A mono secondary's letter to their poly primary
This is what I wish I had the guts to say to my boyfriend at the moment. The italicized portions are my calmer self explaining what is going on to my emotional self.
When I said I would miss you, you didnít say it back, and said that the reason you didnít was that you didnít want to engage in socially conventional cue-response behaviour.
Instead you stroked my eyebrows, whose perfect arches fascinate you, and gave me your half-smile. I know you love me, even if you can't say it yet.
What I heard was, ďI wonít miss you, because I wonít be alone. I will be with someone else, the important one, the one who really matters, so I wonít have time or emotional space in which to miss you. There will be no void for me.Ē
When you said, as I left, ďHave a good spring break!Ē I heard ďWe will not be in communication for the duration of the spring break, because I will be with someone else, the important one, the one who really matters. I will be completely wrapped up in them and not spare a single thought for you.Ē
You were frantically trying to get your house straightened up before you left it for a week and were bringing your husband back there straight after. You had meant to spend an hour with me; we had been lying in your bed for nearly three.
Eight days went past with no communication. On my side, because Iím trying so hard to be a good little secondary who isnít needy or clingy (and I donít want your husband to be upset by me intruding during the time he has with you Ė I am going to respect those times when you are at his house). I donít know what the justification for no contact was on your side. I imagine you were having reconnecting time, playing with your cats, writing, having your head there and not with me.
Your husband deserves your undivided attention when you are at his house. You have a relationship of much longer standing than ours, cats, friends in his town. He never gets to do couple-y things with you on a regular basis. If he feels threatened by your relationship with me, then this is when you get to reassure him Ė and you canít do that if you are also in regular contact with me. You may also feel guilty that you spend, or have the ability to spend, more time with me than with him because we live and work in the same town and he is in another state, so you overcompensate when you are with him.
I was surprised when you texted me the day before I left for another country on a work trip and your message said ďHave a safe flight and a great timeĒ. But what I heard was ďI donít care enough/Iím having too much fun with my partner to call you to wish you these things, and moreover, you now understand that we are not going to be in contact AT ALL for two and a half weeks, until you are back in fact and my partner has been back in his state for a couple of days.Ē
You were thinking of me and wanted to let me know that without upsetting or being disrespectful to your husband.
I thanked you and said that I hoped you would enjoy your conference this week.
I was trying to convey the sense of detachedness that I was perceiving from you.
Now, Iím tired, lonely, jetlagged, wanting to talk to you and tell you about all the things that have happened since we spoke (I got bitten on the face by a spider, I spent 31 hours on planes and in transit, I am back where I grew up and itís all different and weird), but I feel like I shouldnít ask for your time. You and your husband are back in our town, you are back at work, he is on holiday in a town that he feels is ďmineĒ because I live there, in the house that you and I, and he and you, eat in, watch movies in, cook for each other in, sleep in, wash each other in, have sex in. I am pretty sure that the last time you tried to initiate sex downstairs on the sofa was because you hadnít changed the sheets from the last time your husband had been in your bed. I wonder if you had time to change them before you left for break after you and I had been there? No matter. I have deliberately chosen to go upstairs when you gave me the choice, even though intuitively I knew that you hadnít changed the sheets. I donít care. You, him, me Ė we are all part of something bigger than the sum of our parts. I want to know him, to feel secure in this, to not wonder every time that you see him if you're thinking "Oh, I don't really need her after all".
I am relatively attractive, professionally successful, lots of friends, a beautiful son, financially independent, no want of admirers. And yet I feel more comfortable sharing these thoughts with a forum of strangers than I do with you. I am scared that I will do something that you will see as irretrievably wrong or stupid in poly terms and you will decide that I am NOT worth the trouble.
Please tell me WE are worth the trouble.
I can totally relate to these emotions. I have posed the question to a few people who are part of a couple, looking for an outside relationship: what do you have to offer this other person? How do you see it working for them? The question has been brushed off with platitudes, and yet, it strikes me that there are very few secondary singles, or mono secondaries, and not even that many secondaries, posting here. I see what they post elsewhere on forums and e-mail lists more geared toward the mono secondary, and what I see is a lot of pain and uncertainty for the person outside the core couple. Yes, I know there are exceptions. That doesn't change the amount of pain that does exist.
