Today we have a letter from a reader looking for advice...
I never labelled myself a polyamorist. I have read something about it and I were always fascinated by the idea of an open idea of love, the idea of accepting and welcoming the love in any form it manifests to us, but never definitely concluded that was the right way for a couple, or at least for mine. I never completely agreed there was no values, no important things concerning my idea of love that polyamory could have gone against. At the same time, my boyfriend (now my husband) and I have had an open approach to our relationship for the biggest part of the time spent together so far.
My boyfriend and I have been together for more than 12 years (married for almost 3). We met when we were 20 in our home town in the south of Europe. Before meeting each other we had a normal childhood, a couple of girlfriends then a relatively smooth process of coming out, some homosexual relationships before finding and falling in love with each other. Our love was strong and profound from the beginning, our sexual compatibility very intense, we committed to each other starting to deeply interconnect our lives. Our relationship grew symbiotically and exclusively for more than 4 years, sharing everything, living together abroad for a while during our studies. Then we had to part for few months in the last part of our academic path. My boyfriend had to spend some time abroad, while I was still studying at home. During his stay he met a guy he started to feel strongly attracted to. He got confused as it was the first time we was feeling something for another person from the moment we got together. He was honest about that with me at the telephone and they started to see each other for a while. This was a step he had to take knowing it could destroy “us”, according the exclusivity we had chosen for our relationship. He said he was lost that he thought he still loved me, but that he could not help it and that he couldn’t put aside what he felt for this other guy and that he needed a time to clear up his mind. I was destroyed, everything was broken for me, I was angry, hurt, but also incapable of letting him go. After few weeks while I was in desperation, he made the decision and managed to start the process of coming back to me, he decided that despite his fall, I was the one he wanted to stay with, he left the other guy, came back to our home town and wanted me back. I was relieved, but too hurt to accept a reconstruction of our relationship. In the meantime I had the occasion to access his mailbox (not respectful, but I was young and desperate), I read exchanges with this guy. Through those mails I knew “their” love, the connection between us, how much my boyfriend was still missing him despite his decision of coming back to me, the deep pain he was causing to another person desperately in love with somebody that finally was leaving him to come back to me. I ran away abroad, again for my studies, I could not and did not want to cut off my boyfriend from my life, but I couldn’t be back with him either, after the pain I had experienced, after the sadness for our perfect picture that got broken, I was thinking, forever. We started a long period, in which we were in contact and visiting each other, but not officially together and still seeing (mostly without openly telling each other) other people. He was running after me, but I was keeping him away, like he had to pay a price, like I had to feel re-assured in my hurt pride. Then I started to work in the north of Europe. At a certain moment, still both there with our love for each other, we finally agreed to put aside anything that went wrong and give ourselves a second chance. He moved to live with me a looked for a job in the city I was living too. It was a new beginning, things started to be wonderful again. We had grown up, make peace with the past and ready to go on with our relationship and look at the future. I felt at the moment that a new beginning was to be built on new basis, making the best of what happened. To me it couldn’t be concluded that my boyfriend simply did a mistake, that the way to not risk going there again into the big pain we experienced, was simply to protect more our world, to be stronger in the effort to renounce to inputs, desires, attractions from the outside. I was obviously curious of exploring a path where I could have lived more openly and in harmony pleasures and emotions outside our couple, but I was also going back with my mind to those mails I had the chance reading. Knowing all those love and pain, that was actually being experienced without my involvement gave me a lot of pain and hurt badly my feelings back then, but somehow and weirdly I was also feeling attraction for those emotions lived outside me and empathy for their (both of my boyfriend and the other guy) pain and loss of their stopped love. I started gently to advocate a more open approach for our couple. Very slowly and respectfully, despite an initial resistance of my boyfriend cause to jealousy, we started to open up to sexual experiences outside the couple. For few years we developed a strong complicity in pursuing “flings” with other people. Our usual way was more often threesomes, even if sometimes, away for respective business trips, we allowed each other occasional sexual encounters. The nature of this opening was mainly sexual, even if, also for our healthy, “clean” and respectful approach to sexuality we usually tended to develop bonds of affection and friendship with the people we used to date together. Complicity was a big element of this, in a very symbiotic alignment and sharing of emotions, desires and sexual fantasies that used to have a very positive impact on our couple dimension. We were very flexible and open to the steps we took, but it was always clear that we were for each other the centre of our world and the rest was turning around us. We had our rules and way of indicating each other limits, but this came natural and it never happened that any of us challenged this centrality. 3 years ago we married and then started to even develop discussions on if and how becoming parents.
