Long-Married and Newly Poly, at least in Theory
Hi, all. I have really enjoyed reading the conversations and advice on this site. It has been a big comfort to realize that mine isn't the first relationship to become so complicated, and that non-monogamy isn't just objectively wrong. I've been wavering between depression and excitement about my wife's and my decision to open our relationship. There have been a lot of heavy emotions and scared feelings, and I appreciate the opportunity to vent to and ask questions of such a thoughtful, experienced and empathetic community. To those with enough time and patience to get through this, please bear with me as I lay it all out on the table.
My wife (MW) and I have been together more than 14 years, since we met in college. We got married about eight years ago, and we've been monogamous the entire time (mostly - see next paragraph). A few years ago, my wife admitted to me that she'd been dealing with some difficult emotions. She realized she wanted sex with other women, and she was thinking about it obsessively and becoming depressed. She had even started seeing a therapist because she was afraid to tell me about her desires. I felt terrible that she hadn't felt comfortable talking with me about it. I wanted, and still want, for her to be happy, as well as to preserve our wonderful relationship.
Soon after MW made her admission to me, I gave her "permission" to go do what she thought she needed to, but we didn't go about making a formal agreement and such. We did not step into the world of non-monogamy very consciously or thoughtfully, and we paid a price. MW had a sexual experience with a woman (VA) who was dishonest about the arrangement VA had with her own girlfriend; when it was over, VA told my wife to keep it hush-hush, that VA's girlfriend could never find out. Then VA started bragging about her conquest (MW) to people I was friends with, who started giving MW the cold shoulder. The situation had blown up, and I became angry. I realize now that I let jealousy dominate my actions, and I revoked the naive "permission" I had given her. "I didn't sign up for this," right? "We made a commitment to each other, and I don't have to put up with this behavior." I let my petty feelings of jealousy damage my partner's mental health and satisfaction and make her life worse. Because MW loves me so much, she lived with it, but I knew her feelings about other women didn't subside.
I've walked in on her watching female-oriented porn or looking at pictures of naked women. She'd close her computer, embarrassed, like her desires were still secret. It didn't bother me, and I would just laugh (or get in on the sexy feelings, and we'd have an encounter of our own). In recent weeks and months, MW has been talking about going to a therapist again to deal with the "inconvenient" (my word, not hers) feelings she has been having. I began to think that giving her "permission" to have sex with other women again would help her more than it would hurt me, and last week I told her it would be all right if she did. She cried out of happiness, I think mixed with love, appreciation and guilt; I just cried.
MW dug out a copy of The Ethical Slut a friend and confidante had given her. I started reading it and found a lot of the ideas intriguing. I didn't know anything about polyamory. That has changed since reading The Ethical Slut and Opening Up along with every piece of material I could find online (particularly this site). Equality without symmetry started making a lot of sense to me: MW is only interested in being physical with other women, and she initially suggested boundaries aimed at emotional separation from third parties; however, going out to bars or whatever to find other women to "hook up" with doesn't really appeal to me, personally. I think I would have more trouble separating sex from emotion, and the idea of having a relationship but not "being allowed" to fall in love seems both hollow and unrealistic. But a poly relationship seemed more appealing the more I read about it. Though we love being with each other, MW and I have different interests and social groups, and we spend a fair amount of time apart. I began to see the possibility of a romantic relationship with another woman as potentially feasible and emotionally satisfying.
When I told MW that I would like a longer-term, more romantic outside relationship on "my end" of the agreement, it made her upset. She wondered what our marriage lacked in that department and how we could fix it; she sees an emotional attachment to a third party as dangerous, which I suppose it has the potential to be. I said that if we're going to make an open relationship work, then this is what I want: to be free to interact with others as a freethinking adult human, even if that means loving and being physical with another woman. That seems like a much more fulfilling way to live to me than occasionally "scoring" with someone I'm not married to. We have discussed rules and boundaries in order to preserve our marriage, but they have yet to be put into practice, so I imagine renegotiation will be necessary once that happens. I suppose it's only fair that this arrangement be scary for both of us, though that was not my aim in proposing what I did. Thankfully, neither swinging nor threesomes appeal to either me or MW; that would only complicate things further.
