Trapped in a love square and slipped in an undercurrent of emotion? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

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Episode 7 – Polyagony

Tired of juggling partners, living in polyagony, and ready to throw in the towel. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

 

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 start by saying that I’ve been dating two guys from 5 years ago. Let’s call them Joe and Christopher. I met Joe first. He is monogamous. At the beginning I didn’t know what he wanted, so I was always feeling insecure about everything. I started to hang out with different guys without any purpose. Then I stopped it because I was making myself just unhappy.

A time later, Joe and I continued seeing but more frequently but without establishing a proper relationship. Then I traveled to America and met Christopher. He told me he was polyamorous.

In the beginning, I was just curious. I liked the idea of being able to give love to more than one person and so freely. As I didn’t love him yet I came back to my monogamous relationship and things was almost the same.

Slowly he started to open his life to me, but I still was feeling insecure because I didn’t want to raise hopes and then he disappears again for months. As I was deeply in love but I didn’t want to admit it I said anything. Meanwhile, Christopher kept in contact. I went to visit America again and spent a few days with him. Was nice but short, we liked each other but that was all. At my return, Joe and I kept dating and I realized all this time he has had feelings for me but like me, he didn’t want to admit it (I guess we were too young and didn’t know how to deal with emotions).

Later on, for many personal and professional reason of my life, I decided I had to go away and ended living one year in Asia. Christopher visited me (he was the only one able to do it) and by the time he did it, Joe have had decided to finish his relationship with me for another girl that I had no idea existed. At that point I was so much in pain I didn’t want to know anything about him and tried to focus on Christopher to heal. Now I feel I was just using him to overcome a bad relationship. I think my problem was that I never established boundaries and let know my partners what I wanted. Things went worst when Joe told me the thing with the girl was something short and kinda made said me he wanted to be with me from the beginning. And I, still in love, of course, accepted him again.

So, what happens was that I started to develop feelings for both of them and having two relationships at a time. Somehow I ended in this polyamorous thing. (So I thought) I made sure both knew about each other. But now I think I did it also because I wanted to avoid to feel I was cheating on Joe. As I’ve been traveling for many years I haven’t been able to be with one or another for a long period of time.

One year ago I moved (again) to Europe. And I started to date and eventually fall in love with another person (let’s call him Poul). I told my polyamorous partner, but could not inform my monogamous partner, even though at that point he seemed to be ok with my first partner. I think that he was just trying to understand me, but actually was never feeling ok about it. Although I know he should’ve been clearer and direct, I think I knew it all the time, but because I loved him so much and was afraid to lose him I ignored his feelings. I almost thought I would leave my polyamorous partner just to be with him. Because in the end, he made me extremely happy.

Time passed and I started to realize my amorous life was a mess. I started doubting about my feelings on all my partners. Even Poul, who even though was open-minded, he wanted to explore all with an established partner. Something I knew from the begging I could not offer and I let him know many times but then we were in love and again both ignored the reality.

Then, I did another huge mistake. As I never felt the confidence to tell any of them that I was feeling insecure about everything. I never informed my polyamorous partner that I was doubting I still loved him. And I was so selfish I got anxious and sad when Poul wanted to push me away because he was afraid of falling in love. I know now I should have stopped to evaluate their feelings and my feelings. I was crying by the idea that I could not be with someone I loved just because of that.

Although I and Poul stayed together and I even try to arrange a meeting with Christopher, because Christopher wanted. It never happened. And as you can see, all that time I was forgetting about Joe. Who I talked time to time, sometimes intensively sometimes sporadically. I was extremely happy by the idea of see him again and be with him, so I bought a ticket to see him. Then, I realized all this time I never told him about Paul, and now that I had developed emotions for him I should’ve told him. So I did, but of course, it was a really bad timing. I told my monogamous partner about the existence of Paul too late and ended ruining his feelings and mines. The relationship itself, to be short.

