“I’ve been with my boyfriend for a little over a year now. We are both polyamorous and fell quickly for each other. The first couple of months were rough – because he and his wife (who is very monogamous) had freshly opened their relationship. We were all new to this and I started out as a strict secondary partner which felt extremely unhealthy for me. Since then, we decided to go non-hierarchical and come out to almost everyone around us last summer. The relationship with my boyfriend has been very stable and beautiful. We consider each other life partners and see each other about every other day.
For most of that year, polyamory was extremely intuitive and almost easy for me. It just feels right for me. I felt compersion and empathy for my boyfriend, his wife, and their marriage.
Unfortunately, she struggled from the start. Most of my own difficult feelings stemmed from specific issues (like the hierarchy thing or when I felt like my metamour didn’t really want our relationship to work), almost never from the fact that my partner loves someone beside me.
But now something has shifted. I’m still poly, I would probably go crazy in an exclusive relationship. But I feel almost no compersion anymore. And I think it’s because I feel extremely rejected by my metamour.
She makes her intent very clear with her behavior, her demands, and her comments about our relationship that she hates the fact that I’m with him. And that she still wants him to treat me like a secondary. Whatever the topic, she’s not willing to really take my needs, my feelings, or my relationship with her husband seriously enough.
The logic seems to be that if her husband is poly and she will never be his only partner again, then at least she wants to be the main one. The one who always comes first. The one who calls the shots and is able to limit his time with me. The only one he can ever live with. He doesn’t want those things, so he keeps saying no and tries to find other ways to fight for the marriage and make her feel loved. But somehow it’s never enough.
And I think she’s projecting all her frustration onto me. After my first vacation with my boyfriend, she decided that she doesn’t want to be my friend after all. She wants me to stop coming to their house (just a month before, I had spent a Christmas day with the family. I had cups of coffee with her alone, built a friendship with their daughter, and helped out wherever I could), she doesn’t want to talk to me or even see my face anywhere. She basically wants to live her life and marriage as if I didn’t even exist. And she wants her husband to treat me like an affair or a hobby, something that only exists when he’s with me.
I feel so rejected. Mistreated. Unwanted. Unimportant. I wanted to be friends with her for so long. I wanted to be a part of this family. And now I’m starting to hate her, too. I’m starting to be all mad and jealous and anxious when my boyfriend is with her. I even find myself wishing he would leave her. And it scares me. Because I used to root for their marriage so much. And I don’t think I can really like living poly without that.
So what do you think? Is there a way to feel compersion again? Or at least indifferent? To love my enemy, so to speak – even though she hates me? Cause I don’t want to feel this shit anymore.”
Anonymous on /r/polyamory.
I am really sorry to hear that you are experiencing this loss of a valuable connection and a rejection from your metamour. Your hurt feelings are very valid. This particular connection is something you’ve clearly intended to strengthen and forge as your own. And your metamour’s thoughts, actions, and words have clashed against not only your intention but what appears to be your shared partner’s intention as well.
I do think that everyone is making some degree of mistake that contribute to the ongoing conflict. So in this post, I’ll lay out what each person’s perspective looks like and what mistakes each person is making, before I get to the actual advice portion of the post.
First things first, your metamour probably doesn’t hate you as much as you think.
You – his other partner – just happen to be a convenient lightning rod in which to direct all of her frustrations with polyamory towards. So her current distanced disposition toward you probably isn’t about you personally, but rather more about the resentment she cannot place onto her husband and the father of their child. It isn’t easy to hold a loved one accountable for their mistakes. It isn’t right or fair that your metamour is structuring her boundaries in such a way that makes you feel boxed out of developing a long-term future with your boyfriend. But it is the way that she has decided is more reasonable and reassuring for her soul, that you – as the other woman – is to be blamed. What I am trying to say is that it isn’t so much about you as it is about the resentment building in their relationship as their agreements and boundaries crumble.
With all that said, her perspective also makes a lot of sense. Based on what you’ve shared, it sounds like they only opened up when you first started dating your boyfriend. Your boyfriend and your metamour both had a collective vision for the type of polyamorous arrangement they were both comfortable with – strict hierarchy – that quickly eroded over the summer. Your metamour could feel that sudden shift in his perspective towards lack of hierarchies to be very painful because she is kinda sorta being left behind.
It is very easy for her to point at the catalyst of this change – you – and establish new boundaries in a more forgo-able connection with you than the more essential one she has with her husband.
