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Do you have any advice about breakups in poly relationships? I realized I’m not sexually into a new partner but am emotionally into them. I realized in most breakups the stories I hear are about “I just want to be alone”, “not sure what I want right now”, “it’s not you, it’s me” which avoid the real reasons for a breakup. I can’t really use the excuse “I realize I’m not into your gender” because I don’t want to make them seem like it was an experiment and I used them (and that’s not necessarily a true statement).

I feel like excuses make breakups easier in some ways because I don’t want to criticize someone personally and tell the real reason I’m not into them, because those reasons aren’t nice to hear & imo not necessary to say. But I don’t wanna mess someone up by not having closure. It seems in poly,[a] I can’t get away with excuses as easily because I’ve been so honest about who I am like never before. How do you tell someone who maybe loves you (it happened so quick) that you don’t feel the same way?

Individually we all have our preferences, or at least an idea, of how we’d prefer to be broken up with. Some people prefer it being done in person, some don’t. Some people want excuses and some want honesty. And sometimes we think we want to be broken up with in a certain way but there just isn’t a good way to break up with someone.

But there are a few things I want to address here.

Communicating expectations in relationships

Now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak, you can’t put it back in. But given some of the comments you’ve made here, I think that in the future, it would be good to define your expectations as much as you possibly can with someone when you enter into a relationship. If you go into it not sure of it’s longevity, feeling like you want to try something and not sure how it’s going to work out… that’s okay. But you should, if and when that happens, communicate that to someone. That way, in the future, you can understand that you might break up.

People might be weirded out by that, but I think that it’s honestly the best way forward. It does suck sometimes. In one of my relationships back when I desperately wanted kids, I made it clear to someone who could be a domestic partner that I wanted to have kids. It was a hard discussion because they weren’t sure. But we decided that we’d re-evaluate our lives at a specific age and see where we are. Now, it’s no longer an issue. But I think it’s better we had that conversation than it being surprised down the road.

You can’t do anything about that now but, in the future, clearly communicating what the expectations are of the relationship can really help people make sense of things and make it easier to decide if and when to break up.

How to break up a polyamorous relationship

You don’t have to have a valid or good reason to break up any kind of relationship. It’s a cooperative agreement between people and if it’s not an agreement you want to be in anymore… that’s valid in and of itself. Wanting to be alone, wanting more space, feeling like your sexuality or romantic orientation has changed, or just plain your feelings changing — all of those are valid reasons for wanting to break up.

I’m not sure what the actual reason is because you don’t say and I couldn’t judge for myself whether that reason was “harsh” or not, but if it’s a reason you don’t want to be in a relationship… it’s valid. I don’t feel like you need to provide a dissertation outlined with extensive reasoning for your choice. Your choice is your choice.

When deciding whether or not to disclose your full reasons to someone, I think the best question to ask is this: Can this person solve this problem and would mentioning it help? Ultimately, everyone has flaws. And when you’re breaking up with someone because of a flaw, I think generally it’s for a flaw that’s so incompatible with your own flaws that it’s just incompatible or it’s for something that’s very big. Small flaws and disagreements, unless the build up into one big thing, don’t tend to be things that people decide to break a partnership up over (although obviously they’re free to do so).

I think that some flaws are things we can fix, some we can’t, and some are things that would take a lot of work and involve a willingness on behalf of the person to work on them. In terms of my own flaws, I know that I struggle to interpret non-verbal communication. While using ‘flaw’ for this is a strong word, this just isn’t something I can fix. My anxiety? It’s something I sort of can fix, but it takes awhile.

If I was refusing to work on it and if it was affecting my relationships… it might be something people wouldn’t want to deal with. And my anxiety may be something that some people don’t want to deal with at all. But would someone telling me they’re breaking up with me because they couldn’t cope with my anxiety specifically help my anxiety? Probably not.

Whatever reason you have for breaking up with this person, if you want to give the full reasons why, ask yourself if telling them would help them. Sometimes it would. Sometimes people need to reach rock bottom before they will address some of the glaring problems they have. But sometimes it doesn’t help at all. You’re probably wanting to mention it for the reason you mentioned regarding closure, which brings me to my next point.

I think you need to say that you don’t want to have a relationship with this person because you just don’t have the same feelings for them. If you want to delve into these other reasons, you could tell them you’re happy to discuss it after a cooling off period.

Providing closure for others

The vast majority of people on this planet will go through a breakup. For most people, this won’t be a good experience at all. Losing someone from our lives that we’ve grown to love is going to hurt generally speaking. I don’t think there’s a way to get out of that. And we all have to provide closure for how we cope with it individually.

Closure is an individual experience that people have to do themselves. Closure is not something you have to provide for someone else. I feel like we live in a society that often excludes the actions of those labelled as men when they re-act to relationships, leading those labelled as women to believe they must provide closure or turn down a man in a specific way that avoids inciting rage. Specifically women who kill their abusive partners serve much longer prison time than male abusers serve for murdering their victims.

While I have no idea how you identify or the partner you’re referencing, I do want to avoid this idea that it’s your responsibility to provide ‘closure’ for someone else. A breakup is always going to be rough for people and while I do think you’re right to want to do it in the least harmful way possible… try to avoid taking responsibility for other people’s emotional well-being in situations where it’s very much out of your control.

What makes a relationship

Initially in your question you say you’re not sexually into a partner but you’re emotionally into them. I’m going to assume this is a problem because you’re framing it as a problem, but I would also encourage you to reconsider whether or not this is an issue.

Many people like polyamory because it offers them the ability to value and have all sorts of different relationships. Maybe you’re not interested in having a sexual relationship with them, but that doesn’t mean you have to end all aspects of your relationship just because sex is off the table.

I wrote recently about the unspoken hierarchy that’s often inherent within how people do polyamory which is to say that many polyamorous people who deride hierarchies still uphold a hierarchy of valuing a relationship that includes sex over others that don’t. And why should we do that? I don’t think you have to be asexual to have a non-sexual relationship.

Maybe also have a think about how you can continue the emotional interest you have and maybe talk about changing your relationship so that you not being interested in them sexually isn’t an issue. It’s definitely worth thinking about.

Note: I wrote this column in 2017 so it is possible my perspective has changed since then. Please feel free to write in with a similar question.

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