Is this dishonest and wrong? Or just standard practices?
Hi all--thanks for the wisdom and support on this forum. I'm in a bit of a crisis right now and could use some guidance. (I'm sorry if this is too long--feel free to skip to skim the back story to get to the questions at the end. I'm terrible at being brief!)
Last year I fell in love with D. I'm used to being primary with someone I love and I had doubts about being crazy-in-love in a long-distance, non-hierarchical relationship. But D was so generous and loving that it felt great. In time I appreciated how non-hierarchy didn't place couplehood above other bonds, which is in line with my philosophy and politics. Our one rule, besides disclosure about any new sexual health risks, was that no other relationships would be able to interfere with ours, and vice versa.
Last summer, while my circle of domestic intimacy at home was falling apart, I began wanting more from D. He had talked of wanting to be life partners, but he was evasive whenever I proposed spending more time in each others' towns. When I finally asked him "So, are we building a life together?" he hesitated. Believing I needed primary status to feel okay as his lover, he tried to end our romance and focus on our friendship. I pushed for us to remain lovers. I recognized I did want a committed romantic partnership, but not with D, and I was willing to see what else was possible between us. We spent a few months exploring what it meant to remain sexually connected and deeply engaged, without any particular name for what we were doing. Eventually we felt strong enough in our new way of relating that we agreed to re-identify as lovers. (Meanwhile, I was building other intimacies back home that helped me centralize him less.)
When I was about to visit D after a long absence, I learned his in-town lover R (who is mono) didn't know he and I were still lovers. When he broke the news to her, at my insistence, she had a really hard time with it. Such a hard time that he promised to spend the first night of my visit with her. He told me this the night before I boarded the train to see him. To me, this raised all kinds of red flags and I almost didn't go--but after some terrible fights he understood how he had accidentally created a hierarchal dynamic and broken our one rule about non-interference of other relationships. He has promised never to do this again, and has done a good job of rebuilding trust with me.
This was my first inkling that his longstanding relationship with R, who is mono and who he's described as "peripheral" to his life, was fairly serious and involved strong feelings. We've had some terrible conversations since in which I was trying to sort out if she was more "primary" in his life than I was--terms he finds very alien. He has insisted, repeatedly, that he cannot compare his relationships and that while they spend time together regularly she is not "central" to his life. Eventually we agreed we didn't need to discuss her anymore.
Recently I chose an inopportune moment to ask D for more clarity about R. All I can say to in my excuse is that, again, my other intimacies were in a period of transition and my in-town lover had just moved away. I suppose I was trying to understand, again, what kind of room my relationship with D might have to grow and expand now that we felt better with each other. I asked if he and R were in love and he said yes. This was a shock to me, because I thought I'd been clear that this was something--like sexual health--that I wanted to hear about as it came up. But because of how I had phrased that request long ago, and our more recent conversations, he thought I only needed to know if someone else became his primary--which isn't what he considers anyone. He didn't think he'd done anything wrong by withholding that information.
I feel really shaken by this. I have no desire to prevent him from loving whomever he does, but I thought our intimacy involved being in each others' confidence. It hurts to have been shut out from something this significant. He still maintains that it isn't significant, and that his feelings for other people have no bearing on our relationship.
He's concerned, now, that I'm not capable of this kind of polyamory because of my reaction. He maintains that other relationships don't affect what we're doing. I'm not sure I agree. It bothers me not to have known, and it bothers me that she doesn't know D and I are in love--now that I know their relationship is more than casual. I feel like deep relationships can't help but affect each other, even if we try to keep them separate. Her jealousy about my visit is just one example of this. D has been a cheater in the past, and I worry about him being dishonest to avoid conflict--setting himself up for much larger conflict in the future. To be clear, R is not interested in knowing about D's lovers. She says she "trusts him." Trusts him to do or not do what, I'm not sure.
So--I'm realizing that where D is coming from is very foreign to me--I have more experience being friends with metamours, and being in triads--but I want to make this work. Is he right that none of this should matter to me, if I'm actually okay with non-hierarchical polyamory? Can people really share intimacy like this, compartmentalized away from each other, without feeling betrayed someday if they learn of another deep emotional bond? Should I try to stop thinking about R and just focus on what works between me and D?
Phew. So many questions. All advice welcome, thanks for reading!
You seem to be lumping "non-hierarchical" and "compartmentalized" in together. Do you see them as aspects of the same thing?
I'm going to look inside my anus and pull out some free advice, complete with conclusions about information I do not have, assumptions about people I do not know, and judgements about people who are not here to tell their side of the story.
Oh my darling - it's really clean up in there. It must be because of all the psyllium fiber capsules I ate.
Alright, fuck all that, I'll just tell you what I think.
