Trouble with Thirds
Well, our other partner ditches us on New Years and slept with someone else. Yeeouch. Let me give a bit of context:
We've (my primary partner of several years and I) been dating Jess for, oh, 7 months, but have known her for years. We ended up actually getting together when we went back home to visit her on the east coast, and our attractions to each other (all three of us). It was wonderful. We flew her out here to SF so she could see what Pride was like. Heaven on earth. She then joined the Navy, and we were in contact with her – writing letters since she couldnt receive any other form of communication, and doing what we could to be there for her. She moved to San Antonio for A-School, and we've been on communication, skyping, calling, texting, and she flew up here once.
We all went back East to spend new years together. Something happened to make me unsafe, where she invited a fourth partner to come back with us without asking us. One of us was onboard (she also is seeing this girl back in SF), the other wasn't so much (they want to be friends but no sexual chemistry). So, understandably, an awkward night ensued. We ended up sleeping on the futon of the apartment we rented because it was just so awkward. Granted, one of us should have spoken up. Especially the one that was having a hard time. Except she froze.
The next day, they all discussed what happened, the insecurities and concerns of the partner who didn't want to be involved with this new addition (not that she was restricting the others to be), and how they wanted to spend time with their other partner while it was limited. They had a few days together, and all understood that there were certain days and times that we needed to spend together because while we all have big friend circles (and separate ones) back home, we all were missing each other like crazy people.
Note, also, that we were was thrilled about this new addition for Jess (our sailor), especially since she might at some point be needing more attention and love than she was getting out of being a secondary. We were waiting, but not scared of, the day when she starts to get NRE for someone else. She has been allowed to date who she wants back in Texas – our one requirement is that she jsut lets us know if someone comes along that will change our relationship with her, so we're not surprised if she becomes distant or needs to break off with a new partner for a while.
Also, since one of the parts of this primary relationship was also dating this new addition back home, things looked good.
We had a date planned for new years. We went to a play, went our separate ways (planned), then were going to meet up at midnight to be together when the ball drops.
Well, she didnt show up. She told us she was going somewhere, and then tet us at 4am that she needed to take a nap for a few hours then would come see us (ungh. please). Well, like we figured, she ran off to spend time with the new addition and told her that we were totally cool with it (we, clearly, were not). Lots of lying. Essentially, cheating. She wanted what she wanted, and she did what she had to do to get it. That's not okay behavior in our relationship, and that crosses all lines.
Needless to say, the relationship has ended because we don't feel safe trusting our emotions to her. We got burned, badly.
This has now happened to us twice, in the only two triad-relationships that we've had. The first one, we introduced two newly-poly people to each other figuring they'd get along (one we were dating already for a few months), and their response was, essentially (in actions more than words) "Hey, thanks! We do like each other! See ya!". This pretty much happened with Jess, too. We actually introduced her to this new partner, figuring it was safe because one of us was developing a friendship with her, one a relationship, and we were all into what was happening. Then, Jess disappeared.
Have any of you been in a similar situation? We both are all about secondary rights and making sure they feel heard and cared for and that their needs are being met. But these two situations have been rough.
Is it because we're dating people that aren't already poly? Both instances, the partners have been bad at monogamy, interested in both of us, and wanting to give it a whirl. Well, they both have found someone else, who is single (or at least not in a primary relationship), and left. But not just left. I'm talking, fuck up and blow it up so badly that the relationship is forced to end. In both instances, it didnt have to. But I guess maybe they didnt have the tools, or guidance from us to help them navigate NRE and meeting a new partner?
Any input, advice, recommendations (do you use a Bill of Rights type of thing for third partners? what ground rules do you have, what boundaries?), would be hugely appreciated here. Because we've had our hearts broken twice by secondaries, and it really blows.
The we to I interchange makes your post extremely confusing. As a rule of thumb its MUCH easier if each person has their own login or at least writes as an individual and notates who is speaking when.
In regards to secondaries the possible reasons are endless. It would be near to impossible to functionally guess the cause based on the given info.
It does seem very likely that hooking up with people who struggle with monogamy may be a warning that they also struggle with homesty-simply because honesty is not highly upheld in our society and often the monogamy paradigm actually promotes lying.
On that basis-I would say, anytime a person is transitioning from one model to the other (monogamy/non-monogamy) there is a risk that they are going to take serious missteps along the way. This is one reason many long-term polys refuse to date anyone who is new to poly. Also, anyone who was in a dynamic where in depth honesty wasn't a BIG expectation, is likely going to struggle in getting themselves retrained into being more deeply honest. Its not that they can't or that they won't; but it is a learning process and its one requiring a lot of work.
"Love As Thou Wilt"
I am so sorry you are hurting, but don't let these 2 experiences leave a bad taste in your mouth.
I don't think this is about "monoamory" or "polyamory." Or about "monoships" or "polyships."
This is about honesty and truthiness and interpersonal relationship skills and willingness to just spit it out to your people so whatever it is can be dealt with openly and in constructive ways. Rather that destructive.
That's why my playbook exists actually written out. Potential is invited to add their own. If all agree to fly under that banner and try dating? Alright then. Honor the colors you fly under.
Don't think you can hack those rights and responsibilities? Just don't play here then. We could be friends and leave it there.
Maybe next time go a whole lot slower? Hold off on sex. NRE brain cascade is bad enough without sex hormone cascade in the cocktail. The brain is a power organ.
