelings or express what’s on your mind. A real relationship is utterly impossible if you don’t know what’s going on in the heads of the people you love and they don’t know what’s going on in your head. But expressing your emotions has a range. A three year old who can’t play a video game she is excited about playing might throw herself on the floor, or cry. That’s even developmentally appropriate, though we do try to channel her feelings towards self-control. An adult who is really excited about playing a video game and is thwarted is still going to feel upset. It’s normal and developmentally appropriate to feel uncomfortable feelings when thwarted (surprise, being a self-responsible adult doesn’t mean you don’t feel stuff!). It’s what you do in the face of it. And adult would mention that it is her turn, say that she doesn’t like it when she is denied her turn. It’s expressing the same feelings as the kid, but the adult has a much bigger toolbox to deal. Thank goodness, or I’d be never be able to make a living. I’ve read many an email, thought (or even said), “You !()#$($#*&, why are you being such a !)#)$#(%$* about this issue?” I really do walk away and then think about how I want to respond.

Learning to choose how you’re going to express your feelings is tough, too. I recommend trying to notice your feelings as much as possible, then asking yourself, “How do I really want to express this, and is it better to express it now or wait?” Notice I’m not telling you to be “good” and always be convenient. I’m saying to choose consciously by being as aware in the moment as you can be.

I get wanting to rant or be highly emotive. I totally get the snark. All I can say is do your best to pick your moments.

And while you’re doing all that, keep in mind to constantly ask yourself, “Why and when do I want to trust. What makes it easy? When is it hard? Am I taking an appropriate risk here, or am I really making excuses?”

Yes, that’s a fine line. There are times when I’ve given the advice, “Don’t bother. This isn’t likely to work for you.” In your case, I think you’d do fine trying for the self-analysis.

Rule One*

This was an ask on my Tumblr, but I just had to repost it.

Hi there! I have a bit of a dilemma at the moment. I’m in a long term poly relationship (together 6 years, poly for 1.5) I’ve recently found myself very attracted to a professor at my school- I’m 21, he’s 30. The attraction seems to be very mutual in that there is chemistry and some flirting, but never anything inappropriate. But, he’s married. I have never been with anyone that much older than me, much less had experience asking a person in an assumed mono relationship if they are poly. Help?

You bet I have some advice.

Don’t be a fucking idiot.

A) He’s a professor, for pity’s sake.  Even if he is not YOUR professor, that’s a bit of an ethics violation.

B) You have no reason in the world to believe he’s poly.

There’s literally millions of suitable men in the world that would be great for you.  Pass this one by.

________________________________________

* Rule One is “Don’t be a fucking idiot.”

How to Ask People Out

Do you have any advice for a guy in a non-monogamous relationship who doesn’t know how to ask people out? I mean, I know how to—I’m in a relationship—but I have no experience in poly things. My ladyfriend has the advantage of other guys tending to be open to anything that leads to sex. That isn’t true on my side. Thanks!

Asking people out in a poly situation isn’t really substantially different from asking people out in a monogamous situation, so honestly, you’re already covered. What it sounds like you’re asking is how to avoid being told no.

You can’t. Sorry about that.

However, to cut down on the “no” ratio:

Leave off “cold calls” as they call them in the sales business. A 4% yes rate on a cold call is good, so that’s a lot of being shot down. Get to know people instead. Unless you want that as your strategy. You probably could contact 200 people on OKCupid and you’d likely get several dates. As a small business owner, I rely on that 4% cold call ratio to buy groceries for my kid, so I don’t know that it’s necessarily awful to get a date.

Hang out with poly people. I mean, seriously, most of the world at least tries to present as monogamous. You want to hang out with people who might be open to dating someone with a partner.

Be straightforward. You know from your monogamous dating experience and from your online reading that women really do, no kidding, like people with the guts to ask. We know it’s a risk. Many of us have asked people out, too, and been told no. Being willing and confident enough to take that risk does earn some attractiveness points to a lot of people.

Relationship Broken, Add More People Doesn’t Work

So, me (26 F) and my partner (37 M) have been in what we call a monogamish relationship pretty much since the beginning four years ago. I’ve slept with many, many dudes, and he’s also had the odd sexual adventure. We’ve both agreed that we want an open relationship in the future, but neither of us has ever really had an ongoing physical and emotional relationship with another boyfriend or girlfriend. Until about two months ago, when my partner started dating a girl who he genuinely likes. And she genuinely very much likes him.

