Pandora

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Question

A few years ago, my partner told me that she wanted to open our relationship (largely in order to go on a date with this one girl). I was going through hard times, so I wasn't in the headspace for this. I wanted more of her attention and support instead of less of it. Nonetheless, I tried to be as supportive as possible and let her go on the date.

That ended badly. She came home and was very apologetic and loving. Monogamy was reinstated. We recently bought a home together and established a legal partnership.I knew that she was still curious about open relationships, though, so without telling her, I started doing my own work to get okay with this (talking with poly friends, working through insecurities, etc.). When she once again brought up having sex with other people, I was on board. However, it soon became evident that I was actually leagues ahead of where she was. For example, she hadn't read anything about how to make this work. (She says she is not a reader.) I think she wants instant gratification and wasn't realistic about how much personal growth it takes to cope with something so challenging. She just wanted to casually, slowly find women, I wanted to go on a dating site and meet men. (I identify as queer and dated many cis guys before dating women.)Within a few weeks, I met this amazing guy with experience in poly relationships. Things with my girlfriend really started to fall apart. She got angry whenever I mentioned him, said really abusive and insulting things about me and about him, and also was harming herself. Maybe this happened because her own attempts to connect with a casual female partner were not successful.I was infatuated with the guy I'd met, but her reactions scared me, so I started keeping secrets. When she would hear about them, she’d (justifiably) freak out, but that made me want to just keep things more under wraps. She said she’d made a huge mistake with bringing up an open relationship. She tried asking me to set certain boundaries with him, but later she would take back her permission to do other things.We saw a therapist who was supposed to be supportive of non-monogamy, but he seemed to take her side. He inferred that perhaps she was not ‘wired’ for an open relationship. We’re now seeing separate therapists. We decided to try to solidify our relationship, but forget about having it be open. I decided to just stay good friends with the guy I was dating. However, I’m still very interested in having him as a boyfriend in the future.This is like opening Pandora’s box. I've  discovered things about myself that I don’t want to lose over the long-term. However, I’m not sure she will ever be able to handle this. She continues to express a lot of jealousy and insecurity about the fact that I dated him. She wants to cement our commitment, but I wonder if I will come to resent being emotionally blackmailed into retreating to monogamy.Is there anything that I could read/access/think through/talk about with her that you think might help this situation so she can get to a place of accepting that me dating other people is not an affront to her?

Answer

Before I get into the complicated situation you describe, I want to let other readers know that the term “cis” (as in “a cis-gendered straight guy) refers to someone who is comfortable living in the gender identity they were assigned at birth. The term “genetic man” used to be used in opposition to a transgender man. However, some activists pointed out that the origin of gender variance is also genetic! Now, let's get back to polyamory.

Pandora, I often wish that the stereotype of an open relationship (lots of spontaneous orgies with tons of pleasure and very little talking) was more accurate. Instead, as you have discovered, sharing your beloved with others takes a lot of self-examination and negotiation. Polyamory requires more altruism and self-discipline than monogamy. Even couples who have a lot of time as poly partners under their belt buckles will tell you that if the two primary partners are not getting along well, it becomes much harder to tolerate other tricks or lovers. One of the most challenging situations are the inevitable times when one partner has a hot date and the other isn't currently hooking up with somebody cute and juicy. Feelings of deprivation and self-doubt can become overwhelmingGuides to non-monogamy will often preach open communication and setting boundaries with each other. But few dare to examine the inherently abusive nature of jealousy. Our culture gives us permission to become abusive and manipulative whenever we feel insecure. In fact, the worse we behave, the more we are supposedly proving we love someone. It may be that your therapist was correct when he assumed that some people are hard-wired to be monogamous (or not). A jealous quarrel might very well reassure a monogamous person that his or her partner was deeply in love. But a nasty fight about feeling desire for more than one person has never made me feel more loved or wanted. Instead, I feel mistreated and crowded. If there is a difference between the type of relationship that you and your girlfriend want, it is a serious conflict. You can't compromise on two ways of life that are mutually exclusive. The only thing I can compare this to is being a gay man in a heterosexual marriage. We don't think of open versus closed relationships as a sexual orientation issue, but I believe it goes that deep. Someone who is nonmonogamous is never going to be happy with the restrictions and threats that hedge them about with a monogamous partner.The whole point of becoming non-monogamous is that you make a commitment to deal with your jealousy via self-care rather than attacking your partner or trying to control his or her behavior. Your lover was triggered by you dating a cis man. Other Kinsey 6 lesbians would sympathize with her and feel little empathy with you, as a queer or bisexual person. But that is a reductionist point of view. I can guarantee that if your lover wasn't being triggered by your partner's gender or sexual orientation, something else would be triggering. What are you supposed to do, have sex with people who do NOT arouse you? Your lover sounds unwilling to face her insecurity and figure out how to get herself in a better emotional state. I do understand that these feelings are exquisitely painful. Unless you are quite clear that you cannot be monogamous, there may not be enough motivation to learn how to handle poly conflicts. I sympathize with her feeling so bad that she injures herself, but at the same time, she ought to realize, on her own, that this is not acceptable behavior in a healthy relationship. Controlling your behavior won't help her to stop injuring herself any time life becomes too stressful. Ultimately, self-injury has its roots in her relationship with herself, not her relationship with you.Most people would rather simply have a double standard or commit adultery. It seems far easier to sleep with whoever they want, while hypocritically demanding monogamy from their partner. Or to simply have an affair and keep that a secret. These options have little honor, to my way of thinking. Once again, they are based on a possessive attitude toward the partner, and require a great deal of dishonesty and over-inflated ego to justify.The situation you are in right now is one of capitulation. I think you are right that eventually you will come to resent it. I'm not sure what you mean when you say your partner is looking for a broader, deeper commitment. But the very thought makes me feel profoundly uneasy for you. Now is not a good time to become even more entangled with your partner. Above all, do not do what straight people in bad marriages do and have a child together. In my opinion, your partnership is not stable enough to manage the additional stress of raising a child. A baby has a right to be loved for his or her own sake—not because the parents are trying to brick over a hole in the wall of coupledom.When you have gathered enough courage, try to find another couples counselor who seems capable of more objectivity and fairness. Your need to continue to date someone you want and care about is every bit as legitimate as her pain or difficulty with that fact. Her jealousy is not going away because she knows, deep down, that you still want him. We all grow up in a society that teaches us you can only love one person (for your whole life, no less). And we all know that is bullshit. Each person we meet stimulates a variety of reactions in us, and sometimes we do indeed find that we desire and even love more than one person. If your therapist can't give both of you equal attention and support, don't waste your money. I hope your therapist will also be intelligent enough to see that perhaps you need support to end this partnership, and are staying with this woman because you are afraid of what will happen if you leave her. Couples counseling isn't always about staying together. Sometimes it is about making an ethical and loving end to the past, and moving forward to a new way of living and loving.One question I have for you is why you have chosen to stay with someone who is treating you badly and is clearly not compatible with you. Past a certain point, self-sacrifice is a demeaning experience that eventually tarnishes any form of love. Are there reasons you are staying together that highlight your own lack of personal growth, or a failure to become as self-sufficient as you would like to be? Unless being monogamous again is much less important to you than you have described in your letter to me, and there are wonderful things happening here that you have not shared with me, I'd say this partnership is in very serious trouble indeed. But only you can truly judge whether it's worth it to stay with her, on her terms rather than your own.

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