Bad Poly: A Case Study

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How does a person who is polyamorous in spirit end up not seeking other partners for a great length of time, essentially becoming monogamous in practice?

To put it mildly, I was party to some truly bad poly. And despite whose “fault” you think the whole thing was when the dust settled (I personally believe we all fucked up to varying degrees), I’m confident that everyone involved would agree that things got pretty screwed up.

As difficult as it was to first enter therapy and realize that I had taken people pleasing to a truly unhealthy level, I’ve found it very empowering to realize that it was not the reason my poly relationships or my first marriage fell apart. It’s the reason they happened in the first place and the reason I stayed well past the point where I became miserable, convincing myself that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.

The reason my poly relationships fell apart is that even before I formally began therapy, I started realizing that for quite some time I’d been making decisions that made me miserable.

My desire to please others, which enabled me to stay in unhealthy relationships and to even form them in the first place, was utilized when it was advantageous to former partners and decried when they didn’t like something I was doing – and paradoxically, often linked to the times when I was being more assertive.

One particular instance I remember is when I told Rob, my ex-boyfriend in Cleveland, that I felt insecure and that the distance was hard – because my life was on hold waiting for the move (from Maine, where I was living at the time) so that I could use a little reassurance – in the form of a phone call at least every 10 days (I was on his mobile family plan, so the calls were free). I told him 4 to 5 days would be optimal but that I knew life happened and that I could cope better with every 7 to 10. He agreed to this.

In the 5 months that intervened between my official decision to move to Ohio, we spoke on the phone 3 times. And even though Rob had been very firm about his desire for me to at least write him a short e-mail every day (so that he would know I was okay and feel connected), often 2 to 3 days would pass without any communication with him whatsoever online.

When he’d re-emerge, he’d blame his new fatherhood for his inability to maintain communication. Meanwhile, I’d log into Fetlife and see him commenting on multiple pictures of beautiful women in a flirtatious manner and realize he had enough time to browse on Fetlife and comments but for some reason was too busy to even send me short e-mails. When I’d bring up those concerns, the topic would be re-directed to the fact that oh, I was clearly jealous that he was attracted to these other women. But I had other partners, other interests. I’d entered into the relationship with Rob with my eyes wide open, knowing that I was not and would never be his “one and only.” And I wasn’t exactly a nun myself. It was tough as I was limited as far as establishing real-life connections as I was planning on moving out of state soon, but I flirted up a storm, especially with friends and acquaintances in Ohio. I was a busy little social butterfly. The trouble was that he wasn’t acknowledging me. When he did emerge, it’d inevitably be for some form of cyber sex,which I, starved for attention, would welcome.

It was a tough winter, having lost our rent, holed up in a basement apartment with no windows at my in-laws’ house with my then-husband Seth in a deep depression and refusing to get treatment or do much of anything else other than playing MMOs, eating food from the nearby gas station, and leaving once a week for his D&D group.

I was told by Rob and his wife Michelle that wanting a phone call every 7 to 10 days was “needy” and “high maintenance.” Again, when I was assertive and expressed my displeasure with things that were promised to me not being delivered, I was called “dependent” – when it was precisely these moments when I was being the most independent and self-actualized, by asserting my needs.

When I finally did move to Ohio, as small business owners, they were in the midst of their busiest time of year with a large event they were organizing, and I was informed, after making the 15-hour journey by automobile, not to bother talking to them for another 4 days (after the big event was over). I wasn’t thrilled about it but tried to be understanding, knowing that it is a major undertaking for them and something that’s a huge financial investment.

Seth  and I were starving, and Skyspook was at their house helping out to get ready for the event, as many of their friends did, volunteering free labor to help out with what was ostensibly for them a for-profit enterprise (though as a side note, from my understanding, they didn’t turn a profit and took quite a financial hit overall due to various factors and considered their work more a labor of love than a viable way to make money), so we checked with Rob to see if he wanted to come to dinner with us. Rob said he was too busy and had to stay at the house, so we told him where we were going and said goodbye to him. Rob even said, “Have a nice time,” and smiled.

When we got back, I had gotten a string of angry texts from Michelle. Apparently by going to dinner, we had ruined their plans of ordering out because they didn’t feel right ordering out for only 2 people – so they weren’t going to eat anything. They were going to starve. I came up the stairs to find Michelle sitting in the nursery in the dark in a rocking chair, sobbing, telling me how inconsiderate I was to have ruined their dinner plans. And to make matters worse, I had stolen an employee from them in their hour of need, by saying yes when Skyspook brought up the idea of having a dinner break with Seth and me, taking a 45-minute meal break from volunteering for Rob and Michelle.

This was the first act in a long string of passive-aggression – where I would check with one or both of them and be told something was fine, only to find out – no wait, it wasn’t fine at all, and I was an inconsiderate asshole for taking them at their word, not seeing the hidden signals and inquiring further.

