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Advice – Am I the asshole for messaging my partner’s FWB?

When my husband and I first started this journey into poly, I joined a local-ish fb group, and a few people on there friended me. Fast forward a few months and I am seeing this wonderful woman, who mentions that we have a common fb friend. I explain to her that a few people had friended me and I probably had quick hello chitchat with them at some point, but nothing ever evolved. Come to find out, this is one of her play partners, more of a FWB situation. Ok, fun fact to know about this person that I have never met before, that’s cool.

I come across this person on Bumble, swipe for yes, because I figure that if my gf likes them, they must be good person as well. Gf and I still VERY loosely use the term gf, she is seeing at least one other person other than me. And as far as I know, things are pretty open to my understanding.

I message the person on FB, just a general “hey, I noticed you on bumble and remembered we are fb friends. Covid really puts a damper on meeting anyone new, huh?! How have you been / what have you found of interest in these weird times / whats up?” and we have the general easygoing introductory conversation.

A few days later, gf brings up this person in general conversation, stating they are going to get coffee or something this coming weekend. I ask if she had ever mentioned me to this person, she says no… why?

I explain that I saw them on bumble, and it triggered my memory that we were fb friends so I started a conversation.

She says that doesn’t make her feel great, “is weird to seek out someone I’ve slept with”, starts making jokes about “[her] replacement”, and then says she needs space. “It will be fine, I’ll get over it.”

Then I started apologizing and explaining that I didn’t know this was a boundary, I should have mentioned it to her (gf) before starting a conversation with the other person, etc etc

It has been a few days and part of me feels so empty now, I hate that I hurt her, or made her feel uneasy at all, that was not my intention. I was just trying to broaden my friends base with more open-minded people.

Am I the asshole? How do I make this better? Obviously we need to have a talk about boundaries because I didn’t think things through first.

/u/kdassatti, Reddit.

Dear Kdassatti,

Before we dive deeper into the right-and-wrongness, let’s first define the term boundaries.

The term boundary comes up a lot in discussions about modern relationships. I have previously deferred to Vicky Tidwell Palmer’s general definition of boundary as a form of personal or relational protection from unforeseen harm. I also believe that a sound boundary has three distinct characteristics.

First is that they are internally driven. Boundaries need to be assessed and determined by the person who owns the boundary. For example, a common boundary in modern non-monogamous relationships states, “I will not be in a sexual relationship with someone who exhibits extremely risky sexual behaviors with others.” The internal driver of that boundary falls on the “I” to discontinue the sexual relationship if the connection is deemed too risky to continue, not the person breaching the boundary. In your girlfriend’s case, this boundary never appeared to be driven by her. Instead, it appears that you interpreted her hurt feelings as a boundary violation. Feelings are not facts.

Sound boundaries are also mindful and conscientious. Boundaries are a powerful way to create protection around yourself and your loved ones. Even though boundaries are owned and enforced by one person, the responsibility of boundary acknowledgement is shared by many. So being mindful about how others can interpret and assess your boundaries on your behalf is crucial. In your girlfriend’s case, limiting a partner’s connections to a mutual friend through a boundary is neither mindful nor conscientious. It is controlling to ask your partner to clear an introductory greeting to a friend.

Most importantly, good and sound boundaries are clearly communicated. Personal and relational boundaries can vary from person to person. As such, boundaries need to be explicit and clear, especially if those boundaries deviate from the common social norms or implicit societal boundaries. You are not responsible for the emotional labor of practicing and enforcing others’ non-standard implicit boundaries. It is evident that your girlfriend has never communicated this as a boundary. So even if this classifies as a boundary, it is definitively not a sound one you were expected to honor.

Now that we have defined what boundaries are, let’s revisit what happened with your girlfriend.

It is difficult to peer into true and precise reasons on why she felt upset. It could be possible that your reaching out did trigger a deeper sense of insecurity that she unknowingly harbored. It could be that your girlfriend felt very insecure about her connection with you or her play partner. And she assessed that your independent connection with her play partner jeopardized either or both of her connections. It could also be possible that the contextual framing around this discussion – Bumble – made her think that your intentions were more romantic/erotic than you initially let on.

Either way, she reacted by misreading your intention (“weird to seek out someone I’ve slept with” was not your intention), then threw a self-deprecating joke (“finding a replacement” was not your intention either), then pushed back by asking for space to analyze her feelings deeper. Underlying each of those subsequent reactions are emotional management strategies and coping mechanisms that help her reframe her hurt feelings around internal language that only she understands.

What might be a more productive endeavor is to dig deeper into your headspace, rather than hers.

It is clear that your girlfriend experienced some hurt feelings – justified or not, valid nonetheless – when you shared that you connected with her play partner. And when you recognized that her feelings were hurt, you acknowledged that her feelings were hurt then immediately leapt to make things right by making future amends. It could be that your desire to apologize and find fixes is a deeply ingrained reaction to resolving a stressful scenario. Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for our partners in distress is to hold them tight and let those bad feelings stand without jumping to an immediate problem-solving mindset.

Let’s take your stated intention at its face value, that you only intended to connect platonically with her play partner. If so, then your intentions clear you of any wrongdoing. Not only is it not wrong to make new friends, it is also not wrong to expand upon a connection you have already made before your girlfriend became your girlfriend. So consider digging deeper into why your emotional aspect had such a strong kickback reaction to your desire to connect with others.

Some of the hardest lessons that I have learned through dating was to provide enough space for my partner to experience those bad feelings, as much as it hurt to see my partner suffer.

There might not be anything active you can do to make things better. There’s no threading the needle in that regard. Instead, allow your girlfriend to process those bad feelings and anticipate a reconnection. By providing space for your partner to process those feelings, she will learn to cope with any future bad feelings they might encounter in not just this relationship with you but her other current and future relationships as well.

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. 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!

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