PQ 23.6 — Do I give my partner space to conduct his relationship with my other partner, without trying to take sides in conflicts or carry messages between them?

3 lit candles on a plate all melting together
Image by Peter Becker / CC BY

PQ 23.6 — Do I give my partner space to conduct his relationship with my other partner, without trying to take sides in conflicts or carry messages between them?

*

2011

“You were at Justin’s last night, weren’t you?” Michelle asks me.

I sigh. I wish I didn’t, but I have a good sense of what’s coming next. Michelle’s become predictable to me over the months that I’ve known her. Especially the past few weeks. And I’ve learned to spot a dangerous trap question a mile away.

But I’m also who I am. And I tend to be a person who answers questions as though they’re put forth in good faith. “Yes, I was,” I reply.

“I’m surprised by that,” she says.

There’s a pause. It’s heavy because I can sense the threat. I wait for her to go wherever she’s about to go.

“Wasn’t it your wedding anniversary with Seth?”

“Yes,” I say. “Seth’s the one who drove me over there. He told me he wanted me to spend more time with Justin.”

And it’s true. Whatever issues Seth and I encounter in our relationship, sharing time with other people is never one of them. And Seth has blown me away by how supportive he’s been of my connection with Justin. I’ve been seeing my boyfriend Rob and occasionally his wife Michelle (our relationship seeming to reside in some gray ambiguous space between metamours and girlfriends) for about a year. And while Seth was initially glad to see how happy Rob made me, he’s never thought that Rob or Michelle treat me as well as I deserve.

It’s gotten especially bad in the past few weeks that I’ve started dating someone new, Justin, a long-term friend of Rob and Michelle’s.

Rob and Michelle have been polyamorous for far longer than I had been (for eight years, as opposed to my two years, really one year at the time I met them). Rob hadn’t insisted on a closed relationship system when I’d discussed it. I’m ostensibly able to take on new additional lovers so long as I notify them. Or, as Rob had somewhat crudely put it at the time, “I only have one rule. If you’re fucking someone, I want to know about it beforehand.”

And I’d been forthright about my interest in Justin, letting Rob and Michelle know that Justin was a serious prospect about 6 months prior to going on my first date with him.

Regardless of all of this, the situation has become very tense. And my husband Seth is frankly unimpressed watching it all. He’s become an eager co-conspirator, on the hunt for opportunities for me to find more time to see Justin even with my busy life.

So on the night of our sixth wedding anniversary, Seth took me out to a nice dinner. We talked and had a good time, connecting on all the strange adventures we’d had since the last time we’d had an opportunity to sit down and talk. And on the way home from the restaurant, he dropped me off at Justin’s house to spend the night.

Seth and I definitely have our problems. We’ll go on eventually to divorce but still talk occasionally. And once that happens we’re both happy — happier than we were together. We laugh now that we were ever married.

But it’s memories like that night, sitting in a restaurant with Seth sharing a nice anniversary dinner right before he dropped me at my boyfriend’s house, that make me remember the love that was there. That we support what is best for one another, even in those moments when it isn’t us.

Michelle never really understands it. The way that Seth and I relate to one another. How we will actively aid one another in developing new relationships. The dynamic between her and Rob is a constant tug of war. Michelle is a fairly global zero sum thinker. She seems to see threats everywhere. For his part, Rob never escapes the same behavioral modes as he had in his cheating days (his infidelities being the reason they even opened up in the first place). He lies constantly and only seems to tell the truth when it’s easy. Predictably, all of these behaviors cause problems even now that he has “permission.”

In other words, they seem like they’ve been polyamorous for eight days, not eight years.

Michelle frowns at the news that Seth drove me to Justin’s. “What? Seth wanted you to spend more time with Justin on your wedding anniversary?” Michelle says.

“That’s right.”

She pauses. It seems to me that she’s looking for an opportunity to be righteously indignant on Seth’s behalf. But that my revelation has closed that window. She’s steaming and clearly frustrated. I have no idea what she’ll say next, but I suspect (as before) that it won’t be pretty.

“I’ve been trying to stay out of it, but…” she says.

Oh dear, I think, waiting.

“I think it’s really horrible what you’re doing to Rob,” she says.

“Doing to Rob?” I say.

“By dating Justin,” she replies.

I frown. “Rob told me that he didn’t have a problem with it when I asked.”

She pauses. “I’ve been trying to stay out of it, but…”

No but. Why the but? I think. Either stay out of it or don’t. Don’t passive-aggressively hint. Don’t plant seeds. Or suggest. 

“…there’s more to this than you know,” she says, finally.

She looks at me expectantly, seeming to want me to ask. To say, “What’s going on?” or, “Hey wait, a minute, you can’t just say there’s more and not say what it is.”

But I don’t. This is one trap I refuse to walk into. If Rob’s having a problem, he can come to me. The last thing I want is for her to act as an intermediary.

I do drop by to see Rob later, to cuddle him, give him an opportunity to open up, tell me anything that’s on his mind. I don’t specifically fish for problems because I don’t want to violate his privacy if he’s trying to manage any discomfort by himself. But I’m as loving as I possibly can be.

Rob says nothing about any difficulty. And in spite of the fact that he’s lied to me at least a half-dozen times in the year we’ve been together, I choose to believe him. I’m not going to hunt down problems that he won’t tell me exist.

And short of pushing him to open up (something I don’t want to do because it doesn’t seem like Michelle had his permission to imply to me that he was struggling), I have no way to really pull apart how much of it is actually Rob experiencing difficulty. Versus how much it’s Michelle looking for an opportunity to be righteously indignant, as she had tried to be on Seth’s behalf about the wedding anniversary issue.

It takes a while, but eventually Rob does come to me of his own accord. Opens up to me about his difficulties. And we finally talk.

*

This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this indexed list.

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