“I [35F] have been poly on and off since I was teenager. I’ve felt jealousy and insecurity here and there, but for the past 2 months I’ve been experiencing jealousy and insecurity so intense that nothing in my toolbox can help me manage it.
I’ve been dating Brian [31M] for the past three years. Our relationship hasn’t been in a great place for the past 4 months or so, mainly due to an ongoing pattern of behavior on his part. When sex with someone new is in the picture, it feels like the empathy and common sense parts of his brain seem to go offline – he’ll do things like talk about other partners while we’re literally in the middle of having sex, or make out with one of my ex girlfriends. We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, and he’s working to improve his behavior. But I don’t feel like he has made any real progress yet.
Last August, I reconnected with one of my exes, Peter [37M]. A couple months before that, he had started dating Logan [25NB]. Peter and I were spending time together platonically, but it gradually evolved back into a romantic friendship – we say “I love you”, and kiss and cuddle, but nothing more intimate. It didn’t go any further than that, primarily due to Logan struggling with jealousy and insecurity.
I felt a lot of empathy for what Logan was going through, and did my best to reassure them that things with Peter and I wouldn’t progress any faster than what Logan felt comfortable with. I made sure that Logan and I spent time together one-on-one, and got to know one another better, and it seemed to help.
I was unhappy with my dynamic with Peter, though, as Logan’s insecurity meant he was explicitly prioritizing them above me. He felt comfortable kissing Logan in the same space as me, but not the other way around. He and I had to make plans a week in advance, because Logan needed to be able to make advance plans of their own, in order to make it easier for them to manage their jealousy. Spending time with Peter on the weekend or overnight seemed like it would cause a lot of friction, so it was something we just didn’t do.
I felt a lot of insecurity around my relationship with him not being of equal importance – the first time we dated, despite him having other partners, there had been no restrictions. I could kiss him no matter who was in the room, see him whenever I wanted, engage in whatever level of intimacy. The insecurity was manageable, though, and I figured these restrictions would shift with time.
In January, Brian and Logan decided to spend some time together. Logan had told me in previous conversations that they weren’t looking to date until their mental health was in a better place, and Brian told me that he was just looking to spend time with Logan platonically. This is not how things actually turned out, as they had some pretty serious initial chemistry, and so they started dating. Brian decided he did not feel comfortable with being intimate with Logan until they had worked through their jealousy about Peter and I, so they held off on that.
In February, Peter and I were spending time together, and he told me that he and Logan had discussed boundaries, and that they felt comfortable with Peter and I doing things “above the waist”. Both Peter and I took that to mean “keep your pants on”, so we made out for a while. While we were kissing, he grabbed my (clothed) butt.
The next day, I got a series of upset texts from Logan, demanding to know what my definition of “above the waist” was, and telling me that they felt like they couldn’t trust me or Peter. I defused the situation as best as I could, and told them that while I want to respect any boundaries they’ve worked out, this was ultimately a conversation they needed to have with Peter.
I waited for two weeks to see what the outcome of those conversations would be, but never got a clear answer from Peter or Logan. I got the feeling that Logan felt pressure to be okay with something they really weren’t, and I was not really interested in being involved in more drama, so I decided to back off. I told Peter that I wanted to reset our relationship back to “romantic friends”, and that we could revisit things in about six months.
Since backing off of things with Peter, I’ve started to feel jealousy like I’ve never experienced before. Brian has continued to date Logan, despite their behavior, and wants to start being intimate with them. I am extremely not okay with this, even though I want to be – I want to be a good poly person!
I’m used to feeling compersion and happiness when my partner meets someone new, but instead I literally feel like I’m going to vomit when I think of them together. I feel like screaming and crying and throwing things. (Obviously I have not done any of those :-P)
Things have gotten to the point where I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s affecting my ability not only to enjoy spending time with Brian, but also to be able to focus at work and relax when I’m alone. I don’t think I can tolerate this level of jealousy much longer.
Brian knows about the level of jealousy I’m experiencing, but he has continued to bring up the topic of being intimate with them. When he does, I always tell him that I can’t give him permission to do or not do something, it’s his decision. Since we don’t practice veto (and I don’t want to, either), I’m seriously considering ending things with Brian.
I don’t want to have to end a 3 year relationship because I can’t figure out how to cope with my jealousy. What are your coping skills for dealing with unusually intense emotions like this?”
Anonymous from /r/polyamory.
What a polycule! Let’s first unpack what we’ve learned so far.
Peter: Your former partner of a couple months and Logan’s current partner of several months. Previous poly history with Peter that clued you in on the kind of relationship he was capable of having with you. There were initial sparks with Peter, but as Logan continued to make your relationship difficult you decided to bow out.
