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Advice – Managing infatuation for a secondary partner.

I feel a little weird even asking this but I actually have no idea who to talk to in my life about it. I’ve been in a relationship that’s only grown stronger with my partner for five years. We have kept it open the entire time in the physical / sexual aspect. We have come across all sorts of situations in this time, and are really open about discussing any potential issues that come up. But overall we are really happy and tied to just each other emotionally.

My partner was the one who wanted it open initially and has been comfortable with keeping it that way. But I’ve been way more active with pursuing physical relationships with others.

For the most part, it’s been fine but I have felt really strange because I’ve had an on/off thing with one individual for the last few years and I find myself thinking about him a lot and wanting to see him. Let’s call him Peter. Peter knows about my relationship. Throughout the years, we occasionally stop communicating usually when he’s in a relationship (that’s not open), but we always end up seeing each other again and fall into the same routine. I don’t see anything romantic with this person, and I know there is no future or anything so I don’t know why I can’t control my thoughts of wanting to see him. I’ve met lots of other people and never have these issues. Even if there’s an initial thrill or fantasy of thinking about someone constantly, it always dies out.

Is this something that has happened to others? I’m so confused and I’m getting really sick of it because it’s been a few years of the same sort of thing and then I end up feeling sad when he stops communicating with me but I also feel like I shouldn’t be because I’m in a really solid relationship. The only thing I can think of is that I don’t have a lot of friends in my area anymore, and when I do see this person, we end up actually hanging out and it’s always enjoyable. So maybe he’s fulfilling a friendship aspect that I’m missing.

I think I need to stop contacting him since it is feeling more emotional than I want it to, but I’m also at a loss as to why I’ve even gotten so hyper focused on this one person. I hope this makes sense. If anyone has recommendations, I would really appreciate it.

Helen, Reddit.

Dear Helen,

Let me tell you about this cherry blossom tree that I have in my backyard. The tree came with the house when my nesting partner and I first purchased our home. And while I generally love the aesthetic of cherry blossom trees, I wasn’t a big fan of the placement of this tree – it felt too close to home. So we chopped it down ourselves and thought it’d be gone.

Well, it came back the next year. This time, the branches out of the bark we cut weaved into our deck. This made the tree management even more difficult. But, again, we trimmed all the branches off. I remember looking at my nesting partner in her eyes and saying, “I guess that is that.”

What do you know, the tree came back the following year. This time, we threw our hands up in the air and decided we’ll just keep it trimmed to the best of our abilities. And we will hire someone to move the tree when we can budget for a relocation.

Trees don’t just die and wither because the branches are cut off. Nature inevitably find ways to survive and thrive, even in uncharacteristically challenging environments. In this way, our feelings resemble my very resilient cherry blossom tree. We cannot truly control our feelings; we can only acknowledge those feelings, then manage them by altering the context around those feelings.

Photo by Miti on Unsplash

Let’s do an even deeper dive into your feelings.

You say that you don’t see anything romantic happening between you two, and that this present agreement works for both of you. You also say that you feel sad when Peter drops in and out of your life. And you also mentioned that you don’t have a whole lot of other friends in the area you can authentically engage with. As you’ve already laid out, it appears that you’ve grown to depend on Peter to engage with you as friends and as partners over the years.

And those types of feelings are a natural response to developing attachment, whether they are a platonic friendship, quasi-romantic sexual connection, or a full-spectrum romantic relationship. Your feelings regarding your connection with Peter is further compounded by the uncertainty of your connection. It sounds like Peter is forging monogamous connections with others, so you never know if the next time he disconnects from you will be the last disconnection. That is very difficult to manage.

And your fears here are very valid and real. You want to be able to depend on people you share vulnerabilities with.

Then you have complicated meta feelings related to the your connection anxiety. I get an underlying sense of guilt as you reflect on the casual nature of your connection with Peter. More specifically, you feel like you are not allowed to have these intense feelings of longing for a connection that you know probably won’t be “forever and ever.” And because you have such difficult time navigating your negative meta feelings, you feel a desire to sever this connection. That desire comes from wanting a semblance of control – a sense of security – in that if you can assert control over this connection with Peter, then you might also be asserting control over the feelings you have about this connection with Peter.

So let’s spend some time with the core issue within your situation.

The question you initially asked – “Should I end this connection with my secondary partner?” – might not be the right question to ask. A better question is – “Should I allow myself to feel emotionally connected in my secondary partnerships?” You said that you are content just being emotionally involved with your primary partner. And if you want to reserve exclusive emotional vulnerability around your primary partnership, then it makes sense to sever this tie so that you can remain compliant with your relationship agreement. If so, then setting proper relationship boundaries should be something you should implement for any of your future connections.

Those boundaries can look like limiting the amount of time with your secondary connections (i.e. only seeing them once or twice a month), limiting the amount of vulnerability you share with your secondary connections (i.e. not talking about certain topics beyond basic sexual chemistry), or even setting a time limit on your secondary connections (i.e. “burn notice” clause). All of those can help manage the context around your feelings for not just this secondary connection but your future ones as well. Do note, this won’t manage your feelings themselves. It’ll only help alter the circumstances around those feelings.

But if you’ve never struggled with setting those boundaries around other secondary connections, maybe this is just a Peter thing. And there is something special and unique about this connection that is making you much more vulnerable than you really want to be with your secondary partners. These feelings aren’t wrong or unethical. But if you don’t want to have attachment-based connection with your secondary partners, then it might be for the best to sever this connection so that you can focus on connections where you have positive meta feelings about.

Cherry blossom trees can also be beautiful in the right places.

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.

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