Now I really believe all this happened because I wasn’t clear about what I wanted (kinda I never stopped to consider it) and I wasn’t sensitive about what my partners wanted. In the end, Joe and I weren’t honest with each other. I was not fully honest with Christopher about my love for him and although Paul has become relevant I know somehow that I will never be able to satisfy his needs. I wish I would know your blog from the beginning.

After a long talk, Joe did was I believe is the correct thing. Broke up with me. He said even tho we both love each other as we want different things in the romantic life, the best for us is to break up. True but it hurts like hell. I feel I can’t be with anyone and I wanna break up with my other two partners. One because I don’t feel I love him enough and the other one because at the end is gonna asks for the same thing that Joe and I can’t commit to that.

I don’t want to do the same mistakes over and over again. I don’t feel secure to continue any relationship and I think I need to be alone. At the same time, I can’t stop thinking about Joe and I’m not sure how to overcome this, I feel I just wanna go with him and try to save it all, but that is wrong. I’m kinda tired of polyamorous (If I ever was one) What is sure, is that this has become a ‘polyagony’ and I don’t know how to solve all this. I feel bad for using people because of my insecurities.

Response:

So there’s quite a lot of things going on here. Let me just established some things in case it was difficult for people to follow. So Joe was the person you met first. He’s monogamous. Christopher you met later. He’s polyamorous. And then there’s Paul who you met later on, which you don’t say whether Paul is inclined towards monogamy or polyamory.

It’s really weird to me… The first thing that strikes me is that you said that you started seeing Joe first. He’s monogamous and you didn’t know what he wanted but I kinda think that being monogamous is a pretty clear indication of what he wants. So I’m not really sure what you were… I mean you could say you know you don’t know what kind of eventual long-term partnership he wanted and that makes sense. But wanting monogamy is a pretty… or being monogamous enough for you to say that he is monogamous is a pretty clear indication of what exactly it is that he wants. So I’m confused as to why at that point you were… cause you said you started hanging out with different guys without any purpose and then you stopped as you are making yourself unhappy and you continued to go on with Joe but not establishing any kind of proper relationship.

And then Joe kind of it seems like… completely ditches you to date someone else but doesn’t tell you and then comes back later.  I think that your assessment of the situation is is right in a lot of ways like… Boundaries are good thing to have and when… This is one of the reasons why, you know, when are people like “We don’t need any rules”…  Sometimes I think boundaries get confused with rules. I think that you know rules like “We’re only going to love each other but we’re never gonna fall in love with anybody else” is just ridiculous because you can’t predict or control that kind of thing. But you can work with people to understand what type of relationship you want. What kind of relationship you have. Where your emotional commitments are… you know. You can work with each other to figure that out and you not know that from the beginning. Especially with your situation, you’re moving and you’re not stationary in any one place for a long amount of time so you’re not really going to be anyone’s like anchor partner or you’re… probably. I mean you can be if you want but you’re probably not going to be… your relationship with them isn’t one where you’re living with them and seeing them day to day but you need to talk about that and you need to establish boundaries.

And you’re right that a lot of this comes… a lot of these problems came from you not establishing boundaries. The first being not really working out with Christopher what your relationship is. You say he’s monogamous so it’s pretty clear he wants monogamy. But are you or are you not in a relationship? It seems like it was very unclear for you. And you have this consistent problem… cause you say you somehow ended up being polyamorous but.. you don’t really like… you don’t end up being polyamorous by accident like I mean… I guess you can but…  the point is that if you’re honest about things… like polyamory and monogamy are different things to want.

And you can be a polyamorous person who has a partner who is monogamous with you and that’s fine if they agree to that but if you’re polyamorous person with a monogamous partner who thinks you’re being monogamous with them… that’s not polyamory. That’s cheating. And I just think… I think you and Joe had the problem of not establishing what it was that your relationship was. And he just kind of pissing off and not talking to you for months is a really horrible thing for him to do. Like… monogamy or polyamory, regardless of whatever relationship style you do, someone who just completely ditches you and also is dishonest… I mean I say he was dishonest… he didn’t tell you about this person he was dating but if you never established a clear relationship… you know, you can’t just have boundary that are just in your head. You have to communicate those.