Here's where it gets additionally complicated, as if this post isn't long enough. I have a really good female friend, and I have been struggling with inconvenient emotions of my own. I don't think of a romantic relationship with her as a possibility for various reasons... OK, in all honesty on this anonymous forum, I don't think she'd go for it. Having kept my own feelings a secret from everybody, including MW, for a long time out of guilt and shame and futility helped me empathize with her situation. It wasn't until I agreed that she should pursue her own interests and subsequently made my way through The Ethical Slut that I realized a romantic relationship outside of my marriage was even a possibility. The thought of being with my good female friend in that way was, and is, exciting, even though I know it's not a real possibility, but that's disappointment, and that's life - and that doesn't mean the excited feeling can't arise with some other special woman sometime in the future, or that a rewarding, loving relationship couldn't evolve for me with a third party without destroying the marriage that I treasure.
I explained these things to MW, who was hurt that I hadn't told her of my feelings for my friend previously (See? Solid proof that open relationships foster honesty and openness), but she agreed that it is only fair that our open marriage be equal, and I encouraged her to think of finding a longer-term girlfriend(s) of her own in order to have a more rewarding and satisfying life experience than finding some girl to screw for a night. She was surprised but seems open to the idea. MW is able to sympathize with me and support me while simultaneously wishing my hoped-for relationship with my friend never comes to fruition because she is afraid. MW and I are still in love after all these years.
MW has many friends who are experienced in these things, but I do not, which is why I value the opportunity this forum has to offer. I spent days agonizing about the state of things, internalizing all the complicated thoughts that arose. I forgot to eat, I couldn't sleep. I still feel like this "open relationship" thing is an uncomfortable secret, though I finally told a few of my best friends, including the aforementioned female friend whom I love, and they were all incredibly supportive. My appetite returned and I could sleep through the night. Verbalizing my plight made me feel like I was floating after days and days of obsessing and being weighed down by heavy, uncertain feelings. However, I constantly feel negativity just under the surface. It's another reason writing this post is valuable for me, even if nobody reads this far.
So here we stand, in a theoretically open relationship, with the possibility of polyamory in our future. I am overwhelmed by emotion. I know things will only become more complicated as other human beings become involved sexually or romantically in our lives. I would love to be able to pose questions (much more briefly than I did this intro, I assure you) to you as difficulties arise.
Thank you. I really appreciate this.
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Well I read your whole post; I gets me some points, okay? :) Sounds like you and MW are going into this with pretty darn level heads considering how scary poly (along with open relationships in general) is in this monogamy-conditioned world. Your questions will be welcomed and probably answered from a variety of experienced viewpoints. Polyamory.com being such a busy site, new posts can get lost in the shuffle so ping your threads occasionally if needed to get yourself back on top of the "New Posts" stack. Also you can post on this here thread for a guaranteed response from me (and others too probably) at least.
No need to rush headlong into anything; you've done your homework which is totally awesome; now comes the part where you have to examine your own feelings and reactions as you tiptoe deeper into poly territory. I suggest a once-a-week formal sit-down with MW, for some time while this is all still new to the two of you. The sit-downs would be opportunities to re-negotiate stuff as needed, as well as opportunities to keep each other up to speed on how you're feeling and what you're thinking. Interacting with Pcom members can be of great help and I wouldn't rule out MW joining us here as well. Our Life stories and blogs board gives you a great place to journal, and our Poly Relationships Corner will probably be your top spot for getting feedback, advice, and counsel.
I think that sharing with people your life choice to be poly is important to you and helps resolve some feelings, and that's okay, just so you don't feel like you have to out yourself out of some kind of moral obligation. A lot of poly people have to be in the closet about it; it's just part of the needs-improvement social reality in which we live.
Anyway, I liked your intro. Couldn't complain about the length because I'm known to commit that sin myself. ;) Haha, have I told you about my three-part posts? That's what happens when you overrun the site limits for single posting. I have a lot of experience in that area. :D Anyway, thank you for your kind paragraph breaks, proper grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and all that. Believe me it helps. It hurts the eyes when one sees a wall of unbroken iphone style text! I'm a bit old-school, you see.
Glad you've enjoyed your time amongst us here so far, and hope that'll even more be the case in the future.
Kevin T., "official greeter" :)
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I think you need to get to a place where you can be happy to let each other do what did you best. That might mean she hooks up with women and you have long term girlfriends. It's equal and fair if you're both getting your needs met, it isn't equal or fair if one person thinks what they want is right and restricts their partner to only having interactions of that type too.
Thanks, Kevin. I do strive for readability. :)
There is so much relevant and helpful material on the site, I will surely explore more. I like your suggestion of a weekly sit-down, as well. It will be important to talk it out as we move forward, though these days it is a much more frequent topic of conversation, as you can imagine.
