I am writing to ask for some advice on a non-monogamy situation that has turned ugly. I have a feeling I know what the right thing to do is, but want to make sure I have covered all of my bases.
In the past 6 months, I broke up with a woman/enby transfemme couple I was dating for 2.5 years. I broke up with the woman first due in large part to her complete disregard for our relationship when she started dating a new person. It wasn’t immediate and not the sole reason for the breakup. The primary reason was her sharing information with me about this new person she was dating and how much she loves him so much more than her nesting partner/fiance. I could not in good faith continue a relationship with someone who is confessing they love this new person above all other relationships because that would include myself that she also doesn’t love (even though this was not disclosed outright). I let my concerns and feelings be known about being slighted and forgotten in the face of this new relationship and she said she was sorry, but ultimately made no changes. I have entire text conversations with her that were shared in “the cone of silence” about how she doesn’t love her future spouse and doesn’t feel that spark anymore.
Since then this couple got married and while I ended my relationship with her, I attempted to continue my relationship with the other person. This couple is also deeply bothered by the fact that my wife is dating the ex-spouse of the new NRE person. They are also upset with me for being friends with this person (my metamour), because they think she is evil incarnate and destroys relationships and family (this might be true, but I have yet to see this behavior manifest itself). To me, it seems like a gross exaggeration of what has actually transpired and just the stuff of highly dramatic relationships ending. The enby person I was dating from the couple attempted to engage me in conversations about my metamour and I either ignored it outright or shut it down. We had already broken up and made a plan to continue being friends and having bi-weekly friend hangouts. They asked that I not invite them to events at my house where my metamour would be present, so I made sure not to invite them based on their wishes. This apparently upset them and they decided they did not want to have biweekly hangouts anymore. They shared with me that I was not being authentic and vulnerable with them in our post-relationship friendship.
I feel trapped here because I have all this other context and information that was shared with me by their fiance/wife and I feel like my character is being called into question. Ultimately, I’m fine with being the sacrificial lamb in this scenario and taking the fall for not being vulnerable, but I’m wondering if I should just leave it where it is and wait for them to realize their wife is gaslighting and controlling them. Would it be unethical to share screenshots of our conversations with them? What would be appropriate to say in this situation to close it out? Or should I say nothing? My love for them is being called into question, when in reality it has been incredibly painful to hold onto these toxic secrets and know that she keeps them around because of her own insecurity (i.e., if I abandon this relationship for this new shiny relationship, and I break up with my nesting partner, then if the new shiny partner gets tired of me I will have nothing).
I appreciate your time and insight.
This definitely has a lot going on.
Awkward metamour situations
The thing that sticks out at me first and foremost is the extremely awkward situation that this woman has put you in by telling you that she’s not into a person that you’re also dating. And even when you’ve broken up… that’s still a very awkward situation to be put in. Imagine if you had two best friends who were dating and then one was telling you how much they’re no longer into their partner. It’s a very weird position to put someone else in and for me, it’s a very big red flag that indicates that this person’s boundaries are very messed up.
I don’t think this has to be specific to polyamory but can refer to any kind of relationship. If someone puts you in a weird situation like this, it’s either possible that they don’t understand that or they don’t care. The way you combat this is by having very strong and clear boundaries about what you’re willing to listen to and be around. It’s one thing for her to get sloppy drunk and confess this to you, but another for her to tell you again and again.
In the future, if you’re put in this situation, it’s totally acceptable for you to tell someone that you feel awkward knowing about their relationship and they need to find someone else to discuss this with. If they react poorly to this, then you know that maybe you should really get out of there because someone should not be reacting so poorly to your boundaries. Which brings me to the next point.
It’s very, very difficult sometimes for us to know what boundaries to put in place in small polyamory communities where people are dating people who know who are problematic or shitty and we don’t like them. It’s awkward. You don’t want to control who your friends or partners befriend, but if someone has really abused you and treated you like shit, you can’t help but feel a sense of betrayal when your partner or friend befriends someone who has hurt you. So what do you do?
