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Old 10-12-2011, 03:16 AM
Giles Giles is offline
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Default Are we really ready to be "polyamorous" or just too messed up to try?

Hello, I am Giles. I am a straight man and my primary partner, Violet, is a bisexual woman. We are both in our 30s, but trying poly for the first time, and it isn't working: we have not real "rules." For instance, one night we were having drinks with a male friend of hers and she asked me if it was okay to kiss him. I said, “Sure!” thinking that maybe we would have a threesome. But instead she asked if she could go home with him for a little while and could I meet her back at the house? I told her I was feeling anxious—it was all happening too fast for me to process. However, I decided that I would have to face my feelings on the subject with or without her sleeping with him, so there was no sense in forbidding it. I couldn’t understand why I it took me so long to process the speed at which this all happened, and knew that one of the rules I wanted was to simply know in advance.

Some other rules of my were: no messing with monogamous couples or friends, no casual or stranger sex, no discussing my personal life with other lovers, safe sex for intercourse and oral sex, no “veto” power allowed, but any “red flag” concerns about relationships would be discussed beforehand, we would be “fluid bonded” to each other, no sudden breaking of dates, shower and change the sheets if the other is coming over directly after a date has left, and let the other know if a relationship goes from simply dating to something serious.

Violet said she shuddered at words like “primary” and “boundaries,” but acknowledged the spirit of the agreement. What she feared was that the relationship could be hurt by my “abandonment issues,” my envy of her fantastic sex life. Luckily, I’m never possessive. Things went along fine for a while.

Then a weird thing happened, which completely threw me off. She and a submissive man she'd been on one date with had set up a separate profile on a dating website—he was pictured, but all correspondence would go to the “Mistress” (Violet); she would do things to him that others requested, possibly even meet them for coffee and determine if they could watch her do things to him. It’s not the acts that bothered me, but the fact that she never once discussed with me a relationship that would be so special and involved. I envied this man because apparently any threesomes happening would be with him, not me. Indeed, lots of people emailed her with inquiries. She promised to set up something similar with me, but I still felt odd that she chose him first and didn’t tell me until later.

Then another weird day. We had been drinking martinis with a mono lesbian couple, some good friends of mine who were very attracted to Violet. Because the couple had been recently fighting about some issues in their relationship, I reminded Violet that we should not get involved. And yet all parties consented. Then the making out and feeling up began. When it was clear that Violet preferred one of them, the couple began to fight and cry. I told her to stop drinking for the evening so that the dust could clear. But an hour later, she was pouring another drink as the couple still fought directly behind her. So I did something horrendous. In my anger and frustration, I grabbed her drink, poured it into the toilet and threw it in the bathtub—it shattered loudly. Violet told me she was really scared of what I had done and said she felt that I would escalate this to hitting her. I’ve never thrown a glass in my life, nor have I ever hit someone—ever. I assured her this was just an immature response to a crazy situation. But in my mind I recognize this as an abusive gesture that shouldn’t have happened. I pleaded, “Slow down! Let’s not add any new complications, okay?" I reminded her of our “no friends” rule and mistakenly said that only a “sociopath” would disregard right and wrong. I regret saying this—the word is too strong.

But Violet had already pre-planned to travel to see her submissive guy. Our couples therapist said to Violet that it would be wise not to add any new lovers before the rules were settled. Violet technically followed this rule, but still went on dates, even going so far as to make out with someone. Because she sees kissing as little more than a handshake, she felt she hadn’t strayed from the rules about not adding a new lover: “I didn’t sleep with him.”

Sometime around this incident, Violet had an allergic reaction to the mixture of alcohol and clonazepam, her anxiety medication. We were walking along the sidewalk when she started having respiratory problems and her muscles gave out, so she fell to the ground and wouldn’t respond. I had to slap her cheeks on both sides until she came to, and luckily she eventually did; I didn’t have to call an ambulance. But in her delusional state she cried, in a wounded tone, “You hit me! You HIT me! You can never take that back!” I began to realize that her intense fear of “being controlled by men” dated back to physical abuse she has suffered at the hands of men. But she rarely discussed them.

