You have a metamour who thinks someone you’re dating is a bad person. What do you do?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: What do you think about forgiveness? When should one be forgiven?

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Episode 53 – Forgiving Mistakes

You have a metamour who thinks someone you’re dating is a bad person. What do you do?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What do you think about forgiveness? When should one be forgiven?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m married, and my husband has two other partners in addition to me: his partner Anna of 3 years, and Lisa of 1 year.  I get along well with both his partners and hang out with them semi-regularly. On my side, I have one other partner I’ve been dating for several months now, Zach.  When I first met Zach several months ago, we instantly clicked.  He seemed very thoughtful, mature, and we had great chemistry. After our first couple dates, he briefly met my husband at a party we were all at, and my husband said he felt “good vibes” from him.

A few days after that party, my husband had a date with Lisa, and he told her about meeting Zach.  Afterwards, Lisa contacted me and said she wanted to talk to me about him. When we spoke, she was really upset and was crying. Apparently, Lisa briefly dated Zach a year earlier, and they saw each other for a couple months. She told me that he violated a boundary of hers twice. She wasn’t comfortable telling me exactly what that boundary was, but she said she felt very manipulated and didn’t think he was a good person.

Obviously this was super concerning to me, but it was also confusing. In my few interactions with Zach up to that point, he’d been respectful of my boundaries, very communicative, and very careful. What’s more, my husband’s other partner, Anna, was seeing him casually at the time I met him, which I took as a good sign. I decided to continue seeing Zach and to form my own impressions. However, I took Lisa’s words to heart and proceeded with caution. I also asked Lisa what her boundaries were if I continued dating Zach, and she said she didn’t want to be around him at all, and didn’t want him to contact her. And I agreed to honour that.

Lisa had also told my husband that Zach violated her boundaries, and of course, my husband was upset by this. It made him understandably uncomfortable with Zach.  In the past, my husband has been friendly with my partners and has been open to hanging out with them, but after talking to Lisa, he didn’t want to engage with Zach any further.

Fast forward several months, and my relationship with Zach has grown. I’ve been moving very deliberately and slowly, because I was worried NRE would cloud my judgement. But he’s been 100% respectful of my boundaries; we have excellent communication, and I feel very safe with him, both physically and emotionally.

Because of this, my husband has become more comfortable with Zach, and he appreciates how he’s been a good partner to me. But he still doesn’t personally want to engage with Zach at all because of Lisa.  Lisa really values loyalty, and my husband told her that he wouldn’t pursue a friendship with Zach out of respect for her.

But as my feelings for Zach grow, I’m wanting to bring him into my life more. I recently asked my husband if he’d be willing to meet up with Zach and his primary partner (who I’ve met and love), but my husband isn’t comfortable with this. He’s worried that if he hangs out with Zach at all, Lisa would view it as a betrayal, and he’d be compromising his integrity. I know you can’t force your partners to hang out and be friends, but I also feel like my husband hasn’t given Zach a real chance. The only interaction my husband ever had with Zach was at that party all those months ago.

I don’t need my husband and Zach to become besties, but I would like to be able to all hang out together on occasion, like I do with his partners, and like my husband has done with my past partners. Also, it’s going to be hard to involve Zach in my life more if I can’t bring him around my husband.

I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do. I’m trying to respect everybody’s boundaries, and I understand why my husband feels uncomfortable.  But I also feel like I can’t grow my relationship with Zach the way I’d like to because of his history with Lisa.  My husband and I still don’t know exactly what happened between the two of them, but the shadow of it is having a very real impact on both my relationships now.

Response:

Now I want to say before I start that you did send me a little bit of extra information which you didn’t necessarily want me to divulge. I’m not going to divulge too much of it but one thing that I do think is really important to this is that you did highlight that there is some BDSM elements that are involved in this and I think that is actually really, really important so I do think that needs to be part of my response.

I’ve been in this situation so many times, both like as a person who has experienced some unsafe behaviour from someone and as a person who is friends with someone who has experienced unsafe behaviour from someone. I’ve been in this situation, and it is quite difficult and this quite frustrating. There may be a situation where you accept that. Zach just won’t be able to hang out with your husband, and that is what it is. That might be preferable to what I might suggest here. Because the thing about me, if I place myself into this situation, I really don’t like tiptoeing around things.

