Up until 2 months ago, I had no previous experience with poly[am] dating or poly[am] relationships. What draws me to solo poly[am] is I have very deep needs around emotional connection and physical intimacy, but I don’t want kids or to raise a family, I enjoy living alone, and I love a lot of alone time. I’m also not a very jealous or possessive person and believe that love is not a zero sum game. If I give love to one person, it doesn’t mean I have less to give to another.
In June, I stumbled into possibly becoming the third in a heterosexual relationship that’s exploring opening up, as the man leans poly[am] and the woman more oriented towards monogamy. When the two of them met (we’ll call the man C and the woman B), C was dating another woman. C + B continued to date each other while C was with a third for about 10 months. For the past 9 months, it’s been just them with each other. Around March of this year, they decided to slowly explore opening things up as a couple.
The first photo in their profile was just the man and we matched, before I realized they were looking for couple’s play and threesomes, neither of which appeal to me. C suggested the 3 of us all meet up anyway for a picnic. We did and had a really nice time. They immediately asked me out on another date, which was lovely too. We had a productive conversation at the end of the night and B shared she was fine with C and me having a solo date, since I’m heterosexual and not interested in bisexual exploration or threesomes.
C and I both love developing emotional intimacy through texting and stayed in touch throughout the day, which then developed into daily sexting as well (more sharing of erotic desires and what we wanted to experience with each other than overt sexting.) I think the quick intensity of our feelings caught B off-guard, especially after learning about the length of our first date and an act of physical intimacy we shared (a cock massage, no orgasm or ejaculation). It was an act that was permitted while he was dating the third previously, but they hadn’t talked extensively through boundaries and violations related to him and me and the woman felt very hurt.
She was triggered and upset and asked for C not to be in touch with me for 2 weeks while she sorts out her feelings and needs, which she’s not clear on. She seems to also not be clearly attuned to her boundaries, so she lets things go, and then feels violated and activated. I have a deep need for communication in a relationship, especially during conflict— her 2-week request felt more about regaining control than equilibrating and processing her emotions. And C’s inability to show care and attention towards both of our needs and set his own boundaries versus taking on B’s were both red flags. What it communicated to me was:
1. C is not able to be/chooses not to be emotionally available to me when B is triggered
2. C is not able to be/chooses not to establish his own boundaries while holding space for B’s emotions- instead, he takes on hers (enmeshment)
3. Because they lack clarity on the shared boundaries of their openness, I’m receiving mixed messages and also fearful/distrusting energy, as if I’m a threat.
One more major concern: Because B has a lot of fears about opening up, she asks for reporting from C on our interactions and dates, which C provides, sometimes without asking me first. I addressed the privacy consent breaches with him and he was very apologetic but B’s need to know makes me feel like I have no privacy.
C also runs every activity by B for approval (“Is it OK that I rub her body during our date?”) I know some poly[am] couples place rules on what a specific partner can do with a third, but the notion that someone else can determine what I do with my body or what types of pleasure I can experience feels very wrong and out of alignment with my values and beliefs.
We’re regrouping after the 2 week pause next week. I really like C on his own, in a way that I feel just a few times a decade. But his partnership with B seems enmeshed, co-dependent, and hierarchical (I practice egalitarian poly). They did just start seeing a couple’s therapist with experience in polyamorous relationships, and they see individual therapists. I’m leaning two different directions re: our regroup conversation:
1. Share how much I enjoyed our time and suggest I’d be open to exploring reconnecting in a year, to give them time to align on their relationship vision and cultivate healthier relational skills
2. Go in with zero expectations and share what I would need to be different to continue exploring it:
That my privacy is protected (I’m fine with sexual activity at a high level being shared. I’m not comfortable with reading texts that I send verbatim or sharing any specific details of a sexual act without first asking for my permission)
That we operate from a place of mutual trust and respect; there aren’t restrictions placed on my sexual or pleasure experiences, our communication, or our emotional connection. And C does not run each relational act by C for approval.
That C is able to be both emotionally available to me and B, even when B’s triggered, and can simultaneously show care to our different needs around conflict resolution and communication.
That I am treated as an equal, positive, and a valued part of their lives.
Note: I can’t see them agreeing to these but I think it’s important to voice our truth :) I’d value your perspective and how you would opt to proceed with a regroup conversation, if this situation was yours.
I wrote about this phenomenon previously in my article about why couples tend to want triads. I don’t think triads are necessarily bad or even doomed to failure, but generally speaking couples who seek to have a triad, especially a closed one, are doing so because they think it’s safer. And it demonstrates they haven’t done the work necessarily to address their fears or don’t have good communication and… this is the natural result.
That’s not to say here that B is wrong for her feelings, but C does not know how to deal with what’s going on between them without letting it affect your relationship in multiple ways including allowing her to dictate the terms of your relationship and also in the privacy violations.
It’s not really clear from your letter if they had a couple’s profile and said specifically what they were looking for, but I think that it was probably best for you to step out of that situation then — because what they want is something that you can’t provide. And furthermore, if you come across any other “poly[am] couples” who place rules on what their partners should do with others, and call people “thirds”, you should run for the hills. You’re not a “third”. You’re an equal partner to B and he’s not treating you that way.
You can give him an ultimatum and ask that he practice a more egalitarian form of polyamory, but ultimately that doesn’t seem to be what they were looking for from the start and, unless both of them want it, it’s not something you’re going to get.
I would hesitate to say his partnership is enmeshed or codependent — after all, it’s quite understandable to struggle with polyamory and to believe prioritising “the couple” or making these kinds of rules will fix what they can’t fix. They sound like they’re making mistakes to save their relationship and don’t have some great communication going. That can be addressed and fixed… just not by you.
Honestly the best thing you can do is separate yourself from this situation and wait until he contacts you and is able to have an actual separate relationship. Make the needs you’ve written down known and make it clear that a relationship cannot happen until these happen and make sure, if you try it again, you are real about backing away if you aren’t getting what you need.
I hope this helps and good luck!