What I’m struggling with is that he and I have been having relationship problems for about a year, entirely separate from our polyamorous lifestyle. I was already feeling very insecure and anxious before he started seeing her. Now, their relationship seems to have brought all my fears . I’m trying my hardest to separate my feelings about him and I from my feelings of him and her, but I can’t help but feel like he’s retreating into the other relationship as a way to avoid me because I don’t make him happy anymore.

Obviously, the solution here is to try harder to make him happy so that he voluntarily chooses to spend time with me, but I really can’t help but let this anxiety affect my interactions with him.

Any advice?

If you were having problems before the relationship got started, I’m wondering why you two thought that things would turn out well by adding new people, of course. It’s a dumbassed thing to do.*

Unfortunately, you’ve got the new partner in the relationship, that partner is a person with feelings, too, and so there’s no way in hell I’m going to say to kick her out. That’d be a bit cruel. And in sober truth, you don’t get to make that call.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the onus is all on you to be the pleaser in the relationship. I mean yeah, yeah, the idea is that people in relationships are nice to each other because they love each other and all. That’s true. But this isn’t a contest where the best pleaser gets the most cookies, you know.

Do you want more time with your partner? Ask.

Do you want to know what your partner feels? Ask.

Really, no kidding. You say, “Honey, I’m feeling like you and I aren’t doing well and part of the reason you want this other relationship is because we’re not doing well and it’s a way to avoid that. Is this true?”

If your partner habitually tells you the truth, you’re golden. You’ll know. And after you know, then you can decide what to do from there.

If your partner doesn’t? Mebbe you need a new partner.

 

______

* I assure you this is not a high horse. I’ve done it, too.

Fortune Favors the Bold

I’m having some trouble. I’m a happily married man, with a wife of 8 years, and we’ve been polyamorous for nearly two years now. So far, though, it’s only resulted in a very close friendship of mine becoming, well, a lot closer– for me at least. I’ve been looking on online dating sites and the like, and I’ve been trying to follow the advice that I’ve found on the Internet about dating (esp. while married), but I’ve had little luck so far. I’ve been okay with that, up until recently, when my wife moved overseas for a year. (Very close friend is also quite far away.)

I know that the best way to find romantic partners is often to befriend them. I’m really good at that. I’ve got plenty of lady friends. The question I have is, how do I approach turning lady friends in to lady-friends? My instinct is to simply ask directly, but I know that a) women live in an environment in which they are constantly barraged with creepy attempts at hooking up, and I really don’t want to be that guy, and b) that polyamory is not generally accepted in the public at large, even in our pretty liberal social group, possibly further compounding the creepy factor. I desperately want to be not-creepy, and I genuinely like my female friends, so I usually default to keeping my mouth shut about possible romantic intent. I’m also assuming here, since we’re not shouting-from-the-rooftops out as polyfolk, that any interest on the part of the lady friends in question is squelched by our monogamous social norms.

How do I go about having the “Hey, I know I’m married and all, but I think you’re cute and I’d like to get to know you better” conversation without being skeevy?

 

I’m presuming here that you’re not falling into the Nice Guy Syndrome here. You say you genuinely like your female friends and I’m not getting a whiff of the usual understated misogyny that usually accompanies it, so I’m guessing you’re okay there.

Surprise, surprise! Your instinct to ask directly is actually the good one. You can do it without being intimidating. You will risk being told no, and while getting turned down isn’t really all that much fun, it won’t kill you. If you’re asking how to do this without risking rejection, I can’t help you. While I have gotten direct requests to which I said no, I find people confident and sensitive enough to be direct less likely to feel creepy to me. Provided, of course, that I don’t get the pissed-off nonsense if I say no. But being asked directly is so far removed from both the Nice Guy Syndrome and the flip side of the coin, the Pick-up Artist that many women will find it refreshing. Being on the wrong end of millions of hookup attempts almost never involve kindly, mature directness.

The “Hey, I know I’m married and all, but I think you’re cute and I’d like to get to know you better” conversation requires the clause of, “and my wife knows. Please ask her if you want to.” This does several things. It keeps the skeeviness out of it. It lets the women know off the bat what they’d be getting into, and it helps keep clear communication lines open.