The relationship with the submissive man fizzled out because there was “real love” between them and he wanted a monogamous relationship. She began to tell me about men who would never stay with her because she would “lose” them to her agreement with me, and that I should remember how much she was willing to do this for me: I was still The One to marry. But for some reason, I couldn’t let my issues go and I had badgered her. How come I didn’t know they were so close as to move from dominant/submissive “fuck buddies” to romance? Why did she get involved with people who were not clear on our poly relationship? The more she spoke of loss, the more tired of all the drama I was. I made the mistake of calling some of these relationships “cheap” and this upset her greatly because, she insisted, no one should judge another ‘s capacity to love another person right away. I said that alcohol seemed to play a big role in her life, and was she an alcoholic?

The arguments continued. Instead of talking to her therapist about her drinking and anxiety, she focused on my behavior and how it made her feel. She came out of it with the idea that I was possibly an abuser or one in training. Or that I was too needy. This floored me. Suddenly, it was not she who had been reckless, but me. True, I had thrown a glass and called her some very blaming names, but abuser? Needy? All I wanted was to slow down and figure out our boundaries again. Then she said, “Maybe you’re just monogamous, Giles. You don’t seem to want to date anyone else and you are too focused on me—get a life!” I defended myself, saying that I was not ready to add anyone new until the crises in our relationship resolved.

One day she said, “I hope you’re not mad, but I slept with someone new, a teacher where I work. I know we weren’t supposed to add new lovers until we finished up the document, but the rules don’t seem to help our relationship. You’ll get upset either way.” In the meantime, she began messaging and dating a whole bunch of other people. Worried that my recent behavior was too controlling and potentially abusive, I acquiesced, saying, “Forget everything. Forget the rules for now. I want to prove I’m not jealous. Just be safe. But please at least tell me that you are going to do something like this, even if I don’t like it.” When I called to see how she was doing, she said she couldn’t talk; she was on her way out the door to meet a man she had instant messaged only a few hours earlier. I said, “Wait! We should talk about this. This is stranger sex, and it doesn’t feel right.” “Don’t do this to me,” she said. “This is ‘me time.’ We can talk later.” It was then I realized that no matter what I did, she would simply see me as controlling.

Later, we argued again. I said, “I see you as someone who is barely able to exist in these boundaries, someone who doesn’t enjoy them at all. Boundaries are supposed to bring you freedom; they aren’t supposed to be scary, but safe. I believe you see boundaries as as a necessary evil, something you’ll do so that you’ll have me.” She would find some hole in my argument and turn it around on my glass-throwing or name-calling, which, since they did happen, I couldn’t deny. I said, “You can’t distinguish safety from control.” So then that means I’m saying she’s stupid. And around and around.

Recently she admitted to some unsafe sex practices. So now I’ve made a decision not to be “fluid bonded” with her. In her most recent therapy session, she decided that she can’t stop thinking about our arguing and that she needs a few weeks off. The last thing I asked her was, “Is there anything left that makes me special, the 'primary'? How differently would you behave if you weren’t with me at all?” Her answer was this: “You don’t see all that I do for you. I’m willing to show you off as my partner, on Facebook and in marriage, I’m willing to go on vacations with you and deny others the request for monogamy.” My reply: “But I need more than that. I want some private things to be special. I want better communication and for you to respect at least some rules other than the ones that also benefit you—don’t you get pleasure out of seeing my boundaries honored?”

Do we have different definitions of polyamory? Would our “issues” break up any relationship, poly or not? What seems to be the root problem here? Her alcohol use? My envy, arguing, and slow processing speed? All of it? Are we both just narcissists?

Last edited by Giles; 10-12-2011 at 10:43 AM. Reason: misspelling
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Old 10-12-2011, 10:22 AM
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BlackUnicorn BlackUnicorn is offline
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Hello, I am Giles.
Hello Giles!

