Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Secretly Non-Monogamous -- And Secretly Non-Confused

Dear Viny,

I am not poly, nor have I ever been in a poly relationship. But I am not quite monogamous. I have a history of having what one would call multiple significant others without it being defined as such, to anyone. Looking back now, I know that yes, I had a partner and a boyfriend, but at the time I didn't know.

Now, I have decided to explore polyamory. I would like to explore it with the person I am in love with (and vice versa), who I have a very intense, intimate relationship with, though we are not together.

In fact, he's in a relationship, with a strictly monogamous woman (will not even discuss "alternative" relationships, and the one time it was brought up with me present she openly scorned it) who he knows that it's only temporary with: he's got feelings for her, but in a idealised, puppy love, idolisation way, which I don't see to be healthy, and he has admitted it's probably not, but it will help him know what he really wants in the future, because being with her would be a stable relationship, which he's not used to.

It's all very frustrating, because she does not trust me around him and I am very hurt by him, and it doesn't make it any easier that he and I share a house together, just the two of us.

What doesn't make it any easier at all is that since they got together (it's a very new relationship, less than a month), he and I have continued to be our usual intimate selves, and as we've discussed, for a long time we have been in a non-committed, non-monogamous relationship, and we still kind of are.

But she doesn't know. She knows that he wants to explore alternative relationships in the future, and that he has not been that faithful in the past, but said she will help him work through all that --   meaning help him be strictly monogamous, which he's told me he does not feel is right for him.

I don't feel like what we are doing is wrong, as it's how we've been for a long, long time. He is in love with me, and I am with him, which she knows and apparently accepts and respects. We have just chosen to work on our own growth and development as individuals before we try a proper relationship with each other, and in the mean time, other relationships can and should happen for us to continue to grow.

Should our friendship dynamics change just because of his new relationship? Should we put up boundaries? Is he cheating on her by being close with me? Even if he's not, is it wrong that she doesn't know that we're still physically close and intimate?

Any help would be wonderful.

Non-Monogamous and Confused


Dear Confused,

Let me see if I have this straight. There's this guy, and you're in love with him, and he's in love with you, in an emotionally intense and physically intimate sort of way, and this is how it's been between you for a long, long time. Oh, and you also share a house together, just the two of you. But you're not “together.”

(Wait...say what? Is there something I don't understand about the meaning of the word “together”?)

Okay, moving on: this guy, whom you may or may not be together with, has very recently begun dating a woman who identifies as strictly monogamous. And although he is sure strict monogamy isn't right for him, he has decided to pretend to give it a go, temporarily, because he desperately wants to try out what it's like being in a “stable” relationship.

(Um, yeah...sounds super “stable” to me. Kind of like, oh, I dunno, dropping a good-sized chunk of cesium into a glass of selzer water....)

Enough of that. Sarcasm stings, I know. I'm sorry. I hope you will forgive me for those snarky parentheticals, but I just could not resist. I have to call it like I see it. And the way I see it is this: you are, and have been, in a long-term relationship with someone who is currently refusing to acknowledge that fact, even to himself, because he happens to be besotted with a woman who would drop him like a flaming hot potato if she understood what was really going on between the two of you.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Confused, but your situation is actually pretty clear. It's classic. Your guy – no, you don't own him, but the two of you are together – is looking for ways to rationalize being unethically non-monogamous because he wants to keep you in his life AND he wants to keep fucking his new girl. At least for a little while longer. (Because, you know, stability.) Meanwhile, you are buying into this crazy-making bullshit because you love him, and the last thing you want to do is issue some stupid “her or me” ultimatum. Partly because you don't believe in making someone you love make that kind of choice, which is commendable, but also because – just admit it – you are secretly afraid he might end up choosing her over you

Your confusion is merely a smokescreen, sweetheart. You're hiding behind it because it's the only thing between you and sheer panic.

Let's take a couple of deep breaths now, you and me: breathe IN, breathe OUT; breathe IN, breathe OUT. Keep doing that until you feel the fear subside. It might take a while.

So. You're in a really tough spot, and all I can tell you is that ethical is rarely synonymous with easy. I wish I could give you step-by-step instructions for how to get yourself out of this emotional jam, but you're going to have to be your own guide. Luckily, you already have the answers to your own questions. The knowledge is inside of you; you only have to access it.

I suggest you find some time alone, as soon as possible, to reflect on where you are now, where you want to be five years in the future, and how you plan to get there from here. Go somewhere you won't be disturbed. Turn off your cell phone. Sit there in silence for a good long while. Take out a pen and a piece of actual paper, and write yourself a letter. Be as honest with yourself as you can, but don't be unkind. Put your fears into actual words. If you start feeling too agitated to think straight, take breaks to breathe. After you've written down everything you have to say to yourself, decide what course of action you want to take. Then follow through with it.

