I’ve been in a non-monogamous relationship for a couple years. Unfortunately, I haven’t really had the courage to date anyone. My partner has but I don’t crush very easily. When I do bring up people I’m interested in it always requires a lot of processing my partner’s feelings to a point where it becomes a little daunting to even try. But that’s not even the question I have! My issue is this: recently I became friends with a woman. I was very excited to begin our friendship (to a point where my partner even began expressing jealousy & insecurity).
However, I always felt that something wasn’t fully clicking between us — like there was something missing or that I wasn’t picking up on. In any case, I ended up hosting her at my house for a week to help her with a project. At the end of the week, she asks me to sit down with her. She begins crying as she confesses that she feels guilty because she wrote to my partner that morning to tell them that she had a crush on them. I had no idea.
I felt shocked and hurt. I still feel hurt and a little used in putting myself out there to help her and then to have her confess feelings for my partner before telling me. What advice do you have in handling a friend wanting to date your partner? Until my partner knew that she had a crush on them, they really didn’t have any romantic interest in her. Now they’ve been texting and hanging out occasionally. I’m feeling really confused!
I can understand why you’re confused. This is a difficult situation but I want to break it down into a few things.
Helping your partner processing feelings
Even though you say it’s not your question, I feel like what you’ve indicated with ‘processing your partner’s feelings’ is something that is worth commenting on for me. I do think within a relationship one should expect to provide a partner support, but the fact that the ‘emotional processing’ of your partners’ feelings are causing you to feel hesitant about starting new relationships is something that needs to be worked through.
It may be that you are especially empathetic and that you need to work through the reality that your partner has these feelings and that should not stop you pursuing relationships. In my own relationships, I have a lot of feelings about things, but, unless my partner(s) have done something which has exacerbated the situation that they shouldn’t have done, I always am firmly in the camp that my feelings should not stop my partner from doing anything because that is treating the symptom and not the disease.
For example, I might feel really anxious about my partner dating someone who is thinner than me or isn’t trans because my brain has internalised some of those negative messages society has sent me. And I’m welcome to have those feelings and I can’t control them. I can ask my partner for reassurance but forcing my partner to only date people who don’t trigger these anxious feelings will not suddenly get rid of those feelings.
I don’t know what ‘emotional processing’ means in this context. Does your partner outright tell you not to pursue relationships because of their feelings? Or are you the type of empathetic person where the ‘emotional processing’ causes anxiety for you in pursuing other relationships. It might be worth you getting a polyamory friendly couple’s therapist so that you can actually figure out how to work with each other and maybe your partner can process through a therapist instead of you so you can feel freer to pursue the relationships you want to pursue.
Friendships and relationships
You mention that you don’t crush easily. Part of me wonders if this is due to having to process with your partner, but if you’ve always found it difficult to have crushes, I can imagine that perhaps for you a lot of crushes stem from friendships. You mention being excited about being friends with this person to the point where your partner had some jealousy. Is it possible that you were hoping to develop feelings for this person? That might explain a lot of the shock you’ve felt about your friend’s confession and your confusion.
It seems like this friendship is just beginning with this person, and yet she’s this upset about not telling you that she’s confessed her feelings to your partner. Something seems off about this. It doesn’t make sense for her to be so upset about this when the friendship that you’re building with her is fairly brand new. Maybe her teary confession makes you feel like there might be more going on before you were told, which might also explain your confusion. I can’t obviously say for sure, but it just seems a bit strange for me.
I don’t necessarily think that there is any requirement for her to tell you that she has feelings for your partner to you before she tells your partner. If you’re practising a relationship where you are both independent adults, then she isn’t required to tell you something like that. It might be considerate, but it’s not really something she has to divulge because your partner shouldn’t need your permission to pursue the relationship. But what strikes me as even more odd about this relationship is that your friend was the one who told you about this alone — and not your partner or both of them.
Even if you are friends, your partner’s relationship with this person is independent of your own. Obviously, your partner shouldn’t be hiding it, but it’s their responsibility to manage individual relationships and really it should have been your partner who came and told you that your friend showed some interest in them and then spoke with you about their thoughts and what they were planning on doing about it. You don’t say whether that discussion ever happened — so of course, you’re confused.
What’s done is done at any rate, so I think from here on out you really need to work out with your partner when disclosure happens and what to do in these scenarios. Don’t feel too bad about this because sometimes it takes mistakes to learn, but there definitely needs to be more discussion about this kind of thing between the two of you because ultimately how this works out depends on you both.
When your partner wants to date a friend
This is one of those situations in polyamory that is awkward but potentially likely to happen, especially if you live in a small area where the polyamory community isn’t huge. Some people have hard and fast rules about their partners dating their friends, but I tend to feel like this has the capacity to not really work. I’d say that I don’t really have that rule how I operate, but if my partner were to date someone who has hurt me in the past, I think I would feel much more upset about that than a current friend.
I have had an experience where a partner wished to see someone that I had previously kind of wanted to see myself. And it was awkward. And it still is. Sometimes I still get frustrated, but mostly it’s with myself. I am also slow to have crushes on people and don’t generally find myself interested in people very frequently. The way I look at this is that maybe my partner seeing this person triggers my frustration or anxiety, but ultimately it’s not about the person. It’s actually about me being frustrated that I just don’t have much interest in a lot of people. Sometimes that frustrates me because it makes me feel like I’m missing out on a lot of fun.
You have this feeling about your friend dating your partner, but you aren’t necessarily close to your friend just yet. I feel like your upset and hurt might be stemming from the fact of the way it was disclosed to you, fear about where it will lead because your partner isn’t talking to you about it and also maybe this represents a frustration you’re having in that you’ve been hesitant to pursue other relationships because of the emotional labour you’ve put in when you have been interested and then all of a sudden your partner gets this new relationship which you might have been interested in having and you might feel frustrated because your partner isn’t performing the same emotional labour for you.
Making rules about dating friends won’t necessarily address the issues at play with either the non-reciprocal emotional labour you’re putting in or not being told about this in a way that makes sense. So I think it would be better to focus less on whether or not someone should be dating your friend and more on how you both decide to handle that.
Overall, I don’t think your new friend is really the problem, I think it’s the communication between you two. Try to reframe your anxieties about their relationship in that context. If your anxiety is anything like mine, it will be lying to you and telling you that if she just doesn’t date your partner, that will solve everything — but that’s not the reality.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Note: I wrote this column in 2017, so it is possible that my perspective has shifted or expanded. Feel free to send over a similar question if you have it.
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