Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The End of a Relationship

Two days ago, I had the following conversation with Lilianna, who is -- was -- an intimate partner of mine and my husband's.

Me: Hey there -- I saw you called. Don't know why I didn't hear my phone ring. What's up?

Her: Yeah...I called because I've been wanting to tell you, and Parker, too, that the things I am processing at this point in my life do not lend themselves to casual sharing. It's deep, difficult stuff. The way our relationships seem to be going these days...our conversations have become just news updates. And I am not interested in maintaining that kind of contact.

Me: [pause] Thanks for letting us know. Uh...there's not really anything I can say, is there? I mean, I guess I am not that surprised.

Her: If it seems later like you still have something you need to communicate, you can do that.

Me: Thanks. Well...I wish you the best.

Her: Thank you.


My relationship with Lilianna began in January of 2006, when my husband fell in love with her. It ended for the first time in December of 2008, when she wrote me and Parker an email saying that she didn't want any contact from either of us for "six months to a year." She contacted Parker two months later, saying she missed him, and was willing to resume a relationship with him if he would agree not to share anything that happened between the two of them with me. Although everything in me revolted at the idea of capitulating to this demand for secrecy -- because it flew in the face of everything I believed about the importance of transparency in open relationships -- I did not want to deny Parker the opportunity of reconnecting with her. He had been miserable without her. So, I agreed: she could have it her way. About a month later, she finally contacted me, and the two of us began the long process of repairing our relationship. We did a damn good job of it, too -- but I never fully trusted her again. In June of 2011, Parker and I moved with our children to a different state. Our intention was to maintain a long-distance relationship with Lilianna, and for a time, we did: we visited her; she visited us; we talked on the phone... a lot. This past January, Lilanna's father, who was elderly and had been declining for a long time, finally died. Afterward, she went into a phase of social hibernation, which we completely understood. We didn't hear from her for several months. Then one day, she called Parker, and said, basically, "You and I used to be on intimate terms -- we used to talk practically every day. What I want to know is whether you want to go back to being in frequent contact, or whether you would prefer to say goodbye for good. That's my question. And I want to ask Viny the same thing." Parker didn't like the two choices on offer: "Why can't we have occasional but emotionally meaningful interactions?" Apparently that was not an option. When Parker told me about this conversation, warning me that Lilianna was very likely going to ask me the same thing she had asked him -- to choose between "all in" or "over & out" -- I felt the same way he did: resentful. "Why is it always her way or the highway?" I wanted to know. (Rhetorical question.) I hoped she would drop the forced choice scenario, and we could figure out a level of contact that would work for all of us -- but I was also clear that, if I had to choose, I would choose to say goodbye. I avoided having the dreaded conversation by avoiding her calls, or by keeping things light when we did talk, and thus avoided having to make my choice known. I guess Lilianna listened to the silence and heard what I was saying, loud and clear. So, she brought down the axe. The End. Again. For good, this time.


I have spent the last 48 hours reading old emails and journal entries from the time of our first breakup. And here is what I have come to, for what it's worth: 

1) Lilianna and Parker and I were in a bizarre love triangle from the very beginning: Parker put Lilianna first. Lilianna put me first. I put Parker first. For a while, the triangle held. The first break came when Lilianna and I had a major falling-out, and her relationship with Parker suffered collateral damage. This final goodbye has been a long time coming: over a period of years, as Parker has been getting less and less from his relationship with Lilianna, I have put in less and less effort with her.

2) Intimacy is a function of effort combined with openness. Sustained intimacy between two people requires an ongoing commitment to both, from both. And there cannot be any contingencies. I put in a ton of effort in my relationship with Lilianna. I gave her far more than I wanted to give, in fact: years of my life, literally. But I was never quite honest with her about the fact that my extra effort -- my going above and beyond what felt right to me -- was for Parker's benefit. My investment in her was thus contingent on her continuing to maintain a relationship with Parker. This is not to say that I didn't love her for herself. I did. But not enough to want to sustain a relationship with her on my own behalf, given the amount of effort she required.

3) I do not regret the past. I am grateful for my relationship with Lilianna, and for Parker's relationship with her. We had amazing adventures, and we learned a lot together. However, I have no desire for a future with Lilianna. It seems only right that she would feel the same way about me.



  1. If presented again with the option (or demand, as it were), would you agree to another "secrecy pact"? Would you again prioritize Parker's desire for reconnection over your need for transparency?

    1. That is a very interesting question. I think it's very unlikely that I would ever find myself in such a position again, for several reasons. First of all, I think I have a better sense of my personal boundaries now (in large part because of that experience). I no longer believe it is my responsibility to be in an intimate relationship with all of my metamours. If I hadn't allowed Lilianna to overstep my boundaries, I wouldn't have gotten resentful, and Lilianna and I probably wouldn't have had our huge falling-out: we could have maintained more of a respectful (but friendly) distance. I also think Parker would be unlikely to agree to a demand for secrecy from a future partner: he's seen how dysfunctional that dynamic is, first-hand. On the other hand, as time goes on, I am more and more convinced that healthy relationships require us to honor our partners' autonomy. Whether or not Parker should accede to another partner's request for secrecy is not my decision: it's his decision. If he came to me and said, "So-and-so says I can't tell you anything if I want to be in a relationship with her," I would tell him why I think that's a bad deal, but I would leave the decision up to him. It would then be incumbent on me to determine whether, and to what extent, I could continue to be intimate with Parker, given my need for transparency in open relationships.

  2. This really resonated with me, and with a subject I've written many posts about lately. Long story short, I walked away from a polycule that I spent several years whole-heartedly creating, but later realized was not only a good match for me, but also housed an abusive, controlling, and manipulative person.

    Although I did walk away over a year ago, I only recently realized that - not only did I not fully process my emotions about walking away - I felt guilty and like I fucked up by not being able to contort myself into living with and accepting this group of people as their dynamic, as it would be.

    I finally gave myself the permission to not be guilty anymore. To not feel bad anymore. To not feel as though I "owe" them something anymore just because I walked away (If I feel like I still "owe" them anything, in terms of genuinely wanted to be in contact and build new relationships with them, that would be another matter).

    I think you summed it up best, Viny, when you wrote "I do not regret the past. I am grateful for my relationship with Lilianna, and for Parker's relationship with her. We had amazing adventures, and we learned a lot together. However, I have no desire for a future with Lilianna. It seems only right that she would feel the same way about me."

    I'm not sure how my former partners feel. I know the controlling one is just as glad that I'm gone, because I made it clear that she wasn't going to control me. I think some of the others are sad, and wished it could be different but...it can't.

    We did have amazing adventures, we learned *so much* for each other. I have some beautiful memories. But I have no desire for a future with them. Oh, I'll see them around, and we'll chat, and that will be pleasant. But my life no longer revolves around making plans that would include all of us.

    And I'm OK with that. It's not mine anymore. I've let go.

    1. I too have a similar experience and don't regret anything but I am very happy to be moving forward. Though it's only been a couple months for me.

      Thank you to both of you ladies for sharing yourselves, it's reassuring.