And hiding things… like you have a consistent problem with hiding things because you either don’t want to deal with your own feelings or you don’t want to deal with somebody else’s feelings and that is just delaying the inevitable. Like… and a lot of people do this. You’re kind of inclined to do it sometimes cause you’re like “Ooh maybe if I just don’t say anything about this, it’ll be ok”. And at one point when you’re not telling Joe about Paul and you’re not telling… you don’t have to like… you don’t have to tell someone “I don’t know if I love you that much”. You don’t have to… you know. If you make it clear what your relationship expectations are and you understand more about what you want then you don’t have to worry about leading someone on because it’s very clear what the expectations are.

And I feel like there’s so much that’s unsaid that you’re worried about..  “Oh I need to tell this person that I’m not as in love with them as I should be”. But you don’t know what they expect out of the relationship. You’re expecting that Paul wants you to be, from what it sounds like, a primary or domestic partner or anchor partner or someone who’s Paul’s primary emotional support and you can’t do that. So instead of being honest about that… you’re just delaying the inevitable. You’re making things much much worse by hiding things for the sake of either not hurting the other person or because you just don’t want to face it.

You want to have fun with Paul and you want to enjoy that romantic feeling but you know at some point Paul’s needs are that Paul wants someone who is like that. And yeah you know if you make it clear to the other person, “I can’t do this”, then it’s not necessarily your fault if they continue to expect that. But at the same time, I do think that if there are hints to you that Paul is expecting this then it is kind of your responsibility to reiterate it and your responsibility to also think “Should I continue this relationship knowing that eventually it’s going to hurt this other person?”

So yeah being not clear about stuff like… You can be unclear but at times you’re purposefully hiding stuff. Purposefully hiding Paul from your other partners is cheating. It’s not being unclear. It’s not you know… It’s cheating outright because you’re lying about something. I think you know… cheating definitions can vary from one couple to the other but I think a universal premise behind cheating is lying about dating or being with someone else. And you are. You have done that so you can’t really blame Joe for being upset or anyone for being upset if you’ve hid things from them. Not just not hiding feelings of like “Oh I don’t know find it in love enough with you” or stuff like that but literally hiding the fact that you’re dating someone else while you’re actively dating them and they think you aren’t… you know I mean… Joe wasn’t performing great when he just abandoned you.

It seems like a one-off to date somebody else without even telling you and you found out later but you would… from what it sounds like you weren’t dating at the… He wasn’t hiding this person from you while you’re in a relationship. So yeah I think those are the things you need to focus on like you really need to work on your inclination to hide things in order to avoid the consequences because what happens is you make the consequences 10 times worse. You don’t seem to be able to make the decision… like when you mention that Joe broke up with you because you want different things. He was making a very… the right decision there because you know you do want different things.

He wants monogamy and you could have avoided all of this pain and heartache if you would have just been honest with yourself from the beginning. You can’t… I don’t think you should go with Joe and try and be monogamous and try to make that work because at this point you can’t really trust your own kind of emotional instincts right now. Because your default seems way too much into… instead of thinking about things and understanding the real consequences of them down the line, you’re focus too much on getting what you want right away, even if that means  you won’t get what you I want down the line and it’ll just hurt more.

I think that… whether or not you’re polyamorous or not is really up to you. I don’t think that’s a thing that matters right now, personally. Because. it’s difficult to say that for anyone. If someone… the examples of you trying it in this case aren’t really the best examples. It’s sort of like someone just had their first monogamous relationship and they were cheated on and then you know going… or they had a terrible relationship or terrible communication, judging whether or not they can do monogamy by that relationship wouldn’t really be fair. But I just don’t think that that’s the thing you should focus on right now.

