“I’ve been seeing a guy on and off since summer. He and his wife started out as swingers and then started dating on their own. She quickly found a partner, he struggled.
Our first date was amazing. We went out to a late dinner and didn’t want things to end. So we went to a lake and ended up talking til 6 in the morning because we couldn’t get enough of each other. I felt instantly at ease with him.
A few weeks later we got a hotel room for an overnight and things went really well. However in the coming weeks he became distant. I wasn’t getting many responses from him and getting him to talk was like pulling teeth. I chalked it up to him losing interest, and sadly broke things off and tried to move on. I was hurt though.
We chatted every now and then and he admitted that he pulled back because his wife experienced jealousy due to our connection. I understood this but wished that he had been more honest.
We stayed on a friendly basis. Last weekend I text him and asked him if he wanted to come over and have casual sex with me. Which he did. He ended up spending the night and we talked a lot about his relationship. Apparently his wife has been pulling away from him, and she has been spending more time with her boyfriend. He stated their sex life is suffering.
He’s been texting me really sweet things, and saying he wants to take me on a date next weekend but I’m hesitant. While I really do like him and feel a strong connection, I’m not sure of getting involved on a more committed level is a good idea when his marriage appears to be on shakey footing.
Does anyone have any thoughts or guidance?
Edited to add- I think I’m most worried about being used as an emotional crutch. I’m not sure what the signs for that would be. I’m hesitant because of him pulling back last time.”
Dear the Flower Farmer,
His relationship with his wife is not your responsibility to manage, just like it isn’t his wife’s responsibility to manage his relationship with you. It falls on the hinge partner to facilitate and organize the emotional labor associated with each of his respective connections. And it is the hinge partner’s responsibility to manage all the work associated with what goes where.
And I know it can be very challenging for hinge partners to contain and compartmentalize relationship issues internally, especially if the consequences of those issues bleed externally. On one hand, he does want you to know more so that you can figure out why he has to pull back. However, in doing so he is also committing to best filtering out the knitty gritty details of his marriage while making sure you aren’t doing any more emotional labor on his behalf than you are comfortable with. It is an incredibly delicate balance between what is too much sharing and what is not enough sharing.
I do find that this specific aspect tends to be the most challenging new skill to develop for poly newbies. A lot of experienced polyfolks struggle with this as well. Many set boundaries and agreements around protecting the relationship drama internally. Some have poly processing partner to vent and redirect that frustration and steam. Others approach poly-friendly therapists to help organize and process their emotional labor in a productive and meaningful way.
You say that you are afraid of being used as an emotional crutch and I think that is a very valid concern to have in this circumstance. So it might be a time for you to first assess the amount of emotional labor you are willing to commit in order to maintain this connection. Is your hinge partner able to create and maintain this space for a possible relationship with you to exist while he manages his marriage with his wife? What even does that space look like for you? What does it mean for you and him to be involved with each other? How much energy are you willing to expend on their behalf if he continues to struggle to consolidate his marital problems?
After you decide how much space you personally want to allot to your connection with him, then it is time for you to develop and devise a strategy to make sure you stay in that level of commitment. Regardless of how romantically involved you would like to be (either as a partner or as a more casual sex friend), it might be beneficial for you to set some firm personal boundaries about the emotional topics he shares with you. Doing so will help you balance and match the level of emotional commitment to the bandwidth you are allocating to this connection. This means mindfully approaching your respective amount of communication (i.e. texting once or twice a day) and depth of those engagements (i.e. limiting topics to small talk).
If you do decide that you want to continue pursuing a more involved romantic connection with him, set some fundamental expectations with him up front, that it is not your responsibility to be the vent channel for his marital frustrations; that should be reserved for his wife, with their marital counselor, or his personal therapist.
At the end of the day, it is important to look at what you have with your connection as it stands today. Are you happy about meeting this person where they stand today? How would you like to realize what kind of relationship you can have with this person while staying as true to yourself as possible?
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