We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
I’m a 25-year-old woman currently in a poly relationship with a married man roughly 20 years my senior. This has by far been the best relationship I’ve ever had. However, something has me a bit on edge. We went on a trip with friends to a brewery with a great restaurant. It was an amazing place, and I’m sure his wife would enjoy it. He mentioned the place to her, and her response was “NO,” she didn’t want to go there because she didn’t want to have “sloppy seconds.” It made me feel dirty. Additionally, the way he brushed this off means this isn’t the first time. I go out of my way to show him places I think they would like to go together. I don’t know if my feelings are just hurt—if it’s as childish as I think it is—or if it’s a reminder of my very low place in their hierarchy. I hesitate to bring this up, because when I have needs or concerns, they label me as difficult or needy. Is this part of a bigger trend I’m missing? Should I do anything to address this, or should I just continue to stay out of their business and go where I wish with my partner? —Treated With Outrage
I’m having a hard time reconciling these two statements, TWO: “This has by far been the best relationship I’ve ever had” and “when I have needs or concerns, they label me as difficult or needy.” I suppose it’s possible all your past relationships have been so bad that your best-relationship-ever bar is set tragically low. But taking a partner’s needs and concerns seriously is one of the hallmarks of a good relationship, to say nothing of a “best relationship ever.”
That said, I don’t know you or how you are. It’s entirely possible that you share your needs and concerns in a way that comes across as—or actually is—needy and difficult. Our experience of interpersonal relationships, like our experience of anything and everything else, is subjective. One person’s reasonable expression of needs/concerns is another person’s emotionally manipulative drama. I would need to depose your boyfriend and his wife, TWO, to make a determination and issue a ruling.
That said, it’s a really bad sign that your boyfriend’s wife compared eating in a restaurant you visited with him to fucking a hole that someone else just fucked, i.e., “sloppy seconds.” It has me wondering whether your boyfriend’s wife is really into the poly thing. Some people are poly under duress (PUD), i.e., they agreed to open up a marriage or relationship not because it’s what they want, but because they were given an ultimatum: We’re open/poly or we’re over. In a PUD best-case scenario, the PUD partner sees that their fears were overblown, discovers that poly/open works for them, embraces openness/polyamory, and is no longer a PUD. But PUDs who don’t come around (or haven’t come around yet) will engage in small acts of sabotage to signal their unhappiness—their perfectly understandable unhappiness. They didn’t want to be open/poly in the first place and are determined to prove that open/poly was a mistake and/or punish their ultimatum-issuing partner. The most common form of PUD sabotage? Making their primary partner’s secondary partner(s) feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
That said, as you (probably) know (but if you don’t, you’re about to find out), poly relationships have all kinds of (sometimes incredibly arbitrary but also incredibly important) rules. If one of the rules is “My wife doesn’t want to hear from or about my girlfriend,” TWO, then your restaurant recommendations are going to fall flat. Being poly means navigating rules (and sometimes asking to renegotiate those rules) and juggling multiple people’s feelings, needs, and concerns. You have to show respect for their rules, TWO, as they are each other’s primary partners. But your boyfriend and his wife have to show respect for you, too. Secondary though you may be, your needs, concerns, feelings, etc., have to be taken into consideration. And if their rules make you feel disrespected, unvalued, or too low on the hierarchical poly totem pole, you should dump them. —Dan Savage
My wife said she didn’t care who I slept with soon after we met. At the time, I didn’t want to sleep with anyone else. But we eventually became monogamish—it started as me texting her a fantasy while I was at work, and that fantasy was waiting for me when I got home. It was fun, but it wasn’t something I needed. After a couple years of playing together with others in private and in clubs, she said she wanted to open our relationship. I got a girlfriend, had fun until the new relationship energy (NRE) wore off, and ended things. Then my wife got a great job on the other side of the state and I stayed behind to get our house into a sellable state. Right now, we see each other only on weekends. I also got a new girlfriend. The NRE wore off, but we still really like each other, and we’ve discussed being long-distance secondaries once the move is complete. Here’s the problem: Last night, my wife confessed to me that being in an open relationship was making her miserable. Not just my current girlfriend, whose monopoly over my time during the week could be a legitimate cause for concern, but going back to the previous girlfriend I saw only one night a week. I told my wife that I would break up with my girlfriend immediately. My wife is the most important person in my life, and I don’t want to do anything to hurt her. But my wife told me not to break up with my girlfriend. I don’t want to string my girlfriend along and tell her everything is fine, but my wife, who doesn’t want to be poly anymore, is telling me not to break up with my girlfriend. What do I do? —Dude Isn’t Content Knowing Priority Is Crushingly Sad
Your wife may want you to dump your girlfriend without having to feel responsible for your girlfriend’s broken heart, DICKPICS, so she tells you she’s miserable and doesn’t want to be poly anymore, and then tells you not to end things. Or maybe this is a test: Dumping a girlfriend you didn’t have to dump would signal to your wife that she is, indeed, the most important person in your life and that you will prioritize her happiness even when she won’t. Or maybe she’s watched you acquire two girlfriends without landing a boyfriend of her own.
But there’s a middle ground between dumped and not dumped, DICKPICS: Tell your girlfriend what’s going on—she has a right to know—and put the relationship on hold. Get the house sold, get your ass to your wife, and keep talking until you figure out what is going to work for your wife going forward: completely closed, open but only to sexual adventures you two go on together, i.e., “playing together with others in private and in clubs,” or open with GFs (and BFs) allowed. Good luck. —DS
I don’t know if I’m poly or not. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, this has been so difficult. How do I know when to go back to monogamy? —Pretty Over Lusty Yearnings
I don’t think you’re poly, POLY, because I don’t think anyone is poly. I also don’t think anyone is monogamous. Polyamory and monogamy aren’t sexual orientations, IMO, they’re relationship models. And if the polyamorous model is making you miserable, POLY, it might not be right for you. But you should ask yourself whether polyamory is making you miserable or if the people you are doing polyamory with are making you miserable. People in awful monogamous relationships rarely blame monogamy for their woes—even when monogamy is a factor—but the stigma against nontraditional relationship models, to say nothing of sex-negativity, often leads people to blame polyamory for their misery when the actual cause isn’t the model, POLY, it’s the people. —DS