You: maybe hierarchy, maybe not. if hierarchy = yes, primary preferred
D: evasive. tells people what they want to hear. if questioned with specifics, gives as little information as possible
R: you don't know they're in love, she doesn't know you and D are in love. I guess that makes you both even (but not the kind of "even" that it means to be in a "non-hierarchical" relationship)
I read your story twice just to make sure I wasn't imagining any of this. To answer your title question/s, is it dishonest and wrong? I suppose that's one way of putting it. If I were sugar-coating it I mean being "open-minded" about it, i would definitely say that there is more to this than D is sharing with you and R. Is it "standard practices"? I don't think I can answer that seriously with a straight face, so I'll use a rhetorical question: What do YOU think? Do you think it's "standard practice" for mature adults (cue lectures about ageism from the peanut gallery) to conduct their close personal relationships this way? Has it been your personal and anecdotal experience that this is a "standard practice" when it comes to fostering a healthy environment for oneself?
Anyway, it sucks that you're going through this and I hope you make choices that put your own needs before the needs of a person you've only been with for a year or so, whom you don't even seem to have very good communication with.
On the other hand, you could just accept him for what he is, not what you wish he were, and just have fun and share his company and sex. But don't merge your lives (especially finances) together and don't have any expectations that he'll "be there" for you through thick and thin. Find someone else to create a home with, who will pick you up when you miss the last train home or go to the store and buy the juice you like when you're sick.
You can't "make this work" the way you want all by yourself. Even if you do all the "right" things, the other people will still do what THEY want.
Standard practice in our society does tend to involve a lot of evasive lying. We've gotten so good at lying by omission most people don't even believe it's lying-fucking annoying.
But-what is standard practice, what is the norm, can never change to anything better unless people start enforcing better behavior in themselves and refusing to tolerate less from others as well.....
Um...what do the huge flags flapping in the breeze, the glare from the rockets, and the view in the stadium during Nebraska football games have in common?
They're all red.
How many red flags do you need before you figure out D isn't likely to ever be forthright with you and always withholding a good deal of information?
No, that's not "standard practice" in healthy, functional relationships. It's not necessarily dishonest, though it is rather dysfunctional. If you're looking for a solid, functional relationship, I reckon you need to be looking elsewhere.
Enjoy your relationship with D as it stands or end it. I doubt it'll change much.
Of course, in our culture, it is common for men to be uncommunicative, except for the bare necessities, and to dismiss or tamp down emotions.
This works great on the battlefield or during the hunt, but it's not so good in romantic relationships.
The first word in practicing polyamory is "communicate, communicate, communicate." Do it often and do it well, clearly, respectfully. Talk, AND listen. Delve deeply into your desires, needs, emotions, plans for the future.
Obviously, your guy is not on the communication train. He is not likely to change... or if he does, it will be slowly, and probably frustrating.
This is why I love being partnered with another woman (well, one of the reasons). We talk everything into the ground, including our feelings and doings with other partners. My male partner is also not a traditional male. He IDs as genderqueer and loves to discuss multiple angles of any situation.
If your out of town bf insists to you that the woman he sees every night, and loves, is peripheral to his life (!), what does that tell you about how he must see YOU, who lives further away?
He wants to keep things casual. Fine! If he's fun when you're together and doesn't do anymore douche moves like seeing his other gf on the first night of your visit (wtf?), enjoy what he can give you, limited as it is. Plan to focus more on building relationships locally so this guy and his other gf can be less on your mind.
I will start by saying that I agree with most of what everyone else has said and I'll try to add a little of my own advice to that. :)
I know there are some people in the world who think hierarchical poly is ridiculous, is a cop-out, is controlling, is unrealistic, etc. I also know a massive amount of people who think monogamy is the best way and cannot even fathom the idea of poly. Then you've got swingers, who believe that sex is great, but don't want to go off falling in love with other people. Then, you've got yourself. Really, you are the only person that matters. It's about what *you* want. What makes *you* happy?
Let's talk about hierarchy stuff first and communication afterwards - because they are two separate issues.
Wanting hierarchical poly can be related to insecurity, sure. But it can also be related to other things. For example, there is no way in hell I'd be happy D's preferred agreement. I think it's a lovely idea in theory and it's one that my GF and I tried for a brief period when we first met, before realising that (for us) it didn't work.
Why wouldn't I do non-hierarchical poly right now? Like you, we're in an LDR. I live in England, she lives with her husband in America. We have made no small amount of personal sacrifice to make this happen. Would I be happy with an end goal of leaving everything I've ever known to move to her country, if I wasn't sure she wanted to live in a house with me, get me orange juice when I'm sick (as BG very correctly said), etc? No way. I also want to know what I'm signing up for. Currently it's going to be myself, my GF and her husband, plus our toddler, under one roof. Do I want to invest another two years if she's planning to move more people in, or planning to spend half of her week away from the family home? Nope. I know what I want, what she wants and we agree to that with a realistic amount of room for future surprises. Sometimes we simply need stability. There's nothing wrong with that. Plan A and plan B. Is knowing where you stand in the grander scheme of someone's life important to you?