Her assertion that her husband should treat his relationship with you a certain way is also very problematic. Doing so robs both you and your boyfriend of your autonomy in your romantic relationship. But not doing so conflicts with the original agreements she made with her partner to prioritize their marital relationship above all else. I don’t think she quite anticipated the amount of change that she and her partner would go through when they first opened up. There are a lot of initial growth and challenges that come with opening up: disentanglement, determining your brand of non-monogamy, and establishing & managing boundaries. Living in a state of denial of her changed relationship is neither healthy nor helpful.
Her recent boundary to bar you from entering their home is probably one that stemmed from a sense of jealousy. It seems aligned with the timing after your first vacation together. One of the skills that new polyfolks need to learn early on is in managing and creating spaces for those relationships to exist, even if they’re not your own relationships. In her decision to exclude you from his nest is an incorrect sense of mind to take action over temporary feelings of insecurity, one that she will have to own and course correct on her own. But that motivation to change isn’t suddenly going to spring up. After all, she is married to her partner and has a child together. At the very least, she could hold this boundary and maintain an unstable status quo until either you bow out of a hostile metamour situation or your boyfriend ends his marriage. It will be important for her to acknowledge that both of those are undesirable outcomes.
With all that said, I also think that your metamour is making an ongoing mistake by not addressing her hurt feelings with the appropriate parties. In blaming you, she is refusing to acknowledge that her partner has grown, and that their original vision has deviated so far from each other. And she will become more and more disconnected from her husband the longer this fib goes on. And her refusal to welcome you into her life and their home is just another manifestation of that disconnect.
So if you and your boyfriend consider each other to be life partners, be prepared for a long and harsh period before your boyfriend proves to his wife that neither you nor your boyfriend is willing to quit on this poly relationship.
Your boyfriend also has a lot of work cut out for him.
It sounds like there has been a lot of shifts for not just you but in your boyfriend’s relationship with his wife in the past year. You were initially introduced as a secondary partner, but things became non-hierarchical over the past summer. Mere months into your entry into her life as her metamour. It could be very possible that your metamour either did not explicitly consent to his relationship with you being on an even playing ground, or that she changed her mind after witnessing his relationship with you blossoming into a potential long-term connection. Either way, your metamour is entitled to changing her mind and settling on a more parallel style of polyamory, where there is a very limited interaction between the metamours. Based on what you’ve shared, I gather that you are more in tune with the kitchen table style of polyamory, where there is a lot of non-romantic interactions between the metamours. That is a direct conflict that neither you nor your metamour is entitled to manage; that is wholly and entirely your hinge partner’s responsibility to manage.
If the initial agreement between your hinge partner and your metamour were such that she will always be a primary partner where she can veto and determine the trajectory of all other relationships, then your hinge partner subsequently broke that agreement when he decided that you will be a co-equal partner to his wife. And if your metamour is infringing upon your personal boundary (“I will only be happy in a polyamorous arrangement where I can be friendly with my metamours.”), then your hinge partner is doing a poor job as he fails to communicate and assert the importance of your boundary with your metamour. If you are infringing upon her personal boundary (“I will only be happy in a polyamorous arrangement where there is a lot of distance between my domestic circumstance and my partner’s other partners.”), then your hinge partner is doing a poor job as he fails to communicate and assert the importance of her boundary with you. Something will have to give, whether it is the change in the status of your relationship with your boyfriend or the change in the status of your boyfriend’s relationship with your metamour.
Remember what I said above about creating space? The same applies to your boyfriend in maintaining that space in his relationship. If you are no longer welcome in the same space that you had before, he will have to figure out how to make space for his relationship with you to exist. He could designate a specific space in his home that his wife has no say in and therefore could welcome you into. Or you’ll have to resort to staying at your own living space to be together. Both of those are temporary measures as long as she remains his only nesting partner.
I do want to say a thing or two about New Relationship Energy (NRE).
It could very well be possible that both you and your partner are entangled in NRE that informs the kind of relationship you two want to have, rather than it actually being justified. Think about how quickly things started changing in his relationship with you. It’s much easier to change when the object of your affection is there to motivate and fuel the change. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the changes themselves are rational or well thought out.
Managing NRE and expectations are one of the most challenging things for new polyfolks to get right. And it could very well be possible that while his NRE drove most of the changes, he needed to defend with materials of substance in his conflicts with his wife. Specifically, using his relationship with you as a specific justification of polyamory.
