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Advice – I became a part of a triad when the quarantine struck.

“Hey guys, I’m new to polyamory so please be gentle! Fair warning this is gonna be a bit, I’ll try to break it up relatively bite-sized. A lot has happened in two months. Please be kind, I think we’re all a little sensitive at this point.

So since about August of last year I [22NB] have been hanging out with two great people, Jamie [23NB] and Adrian [25M]. They’ve been in a relationship for almost three years as of this post. We all became quick friends, hanging out all day every day. About three months ago, I moved out of my parents’ house to live with them upon their invitation. Two weeks after that Adrian made a move on me, and we hooked up. The next day, we all talked together, and decided to be a polyamorous triad. Adrian is brand new to things, as am I, but Jamie has had previous experience with polyamory, which has made things a lot smoother and easier, all things considering.

A little after hooking up I felt like Adrian and Jamie were very affectionate and inclusive, and I felt happy. I was excited and the extra attention was nice. Then things got kind of weird. They both left on a pre-planned week-long trip to see Jamie’s family. When they got back, Jamie got really self conscious about their body, and didn’t want to keep being intimate with me (but continued to show lots of interest in Adrian). My love language is physical touch and after about 20 years of skin hunger my body was not ready to stop a couple weeks into a relationship, but I didn’t want to force them into anything so when they asked, I agreed to stop asking about being intimate. It’s important to note I also happen to have BPD which has essentially put a magnifying glass on my feelings: I started feeling jealous and sad and unsatisfied in my relationship, as well as a little trapped by not being able to ask for intimacy (IMO it’s one thing to ask and say no, another to ask a partner not to ask to satisfy a need at all).

Then Adrian started seeming a little more distant, like Jamie. Not necessarily less affectionate or asking me to not ask to be intimate, just not going out of his way to be more affectionate, spending less time around me, shorter replies, etc. I lost that extra little bit of physical touch I needed and slipped into a slump for two weeks, right when the pandemic started setting in. My hours got cut at work. A started getting even more distant. Half my family got sick, a couple got quarantined in Mexico, and my grandpa died alone and confused from COVID-19. I was crying and nauseated daily and just having an all around bad time with all the stress and anxiety and depression. I talked with both Jamie and Adrian about what we could do to help prevent me from feeling this way, and we all agreed on a couple things.

Then… nothing quite changed. Had to remind both Jamie and Adrian that I need physical touch to function, even though they seem to go out of their way to be physical together throughout the day. Asked them to read some articles on my mental illness to understand a little, since I’ve been struggling a lot and we all live together, Adrian likes to spend all day playing video games or reading stuff in different subreddits, Jamie works half the time and games and sleeps the rest so neither of them have made the attempt yet. The only problem was, I sent those two weeks ago now and there’s been plenty of opportunities.

I’ve just been feeling a little forgotten, left out, and like my partners could make a tiny bit more effort. It is hard to communicate this to them because I feel like I have already done it a lot and nothing has changed, and I don’t want/it is hard to be pushy. My partners tell me I’m overthinking it to try and be a comfort, but I am still feeling unsatisfied, sad, now with the added bonus of self anger and resentment because I don’t feel like I have any right to feel left out or unhappy in the first place.

Any advice is welcome, but please be kind!”

Anonymous on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

Dear Anonymous,

I’m really sorry to hear that you are experiencing such difficult times. In her weekly workshop Love, Loss, and Loneliness under Lockdown, Esther Perel talked a bit about anticipatory grief in these turbulent times. Regardless of how close you were to your grandfather, you are experiencing a very intense form of loss and grief of your connected kin. So allow yourself to experience the sadness without criticizing or pathologizing it.

Based on what you’ve shared, an incredible amount of development happened over a very short amount of time in terms of your living arrangement and relationships. And because it all happened so fast, there wasn’t really enough time for anyone to process all the new information as they were presented. So it could be very possible that neither Jamie nor Adrian were prepared for this new polyamorous development in their relationship with each other. Even if Jamie has had some previous experience with polyamory does not mean that they have talked about or were ready to be date others.