Onto the communicating-poly-stuff issue:
It is possible to accept a partner's way of thinking, *if* it feels healthier for you. I am currently doing this with my GF, after suggesting a trial period of a new approach, suggested by people on this forum. The new approach is that we don't need to know every little thing - that we date autonomously from each other, which a few key guidelines. So far, this is working amazingly well.
If this helps, this is how it works for us right now:
- we still happily follow hierarchical poly and are not seeking more primaries
- love is acceptable with secondaries
- what we do with secondaries is our own business and isn't discussed
- all partners must be aware of their place in our lives - and we all know about each other and how we all respectively fit, what the feelings and committments are to each person, etc.
- if our feelings grow for someone else, we tell each other, because we think that matters
This has helped hugely, because the security and communication is there, without overshare and without stomping on each other's freedom. But there's no lying of omission; no pretending that certain people aren't important when they are.
To look at some of your questions:
It's also ok if you do want hierarchical poly, or you do want to be someone's priority. But only *you* know that - he can't tell you what you're feeling and has absolutely no right to.
If R doesn't want to know anything, I do believe that is her own right and perhaps that's where he is stuck. But he has a choice to make. Either he's more compatible with people who genuinely don't want to know anything - or he needs to adapt his communication style to the two of you. It is possible to do that, to an extent. But only if he's capable of it and wants to do that. I'm hearing that he doesn't want that.
I don't know about this wishy-washy love stuff. For me, I know how I feel for people and knowing that, I know where they fit into my life. I know exactly how much I want to spend time with someone, I know exactly what my commitment level is to them and I know exactly what I want from them in the future. I make this clear through my actions and through verbal confirmation.
For example, I really into a woman I've met in my country. Quite rightly, my GF has been asking about this. She's not asking because she's my primary - she's asking because she wants to know how this is going to effect us. Am I going to want to move in with this other woman? Am I going to want to take her to a primary importance kind of level? Am I as committed to this new woman as I am to my GF? Do I see a longterm future with this other woman? How often per week do I want to talk to her? Do my feelings for her change my feelings for GF? **Am I honest with the new woman about my relationship with GF?** Does new woman know about my existing commitments, feelings, etc? I think it's completely understandable that my GF would want answers to these questions, because she's investing *herself* into our relationship. So I answer them and we all know where we stand.
To me, you're not simply requesting that R knows about you. You're requesting that *you* be given some idea of where on Earth you stand in D's life.
I think this might be one of those important moments in life where some self-reflection is required. You must think about what you want and need and how D can fit into this - rather than just how you can fit into what he wants. Perhaps a happy compromise could be reached. Perhaps, also, you can find what you want with another person (or people) - but still be involved with him on a more distant basis and find more happiness that way.
Hey y'all--you are so great, thanks. It's really reassuring to hear all your perspectives.
It's been clear to me for a long time that this fellow isn't partner material, and I'm definitely looking for new love of that type. Some of what's going on right now is that my domestic partner J (we are in love but non-sexual--and yes, I've told D this)--the one who brings me orange juice and homemade soup and cuddles up in bed to read to me when I'm sick--has just left town for about four months (to the woods, with no phone or internet or fixed address), and when he moves back I'll be across the country for six months...so D is my most consistent love right now, as we talk everyday and are collaborating on a book.
Because D is the most caring lover and smartest collaborator I've ever had, because he helps me experience unprecedented depths in both my thought and my sexuality, I'm trying to make this work. But I do understand I deserve better than this. He understands I deserve better than this. He knows how shitty he is at communicating and he knows he's made a huge mess of past relationships. This doesn't let him off the hook, but I do think he's trying to grow. He's made great strides since I met him, some totally unexpected.
So, we'll be figuring out in the next few weeks if we can salvage enough trust for us to stay lovers--but even if we do, I know it's time for me to redirect more of my energy to finding a healthier dynamic with someone else. It's been really important to hear that validated by y'all--in your variously blunt and eloquent voices. It's also so nice hearing success stories. For a while I was having so many bad poly experiences I thought I might be monogamous; now I understand that it isn't poly that's unhealthy for me, but the ways I've put up with other people's models for it rather than insisting on what I need. It's so inspiring to think about being able to be in a longterm three-way primary (is that what they call it?) someday--that's what I've always wanted. I love hearing how people make it work. Thanks.
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