Brian: Your current partner of three years and Logan’s current partner of two months. Things haven’t been that great for the past four months because they made emotionally immature decisions when he feels emotional labor approaching. Decided to date Logan two months ago even though he stated his intentions as platonic. Haven’t been intimate with Logan yet, but openly talks about how much he wants to.
Logan: Brian’s current partner of two months and Peter’s current partner of several months. Had a lot of insecurity with your budding relationship with their partner Peter. And continued to escalate and flaunt their insecurities around until your relationship with Peter was no longer feasible. Got closer with Brian in January, at which point Brian and Logan decided to date even though they stated their dating intentions as on halt until they get their emotions in order. Looking to be intimate with Brian soon.
Spoiler alert. I don’t think that you have a problem with jealousy. Traditionally, when polyfolks have jealousy problems, they really mean that they have an internal insecurity problem. It doesn’t really seem to be an issue here. Based on what you’ve described, you are clearly a very emotionally intelligent person who manages her own feelings very well.
I do think that you have a problem with one former very shitty hinge partner, one current very shitty hinge partner, and an impossible metamour. I’ll first outline what Peter, Brian, and Logan are all doing wrong before I get into the meat of the advice on what you need to do next.
I’ll start with Peter.
I have long held a belief that it is the hinge partner’s responsibility to manage and maintain each of their multiple relationships. While it is nice when metamours can come together to resolve problems and issues, but the core needs to be the shared hinge partner to manage who is responsible for what in the same way that a Monopoly board is responsible for telling the players which set of properties they’re buying the full set of hotels for.
And Peter was a bad hinge partner for you and Logan.
Peter has completely and utterly failed you in his approach of developing a polyamorous connection with you while also dating Logan. He did not in any point assert himself into equalizing this discussion. While it isn’t Peter’s responsibility to manage Logan’s jealousy – that is wholly Logan’s to own – Peter has done next to nothing to point out and address Logan’s issues inside of their relationship. Most importantly, Peter has utterly failed in his role as a hinge partner to manage his relationship with you. He kept on asserting implicit hierarchies such as being able to kiss Logan in front of you but not kissing you in front of Logan. And instead of acknowledging and bridging that gap with intention, he chose to flaunt that implicit privilege in front of you.
I get the point of appeasing partners, but that should not come at an unwilling sacrifice of another.
I will also dive deeper into the “above the waist” boundary that Logan asserted. But I have a lot of trouble accepting that someone else outside the relationship can push and pull permission regarding the kind of sexual or romantic acts one person can do with another. It’s like telling a surgeon in middle of surgery that they did a poor job with that incision. Even if you had the visibility and the experience to do so, doctors and surgeons have authority and autonomy to determine what kind of techniques they use for their own practice. In the same way, Peter should not have agreed to Logan dictating and robbing him – and you – of your own sexual autonomy. And Peter should have pushed back and demand a sound explanation beyond “Logan wanted me to, so we are doing this.”
Permission-based relationships are not autonomous by definition. And in this specific case, very unhealthy and extensive.
Now, let’s talk about Brian.
Brian is also being a pretty bad hinge partner.
Intention declaration is a really important skill and a necessary mindfulness practice to develop in adulthood, but especially so in polyamorous relationships. We are so often judged by others by the results of our actions and not the thought that goes into our actions. In declaring our intent, we provide a clear visibility into our headspaces for others to visualize and assess. Doing so helps us mitigate risk, budget for future emotional labor, and adds an extra layer of accountability. Breaking that intention could feel a lot like betrayal since they’re betraying their own words to you.
It is very possible that when Brian first declared his intention to keep things platonic with Logan, he could not have anticipated the kind of chemistry he would develop with them. But Brian should have known about the kind of struggles you were going through with having Logan as your metamour long before you even ended your romantic relationship with Peter. By the time you ended things with Peter, Brian should have known that Logan as a metamour was the dealbreaker and should have subsequently backed off or set some boundaries so that things were on hold until the animosity between you and Logan died down. After all, it is also the hinge partner’s responsibility to broadly gauge the emotional landscape of each of their partners and act accordingly. In this regard, Brian has failed as a hinge partner, as your partner.
Brian’s past emotionally immature behaviors – talking about past partners mid-coitus, kissing your exes – seem to be in alignment with his current emotionally immature behavior – to seek a relationship with a “dealbreaker” metamour.
The “jealousy” you feel also makes a lot of sense in this context. Brian is continuing to choose and date someone you have had a very recent, very bad experience with. But you only have control over what you have direct control over. In this particular situation, the only thing you have direct control over is the amount of exposure you have to Logan – and we’ll get to boundary setting in the next section – or the status of your relationship with Brian.
