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I’m new to poly[am] and just in need of some advice. I’ve been dating someone that recently broke up with their nesting partner. It was very messy, and he hasn’t been the same since it happened. I have been developing deeper feelings for him, and so are his other partners. He says he is fine with us falling for him, but he may not feel the same way right now. Me and my metamours feel like our feelings aren’t being acknowledged or reciprocated. But we’re also trying to be understanding about his very recent breakup. Do you have any advice for poly[am] people that date someone during and after a breakup? How should we proceed, or are we stuck falling for an emotionally unavailable man?

There are a few things here which I think you should do to change your approach in this situation.

Should you ask metamours for help?

One of the biggest mistakes people make, those both new and old to polyamory, is assuming that a ‘metamour’ relationship need look like any one thing in particular. In many cases, people struggle to get along with their metamours, but in this case, I wonder if the relationship you have with your metamours, in particular where you’re sort of sharing intimate details about one another’s relationship with the same person, is really something that actually does work in the end.

We all talk about our relationships to people. We might ask for advice from best friends and we might not necessarily let our significant other’s know just how much our best friends actually know about the intimate details of our romantic relationships. Within monogamy, best friends knowing a lot about their friends’ romantic relationships are less of an issue because the best friend is often an impartial party who doesn’t act as a therapist but can still offer some much-needed advice, support or clarity on some of these situations.

But using your metamours in this fashion when they are dating the exact same person, I feel, complicates the situation in such a way that it’s very easy for the person you both date to feel ganged up on. We don’t really like to think about our what our significant other’s mates might know about some of the intimate details of our relationship, but so long as those best friends are discreet and don’t necessarily make anyone uncomfortable, it works. But your metamours don’t really have the option to be discreet. This guy knows that both of you know intimate details about the relationships he’s having with each of you. And he has no one who’s also in a relationship with you both to really discuss his feelings.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask metamours for advice or that metamours are the wrong person to share some of your relationship struggles with. In fact, sometimes knowing that your partner is behaving in a problematic way with everyone and not just you can be very comforting. But, there it requires a lot of discretion, maybe even more so than you have in monogamous relationships. When you say ‘me and my metamours’, I don’t even know how many people here are talking. This is feeling less like individuals seeking advice and guidance in individual relationships and more like an intervention on your partner’s emotional availability which… is not going to make him more emotionally available if he has an entire team of people telling him how he’s not doing anything right.

Identifying your needs

‘Feelings’ are very hard to pin down and this is one of the reasons why I always advise newbies to polyamory against creating rules about not ‘allowing’ your feelings to develop for someone or even trying to specify at which point feelings ‘start’ to develop for someone. You can’t control feelings. And ultimately, neither you nor your committee of metamours can control whether this guy has feelings for any of you. And he can’t control that either. Trying to put a timeline on when he’s meant to have ‘feelings’ will likely only do the very opposite.

Instead of trying to expect feelings to develop, you need to figure out what it is you need from this guy. And you all need to figure this out as individuals. You each have an individual relationship with him and while you may be metamours, I think you need to stop behaving as a relationship committee that’s monitoring his behaviour and acting as individuals whose relationships will naturally vary because you’re all individuals. Expecting him to have the same identical relationship with you all isn’t fair or even realistic because you all might not even have the same needs.

You don’t say how recently this breakup was and, if it involved a domestic/nesting partner, you don’t say if he has children, if he’s in the process of moving his entire life from one physical location to another, or even how long he was with his domestic partner. All breakups are hard, but breakups where we have to completely change the day to day paths of our lives are particularly hard. It makes total sense for him to need space in this and to be afraid of committing anything to one person, let alone a team of people asking for feelings to be reciprocated on their time, rather than his. You say that you’re trying to be ‘understanding’, but you’re putting a level of expectation on someone who’s just had their lives completely changed that isn’t necessarily fair and you’re all doing it at once.

What is it you want out of a relationship? What are the physical things he is not doing that you want? Identify some concrete needs and sort them into things he can feasibly do right away and things he can work on. Consider, if it’s possible, getting a polyamory couples therapist for you both and for him as an individual so he can manage his breakup. And also, ask him what he wants out of your relationship. Ask him what he needs as well. Ask him how you, as an individual not part of a team, can support him. In fact, I’d say your approach with him needs to be less ‘here’s what you’re not doing that I need you to do’ and more ‘I know you’re having a hard time right now and I want to help’. If this is as recent as you’re saying it is, it might be time for you to step in a crisis type of mode and offer him some more support than he can offer you right now.

Sometimes relationships aren’t a 50/50 balance in everything. There are times when we need more support than we can give and we lean on other people for that. That’s okay. One of the most harmful things that Eurocentric cultures can teach you is the idea that we’re all meant to be stoic, compartmentalised individuals who have bootstraps and individualism and blah blah blah. And polyamory rhetoric can often reinforce this, further cementing the idea that asking for help and needing help is ‘bad’. But it’s not. We all need help now and then. Sometimes we need more help than we can give. As long as this balance rights itself over time or you find an equilibrium in your relationship, it’s fine.You may have to accept that for a short period of time, he is going to need your help. When you think about some of the things he can do physically now, think about things that are also feasible for someone whose life has been turned on its head.

All in all, I think you need to approach this more individually, give him space and time. Figure out what it is specifically that you’re wanting and needing from this relationship.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: This column was written in 2017, so it’s possible my perspective has changed or expanded. Please feel free to re-ask a similar question.

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