I do think that the biggest mistake your boyfriend is making here is in perpetuating and permeating relationship and marital struggles.
You shared a lot about the inner workings of what is going on in their marriage that you did not have a firsthand experience with. That tells me that either your connection with your metamour was way stronger initially than you let on (where you two openly talked about the difficulties of opening up) or that your boyfriend shared a little too much detail about the struggles he has had in his marriage.
Part of what makes being a hinge partner so difficult is in selectively filtering what needs to be shared while maintaining a commitment to open communication. You really do not need to hear about the kind of relationship your metamour wants to have with your hinge partner; at the end of the day, your relationship with him is your own. And he needs to do a better job of not sharing too much about the every day struggles while keeping you informed about the big picture relational landscape.
The biggest mistake you are making is in seeking compersion when you should be addressing the resentment.
Compersion is great when it happens. Being able to associate positive intent behind your metamour’s actions are necessary to long-term survival of any healthy polyamorous arrangement. And while compersion is a good goal to aim for, it is not always a necessity nor will it happen in every poly relationship.
As someone who has practiced polyamory for several years and met with many more who’ve practiced poly for decades plus, I am always astounded with the poly community’s inherent fascination and obsession with feeling compersion. It is almost like people want to avoid dealing with any kind of negative emotion, so they fixate on the one positive feeling unique to polyamory – compersion – and make it this big thing that is necessary. And I honestly think that this particular mentality is doing great disservice to not only the feeling of compersion but also to the emotional labor that comes with the negative feelings such as jealousy and insecurity.
Dr. Emily Nagoski, author of Come As You Are, talks about accelerators and brakes in an erotically charged scenario to explain why some folks have a lot of trouble getting turned on while others seem to get horny on demand. In this particular scenario, the resentment that you and your metamour harbor toward each other is a lot like a concrete slab resting on your poly-relational brakes. It doesn’t matter how much compersion and benevolent faith you heap onto this poly-relational accelerator, if the resentment keeps on building up. You’re just gonna end up damaging your torque converter by pressing both the accelerator and the brake.
There are a couple ways for you to preemptively address this build up of resentment.
First recognize that we are all human, and we all make human mistakes. Your metamour too is a human. And while her perspective is very limited, it is deeply rooted in saving the vision of marriage that has long been outgrown. So learn to forgive her for the mistakes she has made, mistakes she is currently making, and the mistakes she will make in the future. And learn to forgive your partner for the mistakes he has made, mistakes he is currently making, and the mistakes he will make in the future. Hopefully some of that goodwill will boomerang back and earn you some brownie points as your relationship with your boyfriend progresses.
Allow yourself to mourn the loss of this connection you built not just with your metamour but with your boyfriend’s family at large. That shift in expectation following your vacation together is something to properly grieve over. Step into and sit in the discomfort of this changed reality and learn to accept that you two will not have the type of relationship you two want to have at this exact moment. It isn’t going to be easy, but it will be necessary for you to move on.
And only when you have finally accepted this new reality, figure out what this means to your relationship. How else can you carve out a space for you two to exist as a couple? If your current living situation is not viable to host your boyfriend, is your boyfriend amenable to getting an apartment with you? Is your metamour willing to acknowledge that she’ll be left behind if she chooses not to grow with the two of you together? And what is she willing to do about it?
It is a very common saying among poly circles that when you have a metamour problem, you really have a partner problem.
Others have sympathized with your metamour, assuming that she is poly under duress. I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment, based on what you have shared. She has consented to opening up. And she just needs do the emotional labor associated with opening up or decide that that is too much emotional burden for her and bow out.
You need to see that she too is being put in a very difficult place, just like she is putting you in a very difficult place. Most importantly, you need to recognize that your personal romantic entanglement with your partner could be clouding how well he is actually treating his two relationships. He unilaterally and quickly altered his relationship agreement when he was enveloped in NRE. Are you sure that your partner is really fault-free here?
Everyone has room for growth here.
In my personal experience, I have had some of the best relationships that fell apart due to bad metamours. And for a long time, I was quick to blame my toxic former metamours or my partners who refused to coalesce together as reasons on why my previous poly arrangements didn’t work. It wasn’t until I recognized my room for personal growth as a hinge partner and a metamour that I was able to have more successful and healthy poly relationships. So even if this particular relationship doesn’t work out, remember that the work you put in could be for your next relationships to bloom.
Fight not for your current partner, but for yourself and for all the future partners you’ll have.
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 email@example.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!