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 He was withdrawn and not his normal self with me the next few times we spoke.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?