Am I Poly[am]? I need help with deciding whether I’m poly and whether to tell my wife.

OK, so, we’ve been married for 24 years. I love my wife very much. It’s not the same romantic one that we felt before getting married. But we are an ideal couple, the envy of many of my friends. Our marriage has been great, we have two lovely children.

So, about 8 months back, I fell in love with an old friend, let’s call her Q. We have some common interests and we have been exchanging mails for the last decade or so. Q and I didn’t get to meet often because we live in different cities. Last year, my travel to her city on work suddenly shot up, and we started meeting more often. We must already have had some feelings for each other before, because soon enough, we fell in love.

I haven’t told my wife, and Q hasn’t told her husband. I think my wife will be hurt, and ask me to stop meeting Q if she found out. I am not sure. Neither Q or I want to get out of our comfortable marriages. Yet, we yearn, long to see each other. We talk over the phone almost every day.

How would I feel if my wife fell in love with someone else and the tables were turned? I’d be a bit upset, but I’d get over it. My reasoning is that just like my wife cannot satisfy all my emotional needs, I cannot do the same for her. It’d be justified for her to seek that out in someone else, so she can be happy. Just like I found someone else to supplement what I have with my wife.

There’s also this weird thing. Both Q and I are normally accepting with each other’s spouses, there are times when we feel jealous and upset if either of us talks about an intimate moment with our spouse. But we quickly reason it out and get back to normal.

So, help. Am I poly[am]? Should I come out in the open? What about Q? What should she do?

There are a few things in this letter I want to point out:

  • Polyamory as the solution
  • Meeting emotional needs
  • Assumptions and cheating

Polyamory as the solution

There are a lot of people who believe that polyamory is the solution to infidelity. I see this jokingly referred to sometimes when there is a love triangle in a popular television show. Relationship broke? Polyamory. But I often wonder if people are genuinely interested in being polyamorous or non-monogamous, or if they just want permission to have their affair without having to hide it. And there’s a big difference.

People can and do fall in love with others regardless of whether or not they are monogamously oriented. Whether or not one considers themselves naturally oriented towards polyamory or not, you have to make an active choice in your life to date multiple people and to do so ethically. It’s not the kind of thing one usually finds themselves accidentally falling into. I’m of the opinion that in choosing polyamory or non-monogamy, you should do a lot of soul searching to try and figure out what kind of partnerships you want, whether or not you want to have a domestic partner or not, and how you envision things will be. This could change of course, but it’s good to know what you want out of it before you jump in.

You and Q haven’t thought about this. You’re not really interested in polyamory, or at least that’s not the intention you’ve expressed. You’re interested in having the ability to maintain your affair. There’s not a consideration or thought process as to how, if your spouses were okay with it, that would change your lives and how you would manage your time. There’s not a thought process as to how you would handle it if one person’s spouse was fine but the other person’s spouse wasn’t. You’re caught up in giddy love and new relationship energy, and possibly the hidden-ness of it all, that you’re not thinking about what this is realistically going to mean.

I’m not sure what type of setup you have with your wife, but you’ve been married for 24 years and have two children. It stands to reason that you have some physical ties with each other. What’s going to happen to those? What about retirement? What if Q’s spouse gets a job on the other side of the country and wants to take Q and move away? I think that you need to really have a good realistic look at your relationship with Q, what it means and how it’s supposed to work with your current relationship before you even begin to suggest polyamory. Which leads me to the next point you brought up.

Meeting emotional needs

You state that your wife ‘cannot satisfy all of your emotional needs’ and visa versa. While I totally understand the thought process behind the idea of telling people that no one person can always meet another person’s needs completely — this is really a polyamory parrot line that needs a gigantic ‘Your Milage May Vary’ attached to it.

My great grandmother was married and had 8 children with my great grandfather and when he died, she never remarried and always claimed she was still married to him. Many people are in monogamous partnerships for their entire lives — and it works for them. For many people, one person does meet all of their emotional needs. Whether or not someone meets your emotional needs depends greatly on not only how much that person is giving, but also how much any one individual may need. You have children, so I’m sure you know that no two children are the same. One may need more support than the other and it really depends.

While I’m not going to tell you what your own emotional needs are, I would really hazard you against making the assumption that just because you are in brand new puppy love now, doesn’t indicate that your spouse is incapable of meeting your emotional needs. Especially because this is a very classic case of new relationship energy. There is always a honeymoon phase of a relationship where the newness is no longer as novel. That doesn’t mean there is no value in the relationship, but it’s just part of the natural change and adaptation we make around people. Your current new love with Q will, just like any new relationship, stop being new at some point and begin to be similar to your relationship with your current spouse.

You’re also making the assumption that your spouse has the same emotional needs that you do and she may not. She may be perfectly fine with your relationship. It may be that if you were non-monogamous and focusing your new energy onto someone new that she may need some other emotional support from others if you’re no longer providing that. But you don’t know what her emotional needs are and it’s safer, especially since she’s never indicated (at least in what you wrote) that she has a problem with your current relationship, that she’s unsatisfied.

Assumptions and cheating

Another mistake you’re making here is assuming you would not have any problems with your current spouse dating other people. You won’t really fully know how you’re going to react until you’re put in this situation. It’s easy to think you’re going to be okay with things when you’ve never actually been put in that situation. I often find within polyamory that you can be fine with something at one moment but then things can change.

You don’t say in your letter whether or not you’ve slept together or whether this is something that you want to do in the future. It’s pretty clear since you and Q both feel you have to hide this relationship from your spouses that, even if you weren’t sleeping together or kissing, something you’re doing is something you don’t think your spouses would approve of and therefore, at least in my criterion, it is potentially cheating. But the question I would put forth to you both is that, while it’s clear you want to see each other more, how critical is that need?

If this is a situation where you both enjoy speaking with each other, are in love, and aren’t physically violating any of the boundaries or things you agreed upon with your partners, why not just continue to have this close friendship and love with one another and get on with your lives? Why does this necessarily have to develop into a ‘relationship’ and what would that entail? I feel like we put a lot of assumptions and expectations on romantic feelings and the idea that they inevitably have to lead somewhere when they can just exist and we can be happy with them without it having to develop.

Before you approach the discussion of whether or not you are polyamorous or not, I think you need to figure out what being polyamorous means for you. I think you need to ask yourself if you are willing to sacrifice this 24 year relationship and your family to test that theory. Because if your spouse is not happy for you to be polyamorous and Q’s spouse is, you could find yourself without the strong base of emotional support you have now with Q being unable to actually meet that need.

Ultimately this is a question I cannot fully answer for you. People can and do grow apart all of the time. I don’t think this is about being polyamorous. It may just be that you’ve fallen in love with someone new and you would rather be in that relationship than your current one. Polyamory really should be a dedicated choice, not a means of you being able to keep your affair and your spouse at the same time. Because polyamory means that your spouse has the freedom to explore her options as well and that may not be what you entirely mean when you say you want to be polyamorous.

Overall, my suggestion is for you and Q to do some soul searching. Figure out what you actually want to do, figure out how much this relationship between you is ‘worth’ and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to have it. And most importantly, if you’re going to continue to have an affair, be willing to accept the consequences of what this means down the road for your spouses.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2018, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.

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