Is It More Ethical to Hide a Metamour’s Insecurity From Your Partner? Or More Ethical to Tell Them?

a statue of Janus, a bearded man with two faces, one facing forward and one looking back
Image by DaveBleasdale / CC BY

Fall 2010

One night, my boyfriend Rob called me on the phone after his wife Michelle left for the library. It was a low-key conversation. Just chitchat, really. We weren’t even having phone sex or anything. At least not yet, although in recent weeks, we’d fallen into a habit of sliding into phone sex after initial introductions.

But suddenly, he sounded stressed.

“I have to go. I’ll talk to you online,” Rob said.

He didn’t even wait for me to respond. He just hung up.

Two hours passed, in which I heard nothing (such a tough wait), and then Rob popped online. He said that Michelle had come home early from the library to find him with his pants undone while talking to someone on the phone. And upon witnessing it, she’d had a major emotional meltdown.

“I offered to delete your contact info and block you,” he told me. “But luckily, she said that wouldn’t be necessary.”

I sat there staring at the computer screen, feeling empty.

I couldn’t believe what he’d just said — how casually he had offered to cast me aside at the slightest show of resistance from his wife. This was not something I’d expect from a couple who had been polyamorous for eight years. You’d think they’d have their shit figured out by now.

But no. And we didn’t have very long to talk about it that night. Rob said he wanted to get back to her and stabilize things. Undo the damage he’d done.

I said goodbye and became a mess. Crying angry tears. I felt like a fool, putting my heart in the hands of someone who would throw it all away so easily. And yet, I felt powerless to reverse course.

Like it or not, I had begun to need him.

Telling a Partner About a Metamour’s Insecurity

As the days wore on, Rob continued to share what was going on behind the scenes with Michelle. Her negative feelings. Her jealousy. She was struggling because she didn’t feel sexually secure, he told me. And Rob’s establishing a deep sexual connection with someone else (and so easily) was about the most threatening thing she could imagine.

I’m glad you two are working things out, I thought. But I couldn’t help but wonder: Why was he telling me all of this? Couldn’t the two of them talk this over without involving me?

I had deep sympathy for her state (I was no stranger to insecurity and had certainly struggled with it myself), but Rob’s processing through all of these issues with me felt like an invasion of her privacy. And whether I liked it or not, talking over his wife’s insecurities at such great length was deeply painful for me. I worried the entire time about losing him. And knowing of her challenges made me feel like she didn’t like me. Which made me suspicious of her motives.

This wasn’t exactly the best first impression of my new metamour.

Eventually, Rob connected me with Michelle over a group chat, and she and I began to talk to one another. As we spoke, the tension subsided, although I found that Michelle still leaned on me to do emotional labor in a way that made me incredibly uncomfortable.

It wasn’t that I was unwilling to be there for her — it’s just that I found myself in constant conflicts of interest. I juggled the multiple roles clumsily: Friend, metamour, consummate trigger.

I became overloaded. And in that state of exhaustion, I began to resent her.

Yes, the three of us worked it out. That relationship lasted about a year before it ended. But talk about a rough start.

Hiding a Metamour’s Insecurity

Summer 2017

One night several years later, I find myself in Rob’s role.

I’m out on a double date with my husband, my boyfriend, and a friend when I notice my husband is behaving strangely. Something is wrong with his facial expressions. His eyes are glassy. He keeps freezing.

“Are you okay?” I ask my husband.

He shrugs and shakes his head in a way that discourages me from inquiring further.

Later when my boyfriend is driving me home, my husband texts me on my phone. He tells me he started having a panic attack in the restaurant. My boyfriend and I weren’t engaging in massive PDA or anything, but apparently we’d exchanged a loving glance that didn’t exactly foster compersion and instead hit my husband cross-wise, setting off some anxiety.

A pit forms in my stomach. I sigh.

“Everything okay?” my boyfriend asks me from the driver’s seat.

“Yeah,” I say. This is not true, but it’s what I say. Because in that moment, I know that technically I can tell my boyfriend that my husband is struggling. That would be the most honest path after all, right? And polyamory’s all about “open, honest communication” (it was practically our mantra in the early days, starting out).

But I also remember how Rob made me feel when Michelle was struggling. Like I was in the middle of it. And I don’t want to do that to my boyfriend or my husband. Or to pit them against each other.

The plan is for me to spend a little time alone with my boyfriend at the house and then go over to his place to spend the night. The first time I’ve done that.

My husband continues to text me from his own hangout. Becoming progressively more distressed. I ask him if he wants me to nix the overnight portion of my date. My husband is adamant — he does not want me to do that. He assures me he doesn’t need or want babyproofing. And that this is his anxiety, and he owns it.

The Double Agent

I do my best to balance these distressed text messages with actually spending quality time with my boyfriend. We connect, talk, make out. And it’s good — except my boyfriend is kind of getting on my nerves. No one big thing happens, but instead it’s the usual path of poisoned breadcrumbs: Smaller offenses, rudeness, boasting. Whenever we get to a vulnerable place, my boyfriend changes the subject, breaking the tension. But it’s the tension that I really want.

And I don’t know if I can take any more of this today.

As the time to go over to his place for the night draws near, I realize that I really don’t want to.

I don’t kid myself that the stress from my husband isn’t in the picture (I’m only human, after all). But I’m also fairly annoyed for these other reasons.

“I think I should stay here tonight,” I tell my boyfriend. “I’m really tired.” And it’s the truth, if only partial. I am emotionally exhausted — from my husband’s texts and from my boyfriend’s sudden emotional pivots.

“Okay,” my boyfriend says. “Rain check?”

I nod. “Absolutely. After all, we have that work trip coming up.” My husband will be out of town for a week soon, and my boyfriend is coming over for most of it.

After my boyfriend leaves, I text my husband to let him know that the overnight is canceled and that I’m staying at our house tonight.

I hope this wasn’t because of me, my husband texts me.

He was getting on my nerves, I reply.

Which is true. But I know that it’s for both reasons.

I leave the encounter feeling quite like a double agent. Both men seem happy, but I spend several days wondering if I’ve done the right thing.

I ask myself:

Can you — should you — be open and honest with other people’s secrets?

Is it more ethical to hide a metamour’s insecurity from your partner? Or more ethical to tell them?

*

Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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