Consider that if Jamie and Adrian did not have an initial agreement to open their relationship, Adrian’s initial decision to hook up with you without Jamie’s explicit consent could have been defined as an act of infidelity. Even if you three had a productive conversation thereafter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their trust for each other and in themselves haven’t been shaken at the very foundation. And it definitely doesn’t mean that Jamie and Adrian didn’t have difficult conversations about what that meant for their existing relationship during their pre-planned trip for a week without you. That could be one of the reasons why both Jamie and Adrian slowly started de-escalating with you in the intimate aspects of your relationship with both of them. It could also be possible that they saw how much you were struggling and that added another level of emotional labor they had to engage with you in before either of them could be intimate with you. Close intimacy isn’t the same intimacy without the labor associated with it.

I’ll also point out that Jamie and Adrian suggested you to move out of your parents’ and move in with them. In their ask, both Jamie and Adrian asked you to take a leap of faith, to house and shelter you in a safe place. It is worth noting that Adrian made a move to hook up with you after only two weeks, which makes me think that it is possible that Adrian (and perhaps Jamie as well) had intended to hook up with you all along.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I also want to talk about your needs – specifically, how to best advocate for your needs in a relationship.

There is a major difference between saying “I need both of you to touch me”, “can you please touch me?”, and “I miss the feel of your hands on my body”.

First is a demand for their immediate action. It reads as emergent and urgent. While that kind of communication can be effective short-term, this can also rob your partners in their ability to prioritize what is urgent and what is not urgent in the long-term.

The second is an ask for a need as an appeal to your relationship. Though the ask doesn’t have the same sense of urgency as a demand, it allows for agency; the “ask” allows for each of your partners to judge for themselves on when your need needs to be sated.

The last is a bid for a need with a specific projection. In this particular bid for your need, you also leave room for your partners to reciprocate their needs as well. That is the one advantage a bid has over both a demand and an ask. In addition, it can be an emotional labor for your partners to translate your need (physical touch) to a mean (cuddle). A bid specifically outlines what you want done.

There are outliers and hybrids to each of these different means to advocate for your needs. You might lean heavily on one mean over another. So it might be worth an effort to

It sounds like you’ve already tried a couple different ways to communicate that your need is not being met and even suggested ways in which your partners can meet those needs. And your needs are still not being met even after communication.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Further escalation will mean conflict. So what do you do?

It should be in both Jamie and Adrian’s best interests to meet your needs for the sake of your connections with both Jamie and Adrian. However, it isn’t either of their obligation to meet your needs. At the end of the day, only you know which needs are being met and which ones aren’t. And if you honestly feel like you’ve done your best to communicate your need to be touched (physical touch) and to be understood (BPD), then you will have to figure out how else you can get your needs met.

It might be worth considering dating other people who can supplement and meet your needs that Jamie and Adrian cannot or will not meet. If you feel like the triad label that you three have settled on does not meet the level of expectation you would normally demand out of your relationships, then consider de-escalating back down to roommates.

In these difficult times, we depend even more on those we are quarantined with. For many, we’re in the company of their family. For some, we’re in the company of their lovers. But the challenge therein lies not with our support network, but with supporting ourselves through these difficult times. You have to be your strongest advocate and support.

I’ll add this bit as someone who is also neurodivergent. Folks who are not neurodivergent in the same way often have difficult time sympathizing with mental illness. The onus of education isn’t on you to teach your partners about what BPD means. That part of research is on them, as a part of their compassion package for you as partners. You’ve already done way more than you needed to do when you provided reading materials for them that they did not to look at for the past two weeks. But their inability to peruse dense materials is on you as much as it is on them. You have to own your mental disorder because even if your partners completely and holistically understood your illness, the battle is still your own to fight. So don’t aim for understanding. Settle for acceptance.

With all that said, you have been going through a lot: BPD, passing of your grandfather, recent developments in your relationships. Now is as good a time as any other for you to look for a therapist who can help you sort through all the feelings you’ve been feeling. A therapist might be a more efficient mean through which you can channel your own personal journey to emotional harmony.

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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