For reasons related to what you discuss in your letter--for reasons including the fact that you don't feel you can say these things to your girlfriend, just as I have found that when I raise similar issues with my boyfriend, he tells me I'm imagining things or gets angry--I would never do this again.
Thanks, WhatHappened (and the other person who sent me a private message) - it really helps to know that I am not the only person to have felt like this.
Incidentally, it's a boyfriend, not a girlfriend. My boyfriend is bi, married to a gay man, and I am a straight(ish) woman (I like to joke that I just haven't met the right woman yet, haha).
I honestly think that maybe his behaviour has less to do with being poly than being simply clueless a lot of the time! :) He would be appalled if he knew how much some of his behaviour, which he thinks is appropriate, has hurt me. That's why this forum has been so helpful to me.
This post breaks my heart. Thank you for sharing, it serves to remind me to take care of all of my relationships. I hope you find the ability to share these feelings with your partner.
Thank you for writing the letter that I have never actually written to the woman whose secondary partner I am.... and for a letter that I know I've "received" a few times from the woman who wishes she were more primary with me (and I with her - circumstances have intervened so far, and perhaps our timing is such that we won't resolve the situation before someone moves on).
(whoops - first post since writing my signature - gotta go edit that thing, serious typo! laughing)
It seems like being secondary isn't ok with you. I don't blame you; it wouldn't be for me either. I'm in a vee with a married couple (husband is the hinge - his wife and I quickly became dear friends). I'm not secondary, and his wife has referred to me as Co-primary from the beginning as she said it was the only way (in her opinion) to make this work.
I would ask for your relationship to be considered as equal to his other. I would ask for communication that shows his feelings for you if that's what you need. If he can't or won't give it then you have a hard decision to make.
I'm not going to address what open model relationship structure you choose to participate in. I figure you know what shapes you like and don't like.
I see 2 problems.
1st problem? If you want to grow confidence in bringing things up wth your BF so you can build greater emotional intimacy -- could do that work. You short change him and you when you share these things here and not with the person it matters to. Could print your post, and give it to him. If you don't feel brave enough to say out loud, speak your truth in a whisper. If you can't whisper? Don't speak out loud at all. Could hit "print" and fork it over. Find a way. Confidence is grown by doing.
2nd problem? I'm going to address "voice of doom habit" I'm picking up on because I think that can affect you in ANY relationship you have, not just this one with the BF.
I think it's good you are writing things out to help you process. I commend you. But I would gently suggest that your replace "I heard" with "I thought" in your journal type writing there. :o It might sound persnickety -- but you cannot actually hear what your partner is NOT actually saying. If you are filling in perceived gaps, you could own that it is YOUR thinking behavior and not his speaking behavior that is doing that. This quote?
Maybe something like:
Beating yourself up is not self-respecting behavior. It is more self-respecting behavior to speak up and let BF know you want contact.
You could "own" how much contact you want and make him aware of it so he is up-to-date on your current preferences/boundaries.
Because there your FIRST THOUGHTS seem go to "jumping to conclusions" places again. Is this a habit? :( If so, could do more action behavior -- like speak UP for what it is you need in the first place and not give those First Thoughts the chance to pipe up with "the voice of doom."
Could tell BF something like:
"I need to feel close to you even when we are apart and you are seeing your husband or on business or breaks. Could you be willing to drop me an email or text or call every X days so I can feel connected to you?"
It's ok to be more assertive about meeting your own needs. Be afraid to speak up and speak up ANYWAY. Confidence is grown by doing.
And if any "first thoughts of doom" slip in from habit, you could could catch it and focus on behavior done/not done like this:
Second thought: "Wait! That's voice of doom! What's his behavior? He called me. So of course he cares. Shut UP, first thoughts of doom! I am not my thoughts. I am the person in charge of doing the thinking."
So you can learn to self-assure.
First thoughts could be wrong. If I see a shadow and think it is a burglar and it turns out to be a tree shadow from the window, I can update my first thought with a second thought and go "Whew! That was just a mixed up thought. REALLY it was a shadow."
You could do that here. Learn to TALK BACK to the voice of doom and put it down so over time you can be free of it! :o
I encourage you to speak from the heart with your BF about frequency of contact when apart. I encourage you to work on letting "the voice of doom" habit go.
