This column will be a documentation of our journey--as a couple--into the realm of polyamory. Since we are in the process of navigating this path right now, this column will detail issues, problems, and roadblocks that we encounter--as we hit them.

Previous editions of this column can be found in the Monthly Columns Archives.

Impediments & setbacks, oh my

Setbacks, impediments, frustrations, oh my….

I’m going to be dancing up against the edge of whining this month. This has been a month of small ups and big downs on the roller coaster of emotions, for me and for RM. This new relationship with my friend N has stalled, partly because of where he is in his life, and RM has been hitting some frustrations with trying to figure out how he can meet the kinds of people he would like to explore relationships with.

RM is having a hard time figuring out how to meet people. Being bisexual (jokes about “double the dating possibilities” notwithstanding) has not necessarily translated into a rush of possibilities for him. He is not the kind of guy who wants to go hang out at bars, and the idea of the kind of casual sex that tends to be a trope of gay culture (stereotype or not) is repellent to him. But trying to find people who are open to exploring that kind of relationship with him is difficult. We don’t have many gay male friends. RM’s job is in a field where being openly gay is sometimes an invitation to physical violence. He has tried answering a couple of personal ads in a local alternative newspaper. We have both put personal ads up on an online site, with no responses so far.

His feelings are complicated by the fact that as soon as we came out as poly to our other poly friends, a couple of these friends have expressed interest in relationships with me. It’s been difficult for him to watch as I develop this relationship with N when it seems like it’s going to be a lot of work for him to even meet people. Adding in the concept that there would be several possibilities for me (if I wanted to pursue them, which I don’t) has added to his discouragement.

Part of the problem, of course, is time. Although RM and I have been doing a lot of work to reclaim some time for ourselves, the fact is that we have 2 children who demand—and deserve—a lot of our time and energy. Trying to figure out how (and where, and when) RM could get out and into company that would at least contain some possibilities for relationships—is difficult.

He is discouraged, with some justification. He also has lots of old habits relating to people that he needs to break—being defensive, closed, etc. It’s just hard, and then I have a hard time not feeling guilty or like I need to slow down or close myself back down to match his pace more.

I find myself once again getting impatient with what feels like this ass-backward way we are moving into poly. It seems to me like the more “normal” (if such a word applies) way that people “discover” polyamory is because someone in the relationship falls in love with someone else. Or a bunch of friends have (sometimes drunken) sex and then decide they want to pursue a romantic relationship. The way we are doing it seems artificial and fraught with complications.

Which leads me to my issues? My relationship with N is in a weird place, mostly due to the situation he is in with his marriage right now. I have talked around this situation before, and I finally asked him if it was OK for me to give a few more details about his life so I can explain what is going through my head. He said it was OK, so…

N is married. His marriage has gone through some changes in the last 2 years or so. He and his wife started out with the idea that it was OK to have poly relationships—that they would mostly seek out friends-with-benefits relationships together. But then they both fell in love with partners in separate relationships. When his wife’s ended badly, she demanded that he end his as well. She felt that they were using poly to avoid dealing with problems in their relationship. She also felt that polyamory itself was bad. It was a big mess—with N’s wife not behaving in a totally rational manner, and his friends pushing him to leave her, and N and his GF and his wife all getting hurt in the process.

They tried counseling and agreed to put other relationships on hold. N understood that this was just going to be a temporary solution while they worked on their marriage. Now his wife is telling him that she needs him to be monogamous. That if he just finds Jesus, like she did, he can be the husband she needs him to be. It seems to him like she never intended to go back to a poly marriage. He is in a bad place. He loves his wife and doesn’t want to leave her. But he—like me—seems to be wired poly. He is a big-hearted guy with lots of friends and a need for physical contact with others.

However, in an effort to save his marriage, he is agreeing to abide by his wife’s restrictions on sexual contact with other people, including me. She has been inconsistent in deciding what exactly she wants from him. For a while it was OK for him to have nonsexual BDSM play partners, as long as she didn’t know about it. Then it wasn’t OK at all. For a while she was trying to get him to agree to not be flirty or physical with female friends in public. They have had conversations that involve listing various forms of physical touching and whether or not each of those things is acceptable or not. He has come to his own realization that some of these restrictions would require him to change in a way that would damage him, and he is refusing to go that far. But he is trying to figure out if he can find some middle ground between being who he is and his wife’s comfort level.

N is trying to abide by these rules (even as they change day to day). He loves his wife and is trying to make his marriage work. N is an honorable guy and he is trying to sort out what he wants. I respect his love for his wife (I don’t really respect his wife—I know her but would not call her a friend) and so I abide by the rules. I am not pushing. I don’t try to get him to violate the letter of the law. We have not really had any sexual contact at all. We have kissed once and done some surreptitious semi-public touching, all with RM’s blessing. But we do not have N’s wife’s blessing—in fact she does not even know anything about this potential relationship. RM, N and I have discussed the fact that so far there is really nothing to tell her as we have not gone any farther than he has with other female friends—yet. I suppose we are violating the spirit of these rules. It is hard for me to take her rules seriously as they change from day to day. And she either needs to be OK with this relationship, or N needs to get to the point where he decides his marriage won’t work anymore, before we can truly take this relationship to the next level, whatever that is. RM and I strongly believe that to be ethically poly we need to make sure that N’s wife is OK with this before anything else happens.

In the meantime, I am waiting. Hurting for N, who is first and foremost my friend, and who is—all other considerations aside—in a painful place in his marriage. I am trying not to put all my poly eggs in one basket. I’m trying to not be frustrated with the lack of progress. I’m trying to not be an additional worry to him as he sorts his life out. Trying to not get too emotionally caught up in a relationship complicated by a state’s worth of distance.

It’s hard. It’s hard to remain optimistic, to try to feel connected in a LDR with an uncertain outcome. It’s hard to not just pull away, say to N “oh, well, call me when you’re free”. I’m not that kind of person. Plus he’s a friend and I care about him from that perspective.

It’s just been difficult to feel good or excited about what we are going through right now. It seems like all is frustrations. Impediments, setbacks, oh my.

Pegasus & Renaissance Man; June 15, 2006

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