I read your blog and your book, and I’m hoping you can help me.
I’ve been polyamorous for 2 years. I have a husband. We were married for about 3 years before we opened up. Like you, we were introduced to polyamory because we found out that our friends were polyamorous. A bunch of our other friends tried out poly first and we stayed monogamous but after a while of watching my friends and seeing what it was like, I finally agreed to try having a poly relationship.
When we told our friends (pretty much all poly at that point), we immediately got offers to date them. I guess that was a compliment? Anyways, I didn’t say yes right away since I worried about dating friends. I did have this one friend I always had a crush on though, so after about a year of my marriage being open, I decided I’d like to try dating him.
We’ve gone really slow since I’m trying to make sure my husband is comfortable because this is the first person I’ve dated, and it’s his friend, too. So I’ve been dating my friend for about a year, but I’m just now realizing that we’re not as compatible as I thought we were. It seems like I let physical attraction for him blind me to a lot of his other qualities, and now that I’ve figured out those things I don’t like about him, he seems less physically attractive to me than he did. It’s a vicious cycle.
When I talk with friends about it, I get all kinds of confusing answers. They tell me it seems like I want to break up with him, which is true. I do want to break up with him. But my friends also say things like poly people don’t have to break up since you can be with more than one person. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to lose the friendship, but I’m really unhappy.
What do you think?
You have a few options here.
The first one, believe it or not, is to stay in the relationship. Just keep doing what you’re doing and being unhappy. Sure, it’s not a great option, but it’s an option, and it’s one that people choose all the time. I don’t recommend it. I could see staying in the relationship as it is if there were things to work on, but it sounds from your letter (edited in this column for length and anonymity) that the two of you have conflicts in your core values.
Deescalation: The Middle Path
Your friends are right about one thing. There is a middle path in polyamory between staying together and a breakup: Relationship deescalation. Rather than breaking off the relationship altogether, you can decide to spend less time with someone or be less entangled with them (physically, emotionally, or otherwise). I’ve known poly people who have successfully deescalated relationships instead of breaking up.
- One long-distance couple who was trying to see each other every week mutually agreed on monthly dates instead, and that change allowed them to actually enjoy their time together without the stress of the constant travel.
- Someone who was concerned about her partner’s risk assessment re: sexual encounters with others continued her relationship with him but stuck to activities with little to no STI risk.
- A woman who planned on moving in with her boyfriend and his wife realized that they would make terrible roommates and opted to continue dating him but maintain an apartment of her own.
All of these situations were delicate ones. In each scenario, the person suggesting these changes was met with concern about them from their partner: “Did I do something wrong?” “Are you breaking up with me?”
Even if these changes are the right move (i.e., something that will result in a better relationship for both moving forth), they can feel punitive or like a step back. Still, I’ve seen it work in certain situations.
But Polyamory Doesn’t Mean Never Breaking Up
But here’s the sad truth (of polyamory or monogamy): Sometimes you do have to break up.
Sure, polyamory might potentially eliminate a few of the standard reasons people part ways in a monogamous context (for example, that old cultural script of our partner meeting someone else and them being “better” and only being allowed to have one relationship).
But sometimes relationships just don’t work.
If you do decide to break things off, I hope your boyfriend takes it well enough that you can be friends eventually. If it’s going to happen, it rarely happens right away. A lot of times people need a little space for a while after a breakup.
But you might never be friends again. You don’t get to decide whether he wants that. He does.
In any event, I hope it works out for you.
My book is out!