How do you know you're poly?
It may seem like an obvious question to someone on the other side of the looking glass, but I've been wondering lately.
So, let's have some background and context, and then more questions.
I learned about the sheer existence of polyamory about a year ago, and I've been lurking about these boards and reading up on it ever since. I suppose at the moment I would identify as "poly-curious." From what I understand, the core belief of many polyamorous people is that you can love - or at least care for deeply - several people at once, and that one relationship does not detract from the other(s). Indeed, quite the opposite, they can all create a positive synergy.
I understand that, and even feel very comfortable with that. I've always been a generous person. Making people happy makes me happy, and this is one of those situations where more really is more, for me: making more people happy makes me happier.
So, that part I get. I suppose my quandary really is this: I'm married, monogamously, for more than a decade now. It hasn't all been ice cream and puppies, but it's a healthy, comfortable relationship that benefits both of us a lot.
Especially over the past year (but even before then, I've come to realize), I've been drawn to people - mostly women. It's part physical attraction, part intellectual, part... well, we're drawn to people for all sorts of reasons. For a long time, I would tamp this down, or I'd let myself become playful and flirty for a little while, then feel guilty about it and then pull away. And, you know, it's mostly a mono world out there, so that was usually the path of least resistance.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about my motivations for this. For a while, it was clear that my marriage was going through a rough patch: my wife's work became ever-increasingly stressful, our sex life had become boring (and then almost non-existent); after ten years of married life and 15 of living together, it was a pretty natural lull. And I pulled away, emotionally, for a while. I sought emotional fulfillment in the attentions of another woman.
Fortunately, my extra-marital attraction at the time had the good sense to swat me on the nose. I picked up my ego, kicked myself in the ass and went in to talk with my wife about the things that were making me unhappy. We hashed things out and lately, our life together has been good. Despite continued work stress, we've decided to try and have children. And if she's not as affectionate as I'd really like (I'm a very touchy-feely person), she's more affectionate than she had been most of last year. Our sex life has increased in both frequency and intensity.
So, things are pretty good at home, but I still feel this attraction towards other women. I've been doing some hard thinking about my motivations lately, and I believe I can reasonably rule out "I'm looking for others to fulfill my need for affection and attention that I'm not getting home." Because I am getting it at home.
I refuse to believe that there's anything wrong with me, inherently. I feel attracted to women who are not my wife; I wish them well; I like to help them. I like to laugh and talk and geek out and - occasionally - flirt with them. It's not 100% innocent, but it's not harmful, either.
Except that my wife, to this point, has not really been a part of any of these relationships. The other women know I'm married; at least one of them is poly and has drawn a crystal clear line about "No cheating," which I respect and appreciate. I've mentioned the other women to my wife in passing, but I haven't been open about my depth of feeling towards them. Partly because I'm not sure what those depths or feelings are; I haven't let myself explore that much because it just leads back onto the slippery slope towards the land of emotional infidelity.
Nonetheless, I feel like I've broached that point where it would be harmful to not talk about this with her. And here - thank you for reading this far - is my great big question:
How do I talk to her about this? I honestly don't think she's poly-leaning, -curious or -anything, and I'm afraid that I'm going to come off as that asshole who's just asking to be able to sleep around.
At my deep, dark shadowy core, I'm afraid of losing my wife. She is a tremendous light in my life. On the flip-side, I have a responsibility to be true to myself. I've been prepping myself with versions of this story for about a week now, but I'm wondering about the balance of honesty and accessibility. I've learned that full-bore, brutal honesty can be counter-productive.
Accessibility is the prompt for my thread title. Can I be sure? If I'm sure, how can I explain this?
It's good have some things that you want and points to negotiate, right?
1) I want her to be aware of how I feel. (That's somewhat easy to accomplish.)
2) I want her to understand how I feel. (That might be harder; I'd like your help.)
3) I want her to approve of how I feel. (That I have no control over; but this is a wish list as well as a to-do list.)
4) I want to be able to pursue relationships with other women (sorry guys, I've looked, I've considered, it just ain't my thing.) It would be great if she wants to pursue these relationships with me.