One question you might want to settle in your mind. You mention your wife and another person (partner of some sort) are gone for some time. Are you planning these dating relationships as a stopgap until you usual partners return? Might want to give that one some thought, that might not be something a lot of people would be too cool with. If not, cool. It just bubbled across my mind as I was re-reading this.

But yes, be direct. Audentes fortuna iuvat, man!

Transitioning From Triad to V

I am madly in love with one of my partners. We have been together for a year and a half. He has been married to a woman for 19 years whom I love dearly. They were not poly at the time. She had never been attracted to a woman at all until me but it happened. She fell in romantic love with me. I resisted for so long. Then under a drug induced time, due to surgery, decided I would go against my feelings and give it a go. I could love her. She is great. It will grow on me.

4 months passed. I still did not feel it. I did not feel comfortable about it and I finally spoke my truth as my partner has told me to do. So we were a triad transitioning into a poly V. What does that look like? Do you think that the friendship between me and her could work again? He loves us both, needs us both and we are important to him. He hates to see us both suffering but she is taking this very hard. I am not, perhaps it is because I was the one that broke it off. All of our mutual family time and such has stopped. I miss it.

Thanks for any advice. I would bring this up in my discussion group but she is there every month so I don’t feel comfortable bring it up.

Good for speaking up. I mean, I hope that in the future you recognize that big decisions are best not made under the influence of mind-altering substances, but since you can’t change the past, there’s nothing to do but let that go except as a learning experience.

Yes, friendships between people who are no longer romantically involved can certainly work. But, breakups hurt. She needs time to grieve, mourn and get over it. Not allowing someone that can cause some real problems, so patience is a good idea there.

Even in the face of that, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Look, I know not being romantic any more hurt and I am more sorry than I can say that I hurt you. I’m sorry because I care about you, and do value our friendship a lot. Of course I’ll leave it up to you, but I’m very interested in repairing our friendship, as I treasured the mutual family time together.”

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if you are thinking that, telling her that is a good thing. You know, communication and all that? Letting the people you value know what’s on your mind? That kind of thing is important, after all, and it’s rarely wrong to tell someone you care about you’re sorry when you hurt them.

After that, the ball is in her court.  It would be impossible to predict a reaction after that.  While one hopes the most negative thing you’ll get is, “Ouch!  I feel hurt and need to back off and sort out my feelings,” there are no guarantees.

Jack and Jill

About a year ago I met a man whom I had an immediate connection with (I still to this day cannot explain what made me feel so comfortable with him right off the bat as I am generally a reserved woman around strangers), and we soon after began spending quite a lot of time together. I’ll call him Jack. At the time I was not looking for any sort of relationship and didn’t even think of him as a boyfriend type, but as time went on and we grew closer, I realized that I was beginning to have feelings for him and he was quick to let me know that he had feelings for me as well. (of course, as they say it’s not possible for a man and a woman to be “just friends…”)

I have male friends that I am not romantic with. “They” are often tragically wrong.

To get to the point, I eventually found out that he is polyamorous and has a girlfriend who is also poly; I’ll call her Jill, and she lives about an hour away from Jack and I. I have been monogamous my entire life and honestly did not even think that poly relationships were real. I realize that this is juvenile of me, but I was just never introduced to the idea of having more than one partner. Of course at this point I was already pretty darn attached to Jack and just shrugged it off, telling myself that it wouldn’t matter as I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend anyways.

EVENTUALLY FOUND OUT??? You mean he didn’t tell you off the damn bat? Sweet Baby Jesus, woman, being irritated about that isn’t juvenile. What he did wasn’t ethical!!! Who called you juvenile for not knowing about poly at all? It’s not. Polyamory isn’t some damned evolved sophisticated thing. It’s just a thing – an orientation, taste or even way to be, depending on who you ask. You don’t ever have to listen to anyone who says polyamory is evolved. (Okay, you don’t have to listen to anyone, but you get my point).