My first instinct after reading your post is "Walk away. Now. While you still have some of your mental health intact".

It's of course easy to say since I am not in your situation, don't know your history or Violet's side of things (Btw, I think you slipped her real name once in your post, go edit!).

Still, this is some crazy shit, man.

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Violet said she shuddered at words like “primary” and “boundaries,” but acknowledged the spirit of the agreement. What she feared was that the relationship could be hurt by my “abandonment issues,” my envy of her fantastic sex life.
Who initiated the poly/open talks? Whose needs/wants were not being met in monogamous relationship?

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I envied this man because apparently any threesomes happening would be with him, not me.
So your primary motivation in opening up was to engage in threesomes?

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When it was clear that Violet preferred one of them, the couple began to fight and cry. I told her to stop drinking for the evening so that the dust could clear. But an hour later, she was pouring another drink as the couple still fought directly behind her. So I did something horrendous. In my anger and frustration, I grabbed her drink, poured it into the toilet and threw it in the bathtub—it shattered loudly. Violet told me she was really scared of what I had done and said she felt that I would escalate this to hitting her.
Okay. I don't even know where to start with this. Violet has some MAJAH issues. Addiction to drama, strong belief in entitlement -> she sees, wants, takes, with no regard to anyone else. Aversion to any kind of limitations to her behaviour. Unresolved issues with abuse. It smacks of PD, but really, could be just a response to trauma. That's for an experienced therapist, not random people on the internet, to decide.

You need to take care of yourself, first. She is eating away your confidence in yourself - eventually you'll start to believe that simply standing up for yourself is abusive.

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"...but the rules don’t seem to help our relationship. You’ll get upset either way.”
Actually, it's her inability to postpone instant gratification that is not helping your relationship.

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It was then I realized that no matter what I did, she would simply see me as controlling.
Time to leave. Now.

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Her answer was this: “You don’t see all that I do for you. I’m willing to show you off as my partner, on Facebook and in marriage, I’m willing to go on vacations with you and deny others the request for monogamy.”
This, and her earlier comments, are profound signs of emotional immaturity and lack of empathy. She honestly believes she is such hot stuff that you should just bask in the glory of her presence and be content?

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Do we have different definitions of polyamory? Would our “issues” break up any relationship, poly or not? What seems to be the root problem here? Her alcohol use? My envy, arguing, and slow processing speed? All of it? Are we both just narcissists?
Not you both. She might be. She is pursuing complete freedom to do anything she feels like, with no thought for anyone else. This is not polyamory, but selfishness and immaturity. That's the root problem - deep set patterns of thought and behaviour that she can't see anything wrong with.

The sooner you leave, the better. Really.
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Old 10-12-2011, 11:06 AM
Giles Giles is offline
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Thank you, BlackUnicorn. Caught the edit of her name.

To answer your questions, I don't know who initiated talks about polyamory--we had both discussed how trapped in monogamy we would feel and how jealousy is unacceptable in a relationship (I have since been told by many polys that jealousy is normal--everyone has it sometimes). Her primary motivation to try poly was to be "free of control," mine was to have both her (as a primary) and someone else in my city during the weekdays (we're three hours apart and see each other on weekends). The sex was just icing on the cake--I'm not that interested in having lots of wild sex, just some. I do want to try new things, threesomes being one of them.

What is PD? She does have abuse issues, which give her night terrors--thus the clonazepam/alcohol. But she's also a fully functional teacher who doesn't miss classes, crash cars, or black out--I'm hesitant to call her an alcoholic. She's bristles at the label. Someone has suggested she might be "functional alcoholic," but it's hard to say.

You said, "Eventually you'll start to see that simply standing up for yourself is abusive." My problem is that I can't distinguish between issues of my own and legitimate concerns--sometimes I'm right about her recklessness, other times she's right about my envy and feeling of exclusion. What's interesting is that she and her therapist have suggested that I am a potential abuser. So yes, it's already come to that.