One night, about a week or so after I’d gotten into town, seeing that I’d written a Livejournal entry in which I’d worried about my sanity (though assuring everyone I was safe, just a bit depressed and shellshocked by adjustment required by the move), Skyspook had given me a call to check on me. We talked for about a half an hour or so, a good reassuring conversation between friends (weren’t dating yet, though we had a mutual attraction that we and pretty much everyone around us acknowledged). When I got off the phone, I had a text from Rob, “you busy?” When I went to find him, he told me he’d been horny, but when I hadn’t responded, he’d masturbated instead and then waved me away so he could work on his website.

That was the first time Rob had sought me out in 3 days. We lived in the same house. Rob had promised me he’d take me to coffee but couldn’t give me an exact time. Three weeks passed with no date, no real alone time. During this time, I was a speaker at their event and then worked a whole weekend without pay for their business at Penguicon, taking time off my day job so I could go, helping him wait on customers and baby-sitting his daughter so that Michelle could get a break to work on the sales system when it crashed or go to the bathroom or eat, etc.

When we got back from Penguicon, I went to dinner with Skyspook, our first date. Rob knew about it – as we’d discussed it both before leaving for Penguicon and on the ride home afterwards. Rob said he was fine with it, he wasn’t threatened, and if I was going to date someone else, he’d prefer it to be Skyspook because he was one of their best friends, and they knew he was a truly good guy and wouldn’t hurt me.

Skyspook and I hit it off. After I went on my date, Rob and Michelle were livid. Even though I reminded them that I’d cleared it with them and had been very upfront about what happened, I was told it was insensitive to date him because he was a friend – an idea in direct opposition to what I was told prior to the date.

There was a hell of a great kink convention going on in town not too long after that. Originally Skyspook had asked me to go with him (as a friend) back in March or so (a few months prior). I’d said that I’d love to go but that I needed to ask Rob as he was my Dom at the time. Rob wanted to go with me but was lacking the funds, so I shelled out the 200 bucks so we could both attend. When the kink convention came, Rob slept in so late the second day that we missed most of our classes, and at the play party that evening, he got rid of me several times, telling me to go make out with Skyspook, disappearing into the bathroom to text Michelle. At the end of the festivities, I asked Rob if he’d had a good time. He replied me that he wished Michelle had been there.

Rob and I broke up not too long after. Michelle had started making strange demands on my time, bullying me and becoming hysterical when I’d commit what were in her mind grave offenses: failing to do their dishes while they were out of town (something I often did as a courtesy for them but failed to do on one occasion), not putting all of my appointments on Google Calendar so that I wasn’t in my room when Michelle went to look for me, not texting to let her know while she was out of town that I was going to (a strictly friendly) sushi dinner with an ex-friend of hers, aghast she had to learn about it on Facebook.

In addition, Michelle began to exhibit other bizarre behavior, one other incident in particular revolving around Google Calendar as well, which I suppose demonstrates that everyone involved (myself included) was a major geek.

I had a girlfriend back in Maine, Tina, who I had to leave behind when I moved to Ohio. Tina and I missed each other, but she was really supportive of my choice, was genuinely happy for me, and handled my moving away extremely well (I suppose it helps that we’d had more of a friends with benefits sort of relationship that was pretty fluid as a matter of course).  Tina was really curious about my sex life out here in Ohio and asked me questions so regularly about what I was doing and with whom that I created a special Google Calendar called “Bedpost” (like notches in your bedpost) for her where I’d record who I had sex with, what position, etc., for Tina’s licentious pleasure. It was all in good fun, and I cleared it with my sexual partners.

Well, when Michelle got wind of Bedpost, she demanded I add her. First thing she did was read over my recent activity and figure out that Rob hadn’t told her about a sexual encounter we’d had and concluded he’d lied to her by not mentioning it (I found this quite odd since they’d been poly at several years by this point, Rob and I were serious and fluid bonded, and Rob and Michelle had no such rule that he needed to clear or notify each encounter, as far as I knew). Then she used the information she found on my calendar to harass him and start an argument.

I shut down Bedpost not long after, even though it disappointed Tina greatly, because Michelle used that info against Rob and additionally criticized the manner in which I documented my sex life, complaining that I failed to record the time of day the encounters occurred.

It was just raining red flags. I started feeling like the situation was unstable and that I didn’t trust Michelle or Rob anymore. I also felt like my relationship with Rob was placing a strain on their marriage I didn’t want to perpetuate. So when Rob threatened to cut off our sexual relationship, I agreed.

Said it was for the best. I had been about to suggest the same.

This took him off guard. I think he was using breaking up as a threat to try to bully me into doing what he wanted.

I really wanted the break up to be amicable. I still very much cared for Rob and valued him as a friend; he’s very funny and witty, and there was a lot I liked about him. Unfortunately, things exploded spectacularly, and I no longer talk to either of them, let alone live with them.

The sad thing is that I suspect they consider me the sole guilty party in the breakup. I’m the”crazy ex,” etc – and you know, I admit that I’m sure I probably fucked up, did inconsiderate things, especially having moved cross country and drunk on the new relationship energy with Skyspook. I’m certainly not perfect or “innocent” by any stretch of the imagination – but I know with absolute certainty that I did the best I could and that I was by no means singlehandedly responsible for that relationship failing.