Let’s put yourselves in the position of one of the people in this couple. Let’s say someone you’re dating is friends with and their partner is dating someone who is absolutely horrible. And let’s say by “absolutely horrible”, we mean that they are abusive and dangerous. What’s going to be your first priority here? I know mine would be protecting the partner who is actively dating someone who is abusive. How best can I do that? Is harassing their partner to stop being friends with this person going to achieve that? Not really.
I get that it can be hard when your partners are with people you don’t like. And I don’t advise people pretend to like people they don’t like. But what on earth are you supposed to do about your partner dating someone you hate? It’s fine if they ask to not be included in events where this person is present, that’s totally fair. But it’s another to set up some kind of expectation for you to stop being friends with people. I could be wrong here. Maybe they have only expressed discomfort, but don’t expect that from you. In which case, you may just have to deal with the fact that your friendship with this person doesn’t make them happy. But otherwise, they can’t expect to be able to control who you are friends with or who your partner dates.
Likewise with the aforementioned information, you’re allowed to set boundaries about this. You’re allowed to say, “I get that my friendship with this person bothers you and that’s fine. But I don’t want to continue discussing this. And I’m willing to respect that you don’t wish to be invited to similar places as this person and that’s fine, but you also have to respect that I am friends with this person and I don’t wish to discuss it. If this upsets you so much, then maybe we shouldn’t be friends”. Because that’s the long and short of it. If it bothers them that much, then maybe they shouldn’t be friends with you. And if they refuse to respect your boundaries maybe you shouldn’t be friends with them. Which leads me to the final point.
When to disclose other conversations
It’s hard for me to tell you whether or not you should disclose the conversations you have of one of the people in the couple basically saying that they are not in love with the other. Ultimately, I think this comes down to personal morality and what you think is right and also thinking about whether or not you would want to know in this position. But what I would say is that there is something here which you can’t escape and this your own culpability.
If you were writing me about knowing this information when it was disclosed to you, then I would understand the predicament you face. But the thing is, you have known all along that this person doesn’t care for their partner and has admitted, but the only time you’re willing to come forward with that information is when your character is being called into question. You’re almost, to be blunt, using this as a means to put down someone who is trying to put down you.
At the end of the day, who cares if this person is saying you’re not being “authentic and vulnerable” with them enough? You are what you are and how much you’re willing to disclose and do is your own personal boundary and that’s fine. But the thing that bothers me here is that you’ve known this person is lying to their partner, but you’re only interested in sharing the screenshots now that you’re being targeted. Sharing the information isn’t actually unethical. I’d argue that it’s very ethical. But the reasons and motivations you have for doing it at this stage are very unethical.
When I put myself in the position of the other person in this couple, I would absolutely want to know if my partner was going around telling other people that they were no longer in love with me. I’d want to know that for sure. But what you have to understand is that sharing this information so late, your character is going to be called into question because if I were the wife, I’d also want to know why you’ve been sitting on this for so long, why you have waited past the point I got married to this person to tell me this, and why you’re telling me this now when I’m feeling like our relationship isn’t great.
You’re basically about to drop a complete bomb on this person’s head, all for the sake of ‘proving’ to them that actually you love them way more than their conniving partner. This may not be what you’re consciously thinking, but you have to be able to answer these questions as to why exactly you’ve kept silent for so long.
I honestly think you should share the information because I think most people, if they were put in the situation of your partner, they would absolutely want to know. But I also think you should expect to be broken up with and not because you’ve shared this information but because you waited so long to do it and you waited until your character was called into question before you actually did something.
Overall, I think it would probably be better for you to be out of this situation. One of the people you were dating is unethically telling you information that you don’t need to be privy to while the other one you’re currently dating is putting pressure on you to befriend or not befriend certain people. Neither of them sound like particularly healthy, boundaried people and you would probably do better to be away from the conflict and the drama. The only thing I’d say is be honest about your motivations for keeping this information secret. I’d tell them the truth, say this relationship just isn’t working for you, break it off, and take a good long break from it.
Hope this helps and good luck!
Note: I wrote this column in 2018, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.
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