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!