I do not want you to get caught up in the amount of time you’ve spent with any one partner as a reason to stay. That is a sunk cost fallacy. It doesn’t matter if the relationship lasted ten months or ten years; if you’re unhappy, it is right for you to consider ending things. Brian has displayed time and time again that he is unwilling to recognize your needs and refuse to rationally think through the people he pursues. If three years is however long it took for you to figure that out, then that is three years well-spent. It’s better than thirteen years.
Where both Peter and Brian have been difficult, Logan has been impossible.
Remember what I said about Peter being a bad hinge partner? Peter should have sussed this out and called Logan out when he found out Logan went straight to you with their internal relationship problems.
Also, remember what I said about intention declaration regarding Brian? The same applies here too, except I don’t think I can make the same generous assumption with Logan as we did for Brian. It doesn’t sound like Logan’s mental health is in any better place compared to January.
Logan is what I would call “the sword and shield” type. They utilize all the sharp edges of their insecurity to hurt others and deflect away with their dense charm and charisma. It is no wonder you had such difficulty with Logan because all you saw were their very sharp sword as they hacked and slashed into your relationship with Peter into a very tiny piece until it was no longer sustainable as a whole.
Logan also appears to the type of “polyamorist” who is completely okay with seeing multiple partners themselves but not okay with their partners seeing multiple partners. I’ve met many metamours who intentionally or unintentionally make things difficult by dramatizing their mental health, weaponizing their boundaries which stem from their deep insecurity, and/or subtly influencing the hinge partner to focus an inordinate amount of sexual/relational/emotional energy to the point of exclusion of all other relationships.
Here is a good example of the second point. The part about “keeping things above the waist” really grabbed my attention. Instead of choosing to address this boundary violation themself or addressing this boundary violation with their shared partner Peter, they went straight to their metamour instead. That was really weird for them to do. While friendship is nice to have between metamours, it is not always a necessity. And it was rude for Logan to confront you with their own insecurity. It is also very clear to me how that particular boundary screams like the “I have issues and I don’t want to deal with them productively. So I’m going to say a bunch of words to dictate others’ behaviors so that they align with what I want instead of what everyone else wants collectively” kind of boundary, rather than the “I went to therapy to work through this, but it still remains a dealbreaker for this and that very valid reasons” kind of boundary. Logan needs to understand that asserting and enforcing unreasonable and mindless boundaries should be a dealbreaker in and of themselves.
I am also having a lot of difficulty understanding how someone who would implement that kind of harsh boundary regarding intimacy in relationships she is not even a part of is suddenly okay with becoming sexually intimate with Brian so soon.
I also hate to point this out, but Logan’s age and maturity definitely appears to be an issue. Everyone else is in their thirties while Logan is in their twenties. And age does play a mild role in their maturity level. That does not excuse their behavior, but does explain some.
Finally, let’s talk about what you need to do better.
You are being way too nice. With Brian. With Peter. And with Logan.
None of those three have displayed good character or attributes of high quality partners in what you have shared with us. And it is absolutely not necessary for you to maintain any kind of friendly or romantic connection with connections that you deem inherently toxic.
Completely setting aside what has transpired between you and Logan, Brian’s past behavior and the observed lack of progress can be dealbreakers in and of themselves. But Brian should also know that you ended things with Peter because of Logan. If it isn’t already clear, state your own intentions clear that his continued pursuit of a relationship with Logan will continue to cause difficulties for his relationship with you, possibly contributing to a potential end to your romantic connection with him. And stick to it. You ended things with Peter for a good reason. And you can end things with Brian for a good reason too.
I know parts of the boundary setting with Brian are going to feel an awful lot like “veto.” But that is not what you are doing. Even if vetoes are generally considered unethical, there are traditionally unspoken boundaries such as “Do not date my family members” and “Do not date my or your coworkers” that preemptively rule out groups of folks from the dating pool. Why can’t that boundary extend to toxic metamours?
As for Logan, since you two are “friends,” it would be a very good time to establish a very firm boundary in regard to interacting with Logan. Your boundary could look like, “I will only spend X amount of hours per week discussing Logan” or even “I will not be in a same shared space with Logan”. Once you have determined your own comfort level, communicate that specific boundary with Logan and immediately halt contact. If you share a living space with Brian, I strongly suggest that you take a look at this column I published earlier this week for a more directed advice on how to manage your shared space with a person you do not want to welcome into your own home.
I’m really sorry to hear that you are going through this really difficult transition. I really hope that you can forgive yourself for not establishing proper boundaries and having the right kind of discussions with your partners. But you really are not at fault here. You’ve done the best you can with the resources that you had.
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