Her "inability to postpone instant gratification" rings true--many thanks for this advice. I assume most poly couples periodically test their maturity level by doing some postponing? The book Opening Up discusses having an Alone Month, even, which appeals to me. Hell, I could use just one night with her not checking her emails constantly...

Guess this was crazier than I could even see--thanks again, BlackUnicorn
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Old 10-12-2011, 11:49 AM
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...how jealousy is unacceptable in a relationship (I have since been told by many polys that jealousy is normal--everyone has it sometimes).
Totally true. And I think in general, feelings are acceptable in a relationship. It's the actions and situations we can and should control.

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What is PD?
PD is short for Personality Disorder. They are deep-set and inflexible modes of behaviour, thought and feeling that are much more prevalent than "character quirks" and cause continuing and considerable difficulties in at least two areas of life.

Diagnosis of PD is a touchy subject, since most of them are actually just quite common characteristics on overdrive. It is not your job to diagnose her, but it might do you some good to research PD and keep this in mind when relating to her.

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You said, "Eventually you'll start to see that simply standing up for yourself is abusive." My problem is that I can't distinguish between issues of my own and legitimate concerns--sometimes I'm right about her recklessness, other times she's right about my envy and feeling of exclusion. What's interesting is that she and her therapist have suggested that I am a potential abuser.
Individual therapy just for you is what will help you distinguish your issues from hers. I suggest you stop participating in couple's counseling or any any therapy sessions with her if you feel that she is taking control and defining the agenda. Instead get help for yourself. PD is sneaky and people suffering from it can turn social situations, including therapy sessions, to serve their dysfunction instead of helping them unlearn it. Some people with PD are in the therapy professions themselves.

People with PD often lack any experience of illness, and attribute their difficulties to other people's behaviour, not their own inflexible thinking. Therapy focuses on the individual, and often takes a very cursory account of people around the individual in therapy. One of the sure warning signs of PD is that the person is feeling reasonably fine whereas people around them are exhausted, depressed, afraid and avoidant. Some traditional forms of talk therapy may even make PD worse, especially if instead of coping with the now the talks focus on identifying past trauma.

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I assume most poly couples periodically test their maturity level by doing some postponing?
Most people test their maturity level ALL THE TIME by postponing gratification out of consideration of the feelings of others or the real limits of the situation at hand. It's not a poly characteristic, it is an adult characteristic.

I'm still at loss as to why continue struggling and hurting, especially since you are not living or raising children together. What positive things is she adding to your life in such a degree that they outweigh all the negatives?
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Old 10-12-2011, 12:33 PM
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AnnabelMore AnnabelMore is offline
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I agree very strongly with BU. This relationship sounds damaging, dysfunctional and unbalanced. Poly should happen in the context of a strong, healthy relationship, whereas it sounds to me like this relationship shouldn't be happening period. It's not a matter of you two disagreeing on rules, it's a matter of her completely refusing to follow a single rule you've requested. How could you ever trust someone like that, and how could you marry someone you can't trust?

"She would find some hole in my argument and turn it around on my glass-throwing or name-calling, which, since they did happen, I couldn’t deny. I said, “You can’t distinguish safety from control.” So then that means I’m saying she’s stupid. And around and around."

She is making you out to be the crazy one and trying to use that to control you. THAT is abusive.

Throwing a single item, *once*, and not *at* anyone is not violent or pre-abusive, it's just immature, as you admitted, but not nearly as immature as her behavior. So you suggested she might be a sociopath. It's not name calling if it's true, is it? I mean, what kind of person who can understand and feel empathy would blithely stand their breaking up their friends' relationship like she did with that poor lesbian couple.

"Recently she admitted to some unsafe sex practices."

Did she exchange fluids with you before owning up to this? If so, she is disregarding not just your emotional health (ignoring all your very reasonable requests for respectful relationship behavior) and your mental health (trying to make you out to be the crazy, scary one so that you no longer trust yourself), but now also your physical health.