I am positive that if you talked to Rob or Michelle that you’d get an earful about me. But it’s enough for me that I know within myself that I tried my darnedest to make things work – short of breaking up with Skyspook, something Rob tried to elicit in a spectacular “it’s him or me” moment in the final weeks, to which I replied, “It’s the worst kind of sign when someone says something like that.”

Hell, that first night when I got anger from them for  going to dinner with Seth and Skyspook after the long drive from Maine, I actually walked to Dunkin’ Donuts and picked them up donuts and coffee without being asked to as a peace offering.

I was more than a doormat – I was a doormat that thanked you for stepping on it. And it was precisely the moment that I stopped being a doormat to them that things spun wildly out of control.

That’s how I know my dependent personality didn’t cause that relationship to fail – my desire and efforts to get better did, and I’m in a relationship now where I’m encouraged to be independent, and the two of us function interdependently in a way that strengthens us both.

This bit of introspection brought to you by the following essay:

“How To Avoid Problem People”


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  1. Will X & Y read this post and be outraged all over again at your perfidy?

    FWIW, as a pretty much unbiased outsider, it certainly sounds as if you were more sinned against than sinning. You do a fine job outlining their passive-aggressive dynamic and the numbers they played on you.

  2. “Will X & Y read this post and be outraged all over again at your perfidy?”

    Oh, probably. The wife in particular has an anxiety order, says she has abandonment issues, and becomes very fixated on perceived betrayals. She had a boyfriend herself for about 4 years (a poly relationship) – and 2 years later, she was still totally obsessed with it – to the point of wondering for months why he unfriended her on facebook (after being broken up for 2 years and not having seen each other at all for about a year).

    Last I knew, she’d contacted some kink community leaders to try to get them to force me to have a sit down with her so she could give me a piece of her mind and get some closure on the situation.

    I haven’t spoken with them since the very end of last May – so about 9 months.

    They were very peripheral members of my local kink community (Jezcabelle and Skyspook were much more involved – Jezcabelle in an administrative capacity and Skyspook as a regular volunteer), and though they were informed when they asked the leadership if they were still welcome at events, they were told yes, they still haven’t shown. Additionally when Skyspook and I went to a gaming convention last summer, they showed up, but when they saw him, they turned around and left – which seems to me to show that they are harboring some guilt about how they treated me.

    “FWIW, as a pretty much unbiased outsider, it certainly sounds as if you were more sinned against than sinning. You do a fine job outlining their passive-aggressive dynamic and the numbers they played on you.”

    Thank you. Everyone actually privy to the situation, with of course the notable exception of them, come to basically the same conclusion.

    Another friend of mine relocated a few hours away to live with lovers in Cleveland not too long before I moved from Maine, and he was particularly devastated to see how W & X treated me. It is a *huge* deal to relocate for someone – especially 900 miles! – a huge financial investment, very unsettling in all sort of pragmatic and emotional ways – and then to be met with such treatment upon my arrival, he felt it was unthinkable – and really, the burden was on them at that point to put the extra effort forth.

    But it became apparent to me that X didn’t want a relationship. He wasn’t willing to put forth the effort. He wanted a live-in maid and a readily available sexual outlet.

  3. Bravo! A magnificent post. This piece is an excellent description of manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior. And also an excellent portrayal of the unreasonably LOW expectations and standards that victims often have, which contribute to the problem and attract emotional leeches in the first place.

    Abuse is rarely as simple or one-sided as “X is a nasty person.” Which is actually GOOD news, because it means that victims can troubleshoot and change *their own* behavior so they avoid emotional leeches and create better relationships.

    Kudos to you, Page, for the courage to enter and continue therapy, and to deal with your own dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors.

    1. Thank you so much for your support! 🙂 I’m certainly trying.

      Since the exes and I still have mutual friends and acquaintances, every now and then something will filter back to me where they’re talking about me, what a liar I am, complaining about how I misconstrue and malign them. The thing is, they haven’t admitted ANY fault at all in the break-up, expressed any regrets. They pin the whole thing on me, my new partner (Skyspook), my ex-husband, my housemate, my friends. They don’t acknowledge that they could have done anything at all.

      Which is pure foolishness. Even I admit that I didn’t do things perfectly, that I screwed up. I know that for example, when the wife started becoming confrontational, and I was stressed out, that I left the house to hang out with other people, avoided her for a few days at a time because I was dreading talking to her and the stress of her negativity and complaints about me – that wasn’t terribly mature of me, but at the time, I didn’t know quite what else to do. I was so frayed I worried that I’d blow up at her, escalate the situation, or who knows what else.

      I think this complete unwillingness to take any responsibility for the blow-up is a sign that they’re not being honest with themselves about what happened – so how could they possibly be with anyone else?

      1. Of course, such things don’t ultimately matter as they are no longer my responsibility, and I need not care what they do, how they feel.

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