And while I wouldn’t want to press Lisa about what happened to her, based on the information that you’ve given me, I feel like I would really, really want to know, and I would really, really have a hard time— it’s not necessarily that I wouldn’t believe Lisa because her experience is her experience. But it’s the fact that, especially with the BDSM element that you mentioned — and even I think without the BDSM element — people fuck up. People make mistakes. And people have to be given some ability to atone for those mistakes.

It’s not a sustainable community solution. And I know that it’s a big thing especially within BDSM communities to be like “As soon as someone’s abusive we chuck them out and the community is all safe”. It’s not a sustainable solution. It’s really not, for all people because you create this environment and myself and any autistic person will be able to tell you there have been so many times when we have fucked up. We have broken some type of social rule. We have messed up, and not understood and people have responded by isolating us. And they have responded by kicking us out of spaces, sometimes not even telling us what we did.

I have gone through this on a social justice level of going into places, making mistakes, as we’re wont to do, and people’s responses, either being kicking people out, just absolutely trying to verbally eviscerate them, or just you know, as if we’re not yelling at people for the same mistakes that we made. I know this is a boundary violation. I know Lisa is upset about this. And I’m not saying that you need to force Lisa to confront Zach, but a frickin conversation needs to happen here. It just needs to happen.

And it’s a conversation, not necessarily between Lisa and Zach but a conversation between you and your husband and Lisa and Anna. I just I feel like it’s a little bit, you know… nobody’s talking, and we’re all trying to— and the thing that makes me a little worried is that I have witnessed people utilise this element that we have created— like I said in the discussion question I talked about. We, we need to stop recreating these unjust systems.

We live in a society that has an unjust system, a system that takes people who have done wrong things and bad things and I’m not saying that you know, yay, murder is great! No, but what I’m saying is that the system isn’t a just system the idea of separating a human being from from everyone, and closing them often segregating and humiliating them isn’t always a just solution and isn’t sustainable, you know.

Lisa’s still upset. And maybe there’s a conversation that can happen where Zach can understand that what he did was wrong and if he is someone who was willing to listen, if he is someone who is willing to say “oh shit I’m sorry”. You have to at least give somebody that chance. Like, you know, I’m not trying to tell you to tell Lisa what to do. Lisa has to decide. She’s perfectly in line to say, “Listen, I don’t want to hang out with him. I don’t want to be around him”. I’m in the same way about some people.

People who I gave the chance to apologise, who did not apologise and who decided to continue their behaviour. I wish the best for them, but I don’t want them near me, and I have the right to say that. However, when it becomes about “loyalty”… I just feel like that is… that is something that needs to be discussed. It’s not about telling Lisa that she has to tell Zach that he did something wrong, so that he— I mean… I feel like given the additional information that you’ve given me about exclusion from communities and spaces… I just feel like people fuck up. If he hasn’t apologised for it then you need to dump him. If he’s been told that he did something wrong and he refuses to acknowledge it, even if he’s nice to you, I think I… yeah I’d be done with that. And it’s hard because nothing’s happened to you thus far with him.

But it sounds like, from the additional information that you sent to me, that he has no fucking clue that something bad has happened. Maybe there is a Lisa out there for me. Maybe there is someone whose boundaries I’ve violated who is not telling me that. I can’t fix that. Nobody can fix things that they don’t know about. I’m not the kind of person that would be like “Okay. Fuck you, I don’t care”. Like, I’m not that kind of a person. The second that I find out that I fucked up, I try my best to apologise. I don’t get it perfect. I’m not perfect.

But in the past in situations where I have— someone’s basically told me “You have violated this boundary. You made me feel bad or you did this”. I have tried to apologise. I’ve done my best, and I have tried to learn from that experience. You kick somebody out of the community like this and especially if they don’t know, like, if they are– if they don’t apologise and they refuse to listen then fine, I don’t have any problems with saying, “Fuck this person then”. If they can’t be arsed to be, you know, if they if they can’t be arsed to actually say that they’ve done something wrong and actually do something about it, then that’s fine.