Well, of course I didn’t stick with the original plan and I’ll admit that I fell for Jack. We began to have a more serious dating type of relationship, and I spent (and still spend) so much time at his place that I basically live(d) with him. Awhile back, he told me that he loved me and explained that he was in love with both Jill and I. While I still had reservations, I just went along with keeping our relationship the same; it wasn’t too difficult since Jill lives a ways away and he only sees her once or twice a week while he spends most of the remainder of the time with me. Of course, being mono I get extremely jealous and experience that “curl up in a ball and cry when he’s with her” feeling that I read about in another blog post here.

Yeah? And do you remember what that blog post had to say? Kinda important, I think.

I have never actually met Jill, and anytime he mentions her I get defensive and shut down, which bothers him. Of course he wants me to meet her and just be buddy-buddy with her and have everything fall into place, but when I think about seeing her I get knots in my stomach. I know that if I were to sit down and talk to her that I would like her, but I also know that I would just be picturing her with him which would bring back all of my crazy jealousy issues.

I don’t think it would harm you to meet her. In fact, refusing to do so is saying that you want to pretend Jack isn’t in another relationship. He is. Girlfriend, you’ve got to accept that if you have a hope in hell of keeping a relationship with Jack. Though why you’d want to keep someone who’d not been fully forthcoming right off the bat about the FACT HE HAD A GIRLFRIEND when the two of you started dating is beyond me! Would you have gone out with him at all if he’d told you before you two started dating?

Anyways, I’ve been doing okay with all of this until recently when Jack told me that Jill was planning to move in with him next Summer. He and I had previously discussed me moving in, so I was shocked and extremely hurt, feeling (as I often do) that he sure was quick to forget about living with me as soon as the opportunity came along for him to live with her. Of course he assured me that this was not the case; that he felt it would be easier for him to live with Jill and come visit me instead of the other way around since I would not be able to handle having Jill over to our place if we were to live together. (I argued that he could just as easily go visit Jill at her place, but that’s getting off topic…) Now i feel extremely depressed and worthless, to be honest.

First and foremost: Your self-worth is not tied up in how another person treats you. Don’t ever forget that.

Jack has always been up front and as far as I know honest with me about his relationship with Jill, and he has assured me several times that while he wishes that I could get rid of my jealousy and the three of us could live together, he isn’t going to push me and that it’s completely my decision if I want to stay or go. I should be appreciative of this, but it hurts to know that whether or not I choose to leave him, he will still be happy because he has Jill.

I am having a hard time reconciling a couple of things you’re saying here. You mention “eventually” finding out something, being shocked at discussions and feeling blindsided at changes made. This does not sound to me like good communication. Now, possibly you’re keeping your head in the sand when directly told things, or it’s possible Jack isn’t as up front as all that. Do you know which it is? I’ve never met any of you, so all I have to go on is this letter. But I think it’s a crucial point to be resolved before you go any further.

I am at a loss here, because I will never understand how Jack and Jill are completely “un-jealous” of each others’ other partners. Jack has told me that Jill is always happy for him when he talks to her about me, and that she would love to meet me and have the three of us be good friends as well. Jack has also encouraged me several times to date other people, but I’m not interested. I just don’t get it.

Then you’re probably not poly. That’s okay. Not everyone is. There are plenty of people I know and love who find the polyamory point of view utterly baffling!

Not only is he my boyfriend, he’s my best friend. I know that your first advice would probably be to leave him no matter how much it hurts, but I can’t do that, at least not for now. Please, if you have any advice on dealing with these feelings and this situation, I would greatly appreciate it. If you’re still reading this, thank you so much for taking the time to do so and I’ll look forward to hearing your response. I’m assuming that you get many letters such as this one looking for advice, but the impersonal google searches just aren’t cutting it for me and I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask. Thanks again.

You know if you had gangrene and the doc recommended you cut off the diseased limb, you’d also feel terrified and not ready to give up the limb.

If you’re asking for a magic way to make it okay? I can’t.

Do I think you should work on learning how to cope with jealousy, poly or monogamous? Damn right I do!

Do I think you need to value yourself a lot more and treat yourself better? Holy shit, yes.

Do I think that working on becoming a secure person would be helpful to you no matter what you do? You bet!