5) I want her to know that she will always be my priority. Should we have kids, they will be the priority, followed by her.
6) I want her to have the same freedom as she's willing to grant me.
I'm rambling at this point for the sake of getting it all out. This seems like a wonderful community and I look forward to hearing your advice - and your questions. I appreciate gadflies.
Have you ever talked about various types of non-monogamy (swinging/open relationships/etc) in a theoretical or hypothetical way with her? If not, you might want to start there, before you hit her with, "I think I'm poly." If she's aware of your friendship with the poly woman, that might be a way to bring up the subject. Something like, "You know how *blank* is poly? She and I were talking the other day about *insert some poly topic here* and it was really interesting. What do you think?" That was you can get a feel for how she'll react to the idea of poly in general and maybe even a chance to express how "theoretically" you see how it could work and be a good thing. Then later (since you're in no rush, right? It doesn't sound like you're at a "I HAVE to tell her because I have feelings for this person and if I don't do something I'll BURST!" place mentally, which is good.) you can work up to, "You know, the more I think about poly and how it works, the more I think it might explain why I keep creating these other friendships. It would be something I'd like to explore, if you wouldn't mind going through the reading and research with me."
This would definitely NOT be full-bore, brutal honesty. It might even skirt some white lies, so you'll have to decide for yourself if it looks like a path you'd like to take. Usually I'm a big fan of total honesty, but I knew I was bi and interested in non-typical-relationships when I met my husband, so I was able to be upfront from the start. The closest I've come to your situation is trying to find a way to tell my mother, and I'm still working on that, so I'm hardly in any position to judge! It's really hard to balance being honest with avoiding being hurtful. I wish you luck.
We've had a pair of threesomes, but that was more being horny and exploring our sexuality than the more all-encompassing lifestyle that I understand poly to be.
The gradual approach is probably a good idea. You're right, I'm in no rush. My wife is pretty sharp, so she'll probably connect the dots of "Hey, turns out So-So is polyamorous, and we were talking about XYZ; what do you think of that?" with "This interests me," but it's still a lot less dramatic than "I think I've discovered a completely new part of myself; we need to change our relationship."
While I support the being in no rush thing, I think it would be awesome to have some discussion about this prior to any pregnancy. 'Trying to get pregnant' is a different state than 'ordinary relationship as usual.' If she's actually pregnant and you haven't had the discussion, it takes on a whole new meaning.
I'm down with KISS -- Keep it simple, silly!
If poly, just tell her you want to talk to her about something you are not great at talking about yet because you are confused and in the sorting it out place.
And you want to let her read something, and agree to let her digest it and try to talk about it at a later time when she's digested. Maybe in a week?
And what you most like to hear when she reads it is "Ok. New thing in our relationship to deal with. I love you and we will navigate this as best we can as a team here" and not just launch into crazy at you.
Because you are having a hard time trying to sort yourself out, nervy, and want to turn to your beloved for aid, not abuse.
Then just print the post you wrote above and hand it over for her to read. Take a deep breath and be brave. It is clear enough about your fears, wants, anxieties.
I guess I'm amazed that in a marriage, Life hasn't already thrown you toughies and you don't have a system in place for communication during the toughies?
"Write it out /print out to tape on bathroom mirror / just email it "
tends to work for us. Gives the author time to collect thoughts, gives the reader time to collect thoughts and write back. Meanwhile, spoken word life goes on as usual and we try to be extra kind to each other.
Hang in there!
The K.I.S.S. approach has appeal. I'll think that over.
Communication about sex and feelings is the weak point in our marriage. I don't think either of us grew up in an environment where we learned either the skills or vocabulary to do so easily. We're both intelligent adults, so we manage, but it often begins to approach the critical stage before we begin talking and there's a lot of groping about to express ourselves clearly and then to create an action plan.
I, in particular, have difficulty telling her "I want X," because it feels selfish. That's my own hang-up. The acknowledgement of the need to communicate is something that impresses me about the poly community. It's a skill that I know I have to work on.
And oh, yes, this discussion must certainly happen well before pregnancy. One paradigm shift at a time. But something will begin tonight.