I really think that what you need to work on, with a therapist if you have access to it, is your inclination to hide or lie in order to avoid the inevitable. You delay the inevitable a lot. You’re doing that with Paul as well. Like if you… you’ve told him but… if… I think you’re not listening to like the first instincts that you have which are showing themselves to be correct. But you’re kind of going, “Well I don’t want to leave the situation because I have all these nice feelings, a nice romantic support and I have the satisfaction now”. But what you don’t understand… what you’re not really seeing is that if you don’t… if you’re not honest with yourself and honest with other people about the realities of the situation and sometimes that really sucks and I totally understand the inclination to, especially if you’re lonely, especially if you don’t have a lot of other ways of getting support, like you know… This is especially true for people who don’t have family networks, who don’t have a lot of close friends, you know, you’re gonna want to hold on to whatever emotional and romantic validation and support that you have.

But you have to kind of be able to understand the bigger picture and the bigger picture is that  Paul wants something you can’t provide and not only just for him but for yourself… it doesn’t make sense to continue that if you feel like in your heart it’s not going to end well. I think that you’re… I don’t necessarily think you need to break up with Christopher. I do think that your feeling is about Paul in terms of you’re not going to be able to give him what he wants… you know, you need to sit down and have a real discussion with him and not be suggestive.

And not be… I don’t know if you have… you know you say you’re quite honest with him about… this is… “I can’t be this person for you”. If you haven’t sat him down and been really clear about that then do that. He may be in the same position as well. He may know that and he may just want to continue because he likes the support but you might have to make the bigger decision. You might have to say, “Look, I know that I can’t give this to you and it’s probably best we end this now”. Because the longer you drag it out the more your feelings are going to get hurt at the end of the day.

I don’t think that you necessarily have to break up with Christopher. I just think that you need to see a therapist about… and maybe even a couples therapist but definitely a therapist on your own about avoidance and about avoiding uncomfortable feelings because you don’t want to deal with them. Because they… this is you know if you look back at what you wrote and the problems that you have… I mean this is just the perfect case of the fact that avoiding doesn’t solve anything and actually leads to you cheating. Leads to you hiding things and leads to you avoiding being honest with yourself and with your partners because you don’t want to hurt their feelings or you don’t want to deal with difficult things.

And I think that is going to cause you problems regardless of what kind of relationship style you want to be in. You can’t do monogamy well either if you can’t be honest with yourself and with the person that you’re with. All relationships, like functional relationships that don’t have as much drama as you would normally have with two people trying to work things or multiple people trying to work things out, you’re going to have more problems if you can’t be honest. And it’s really hard like I wanna reinforce to you that being honest with yourself and being honest with other people is really really difficult.

There so much polyamory advice that talks about, you know, “tell people what you want and be honest about what you want and you have to tell people and you have to communicate and you have to talk”. And it really downplays how scary communication can be because if you’re honest about what you want and if you invest the time to understand what you want and you can communicate that… it’s a lot easier for people to say “I can’t do that” and then where are you? You know, it’s a lot safer in some instances to avoid having that conversation because then you continue to have the good feelings of a relationship and you don’t have to deal with a difficult ones.

But as I said like… this avoiding dealing with that is not helping you. It’s making it so much worse for you. So yeah, I mean if you want to as well consult a therapist regarding Paul and what to do. If you want to see a relationship counsellor, all of these should be obviously polyamory friendly counsellors… If you want to see one with Paul and just make sure… Because it’s up to Paul. Like Paul can say “I know that you can’t provide me with this. I’ll find that with someone else. That’s fine”. You can’t responsible like… the best you can do is inform Paul as much as possible of what your boundaries on what you can offer to that relationship.