“If a relationship is a constant source of pain and trauma, something is wrong. A good relationship lifts the people in it up and fills them with joy, not pain. When we become determined to hang onto a relationship at any cost, no matter how painful it becomes, it can get very easy to lose sight of that.” Letting Relationships Go, by Franklin Veaux

Never Promised Monogamy

So a couple of months ago I met man online who advertised himself as being in an open marriage. He lives far away. We hit it off in a huge way, and a month later he came to visit me. The chemistry was there in person, as well. He and his wife, with whom I seem to get along well, hate where they live, and we have discussed the possibility of them eventually moving nearer to me if things keep going well.

When we first began writing and talking, I had a long-standing boyfriend. I broke up with him mostly because that situation had been stagnating for a long time. I was above-board with both men about what was going on. Though the now-ex boyfriend was initially a bit hurt that I’d developed deep feelings for Mr. X (we’ll call him Guillermo), he came around to it and has been very supportive and sweet about it. Me & the ex are still on friendly terms.

Guillermo: he has trust and insecurity issues stemming from an abusive childhood and being cheated on by a former fiance, so I felt it important to discuss that there may still be some physical affection and flame with the ex. Though I am not interested in returning to being with the ex as we were, I still care for him a lot. Ex also went on a date with a new person recently, and I found myself pleasantly more happy than jealous about it. But when I discussed this all with Guillermo, he became unusually laconic and clammed-up. He confessed that he wants all of my attention. Though he conceded that he didn’t have a right to tell me what to do, and that it was unfair of him, and that he would have to adjust to the idea of me being with other people, he did say it would change his feelings a bit. He was withdrawn and not his normal self with me the next few times we spoke.

I am very angry. I feel that this was a bait-and-switch. I never promised him monogamy. I initially thought this was wonderful: to fall in love with someone who is poly and GETS it. Scratching the surface reveals that his wife was the one who broached opening up, and that it was a bit of a difficult adjustment for him at first. They do seem to have a genuinely solid, caring relationship, but he feels it is more of an extremely close friendship now–that some of the romance or whatever isn’t there like it was, and mentioned that feeling that he was “enough” for her had been something that had felt really good to him, indicating a certain dissonance with the whole idea of polyamory. I think a lot of this need to feel needed stems from being really devalued and abused by his parents.

Normally it would be like, “okay, manipulator! red flag!” but I have a wonderful intellectual, sexual and romantic bond with this man, and I do not want to throw it out if there is a chance these issues can be worked through. I told him I felt he has misrepresented himself and been dishonest with himself about his relationship to the whole poly thing. He took it fairly well, but we still have a lot of discussion to do about it. I just need an outside perspective.

First, just because someone doesn’t make a good partner you doesn’t make that person an evil person. Yeah, you probably know that, but I’m putting it out there nonetheless. I am not getting the impression of malevolence here, but I am seeing a mismatch.

Do you really think that he misrepresented himself, or do you think his self-awareness was incomplete? And, I gotta ask: Do you really think a lack of self-awareness is something that can happen as a normal and human thing, or do you think it’s some sort of serious personal shortcoming? I mean, I wasn’t there and can’t know, but it’s worth thinking about. The problem is that at the end of the day, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference between the two of you. If you’re poly and never intend to be monogamous, and he’s not 100% on board with you being poly, this is a bad match, even if you are very into this person.

One of the things you’ll find, at least among a certain subset of polys,* is an increasing discussion of the fact that good partner selection (meaning finding partners that are truly appropriate to you) is essential to happy poly relationships. While feeling a connection is really awesome and goodness knows intellectual and romantic connections feel fantastic, they’re really only the beginning to whether or not a relationship is a good move for you. There are a lot of really unromantic things that are useful to look at when it comes to partner selection, so it’s a great idea to turn off the Disney chemicals and ask yourself:

  • How well do each of you communicate together?

I’m seeing that maybe this could use some work, as it does seem to me that there are a few unspoken expectations.

  • Do you have the emotional space for each other in each others’ lives?

I’d have a hard time making a call on this one just from this letter, but it’s worth thought.

  • Do you feel comfortable telling each other the truth?

    Of course, you do it anyway, but it’s nice to feel comfortable doing it in a relationship.

  • How do you react with each other when you are disappointed by the truth?

