The Agony in Poly

Two months ago, hubby and I decided to embrace polyamory.  Since then we’ve both suffered our first break up with other partners, learned a lot, improved our own relationship so much, and are continuing to work together to make our new lifestyle choice work.  I’m currently three days post-breakup.  I’ve never felt so heartbroken.  So I need an outlet to discuss my feelings. We are not out to most of our friends and my now ex-partner (who I’ll call “X”) knows who I am on Fetlife so I have no outlet.  Cue start of new blog.  Let me start at the beginning.

Two months ago, I had my first sex dream in 13.5 years that was about a man other than my husband.  I’m serious about this.  I would get to the critical moment in a dream and dream me would always say “I’m married, I can’t” and my dream would turn into something far less exciting.  Don’t get me wrong, I had many a fantasy about other men (plural, frequently at the same time), but never a dream.  The man I had the dream about was the same man who made the most frequent appearance in my fantasies.  For the last 22 years.
Wait!  That wasn’t the beginning.
X and I went to high school together.  We met in Chemistry class. I took grade 12 chemistry in grade 11, and he sat next to me.  I still remember the first time I saw him.  I fell in love with him that day.  I’ve been in love with him ever since.  No, I’m not being dramatic.  I’m not saying I pined for him all those years, but I held a very small bit of love in my heart for him, and never let that fire die out.  I frequently reminded myself of what he meant to me, with never a hope that we would be together.
X and I discovered our chemistry in that class (see what I did there?). It was an almost irresistible draw to one another.  He had a girlfriend. I had a boyfriend.  We flirted mercilessly. We were 16 and 17.  Nothing happened.  I was always academically gifted.  He was the only one in the class who had a higher mark than I did.  I used to joke that he distracted me with his sexiness.
We spent some time together.  I went to his house and met his family.  I remember him showing me his room when his then 7 or 8 year old sister came down and demanded his attention. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to explore our connection, but also enamored with the love he showed his younger sibling.  A couple years later, we were in college, and I went over to his place and we were making out heavy when his roommate came home and interrupted and he pretended to give me a tour of his apartment and that’s where it ended.  I was living with my boyfriend at the time.  His girlfriend had just proposed.
Fast forward several years, and I ran into him at a bar when I was out with friends.  He looked at me in that same old way.  It was obvious that the chemistry hadn’t faded. I gave him my number and he never called. So I tracked him down and invited him out.  He cancelled last minute on our coffee date and I didn’t hear from him again.
A year later, I met hubby.  Three years after that, I married him.  We’ve been happily married for 10 years.
Facebook came along and I looked up X.  We’ve been Facebook friends for 8 years.  I stalked him fairly regularly.  Watched as he and his wife posted cute selfies and looked so much in love as they lived their lives and traveled. I watched him move to different cities and from new job to new job.
Then just over three years ago, after zero contact for the several years we’ve been Facebook friends, except for the occasional like or comment on a post, I got a message from him.
This was it:
“You are so beautiful 🙂 I miss you, so happy to see you are happy and doing well. Just feeling a little nostalgic or something. You are a good part of who I am. I genuinely hope we get to connect again at some point in the future. 🙂
At the time I received the message, I was five months pregnant.  There was no way I was available to him.  I responded kindly and positively with no indication of the actual feelings that it raised in my heart.  I watched sadly as the message slowly moved down in messenger and off my screen, wishing there was an ethical way to maintain contact and nurture our connection. I fantasized about him several times a day for many months.
Then not too long after, the cute selfies that he took with his wife ended and another girl popped up in selfies with him.  I watched as their relationship developed and that made me happy.
Then I had a sex dream about him.  Realistically, it was a pretty mild sex dream. Just him and I in multiple different positions, over a long period of time, with tons of orgasms.  On my way to work that morning, I couldn’t get him off my mind.  I thought about every missed opportunity.  I wished I had worked harder to follow through with the crazy chemistry we had.  I wished I hadn’t stopped trying to reconnect with him.  But I had.  So, I resigned myself to not ever being able to follow through on my feelings. After all, I am happily married.
I got to work, turned on my Facebook, and he popped up on my news feed.  Then and there, I decided to message him. This is what I said:
You featured in my dream last night. And so I thought I’d send a message to let you know that I still think about you often. 🙂  Hope all is well!”
 