What won't she do? Why would you stay? GET OUT before you find out just how sociopathic she can be...
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Old 10-12-2011, 12:52 PM
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Obviously, none of us here can say whether she has some mental illness or not. It could be so many things, some kind of trauma, a schizoaffective disorder, even just stress or hormones. However, her mixing alcohol with anxiety medication is not a good sign, and neither is her flagrant disregard for your feelings. She doesn't seem to respect you or anyone else, or even herself for that matter. Sure, one could say that you both have vastly different views of how to "do poly" (she does seem rather focused on fucking everyone in sight, which doesn't really express the "amor" part of polyamory), and that's creating a huge problem. But from what you've written here, it just looks like you're on a sinking ship, and not because of poly. I don't think you're a narcissist at all, based on the questioning and soul-searching you're doing. You threw a glass, but she deftly got you to that breaking point. If you stay with her, I don't see you getting much more out of this disaster of a relationship, other than her continuing to abuse and take advantage of you. She even turned the therapist against you. She has some serious issues to deal with and, for your own sanity, I do agree that you need to grab a life-raft and paddle yourself the hell away from this shipwreck. And don't look back!
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Last edited by nycindie; 10-12-2011 at 01:21 PM.
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Old 10-12-2011, 02:16 PM
Giles Giles is offline
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Thanks, everyone! I really was worried I was going crazy and that I might not be seeing my own issues clearly--individual therapy will help with that.

Why I've stayed in the relationship: Since meeting her, I've been more energetic and happier than in recent years. I eat well and have lost 20 pounds. She's the first girlfriend I've ever had that likes most of the same intellectual things--we're both very specific and nerdy about our books and films. When we walk down the street holding hands, people come up to us and say "Nice to see a couple in love!" All of our friends and family members think we're perfect together. But as soon as we started arguing about the rules, everything went to shit. We still spend quality time together, but it's awkward for us to know that we haven't figured out where to go next, and rather than talk and risk having an argument, we end up going online separately or hanging out with friends. The "break" that we're on is supposed to help us avoid getting subsumed by NRE while also teaching full-time and living in separate cities--things will be easier to deal with on vacations and without any added stresses, at least that's the theory. What I do know is that I asked her not to add any new stresses, which she is unwilling or unable to do--she'll always see me as "acting the same" regardless of how many lovers she has.

AnnabelMore: the unsafe sex, then with me: yes, unfortunately. One of many things she told me after the fact.

BlackUnicorn: You said, "instead of coping with the now the talks focus on identifying past trauma"--is that bad? I thought figuring out why someone acts the way they do was the only thing that could happen before they developed coping. No? I know she had an abusive father whom she cannot ever please. Simply knowing this and admitting, as she has, that her need "not to be controlled by men" stems from this, has led her to the conclusion: "Everyone has Freudian anxieties about their parents. Everyone has Mommy or Daddy issues--I'm not special."

"One of the sure warning signs of PD is that the person is feeling reasonably fine whereas people around them are exhausted, depressed, afraid and avoidant." The things is, she is well loved by everyone! She's almost TOO attractive--mono couples end up agreeing to mess with her and then regret it once boundaries blur. She seems to fit the profile of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but then again my envy of /abandonment by her shows that I fit Borderline Personality Disorder in at least four or five ways--not a diagnosis, but at least sufficient reason NOT to pathologize either one of us--I will have to leave that to the professionals.
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Old 10-14-2011, 10:31 PM
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But as soon as we started arguing about the rules, everything went to shit...
How long have you two been together, and how long ago you decided to embark on poly? I thought that yeah, why not give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this is some individualization on her part going absolutely hay-wire. Why not step back and see what emerges after the dust has settled?

If you end up having the same discussion over and over again, settle a time and space and a specific duration for poly talks, and at other times focus on doing something together, like going to the movies, for walks, I dunno. Try out something you have wanted to test for a long time.