Or is it about craving greater emotional intimacy/trust in THIS relationship? So you can freely share all your thoughts from the light side or dark side of your psyche with her and feel safe and secure? Still loved and wanted, but better able to be the authentic you?
Or maybe BOTH?
I can't be a mind reader. He actually has a responsibility to the partnership to speak up and spit it out!
And he can't do that and feel safe if I'm all stompy shouty in my style, so I had to crank it down a few notches. I have a responsibility to the partnership to see that he feels safe/secure.
Decades later he's so used to me having my "Latina waving hands in the air shouty" moments he doesn't bat an eye any more. He knows I'll come back to reason soon. Doesn't mean I don't like him, just... whaddaya want? I wave my hands around all DRAMATIC! Part of my process. What use to baffle him now amuses him. LOL. ;)
We feel however we feel when we feel it. (emotion). That's not under our control. How we behave and react in response to it is under our control and we can CHOOSE how to act.
So I tend to view it like being the Weather Channel for my spouse.
Then some time later after the THING...
Not bring out old sores and rub salt in, but a discussion about coping style for how to improve THAT side of it for next time. Or maybe just even a compliment! Something came up, the partners handled it with good grace and you want to go "Way to go, partner! You rock! I love you!"
It's not selfish-osity. It's just being a good weather reporter. You know. So the relationship can successfully weather whatever it is that popped up this time.
If you have a hard time talking about feelings, maybe add more feeling words to the crayon box?
Love this description/explanation GalaGirl. LOVE. IT.
I copied and sent it to both my guys, hope you don't mind! :-)
First, I want to say that your "Weather Channel" metaphor is fantastic. things are rarely dramatic around here (we're pretty chill people, especially her), but this is a good framework for creating healthy habits.
... Though I had never thought about the trust angle. If you would have asked me thirty seconds ago, I would have said that I trust my wife entirely and unconditionally. She's certainly the more reasonable and stable of our pair. Yet, obviously, I don't trust her to enough to just talk to her about these feelings.
I'm afraid she'll leave, or just pull away and here's why: I really screwed up once. I cheated on her, and then I made the situation worse.
It was at the end of the same pattern I saw myself falling into last year: fatigue, emotional distance, seeking fulfillment elsewhere. And I handled it in possibly the worst way. Instead pulling myself together and getting my inside shit straight, I immediately ran home and confessed, then dragged my wife through the ugly mess of my own dark introspection. I basically hurt her twice in quick succession in the name of trying to be a good partner. It took us about a year to patch things back together; I know that for a brief while she seriously considered divorce. (This was almost 8 years ago; but I don't know if time really makes a difference.)
So, when I think about talking about being attracted other women, there's that specter of my erstwhile infidelity lurking in the background. That's probably the biggest source of my anxiety.
It's really hard to put that out there. It's not the admission of the act, it's the sense of guilt that I still feel associated with it. Maybe I haven't forgiven myself. I've rationalized the hell out of that episode; I thought about it and tried to learn from it, but I don't know if I've actually let it go.
It's all dark and squishy in my psyche; thanks for the kind listening.
ThatGirlInGray: Glad it helped!
Glad "Weather Channel" helps you too. :)
So you cheated and you both tried to move past it? No judgement here on that other than I'm glad you tried to move past it. Have you both fully healed?
We all have our dark places we are not esp proud of. But our partners love us warts and all you know. We are all human. Very few of us are crazed serial killers or something that are totally beyond redemption! Sheesh!
And not to bring out old sores to rub salt in but let's look at this from the "Ok, that THING happened then. How could it have been better handled?" place.
From my stranger eyes? (and I mean all this kindly) Let's jump in there. Ready? Go!
Learn to speak UP and just SPIT IT OUT to your wife when your needs/wants are missing attention from her. See if she needs things from you.
Be a better Weather Reporter / Weatherman that studies the weather. You can do it! :)
If you didn't speak up about this need at the time of the affair? Were thinking she'd just "mind reader" it because you are not good about articulating your emotional need/wants? Then you went looking for the warm elsewhere because she failed to provide it?