What followed was the best two months of my life.  X and I started talking. Discovered that for every time I stalked his Facebook page, he stalked mine. We both cherished the memory of the intense chemistry and connection we had.  We both wished we had followed through on our attraction and lamented our missed opportunities.  We discovered that in addition to our chemistry, we were emotionally, sexually, and intellectually very compatible.  He introduced me to the concept of ethical non-monogamy and polyamory.  It was like a light bulb turned on. That was the piece of me that I hadn’t been acknowledging all these years!
 
That first day, I came home and talked to hubby about polyamory.  I didn’t tell him about X or that we’d been talking.  For the next several days, hubby and I talked. Really talked. About polyamory, and our life and the realization that polyamory was a part of both of us that we had compartmentalized our whole life.  Now that our family is complete, and we are focusing on our careers, we are free to pursue this new lifestyle.  Our relationship is the best it’s ever been, and it was amazing before this.  Five days after I reconnected with X, hubby asked me straight out if I had met someone already.  I had felt guilty for connecting with X and was honest that I had.  Hubby, who knows me well, just said “Oh, you must feel so guilty! Are you OK?”  Because he’s that amazing. 
 
Hubby accepted what was happening with X and pursued his own relationship with someone he had been friends with for a while. That’s not my story to tell.  X and I connected in so many amazing ways.  We fell in love.  Completely and deeply.  We live in different cities, so there was no face-to-face dating.  No touching.  But we found every other way to connect.  We messaged, we talked on the phone, we Skyped, we sent pictures.  We were as connected as any couple, despite our physical distance from each other.  He introduced me to phone sex and sexuality over Skype.  He introduced me to erotic literature and his favourite porn site.  I felt completely safe and nurtured and loved and supported and completely accepted for who I am.  I felt so comfortable being vulnerable with him.  In a way that I only ever have been with hubby.  He felt the same way. We talked about everything.  We’re both super intellectual, so we were analyzing everything from every angle.  I loved every moment of it.  It was the most amazing feeling to fall so completely in love while already being so completely in love.  It was great for my relationship with hubby too, despite the fact that he was going through a break up during the time and having a hard time himself.
 
I truly thought we had set everything up really well.  We were communicating so well.  I was updating hubby all the time, he was happy with how everything was developing, although he did admit to some envy over the fact that I had such a deeply committed and loving relationship.  He was never upset about the relationship itself.  We even talked about how we were nailing this communication thing.
 
Two weeks ago, X and I had the hottest phone conversation. Pictures were exchanged and we didn’t want to get off the phone with each other.  There was such a deep love and connection, it was amazing.  I finally said goodbye as I realized we hadn’t talked for a few minutes and were falling asleep together.  That was the happiest moment of our relationship.  I felt so complete and so loved. It was also the last time I was certain about our future.
 
The next day, X had what he refers to as a “meltdown”.  He literally lost the ability to communicate with anyone and took three days to just think and reflect and work through his emotions.  It was a terrible time for me.  Going from near constant contact to not knowing what was going on was very difficult, but I spent a lot of time thinking and realized a few things I needed.  Specifically, I needed to actually be in the same room as him.  To touch him. To follow through with our connection.  We had been waiting until X’s girlfriend was OK with us spending the weekend together.  I decided that I needed to push a little harder to make that happen.
 
See, X’s girlfriend is monogamous.  He told me they had been to counselling to prepare for embarking on a polyamorous relationship.  I made the huge mistake of assuming this meant she was actually going to be supportive of him and had accepted him as he is.  I also assumed that they knew what type of polyamory structure they wanted.  In addition, I assumed  that he was being completely honest and transparent with her.  In retrospect, those three assumptions were huge mistakes on my part.   
 