And in going slower, you could give yourselves time to pick up on clues on how this new person's personal relationship skills set is really like OVER TIME and in different environments. At home with their people? Your people? In public? At work?
Not just out the starting gate when everyone is in their "best dating behavior mode" and it is hard to tell true colors yet.
I am sorry that you and your partner are hurting - I can understand how you feel. What she did definitely was not good, considerate or right at all.
You came here asking for unbiased opinions and in the hopes of giving you something to think about... here are a few of my thoughts about where your end of the bargain might be worth looking at:
(These are just ideas that spring to mind - I am definitely not placing the blame on you in the slightest).
Thinking back, were your relationship guidelines and structure discussed, or were they unwittingly dictated?
For example, I've said before to secondary partners that if they sleep with someone else, I would like them to tell me, for reasons of trust and sexual health. However, what I didn't do until recently is say "I would want to know about it - how does this realistically fit with what you want? What can you offer me and what do you expect? What arrangement would be honest to who we both are as people in this relationship?"
All too often, without even realising it, we can get into a mindset where the primary couple call the shots. This can be shown in the simplest, most subtle of ways and sometimes it passes us by.
The other thing I'm wondering is whether or not she was realistically aware that she was a secondary - and if she was, what this meant for her. It struck me that during the seven months of dating, much of your time has been apart? I do know that meaningful relationships can be maintained from afar - my primary lives in an entirely different country to me and we spend half of our year apart. But I'm wondering if she wasn't sure of, or wasn't read for, the level of commitment expected - especially with her being in the Navy and then being at School?
It seems that you told her to let you know if she met someone who might change your relationship with her - rather than just letting you know, period? Perhaps this caused some confusion in her mind?
All of this being said, what she did on NYE was utterly rubbish. Either she wanted everything and wanted to lie to get it, or she wasn't being honest with you about what she actually wanted from you and perhaps felt caged; her only option to do something extraordinarily awful, for a way out.
In terms of introducing partners to other partners, then finding that they disappear on you - it could be a variety of things. It could be pure bad luck. It could be that you ask too much of your secondaries and they seek something more casual with the new people they meet. It could be that you don't give enough to your secondaries, or that they need more than you can give.
The primary/secondary debate is a big one - but I genuinely believe that some people *are* happier in secondary roles. Sometimes it's intimacy issues, wanting general freedom, not having time, being happy with the status-quo, or already having a primary of their own. If you are choosing people who, deep down, aren't completely fulfilled being a secondary, then yes... it is very likely that they will meet someone who takes up more of their attention. That doesn't always have to mean that they disappear completely - but to me, it's fair that they would shift their focus for at least the first few months of meeting someone who fulfills more of whatever need they might have.
Moving onto the 'already poly' discussion. That's a tricky one. I've met people who are already poly, who have turned out to be a nightmare because their set-in-stone ideas about how poly has worked for them so far have clashed with mine. For me, it hasn't been so much about poly/mono backgrounds - but more about their present situation. When I date single girls, they tend to cling to me, or use me as a surrogate girlfriend until they find one. I think really, it's not so much about poly or monogamy... but more about your needs and their needs meshing.
Finally, onto guidelines. I do not have ground rules - I only have personal expectations. I put them across and ask them to put theirs across. Then we discuss and we don't finish the conversation until at least a happy compromise has been made on each point.
My personal expectations for secondaries:
1. As long as she is respectful towards you, I expect you to treat my primary GF with respect
2. I do not expect, or want, you to be monogamous to me
3. Before we sleep together, I want to see the results of your most recent sexual health checkup (non-negotiable)
4. I am not looking to fall in love, I am not looking for a 'second girlfriend', (that one is personal to me and my current desires)
5. I expect you to tell me if you sleep with someone else, for health and safety reasons
6. I expect you to be honest with me at all times - if your feelings change one way or another, if you're in too deep, if you're unhappy, if I ask you a specific question, etc.
7. I expect you to be courteous to the guidelines of my primary relationship and to tell me openly if something isn't working for you
That is it. I only place guidelines that I would be happy to adhere to myself, if I were someone's secondary.
One thing I have found very helpful is to ask secondaries their expectations and guidelines, before I state mine. It can give a good insight into what they really want, vs what they are agreeing with simply because they want to be involved with you.
Sometimes a secondary isn't happy with a guideline. For example, one of my primary relationship guidelines is that we do not do overnight stays with secondaries. This is because we want BDSM play partners and FWBs - we feel overnights create an intimacy that we do not currently have room for. My first secondary challenged this and I insisted it was not just for my GF's comfort, it was my personal wish. I ignored the warning sign that she needed something more from me and carried on seeing her for 6 months, until it became obvious that she was becoming extremely attached to me. So, there's an example of me, in a primary relationship, telling my secondary how it goes, without listening properly.
Overall, it genuinely could be the luck of the draw. Relationships do end, especially non-primary ones. To me, that's the point of dating. I look at each new relationship as "ok, let's try this one out for 3-6 months", rather than "yes! this is the one! She's going to be long-term!" So... I'd continue with a positive attitude, take things slowly, be very clear about your expectations *and* get them to be clear about theirs. Compromise. And be happy to learn from each new dating scenario.
me: female, 29
GF: my primary girlfriend, 39
3 year, open poly V, long distance