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Advice – How do I handle the transition from being open to poly?

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[TW: mentions of self-harm, ideation.]

Anonymous writes…

“… So my primary partner is my fiance [22M] of 4 years and my secondary is my boyfriend [37M] who has been one of my closest friends for over a year and a half. I’d almost say he’s my one of my best friends. He has helped me with depression, talked me down from being suicidal and once (way predating the poly-ness) called my fiance because I had self harmed and was in bad shape and was refusing to tell anyone. We clicked almost instantly and talked constantly even before having a relationship. He also is the person that helped my fiance and I with our poly issues. I came out to my fiance first as wanting to open the relationship as purely a sexual thing and he was not having it at all. Flash forward to a few weeks later we both broke down and compromised that I could sext with someone so naturally I picked my now boyfriend, lets call him C. I chose C because there was already weird sexual tension and I knew he was a safe option because he wouldn’t catch feelings and neither would I. Well we were both wrong.

Some background on C before I go any further. C is 37 and married with children. He and his wife have an open relationship and always have. Up until me he always believed he was a swinger. Purely sexual, no emotions.

About 2 weeks into sexting and just hanging out we both realized that feelings were developed and needed to be addressed. So finally, when my fiance asked me how things were going I just spilled my guts and told him I was Poly. He seemed crushed. We cried together and talked for hours before he finally realized that it wasn’t a me issue. It was a him issue. He finally told me that it was ok and that I could see someone else. So C and I started dating. Things were going amazing. I’ve been so happy. I feel like I’ve even been happier with my fiance. Happier than ever. Then the other night he (my fiance) dropped a huge bomb on me.

He has been holding it in. He’s poly too. All of those feelings he had all of the tears and anger weren’t at me. They were of walls breaking down after 2 years of him building them up and I came in at full force and knocked them down. He said he felt horrible for not telling me immediately but he didn’t know what to say and he was afraid because 2 years ago we jumped into a triad without any consideration or talking beforehand and it ended in me nearly committing suicide. And he was shocked when I told him how happy I was that he felt the same way. We talked more and he told me he had a huge crush on this guy and wanted permission to ask him out and I was elated.

Now back to C. C has never had feelings for a person he was doing a poly/swinger thing with. So he’s nervous too. I’m his first poly relationship. His face lit up the other day when I called him my boyfriend. But here’s the thing. C is 17 years older than me. No one has batted an eye. Except me. A while back he tried a swinger thing with this girl and my fiance laughed and said it was weird because the girl was only a year older than me. C has a daughter only a year younger than me. My best friend and I were talking and C is older than both of her step parents. Now that being said, none of that is a turn off for me. I’m not grossed out. I still really care for him, dare I say I’m head over heels but I think part of me is scared of being judged due to the age gap.

Also C hasn’t told his wife yet. He isn’t cheating on her, it’s always been an agreed upon thing that they could do whatever with whomever as long as they were safe. I get along with her really well and we have a lot in common. This is also a first for him because she has always either not known his other person or she didn’t really get along with them. The fear I’m having is that she’ll either react horribly or she’ll be super happy and possibly want to join. That’s a problem for me because I don’t like her in that way and as a human she’s not great. Odds are she’ll be fine with it. He knows she’ll be fine with it and he keeps reassuring me. He has been with the woman for 20 years. He knows her. But I can’t stop overthinking. Help?”

“nateia – tea packaging” by wera piatek is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Dear Anonymous,

There actually isn’t a whole lot to discuss regarding your relationship with your fiance.

It sounds like there have been a lot of changes in your relationship with your fiance in a very short amount of time. It first started out as a very monogamous relationship. Then you and your fiance went through a pretty difficult time as you suggested opening up the relationship to a sexual connection. As your relationship with your secondary partner deepened, you quickly realized you wanted to have more romantic connections than the purely sexual ones you previously agreed to. In the meantime, your fiance has tagged along until he realized how much he is open to developing polyamorous relationships of his own as well. There was some history between you and your fiance that led to a lot of negative trauma, that rightfully justified in how scared he felt about approaching you about his newfound relationship orientation. I am really happy to hear that your fiance has found someone he fancies and you were able to be there for him in celebration of his newfound orientation. Your fiance sounds like he is very emotionally intelligent, based on the way he communicates his feelings, mindfully addresses his own emotional labor, and how in touch he is with his feelings. What you have with your fiance is truly special.

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Now let’s talk about your relationship with your boyfriend.

It sounds like C has been a very critical part of your growth and the changes in relationship dynamic over the past year or so. He was your depression accountability buddy, who became your close friend, who became your sexual partner, who became your boyfriend. There is a certain reverence and respect in the language you use to describe your relationship with your boyfriend that tells me that there is a bit of idealization / NRE blinding going on in your relationship. That is fair. He was your first poly partner and instrumental in helping you realize this really crucial aspect of your relationship orientation and identity. And since this is his first poly relationship as well, there is a lot of pressure on his side to get things right too.

I actually do not believe the age gap between you and your boyfriend is relevant at all. There is a point in your twenties when you sort of hold steady to the level of maturity you have. The bursts of growth come in more irregular intervals in adult life. And I don’t think it is pertinent to our discussion here.

What is pertinent is in how he is handling his relationship with his wife of twenty years, and how you are envisioning your metamourship with his wife panning out.

Photo by David Bartus on Pexels.com

I am a firm believer that there are very few absolute ethics that apply strictly to ethical non-monogamy, and there are a lot of moral relativism. There are a lot of gray areas and the magical sprinkle of consent often makes a lot of otherwise-questionable actions completely acceptable. I do believe that there is a big gap between being open/swinging and “do[ing] whatever with whomever as long as they were safe.” The lines of infidelity are much more blurred in ENM relationships because sexual intercourse is no longer a hard line. Instead, infidelity is much more rooted in the agreements you make with your respective partners (both implicit and explicit). If the implicit agreement between your boyfriend and his wife is that he will set hard boundaries to not develop feelings for each other’s other partners, then he has broken that implicit agreement of an open relationship. Right now, you have a sense of plausible deniability in that you don’t know what specific agreements he and his wife has had. But it sounds like based on how he has not revealed the full extent of his romantic relationship with you that it does breach their implicit agreement to some degree. That needs to be addressed as soon as possible, not because it poses a changes in sexual risk profile, but because it poses an internal changes in emotional risk profile. But that should be left up to him to determine when/if he should disclose that to his wife. It’s just of my personal opinion that he should do so so that his wife doesn’t have too much of a negative reaction at his current lying by omission.

I also want to talk a bit about your projected relationship with his wife. Assuming that this above conversation goes well, you might already be coming into this connection with your metamour with some pretty difficult ideas about who she is as a person and what she might want from her husband’s connection with you. It is not a healthy mindset to have to negatively frame your metamour even before you meet them. So try your best to recognize the silver linings and learn to appreciate her presence in her life in your own language. Consider that a lot of what you know about her is strictly filtered through your boyfriend. Should there be a platonic connection to be forged between you and your metamour, form your own opinions about who she is as a person. I do think if you are feeling uncomfortable about her pushing to date you, then this is the perfect time to have this discussion with your boyfriend about only dating him, and that you are not at all interested in dating her together. And once you’ve established that boundary, then it is on your boyfriend to communicate your boundary with his wife. And then it becomes his wife’s responsibility to respect your communicated boundary. Allow him to be the hinge partner you need him to be.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com.

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