What came out after X’s meltdown was the following:
 
1.  They had never discussed what type of polyamory structure they wanted.  Never!!!!  (And I could rant for hours on how bad the counselor they went to actually is, if she didn’t actually prepare them for polyamory by discussing this FIRST!  Seriously, how can you prepare someone for something when they don’t know how that something will look?)  So, he started to research into the different types of poly structures and what he wanted long term.   I also threw myself into research, because although hubby and I had talked in detail about what we wanted and what worked for us, I had no idea what the community as a whole did. 
 
2.  He hadn’t been completely honest with her. She was unaware that our relationship had progressed to a sexual level.  He broke the most important rule of polyamory – he wasn’t transparent.  He came clean to her, determined it was cheating (which, I guess it was, but she did know we were developing a relationship, so I would argue that she should have expected that as a natural evolution – but he should have been transparent), and they had a really tough weekend.  The next day, I got an email from him where he explained all this to me and he said that that their counselor had indicated that the poly relationships of any one group need to work at the speed of the slowest member.  And that his girlfriend wasn’t comfortable with us having a sexual relationship, so all of that had to stop. 
 
3.  Clearly, his girlfriend didn’t accept him as he was.  I believe she wants to.  I just don’t think she does, and I’m not convinced she’ll ever get there.  X truly believes she’ll get there in time. 
 
So, before I go on with how all of these things made me feel, I need to outline what hubby and I decided we wanted for ourselves and the process we went through.

When we first started talking about what we wanted, I was very much “everyone is equal” and hubby’s instinct was to have vetoes and conditions.  Specifically, he wanted to preserve our relationship as it was and protect it, and he initially thought that having control would do that.  We read quite a bit, “More Than Two” (I’m referring to the book, but the website is a fabulous resource) is a huge advocate against veto and hierarchy. A relationship agreement that X sent me was really eye opening for us in what we should think about and discuss and agree on. Initially, we wanted to put together our own relationship agreement, and I even went as far as to adapt the one X sent me, but in the end we decided that it wasn’t really how we work to have a written agreement, rather that we talked about our boundaries and where we were and agreed to continuously check in on our feelings and developments.  The more we talked about vetoes and hierarchy, the more we realized that it wasn’t for us at all.  Hubby kept asking “But what if I’m uncomfortable with the relationship you have?  What if I want you to stop dating other people and be monogamous again? What if things move too fast and we get overwhelmed?” Etc. etc, etc (he processes out loud, and we talked about this continuously for several weeks).  He got really frustrated with me because I wouldn’t give concrete answers and guarantees.  I kept responding: “We would talk about it. Work through it, and I think that because you love me and know me, you would never ask me to change myself like that for you.  You would know how much that would hurt me, and you would always respect my right to make my own decision.”  After a few weeks of continuously coming back to this point, he came to me with the most profound realization:  That we have never exercised control over each other in our relationship.  We work as a team and rely on each other and love each other deeply, and sometimes we completely fuck up at communication, but most of the time we are so good.  But in the end, we have always had our own free-will and the right to exercise it within the parameters set by our relationship.  Often things require a lot of discussion, some pain, and a lot of learning, but in the end, we always trust the other person to make the right decisions for themselves and our relationship. I wish I could remember exactly what he said, word for word, because it was beautiful, but it was along the lines of “My wife is an individual with needs and desires and the ability to communicate about them and knows herself really well.  I need to always honour her agency and remember that she is capable of making excellent decisions for herself and for our family.”
It is extremely important to us to have the freedom to evolve in our own relationships at a speed that is acceptable to us and the partner we are developing the relationship with.  It is extremely important to us that no one outside that relationship has control.  The freedom to love in the way you want to love is so important.  We both feel that hierarchy and vetoes take away our (or our partners) free will and agency.  We feel that hierarchy is the exact opposite of what a loving committed relationship looks like.

We obviously had to discuss the kids and our responsibilities to them and the fact that we have financial, family, and social responsibilities based on our time together, and the realization that those sometimes had to take priority over other things, particularly when the kids were involved, but never to be used as an excuse for control.