    Hey, nothing’s perfect. You WILL be disappointed from time to time. Quiet and distant for a little while is actually okay. Punishing behavior isn’t. I know it can feel a little insecure when a partner withdraws. As long as it’s for a relatively short period of time and there’s no blood or fire, taking time to quietly process is not an evil thing. This is different from refusing to communicate at all or threats of a withdrawal of love/affection/ect. to manipulate compliance.

  • Do you have a compatibility of basic values?

    This is also a fluid one. You can be a great match to date someone you’d be a terrible match to live with. The way I look at it, though, is that if you have more than about a 15% variance on your basic core values, you might not be very good partners.

 

Is your partner in therapy? Mental issues are a big deal and can make relationships really difficult unless significant work has been done to deal with them. I speak from bitter experience when I say that grown-up relationships and unmanaged mental illnesses of various sorts are a difficult combination at best, and at worst can be destructively explosive.

I know, this is more questions than answers, but I think asking yourself the questions will give you the answers you need after a good, long think.

_________________________

*Sadly, I notice most of the writers who talk about this stuff are over 40. Are we getting wiser, or just too tired to deal with the drama?

How to Rebuild Trust

I stumbled across your blog while searching for resources on polyamory and STDs. Another question that someone asked was like what happened to me and encouraged me to talk to someone.

My wife and I have been together for a little over five years and just about two months ago we decided to pursue Polyamory. It came as a surprise when she first brought it up and I was scared that she was wanting to leave me. After much talking over it, I felt/feel much better about our relationship and know that she cares about me and loves me deeply. We came to an agreement and laid out some ground rules. I am also interested in pursuing polyamory so we decided to give it a shot.

One of the rules we laid out was we agreed to not engage in sexual relationships with other partners unless we talked about it and made sure everyone was okay with it.

However about one to two weeks ago she started going on dates with this other person (a male) and ended up having sex with him (unexpectedly and surprisingly soon). She did not talk to me about it until a couple days later. It also turned out that he has had herpes for five years.

I’m feeling hurt and we have lost some trust. We have talked about it extensively but haven’t come to any sort of conclusion about it. At the moment I (really, both of us) don’t know where to turn or who to talk to. Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated.

“We have lost some trust.” Really? Or is it that at this point, you are not feeling so trusting of your wife? And for goodness sake, if someone doesn’t do what they say they are going to do, yeah, trust is eroded to a greater or lesser degree.

I think the first thing to do is go ahead and get an STD screening, and make sure that you mention you specifically would like to test for herpes. Take care of that because it’s information you both need no matter what else happens.

After that?

The basic way to build trust is actually insanely simple. But keep in mind that simple and easy are not the same thing, okay. Not only that, but I also don’t think endless attempt to rebuild trust has any point. I think giving a person three chances to change behavior after a major problem is often plenty. But, don’t invoke a three strike and we’re done scenario unless you are quite prepared to follow through.

The person who has broken trust will need to:

  • Be careful to do what s/he says s/he will do.
  • Be careful not to rules lawyer.
  • Never agree to or even imply agreement with something s/he does not fully intend to do. This does mean that sometimes the person will have to say “No” to things the other party might want. If you have a habit of agreeing to things you don’t want, and then going and doing what you want to do, no, you can’t be trusted. Let your yes and no be honest and meaningful. It’s a risk, I know. But take it. It’ll improve your relationships an order of magnitude.
  • Make sure that communication is clear. This may mean getting the person with whom agreements are made to repeat the agreement back in paraphrase to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

The person who has had trust broken will need to:

  • Accept the person’s word.
  • If there seems to be a discrepancy between word and action, be sure to ask for clarification rather than accuse the person of breaking the agreement. If your partner has committed to eschewing rules lawyering, then you owe them a willingness to listen to explainations.
  • Presume benevolence. Yes, I know this is a risk. It could be the partner is not all that damn benevolent. Repeated weaseling on the trust building exercises might mean a lack of benevolence, and it’s possible you’ll need to invoke that three strike scenario. But start with benevolence even so. The theory is you guys love each other, right?
  • DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO. All the stuff the partner who broke trust needs to do? It ain’t all on that person, cupcake. You need to do the same things!

Notice that both parties need to take some risks. But you’re smart people, right? You’ve taken risks before, so you can handle this even if it can be tough to change habits.

So go for it, and let me know how it worked out. I’m hoping to hear that y’all worked things out and have developed an awesome relationship.