Periwinkles and starry twinkles,

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Note to Husband: Don't Blame Our Break-Up on My Boyfriend


How do I tell my husband that I don't want to be in a relationship with him anymore, and how do I help him understand that it has nothing to do with my boyfriend?



Dear A.,

As gratifying as it is to be asked for my advice, as edifying as it is for me to discover what I think by seeing what I say, and as satisfying as it is when I manage to “nail it” every once in a while with just the right phrase, there is a definite downside to this Dear Viny gig: it makes me worry about people I don't even know.

Ending a well-established relationship is serious business. I don't have a whole lot of experience with it, myself. I have been in several long-term romantic relationships that transitioned (or are still in the process of transitioning) into friendships, but I have never needed to tell someone, “I no longer want to be in a relationship with you.” I'm trying to put myself in your position, to imagine why it would be necessary to make a definitive break with someone, and I'm not enjoying the mental exercise. Best-case scenario, you and your husband are already so profoundly disconnected that divorce will merely bring your outer reality into better alignment with your inner experience. Worst-case scenario, your life might actually be in danger.

Please be aware, as you read on, that my advice is predicated on an assumption that we're dealing with something more like the best-case scenario.

With that caveat out of the way, then, I suggest you tell your husband the truth, straight up. Say, “I want out of this marriage.” It's not going to be easy – for you or for him – but it's necessary. I suggest that you deliver the dreaded line in person, as soon as possible, and with as much open-hearted honesty as you can muster. That's the only way you're going to have a snowcone's chance in hell of him really hearing what you have to say about the reason(s) why you're leaving him.

Conducting yourself well during this initial phase of extracting yourself from the relationship -- being transparent about your intentions, setting clear boundaries, treating your soon-to-be-ex with compassion, and working hard to make the split as painless as possible -- may help to minimize the erosion of trust that is an inevitable and unfortunate part of every break-up. Or, it may not. And you need to be prepared for that possibility. You need to realize that you could say everything right and still utterly fail to communicate.

This is because, if your husband is not already closed to you and your point of view, there's a good chance he will be, as soon as you inform him you're planning to leave him. He will feel hurt, and when people feel hurt, they tend to play oyster: retreat into their shell, and immediately get to work on making their tender ego more comfortable. Like an irritating bit of grit, the truth (as you see it) may eventually get coated with so many layers of misinterpretation that you no longer recognize it.

The question I have for you is this: Why do you care what he thinks? What's wrong with him getting it wrong, and blaming this break-up on your boyfriend?

I'm not trying to be obtuse here. I have definitely experienced the frustration of watching an ex spin a break-up story that seemed way off the mark to me. For example, one of my exes decided that the reason we didn't work out is that I was too afraid of the depth of my passion for him. He believed I saw the intensity of my feelings as a threat to my predictable, safe, well-ordered life. Whereas my opinion is that I ended things because his wandering, wishy-washy way of just letting life happen to him was ultimately incompatible with a long-term, committed relationship. And let's not forget his charming double-whammy insult to my husband and a new lover of mine, delivered soon after meeting the latter: “Oh, great – you found yourself another intellectual asshole!” So what if that comment was uttered in confidence, in a moment of can't-see-straight jealousy? Some things just can't be unsaid. (See how devoted I am to my version of the story? See how I can't resist the opportunity to tell it how I see it?)

The fact is, you have very little control over the story your husband is going to tell himself about why you're choosing to end the relationship. Do your best to tell your story straight – staying open to the possibility that there are truths he sees better than you do, and admitting those gritty bits into your otherwise smooth narrative – but don't be surprised if he writes a maudlin memoir and titles it, "She Left Me for Another Man." That's a tale of woe that everyone understands, and it's just about guaranteed to get him some sympathy. Yes, it's hard to let someone else have the last word, especially if that last word is wrong. Yes, it's deeply distressing to think that your husband might refuse to listen to anything you have to say, preferring instead to admire the precious pearl he'll be forming in the darkness of his own denial to the end of his blame-benighted days. I get that. I'm not saying the truth doesn't matter. I'm saying this is one of those Serenity Prayer moments when all you can do is surrender to whatever will be.

A dear friend of mine recently shared with me a life lesson that a wise old woman once shared with her: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” I'm sharing that thought with you now, A., because I have a hunch that getting your husband to understand and accept you has been a struggle from Day One of your relationship. And here you are, still struggling, hooked on that same line. The time has come to let it go.

Animae & Anemones,