Savage Love: Poly Wants

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Q: I’m a 25-year-old woman currently in a poly relationship with a married man roughly 20 years my senior. This has by far been the best relationship I’ve ever had. However, something has me a bit on edge. We went on a trip with friends to a brewery with a great restaurant. It was an amazing place, and I’m sure his wife would enjoy it. He mentioned the place to her, and her response was NO, she didn’t want to go there because she didn’t want to have “sloppy seconds.” It made me feel dirty. Additionally, the way he brushed this off means this isn’t the first time. I go out of my way to show him places I think they would like to go together. I don’t know if my feelings are just hurt — if it’s as childish as I think it is — or if it’s a reminder of my very low place in their hierarchy. I hesitate to bring this up, because when I have needs or concerns, they label me as difficult or needy. Is this part of a bigger trend I’m missing? Should I do anything to address this or just continue to stay out of their business and go where I wish with my partner? — Treated With Outrage

I’m having a hard time reconciling these two statements, TWO: “This has by far been the best relationship I’ve ever had” and “when I have needs or concerns, they label me as difficult or needy.” I suppose it’s possible all your past relationships have been so bad that your best-relationship-ever bar is set tragically low. But taking a partner’s needs and concerns seriously is one of the hallmarks of a good relationship, to say nothing of a “best relationship ever.”

That said ... I don’t know you or how you are. It’s entirely possible that you share your needs and concerns in a way that comes across as — or actually is — needy and difficult. Our experience of interpersonal relationships, like our experience of anything and everything else, is subjective. One person’s reasonable expression of needs/ concerns is another person’s emotionally manipulative drama. I would need to depose your boyfriend and his wife, TWO, to make a determination and issue a ruling.

That said ... It’s a really bad sign that your boyfriend’s wife compared eating in a restaurant you visited with him to fucking a hole that someone else just fucked, i.e., “sloppy seconds.” It has me wondering whether your boyfriend’s wife is really into the poly thing. Some people are poly under duress (PUD), i.e., they agreed to open up a marriage or relationship not because it’s what they want, but because they were given an ultimatum: We’re open/poly or we’re over. In a PUD best-case scenario, the PUD partner sees that their fears were overblown, discovers that poly/open works for them, embraces openness/polyamory, and is no longer a PUD. But PUDs who don’t come around (or haven’t come around yet) will engage in small acts of sabotage to signal their unhappiness — their perfectly understandable unhappiness. They didn’t want to be open/poly in the first place and are determined to prove that open/poly was a mistake and/or punish their ultimatum-issuing partner. The most common form of PUD sabotage? Making their primary partner’s secondary partner(s) feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

That said ... As you (probably) know (but if you don’t, you’re about to find out), poly relationships have all kinds of (sometimes incredibly arbitrary but also incredibly important) rules. If one of their rules is “My wife doesn’t want to hear from or about my girlfriend,” TWO, then your restaurant recommendations are going to fall flat. Being poly means navigating rules (and sometimes asking to renegotiate those rules) and juggling multiple people’s feelings, needs, and concerns. You have to show respect for their rules, TWO, as they are each other’s primary partners. But your boyfriend and his wife have to show respect for you, too. Secondary though you may be, your needs, concerns, feelings, etc., have to be taken into consideration. And if their rules make you feel disrespected, unvalued, or too low on the hierarchical poly totem pole, you should dump them.


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