Now, knowing that all of this was how hubby and I wanted to establish our version of polyamory, you can imagine that there was a ton of incompatibility with the restrictions that X had just put on our relationship.  He had just placed me solidly into a hierarchical relationship, where all of my ability to express my love and nurture my relationship was taken away from me WITHOUT MY PERMISSION!  Now, because we had to work at X’s girlfriend’s pace, the control over breaking my heart was hers.  In the hands of the unwilling monogamous girlfriend of my polyamorous partner who wasn’t comfortable with the speed of the development of our relationship. Basically, she had all the power.  I had none. My agency and free-will had been taken away from me.  It took me awhile to get X to understand that this was the case.  I’m not sure he did, because, of course, he loves his girlfriend and believes that she will work toward the group positive, and trusts her, but I was not convinced that my heart is any sort of consideration of hers.

So, we continued for a week, in this weird limbo where I was really suffering, he was really suffering, and we were both researching like mad to get the information we needed for our relationship.  I have this tendency to research quickly and obsessively as a coping mechanism for whatever hardships I’m facing.  I also process things quickly and can form an opinion based on that processing rather fast. It was overwhelming to him as I forwarded him links and info and provided him my opinions.  I found myself solidly in a position to know exactly what I wanted, while he was still trying to figure it all out.  And once I didn’t have the obsessive researching to distract me, I felt lost.  I felt like I had already lost X, because the only thing I could do was tell him I love him.  I wasn’t permitted to evolve or develop our relationship naturally.  And I resented the fact that he was taking so long to figure his shit out.  I resented the fact that he was free to continue to nurture his relationship with his girlfriend, but not with me.  I realized that with her having all this power, there is zero motivation for her to ever get to a place where his polyamory will be embraced.  I could be completely in love with X forever and never be permitted to actually love him the way I need.

I realized that it was unhealthy for me to wait for him to figure stuff out.  It was unhealthy for me to prolong the pain and hope for my happiness, when there was such a mountain to climb, and all the work had to be his.  He had to figure out what he wanted, then work out if he could get it with his girlfriend, and that is no small task. Then, and only then, could he determine if he could actually give me what I need or if he even wanted to. It became abundantly clear that none of this was going to happen quickly, so I decided to break up with him.  At the time, I didn’t consider sending an email a bad idea, because we had communicated so much electronically, but in retrospect, it probably was a bad idea. I should have showed more respect and talked to him directly. This is what I said:

“This morning when I expressed to you that I was having a hard time, I told you I didn’t understand it, and it was scary, and that I was finding myself pulling away.  Then you said you wished you could work through this faster and had felt guilty about the fact that you weren’t fast, and envied my ability to work through things quickly.  My initial response was really negative, which is why you didn’t hear from me right away.  I initially thought “Of course you should feel guilty, you are keeping me in a horrible state of limbo right now”.  But that isn’t fair, and I knew it wasn’t, so I went for a run and cleared my head and figured out how all the things above fit into what I need to do right now.  I hope I can explain it to you accurately and thoroughly, so you understand why I’m doing what I’m going to do.
 
First, let me say that you are not the first person to be shocked by the speed with which I gather information, research, and reach decisions.  It’s been a source of conflict and amusement in many of my relationships, from romantic to family to friends.  I’m a thorough yet decisive person. It’s a gift and a curse.  This is exactly why I find myself in a situation where I know EXACTLY what I want, but there is no way for me to effect the change that needs to happen for me to get it.  I’ve already expressed to you that I don’t feel like what we have is a relationship anymore, at least not a romantic relationship or partnership.  Without the freedom to express our love and let it evolve freely and naturally, I don’t think we can be in one.  And this is the source of a lot of hurt for me.  I’m not dealing with it particularly well, and I think that I’ve been leaning on you a little too much to support me with the emotions of it all, when in reality, you have similar emotions and a whole hell of a lot of work to do in this situation.  Last weekend when we Skyped, it really felt like we were saying goodbye to each other.  It was heartbreaking.  I actually thought that our relationship would end that day and was resigned to the fact that it wasn’t going to work because of the decisions you had made to put restrictions on our relationship.  When it didn’t, I think I allowed myself to hope again, because it became clear that you hadn’t actually determined what you wanted in a poly relationship.  I was initially really shocked by the fact that you have known you are polyamorous for so long, but never thought to determine what you wanted poly to look like for you.  In fact, I’m still upset and angry that you didn’t.  I’m completely unimpressed with your counselor, who was supposed to prepare you and your girlfriend for becoming polyamorous, and didn’t insist that you determine what you want as a FIRST STEP in counselling.  I’m hurt that you thought it was acceptable to start a relationship with me and bring me into such confusion, while still talking to me about all the stuff hubby and I were discussing and not recognizing that you and your girlfriend hadn’t had the same discussions.  And now, I’m stuck in this ridiculous limbo, where we are in love with each other, but can’t nurture our relationship.  I find myself resenting the amount of time you are taking to figure things out and that’s not fair to you.  I need to be able to give you the time and space you need to work through things.  I find myself resenting the time you spend with your girlfriend, knowing that you are free to nurture that relationship but not the one you share with me.
 