It doesn’t sound like this has been a situation with Zach. I’m not saying he didn’t fuck up. He probably did. There is a brilliant person on Instagram named KinkyBlackEducator, I believe that’s their Instagram username and basic guides about BDSM that they put out talk about how consent violations can and do happen. And we just have to talk about it in some way. And like… again, I’m not telling you that you need to tell Lisa that she has to confront Zach. That’s not what I’m saying. But you got to talk about this loyalty thing.

You can totally honour the boundary of not having to have Zach   anywhere near Lisa. That’s fair. But it’s not fair for your husband to basically feel like he can’t be friends with Zach and can’t even interact with him without that being some insult to Lisa. Like that has to be discussed. And maybe in that discussion you can put forth the point that in your interactions with Zach and surely in Anna’s interactions with Zach, he’s never done anything and it’s not to say you don’t believe her but it’s that maybe he would apologise. Maybe all of this trauma could be resolved, or at least some type of justice can happen, rather than just, you know, locking him away. Maybe we can actually solve the problem. You know what I mean like, I just think that that is to me what accountability is and what needs to happen more often in communities that isn’t happening in so many communities.

In so many communities, it’s like you fuck up once and BLAH. I just feel like, especially when you’re talking about, you know, nobody walks out of the womb knowing how to, knowing all the tips and tricks on everything. We all fuck up. We all make mistakes. It is not—Yeah, Okay I’m going on and on about it. Basically you get my point. I think that you can make that point. It just doesn’t work. And this is a good example of why it doesn’t work because now your husband is insulting Lisa by being friends with Zach and we— that conversation just needs to happen. And you need to figure out if that is actually how Lisa feels and understand that there are multiple situations I have been in Lisa’s situation.

I have had somebody who… actually I think I was lucky enough to—  thank my lucky stars I never had a scene with them but I have, I have been around somebody who showed me that they were very unsafe. And this was somebody who was a community leader. It was somebody who everyone loved, because they were very charming and charismatic and it felt like I couldn’t go to any community events they were at. It felt really hard because I didn’t want to, at the time I didn’t want to get them blackballed from anything.

I didn’t want to get them kicked out of anything, but I was frustrated by the fact that this person was continuing to mistreat people, and nobody was holding them to account. And so I can totally understand how Lisa feels. I think I asked you in a follow up questions to get a gauge on whether or not Zack is kind of popular and has some social capital to get away with treating people like shit constantly again and again and again without any— That’s the thing about this like a thing that we like to think that we do, which is that we get rid of people who are toxic, but I don’t think that that’s always true.

I do think that sometimes people have the social capital and the privilege to get away with being toxic again and again again without, without any consequences. So I understand being in that position. I understand.  I tried to avoid putting people in the position of defriending somebody just to prove their loyalty to me because I don’t like that. That loyalty thing is a bit… It’s a bit suspect, to be honest because. Yeah, I just, I just feel like even in that situation I understood why people were friends with them. I understood why and even in my personal life situations where people have sexually assaulted me, I didn’t necessarily blame people for still being friends with the people who sexually assaulted me.

So, I don’t think accountability and justice comes in the way of just completely isolating a person, especially if we if they’ve never been given the chance to actually know that they fucked up. And this is the kind of thing that I just think, you know, I feel like I’m going on and I don’t know if that’s really helpful. I think that that is something that’s worth talking about with Lisa, having that discussion with her. If she gets to a point where she’s like, “No, nobody your husband can’t—“. Basically tells your husband, who we can or can’t be friends with or threaten— you know then your husband has to make that decision.

I think I’d feel very uncomfortable… I feel very uncomfortable with people telling me who I can and can’t be friends with, because that isn’t a good sign for any kind of relationship. Any partner telling you who you can and can’t be friends with or basically creating a situation where if you’re friends with somebody, then they— I just yeah I just don’t think that that’s a good situation to be in.

So it’s a discussion that you and your husband need to have with Lisa potentially with Anna there too because she has also dated Zach. And I think that that’s an important key factor. And then I think that you’re going to have to think about a future where Zach can’t be as involved in your life, and you’re going to have to think about whether or not you want to tell them why. I would really really struggle to not tell Zach why. Like, I just would even if I thought it might lead him to have a discussion with Lisa, as much as she wouldn’t like that, I kind of feel like I would have— I would feel like that’s dishonest for me, like, like what am I going to say? Like how? Yeah, I just I think you need to think about are you going to tell Zach, because I think he will notice. I mean unless he’s the kind of person who’s like “Ahh I don’t need to be friends with your husband. I don’t need to hang out with all you whatever. It’s fine”.

