Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Is My Monogamous Ex Still Struggling with Polyamory?

Dear Viny,

Four years ago I entered into a monogamous relationship. It had been years since I’d given monogamy a try. The relationship lasted two years. Most of that time was wonderful. We had fantastic times together. It also taught me that I am truly a natural-born polyamorous human being. She is also 100% sure that she is inherently monogamous. We agreed to disagree, and split up.

Two years later I’m still getting messages from her that she loves me and wishes one of the two of us were different so that we could be together. In the midst of her messages there are hurtful judgments. I calmly point these out to her and she seems to understand. Yet the judgmental messages continue. She has gone to great lengths to understand poly ideas and problems. She even paid $100 for a conference call with acclaimed clinician/author Charlie Glickman.

I don’t want to cut off communication with her, but I cringe when I see an email from her in my inbox and sometimes avoid reading it for days.

Any ideas you might have for negotiating non-judgmental communication would be lovingly appreciated.


Dear Polyperson,

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the problem here is that your ex-girlfriend hasn't gotten over you. She's in limbo-land, neither here nor there, unable to see her way out of the marshy mess of her emotions. It's a miserable place to be. And you know what they say about misery, and how much it enjoys entertaining visitors. Unfortunately, what this means is that it doesn't matter what you say or how clearly you say it: as long as your ex wants your company more than she wants to move on, she's going to keep dragging you into the mud with her.

Your ability to communicate isn't the issue. Her ability to communicate isn't the issue. The issue is that you've moved on, and she hasn't, and this feels all kinds of bad to her. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to re-frame your question. How can you help your former partner do what she so desperately needs to do? How can you help her get over you, so she can get on with her life?

Now, I have an embarrassing confession to make: historically, I have really sucked at helping my ex-partners get over me so that they can get on with their own lives. Part of it is simple vanity (I mean, who wants to be easily gotten over?), but another part of it is that I have a hard time understanding why it would ever be necessary to get over anyone. After all, one of the greatest things about being poly is that we don't have to do that stupid “burn all the old bridges and start over from scratch with someone else” thing, right? We don't have to kick anyone out of our hearts – or our beds – to make room for a new love. Fan-fucking-tastic! There's just one little problem: not everyone is like us.

Your ex-girlfriend is not like you. She will probably have difficulty developing romantic feelings for anyone else as long as she's still in love with you. As someone who cares about her, you need to respect this fundamental difference, and do what you can to cut her free from the emotional ties that are keeping her stuck in regret and recrimination.

I'm not sure of the best way to go about this, but I'm pretty sure it will involve less communication between the two of you, at least for a time. My suggestion is to remind your ex, gently but firmly, that the romantic relationship is over, and that there is no possibility of resurrecting it as it was. Then, ask her how she feels about creating some kind of ceremony to mark the death of your relationship, followed by a mourning period during which you don't interact with each other at all. If she doesn't like this idea – and she may not! – ask her how she would prefer to put your shared past to rest, and be open to what she says.

Lemon pies & lullabies,

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