On some level, you will have to start dis-identifying with this relationship. She needs to deal with her own shit. You don't need to be together, if that is detrimental to your respective healths. Invest less emotionally and start treating it as a more casual thing. It's clearly not the time to move in nor get married, so why commit so heavily to someone who is willing to commit so little to you?

Why not drop the whole primary thing from your vocabulary. Tell her that from now on, you consider the two of you to be friends with occasional, safe-sex benefits, that she is free to do her own thing but this means that she won't be able to count on you being there and supporting her to the same degree a primary partner would. Focus on what's keeping you busy and date others, casually, just to get some positive experiences of people who appreciate your vibe.

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BlackUnicorn: You said, "instead of coping with the now the talks focus on identifying past trauma"--is that bad? I thought figuring out why someone acts the way they do was the only thing that could happen before they developed coping.
Sure, if they develop coping. As Freud himself put it, the goal of his brand of therapy was not to cure misery but to transform unconscious misery to conscious misery. Simply realizing why you feel so effed up does nothing to actually better your situation. That's why cognitive-behavioral therapy is all the craze nowadays, with it's focus on identifying AND transforming dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors. The problem with these is though that you need to accept that there is something wrong with your actions to want to change them in the first place.

Talk-therapy that focuses on past trauma actually requires the patients to be able to think coherently and to deal with not small amount of distress. That's why being on medication is a requirement up here, if you want the gov to subsidize your psychotherapy. Traditional psycho-dynamically influenced therapy has actually been shown to worsen the condition of people suffering from severe mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or PD.

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"One of the sure warning signs of PD is that the person is feeling reasonably fine whereas people around them are exhausted, depressed, afraid and avoidant." The things is, she is well loved by everyone! She's almost TOO attractive--mono couples end up agreeing to mess with her and then regret it once boundaries blur. She seems to fit the profile of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but then again my envy of /abandonment by her shows that I fit Borderline Personality Disorder in at least four or five ways--not a diagnosis, but at least sufficient reason NOT to pathologize either one of us--I will have to leave that to the professionals.
But everyone thinks you are such a happy couple, right? A person can be perceived as attractive and charming, but this does not mean people close to them are really feeling well about themselves.

Smart cracks aside, you are very right in that we maybe pathologize simple bad behaviour way too much and thus promote a world view where people don't really have to own up to their stuff because they're sick. (And as my shrink just recently pointed out, even professionals have a tough job nowadays to sort out the mad, bad and sad from each other). PD is sort of a in vogue diagnosis these days, as ADHD and bi-polar used to be, in that people with very little to no training diagnose themselves and their loved ones with it all the time and attribute all their behavior to it. Even if she has PD, doesn't mean she and you could not work it out eventually. The problem is not the possible reason behind her actions but the actions THEMSELVES. It is those you must address and decide how many shit-loads you can still take.
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Old 10-15-2011, 11:01 AM
Giles Giles is offline
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I had never considered those trends in psychotherapy--fascinating. I've been thinking that it would be best to consider both of our behaviors as simply an inability to handle a) whatever "personality" issues are present, b) a huge teaching workload, which cut down our energy to talk about the relationship, and c) the rules themselves, which were too advanced for such a young relationship. And just as it would be too soon to marry, I think it's too soon to do the opposite: break up. Maybe there's a way to understand where she's coming from with "controlling men" by sitting back and letting her explore all that on her own. Dating for me is tough--listing myself as "polyamorous" on OKCupid does not seem to work out, and it would be unethical to lie or tell someone I'm not monogamous until three dates in. Instead, I will do other social things--essentially go back to the introverted nerd I was. That's another thing I forgot to say: I've always been a shy guy who doesn't get lucky all that often, whereas she's a total player who is never single for very long. I think I assumed that magically, out of nowhere, other poly couples would find us on OKCupid and there would be some real-life network of them we would join, and I would find other secondary lovers immediately. Didn't happen. So, I've got to think of myself as essentially the same as I was, plus a part-time girlfriend. Maybe some day I'll find a primary without having to sacrifice nonmonogamy.
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