Then we met somebody who changed things. Through common friends we got friends with Eric and we found us both very attracted to him. Eric did not initially know we were actually together and at few parties he had the occasion to talk and receives discreet attention from both of us. The point was also that Eric was not a type of guy that used to be open to unconventional relationships. Despite this, he started feel attracted and interested by both of us. After a relatively long phase of flirting and approaching during which Eric became aware, with initial disorientation, of the fact we were a couple one night we slept together and started to date regularly. From the very initial moment it was clear to me and my boyfriend that we were taking a different way this time. We were opening ourselves in a qualitatively different way. We were staring to date a third person romantically and believe it could develop and go somewhere. Eric is a great and special guy, somebody very sensitive, with dramatic family history that made him feeling alone and vulnerable for his whole life, but despite all this also capable of embracing love by giving everything. We started to date every day, sleeping together for most part of the week (even if Eric had his own apartment). We all agree in making “us 3” exclusive and neither of us dated anybody else. We had wonderful months, we invested a lot in our relationship, in taking care of each other lives, but then some elements started to be critical. First of all, there was our long history and interconnection between me and my husband, in front of Eric‘s insecurity and needs of confirmation. The fact of having an apartment together, a common language, common friends and families knowing each other back home and a whole social recognition of our couple dimension, was from the beginning a burden. Eric had the need of quickly reducing this gap by feeling less and less the “third”. From the beginning I recognized this as a normal need to be addressed. We started, slowly, a process of coming out with closest friends and part of the family. On the other hand I recently realized that in the beginning both me and my husband felt an inner contradiction between the need of opening up and offer in perspective the steady reduction of that “gap” and the resistance of giving up that “centrality” of us, that “sanctuary” of our exclusiveness that, even while experiencing contacts with the outside world was never touched. Maybe one mistake was not to openly put light on this inner contradiction we were fighting with, inside us, but certainly we both wanted to give the relationship with Eric a chance. A role was played probably also by differences between me and my husband. My husband is a very caring a sensitive person, but he also has the tendency to close up in his doubts and fears with a consequence of resulting sometime close to other needs for re-assurance and step forwards. I am maybe more extrovert and flexible. We both had our moments of doubts on the possibility of going forward and on the possibility and opportunity of tearing down the last barriers of our exclusiveness, we both happened to be jealous and threatened by the connection and bonds the other was building up with Eric, but generally I was always more able to understand and address Eric’s needs and keeping an acceptable speed in the reduction of that gap that was making Eric continuously insecure. I was usually the most keen in making difficult steps in coming up (I told my mum about Eric). My husband, on the contrary, got under pressure. On the choices on the table like moving to live together or spending the entire part of our summer holiday together or coming out with friends and family he found himself always few steps late in comparison to Eric’s expectations and my readiness to meet those expectations. After 10 months of our relationship between very good moments and some tensed moments, partially under the pressure of Eric always looking for a confirmation of the commitment of my husband, my husband finally concluded he was not ready, not 100% there. He got and still is profoundly attached to Eric, he even said Eric was able to open part of his-self that nobody was able to open, but also realized that he was probably not enough in love to give what he was suppose to give and keep investing on the relationship. That meant the end of everything for Eric; he always said that if between us three could have worked it should have been on a balanced basis between us three. He gave back his keys of our apartment to my husband. From that moment has began the hardest part for me. The two people I was deeply loving got somehow apart. My husband never stopped deeply caring about Eric, wanting somehow to be part of his life and support to it, nevertheless he concluded he could not give 100% to him, and be ready to share with him everything. Every time they see each other, Eric looks for more and my husband feels inappropriate and guilty. Eric, in every attempt to keep a relationship with my husband, felt the gap between what he wanted from my husband and what he could be given, as a painful and confronting issue. In the last weeks/months, I have been trying to suggest a path in which we could save our relationship, even if not anymore in the form of a perfect triad. I am the first one in seeing difficulties, in seeing how hard it could be to make it work in practice, but I love them both, I feel to commit to them both and I have been hoping that a way forward in harmony could be there for us three. I have been advocating for an open approach (inspired by polyamorous philosophy), suggesting to look together for an arrangement in which I could keep loving and giving things to them both and in which they could have developed a closeness a complicity among them two. The problem is that Eric does not see a future in which he could be happy as my boyfriend while I am still married to my husband. He feels that he would always be jealous, missing the time and space I do not dedicate to him and the fact of not having an equal connection to my husband. He also sees enormous difficulties in being able to see a clear “place” for him in my life in relation to family, friends and society. He feels, also in reason of a difficult path in his family of origin, that he now deserves somebody that chooses him, that is there for him 100%, to build a future with. We have just passed a phase in which I was seeing him occasionally, because we both wanted, but at the same time, every time that it happened, besides it was great, he turned depressed, making him proposing to stop to see each other. One extra element was also that he knew my husband was feeling insecure when i was seeing him and did not want to hurt him. Now we do not speak, because he wants to manage to pull his self together alone and seeing each other destroys him every time. My husband from his side, he would be open to pursue different solutions, but he remains sceptic on the possibilities of having a future in which I have to divide myself between Eric and him, he wonders how practically the life would be, how would he feel when I am not there at night, what would be of our projects and dreams. He believes in an open approach for our relationship, but I also know that he is hurt by realising I do not put anymore at the centre, unconditionally as he still does for me. Also in the phase in which I was occasionally seeing Eric, he felt very insecure, I imagine also in relation to Eric’s negative position, fearing I could choose to leave him for Eric. On the other hand my husband admitted he was feeling sad by me and Eric stopping to see each other at all as one part of him was happy for me and happy I could take care of Eric even if in a way he could not involved. My sex life with my husband (that used to be great even if evolving and changing along our relationship) has been recently unbalanced, by fears (from me and from him), by a lack of energy and now we are kind of blocked on that side, both terrified rationally or irrationally by potential implications.
I am now consuming myself day after day. I cannot recover, because I do not know what I have to recover from, I do not know what to do. I am passing day and days trying to imagine a solution and I am like a crazy pendulum. One moment I imagine to try to forget Eric and go back to put energy in my marriage, but only thinking of it makes me sick and lost. One minute after I consider to leave my husband and I realize I do not want to, I do not want to throw away what we have and our future together, I love him too much. I am now thinking of leaving for a while, cause I feel I cannot stay next to my husband while I am tore apart by the pain, I am afraid it could mess us more. I am wondering what I have to do. Should I wait till it is clearer to me whether I have the force to leave one of them? Should I keep proposing a way that at the moment does not seem to make them happy? Hoping that little by little we all could remove our fears, uncertainties, transform jealousy in “compersion”, turn the situation positively and live our life happily according the existing flows of love, friendship and companionship? I really welcome any type of advice, from any point of view.