These are the things I need that sound simple, but really aren’t.
 
1. I can’t be a part of a formal hierarchy.  I’m very aware that some things about our situation dictate different priorities, but I’m not going to ever be OK with being “less than”.   I need for us to have the freedom to develop our relationship as we see fit.  Of course, you and I need to get on the same page with this and if you are wanting to develop our relationship at a pace I don’t feel works for me, we’ll have a very hard time.  This includes the “moving at the pace of the slowest member of the poly family”.
 
2.  I need us to make a priority of actually being in the same physical location.  If we were in the same city, we would have had many dates by now, almost certainly have been intimate, and had a lot more freedom to develop our intimacy.
 
3.  If the above can happen, then I need to meet your girlfriend. I need to develop a relationship with her that is separate from my relationship with you.  I hope that we can be friends and work together.
 
The way I see it, you have a lot of work to do.  You need to figure out what type of polyamorous life you want.  You have to then try to negotiate that with your girlfriend and this is no small task.  And after all that, you need to figure out if you can give me the things I need, or if you even want to.  I’m at the end of a long list of complicated problems that need figuring out.  And I’m like an annoying itch that won’t go away, because I’m constantly asking for reassurance and support as I process this all myself.  And that’s not fair to me or to you.
 
So this is what I realized on my run.  It’s scary that I’m pulling away, because that’s exactly what I need to do.  I need to step back.  I need to recognize that we can’t keep holding on to what we had as you figure out what you want moving forward.  You can’t be my support and I can’t drive the speed you work through everything you have to.  I need to focus on myself and just let you have the space and time you need.  But I need to not be waiting on the sidelines for the conclusion, I need to go on with my life.  This is hard for me, because my heart desperately wants to stay here, waiting for you to come back to me.  But my brain knows better.  Waiting here for you to work things out is not going to generate any good emotions on my part and I have more self-respect than that.  I’m not a person who waits around for someone else to decide what will happen in my life.
 
My suggestion is this: For now, we need to end our relationship.  I’m going to give you time and space to figure out what you want and work things out with your girlfriend.  You can check in with me as often as you want and update me when you see fit, but I’m going to go back to living my life in the meantime, with no expectation that you will ever be able to develop your relationship with me.  It’s going to take time for me to get used to the relative silence and the loss of our connection, but the reality is that we can’t maintain it under the parameters we have right now.
 
As you are working through things, however, there are a few things that you need to remember:
 
First, I love you.  I have loved you for more than half my life.  Nothing is going to change that.
 
Second, I wouldn’t change what we had and what we did for anything.  Falling so deeply in love with you was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  I would do it over again in a heartbeat, even knowing the heartbreak I feel now.
 
Third, I want you.  I have wanted you for 22 years.  Ending our relationship now isn’t going to change that.  I will always want you.  If you ever get to the place where you can have a relationship with me that works for both our needs and nurtures our chemistry and connection, I will immediately and unreservedly welcome you back into my life.
 
And finally, if we never have the chance to come back together, I forgive you.  I hope you will forgive me too.
 
I’m sorry I’m not a stronger and more patient person.  I can’t keep convincing myself that you are going to work through this in a timely fashion or with a conclusion that means my happiness.  I can’t draw out the pain any longer with the hope that there will be happiness at the end.
 