You weren't holding up your end of the communication stick. Went off to Tahiti to find warmth without her and left her in the dark. *shrug* Can't blame her for not being thrilled.
Listen to you...
"My wife is sharp she'll prob" -- that's like
"wife, you should mind reader me"
"wife, you ought to just know what I need when"
"I won't announce my need I'll just expect her to guess and nail it anyway"
And if she doesn't hit the mark because she didn't know she was supposed to mind reader it, you can't be pegging your disappointment at her. Was it an emotional gap back then? Or was it a perceived one because she's cool in personality and you wish she'd be warmer at you?
You actually have a responsibility to the partnership to speak up and YOU are the one that needs to meet that side of the stick. Not her.
She also has a responsibility to the partnership to actually CHECK IN with you too. Doesn't have to wait for the hand-delivered, custom made, gold-edged invitation from you. She can initiate a weather report and check in. Isn't she one of the partners here? It's a two way street.
I'd def work on getting this communication thing with your wife up a few notches.
Time DOES heal things like that. It was a bad storm, punched a hole in the roof, ruined the floor. So... you gonna get around to roof repair or what?
On the affair? I had one once. I felt terrible but had to own up. My husband and I were dating then, not married. While we were not exclusive -- I crossed a line and had sex with a person I was seeing without consulting and checking in first tho. My bad. Totally. I felt awful because I crossed a boundary line. He told me he was not thrilled with the news, felt that was a reasonable reaction, but thanked me for telling him honestly. He did not love THIS but he told me he still loved ME, things happen, and we'd deal with it and we try to do better moving forward.
I was stunned with his grace and humbled really. I sure as heck didn't want to screw up AGAIN! Weather reports became my mission. Updates on my feelings, what's going on in my inner world, keeping him in the loop. Behave like I'm part of a partnership, not like a footloose singleton.
I think more than anything, learning to own your feelings, talk about your feelings and your needs/wants with your wife?
THAT will help you lay the affair thing to rest. The actual affair person is long gone.
But the "emotional distance gap" thing will always feel like a threat to you. Whether it is a real cap or perceived gap if you don't do something about about stocking your emotional coping toolbox with some more tools.
Right now? You have 5 relationships going on there within 2 people.
Poly's fine, but get your foundation 5 on solid ground first if you crave greater intimacy and trust in THIS rship.
Well before venturing into polymath. That's not additive. That's geometric. :)
Or it's that you don't like how talking about emotional things makes you feel vulnerable? Shaky? Turmoil inside? Internal thunderstorm? (That's natural weather. You reporting?)
Are you expecting her to mind reader THAT discomfort and pave the way smooth for you and annoyed she isn't magically doing it? (That is you not holding your side of the stick and spitting it out is it? Or doing your own personal growth filling your emotional toolbox up.)
Report your Weather, dude! Wife cannot mind read. But after you report maybe she knows where the umbrella is that you both can share while riding this internal weather of yours out as a team? Help hone your communication skills to something sharper. Maybe she wants better skills at something.
SPEAK UP. FIND OUT.
Have you been cheating all this time? No? Great. :)
Then... are you both over it? Forgiven at least, if not forgotten? Not divorced, so I'm gonna go with yeah. Great! :)
Changed the behavior that caused the emotional distance gap? Ah. Communication skills again.
I know this emotion stuff is not fun for you. But how are you going to get better if you do not get out there and practice it? Cuz if you never open up to take the risk to gift your heart vulnerabilities? Then she's never been given the chance to show kindness when gifted your vulnerabilities. How can your grow the trust in her handling your heart gently if she's never been given it to handle?
And if you have done it and she bungled it? That's still how you grow trust. You keep handing it over. If she were truly PUTRID PERSON you would not still be together after all this, right?
SOMEONE has to jump first again. And since you are the one posting here craving bigger emotional intimacies with wife... It's on you, no?
Stop going in circles. KISS!
Jump! Lay out the emotions for discussion. Print the whole thread even to give her to read. Practice that "talking about hard emotion things" stuff. It gets easier with practice.
Hang in there. You will be ok. You obviously love her and want something deeper with her. Why wouldn't she be flattered? :)
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