And also do some self soul-searching and think about… is this what you want? What you want your relationships to look like? You know you’ve kind of fallen into this polyamory thing but you haven’t really put any thought into whether or not it’s actually something you want and you may not know. You may be like… I honestly don’t know what I’m going to want to 20 years from now. I don’t know what I want my wife to look like. You’re moving around a lot. Do you wanna settle in one place? Are you going to settle in one place? You have to think about the kind of future that you want and that can help steer what kinds of relationships you can have with different types of people. You can consult a relationships… you know you can get relationship counselling with Paul to figure out if he understands what your boundaries and what your limitations are once you figure you’re out what they are.

But equally I do think like… to summarise, you should definitely think about therapy or think about… and make Christopher aware as well that this is an issue. You do not have to wait until you’re a perfect human being to date anyone. Like we all have problems… well, maybe some people don’t have any problems but I’ve rarely met anyone who doesn’t have any problems. We all have a lot of things that we were learned culturally, that we learned from our parents, that we learned from media, that we learned… you know we all have… none of us are perfect and we all have things to work through so it’s not like you… I understand the feeling like “I want to be alone and I want to figure this out” and that might be the best decision for you.

It really depends but I don’t think you need to set yourself up with this idea that you need to be perfect in order to date and that’s a really big thing within polyamory because people make it seem like polyamory is some type of level up and that, you know, you have to be this emotionally secure and amazing person in order to do polyamory right or whatever. And I don’t… I don’t think you have to but I do think that you need to be able to be aware of what your issues are and if you can communicate that to Christopher and just be like, “I have a problem with avoiding telling people things because I don’t want to… I’m afraid of the consequences. I’m afraid of hurting them. I’m afraid of things happening” and work out strategies with therapists on how to deal with it and how to counteract that avoidance.

And if you have partners who are aware that you avoid things then they can also kind of pay more attention to your body language. Pay more attention to what’s going on in your life and prompt you, especially if it’s way difficult for you to avoid things if someone’s asking you directly about it. I’m kind of a little bit like that when it comes to confrontation and my feelings like… I’ll feel ok about something and then I’ll start to feel less and less ok and I literally won’t know how to have that conversation because… especially if I’ve already been asked “Are you ok with this?” and I said yes and I was ok and then I start not being ok and I keep not being ok and I don’t know how to have that conversation of like “I said I was ok before but I’m not ok now”.

And it just ends up… like I think my body language changes and you know my domestic partner realises that and will check in and be like “Are you ok? Are you not ok anymore?” or… But it’s not necessarily that I’m avoid… I’m not really wanting to avoid anything it’s just sometimes I literally don’t know how to have that conversation or I don’t… or I know how to have it but I don’t know how to have it in a healthy way. I know how to confront people angrily. I can do that. But how to have healthy confrontation where I have to be vulnerable and admit that someone hurt my feelings and see what they do is not something that I am always prepared to do.

So I get it, like… the avoidance thing makes sense but it’s also making it way way harder for you and I think you do kinda see that. I think you do have some good instincts but you just need to not let the… not quiet the instincts down and sort of duck them down and ignore them because you want to enjoy the good feelings. It makes a lot of logical sense like and I’m totally not blaming you for that. It makes sense to want to enjoy a good relationship and not just throw it away because things might not work out but if it really isn’t going to work out like… Someone’s monogamous and you’re polyamorous… Unfortunately you do have to… you know, forcing yourself to go through this as you can see is way more painful in the long run.

Anyway, I think you know like, to sum up, really work on that and then afterwards I think once you’ve addressed that issue about avoidance, I think you can start to have a little bit more thoughts about what do I want my life to look like? Why do I want to be polyamorous? What does polyamory bring to my life that I don’t get from monogamy that I want to make this decision? I think it’s really helpful to actually think about your motivations and not just do it because you want to have the relationships that you have. I think it’s important to see it as a life choice that you’d make regardless of whether there was no Christopher, there was no Paul, there was no Joe.

So yeah, I really hope that helps and good luck.

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