I agree, London, and my wife has come around to that perspective. Unfortunately, a gap exists between understanding something intellectually and accepting it emotionally. It's good that she's become comfortable with the concept and that it IS all theory at this point; I think we are starting from a good place.
Due to the gap between *knowing* something and *feeling* something, you'll need to repeat a three-step process many times over ...
Journaling is your friend, it gives you practice at articulating your thoughts and feelings, which you and MW can then share with each other, and then go learn some more about poly. Reading others' journalings for instance! Sometimes you won't even know what the question is until you've heard a wide variety of answers.
I agree with the idea of each of you pursuing the shade, shape, and size of poly that suits each of you best. There is such a variety of ways to do poly (and responsible non-monogamy in general) out there, and no "one right way" by any means.
Keep us posted on how things are going!
Even if you two never do actually get with other people, it's so nice to just admit you have attractions to others, isn't it? Hiding and feeling guilty about attractions to others when you are in a committed relationship adds SO much stress. I think even couples committed to monogamy would do well to be able to admit they have occasional attractions to others! We hold ourselves to such ridiculous ideals.
My recommendation to you and your wife is, go slow. It seems to me she is more motivated to explore relationships with others right now. One way to go is for you to remain only with her for now, to support her as she starts dating. Whether she wants to only have non-emotional hookups, or does find herself falling in love with another woman, that is up to her, and luck, and fate.
She needs to find a quality woman, or women, to date. You need to learn to navigate jealousy (since you didn't do too well with her first try). Might be easier at first if only she were dating, just to keep things simple for now.
When most of us in my circle of friends were all still single, we also "recycled" our dates - why not fix up a friend with someone I dated if it seems they would hit it off better than he did with me? There was one guy who dated about six of us women over the years and we all remained friends, and attended his wedding when the last one "stuck." Before I hung out with that crowd, I used to be part of a large network of folks who were into holistic healing and New Age stuff, and they were very open-minded about relationships, too. I met someone in a poly relationship for the first time in that group (1989), but all the rest of us were monogamous in practice and I recall several of the couples that were together did acknowledge having attractions to other people in a very matter-of-fact way. It's actually the avoidance of those feelings that can lead to sexualizing them. Attractions pop up all the time and are a natural part of being a human animal, but it's our ethics, common sense, and intelligence that make it possible to acknowledge them without acting on them, if we would be breaking boundaries, agreements, or commitments by doing so.
I guess that's why I get so defensive when people come here and start talking about monogamy like it's a prison and bashing monogamists for being narrow-minded. Honesty and open-mindedness just always been part of how I, and many people I've known, practiced monogamy. I just see polyamory as an extension of that, for me.
Sorry for the slight tangent, OP.
Very much agree with you, NYCIndie. :)
Yeah... my ex h and I didn't have that kind of understanding, at all. It was a huge elephant in the room for most of our 30 years together. So stupid.
I agree with all you three have said.
NYCindie, MW and I have been able to talk to each other about attractions to other people when it's just a physical attraction to someone we didn't know. But when it got into "feelings" territory, it started to feel dangerous and like something I needed to keep to myself - especially because I value my friendship and didn't want to have to distance myself from this friend. I definitely know where you're coming from on the avoidance issue. Just being able to say something about it to MW has helped me deal with it a lot better and obsess over it less. I might even be able to get over it like a normal person now that it's out there!
Magdlyn, you make a good point. I don't want to rush into anything, though to be honest, now I am occasionally able to feel a little excitement about the possibility of something developing in the future with someone I have yet to meet. I don't know if this is universal, but when I wear my wedding ring and talk to a new female acquaintence about my wife, it's often as if a shield goes up around me - as if my wife is and should be the only woman I can be close to, even as a friend, for the rest of my life. The acquaintence will be polite and friendly, but once you start bandying about the "wife" word, many women hear "off-limits in any capacity other than cocktail conversation with a large group around." So even if the "amory" is slow to develop for me, just the possibility of making more female friends is kind of nice. MW's started an OKCupid profile, while I'm happy to let things develop more naturally for me at this point.
On that note, while being quiet about being married may help me meet people initially, I don't want to deceive anyone. I've gotta start reading some threads about when and how to make the "big reveal." If someone new asks me if I'm married or have a girlfriend, do I say, "It's complicated" and launch into my life story? Because "complicated" is exactly what it seems to be at this point...
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