You can handle this. It will be ok. :o
Hang in there!
Wow, everyone - thank you again for the support and the genuinely helpful advice.
To be fair, my BF has never referred to me as secondary. He eschews labeling generally (he self-IDs as queer, he referred to his previous girlfriend and his husband as "I made them equal" instead of "co-primaries"; running from the mainstream and conventional, even by refusing to say he loves me or he will miss me, seems to be his thing, lol). This is what I see myself as, largely from reading posts on this forum and another one for monos in relationships with polys. I would like to be considered a co-primary, but that pesky fear of stating what I would like overcomes me :)
He didn't call me. He sent me a text. He was in the same country as me and he didn't call me to hear my voice. (Yes, EVIL FIRST THOUGHT OF DOOM, I see you!)
GalaGirl, I am printing your post and re-reading it every time I feel upset from now on. I will fight the voice of doom, and I will talk to him in the manner you suggested about checking in. I am afraid to ask for what I want because I don't want him to think it is too much trouble to maintain the relationship with me, that his husband is easier to deal with (although I don't really know that - we still have not met). I had never heard of open model relationship structures before I started seeing my BF; I'm a serial monogamist.
Last month we had a big discussion about how hard it was sometimes for him to be a hinge (not that he would call himself that). He said "It's exhausting, time-consuming, and hard work. It has to be worth it." Then he turned over toward me and said "You're worth it." I will hold on to that and get through this week.
You won't know if he means it unless you actually do talk to him about these things - it's scary as hell! But once you get through it a few times, you will believe him when he says you're worth it. It took me a while, myself. :)
"BF, I would like to be considered "equal" or "co-primary" here. Is that what I already am to you or what we are working towards here? I just want to know where things stand at this time."Then you have your answer.
HIS need was to contact you to feel close. His taking action and texting was meeting HIS need to contact you in the shape HE was good with.
YOUR need was to hear his voice. Are YOU unable to operate your phone and call him to meet your need? Or YOU text him back to let him know via text that you would enjoy a phone call later in the day and set up the time for it? (If you are both running around at work)?
He doesn't sound like bad guy. But it sounds like rather than be a bit more assertive, you are not asking for what you want/need and then go off to beat yourself up (and secondarily him by assuming he thinks meanly about you) for him not being a mind reader. :(
Nobody is a mind reader!:o
Blue is mine here to make it a specific sentence. I note that when you are not specific and go "general" you seem to end up cranking your anxiety up.
Where is problem for you? You have a hard time with your hinge doing his own thinking? You want to be in charge of what he thinks or does not think? :confused:
Here is a separate issue :
I am afraid to ask for what I want. This would be bad because....
I don't want him to think it is too much trouble to maintain the relationship with me. Him thinking this would be bad for me because I am afraid...
I don't want him to think it is too much trouble to maintain the relationship with me. Him thinking this would be bad for me because...
That is just my example. If you did that exercise, where are YOUR thoughts taking it? Straight to "break up DOOM" or are there "pit stops" in between?
You could try it. And whatever it is, tack on "This would be bad for me because..." and keep answering until you can no longer do it. What's the LAST sentence end up being? How many other pit stops are there for other things to try before going to doom land?
All relationships have problems or hit some bumps. Have you talked to you hinge about how you agree to do conflict resolution together so you can relax about it? Because there's a plan to deal with it?
You fear expressing your feelings about the challenges of polyshipping as one of the V-arm people and being that person because you worry about.... doom happening? Even though he's basically already told you that you are worth it? How about risking emotional honesty and risking experiencing some non-doom? So you can RELAX here?
What makes it hard to BELIEVE him when he tells you you are worth it to him?
Is it that he thinks you are worth it and you cannot agree with him because YOU think you are not worthwhile? :(
It's ok to be new to polyshipping but it isn't anything dramatic or special. It's just plain old relationshipping. The "new normal" is going to feel weird til it becomes "old normal." Just like it would in a brand new monogamous shape when you start dating someone new more seriously after being single a while. There's the weird "get to know you" and "build deeper trust" time that all relationships go through. It will happen in polyships too.
You will be ok. Try to RELAX.
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