I love you.”

This was, by far, the hardest break up I’ve ever had to go through.  I love X deeply and completely.  I want to be with him.  He is so important to me.  He wants to be with me too.  We are compatible in every way.  Except for one: he needs to figure out what he wants and convince his girlfriend that that is what she wants.  And that is a deal breaker.  But more than that, it’s a heart breaker.

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Author: Polyagony or Polyamory

In August 2016, after 10 years of being "happily" married, my husband and I decided to embark on a life embracing polyamory. This blog is about that adventure. It's a place for me to let out my thoughts and emotions, as we discover the good and the bad of the life we have chosen. Several months later, the path we have chosen has led us down different paths, farther and farther away from each other, but no less of an adventure. If anything interests you, I'd love your comments and feedback. Discussion and differing opinions are always welcome.

8 thoughts on “The Agony in Poly”

  1. Hi,

    As painful as that may have been, I think you did the right thing. You inevitably were an outside woman to their mostly still monogamous relationship. I’m sure the girlfriend felt betrayed and cheated by his interactions with you, because of his inability to be clear. Poly is super complex and confusing with feeling and emotions… sometimes we have to learn the hard way so that in the future you know what steps to take.

    I’m so sorry you were hurt in the process.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It was incredibly painful, but I learned that it was OK to be sad and hurt and heartbroken and still be doing the right thing.

      I truly hope he gets to the place where he can be in a happy poly relationship. It just wasn’t right for me to wait for that time!

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  2. Honestly, I think you’re being unfair to the GF and the therapist actually. From the sounds of it, the GF didn’t even know if she wanted any sort of non-monogamous situation, let alone polyamory. Maybe if she did say yes, it would have been to swinging, or a closed polyfidelious triad, or a sex worker. So your assertion that the first thing they should have looked at was the shape of their polyamorous relationship is you working with the presumption that what you want is the ideal and what everyone else should want to. The other thing is that whilst I don’t doubt this guy likes you, it’s obvious that he likes her more. Or should I say, whilst he likes the idea of a polyamorous relationship that includes you, he sees a relationship with her, even a monogamous one, as more of a priority. And that’s the same with many people when they are confronted with a secondary style relationship with a married person or a primary style relationship with someone who has one partner to think about.

    Many people think polyamory is about great idea… an ideal… but they are perfectly content with something much closer to monogamy. I know that might be easier to think of him suffering in this monogamous hell hole but the reality is that he is probably happy with her and that is why he picked her and monogamy over you when it came to the crux.

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  3. I’m not sure you actually read the post. They had gone to counseling to prepare for him to be polyamorous. Preparing for polyamory means determining what you are looking for from it.

    He may very well be happy in his monogamous relationship. Being restricted to the point where our relationship wasn’t a relationship any longer wasn’t working for me. And it wasn’t going to change any time soon. So I broke up with him. Because he gave control to someone else. And I wasn’t ok with that. His girlfriend and the counselor are the least of my concerns.

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  4. Oh, for sure. It was his decision, and the responsibility lays squarely on his shoulders. But he restricted my relationship with him until SHE was OK with it. That’s where she had the control. And it wasn’t OK for me to have my boyfriend hand the ability to break my heart to her. He may have trusted her, but I didn’t. And it was MY decision to break up with him because of his choice to give her control. He made HIS choice. I made MINE.

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  5. Thanks for this post as I always tell my wife Savi (commented above) it’s great that we post our experiences that others can see and learn from them. I have learned quite a bit of things that still need to be considered by me and my wife. Check out our blog at polyinparadise.wordpress.com

    There’s an important part missing here which I hope you realize. Do you realize he could have been dishonest about what the counseling was and what he and his girlfriend were involved in. You kinda hint at it but still take a strong stance against the counselor and girlfriend when the person through whom you know anything about the aforementioned of is X.

    Men have a tendency to lie and paint a picture that removes themselves from responsibility, especially in risky situations such as this. Be glad you had a great time and learned a lot, the communication a couple goes through just trying polyamory is worth a lifetime of great lessons

    Liked by 1 person

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