If he’s that kind of a person then you kind of don’t really have a problem. It’s more or less just unfortunately, you’re in that situation. But if he does want to be involved and you’re sort of like “Nah, you can’t come to my house because…”. You have to keep making up excuses that basically creates a situation where you’re lying to him. And I yeah I would, I’d really struggle with that. I would just have to be honest with him and tell him like. I just couldn’t pretend like everything was fine when it wasn’t. So yeah, let me try and wrap up, and some up in some kind of way because I know I’ve just— this is a subject that I feel a lot about because I’ve been in so many situations and it’s a thing that I feel like, especially social justice communities we’ve— It’s just a thing that happens and I’ve seen…

I’ve been the person who is sick and tired of someone who has all of the social capital and treats people like shit continuing to be allowed to be in charge of everything. I’ve been the person who has, you know, been told that they fucked up three years later after the fuckup happened and just felt so frustrated that they just didn’t tell me when it happened and I could have apologised then and feeling all of this self hatred and shame for a mess up that I did and trying to learn better and am better now but just, yeah, I’ve just been on all sides of this. I’ve also witnessed people, people I care about, you know, get doxxed online because somebody decided to use these types of communities against them so I have a lot of feels.

Anyway, sum up. Let’s sum up and shut up. It’s a conversation you need to have with your husband and Lisa basically is what I feel like, and you need to figure out this loyalty thing, and figure out if Lisa can understand that you haven’t had a problem with Zach, Anna hasn’t had a problem with Zach, your husband hasn’t had a problem with Zach, you will not be forcing her under any circumstances to be around him in any way shape or form. But you have to be able to do your stuff on your own. It’s not fair for her to tell you all who you can or can’t be friends with, and you will be keeping a close eye on him.

And maybe offer some type of community accountability process, where if she doesn’t want to confront him maybe you guys can. Maybe you can make him understand what he did. And then, if she lets you do that, maybe you can see if he’s apologetic or not and if he’s not apologetic and maybe this whole point is moot. Because you’ll basically be like alright well you know that you’ve done this wrong and you don’t care. That will kind of make you figure out if he’s really safe or not to be around because just because— and I will add this as a major addendum, just because he’s been safe around you thus far does not mean he will not change.

There is a book which I constantly, constantly, constantly recommend called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft and I think that every single person should read it. Like it’s such an important book and it explains to you how abusive natures work. And there’s one thing in the book that’s just, like— there are a lot of abusive men who don’t get abusive until their partner is pregnant. How’s that for a mindfuck? Just because he’s not been horrible to you, doesn’t mean he can’t be. So, that is a very real thing.

It’s also very very very important that you not treat Lisa as if she’s lying. It’s important that you acknowledge her and  I feel like you have done but throughout this process of having this conversation with her. It’s important that you don’t take her complaints lightly. And last but not least I think that you need to accept that there may be a situation where you are just not, you know, Zach is not going to be in your life in the same way. Like if Lisa says, “Absolutely not. I consider it betrayal. I consider it a problem. I don’t want you interacting with him”, and your husband decides to comply with that. Then you’ve got to decide what you’re going to do. Are you going to be fine with that?

I mean, you might have to accept that that’s where the situation is. And if you decide to accept that’s where the situation is, then you know, are you going to tell Zach? Are you going to not tell him? So, I mean you don’t even know what it is technically that he’s done but you need to think about that as a real possibility if Lisa decides like “Nah I’m not I’m not having it”. Which is fair enough for her.

I’m trying to sum it up. I think that the loyalty thing is, and I don’t know— is this something that she’s actually said? Has she said “you cannot be friends with Zach” or has your husband just assumed that she would be upset if he was? So, you know, that’s why this conversation between all three of you needs to happen, because it’s— maybe everyone’s going on hearsay and no one’s actually having a conversation about it. And so that needs to happen. I tried to sum up, this is a… this is something that really affects me so it’s kind of hard for me to keep things 100%, like straight in my head, but I’ve tried to set everything up.  Hopefully this helps and good luck.