I'm a 31 year old cis mostly straight woman. About two months ago I somewhat broke up with a man who describes himself as polyamorous. We had a great time for about four lovely months, seeing each other one night a week. He was easily the sweetest man I'd dated and we got along like wildfire. I also met his other girlfriend who, surprisingly to me, is monogamous to him. So she only dates him. He mentioned that early on and I figured that's what worked for them and it wasn't my business. Fast forward to recently, when the topic of my meeting his friends came up. I thought he would get along with some of mine and I wanted to meet a few of his. He said that in an ideal world I would get to meet them, especially as his friends have asked about me, but one of my metas boundaries is that she is the only one who gets to meet/interact with them. This upset me a lot and made me feel so disrespected so I told him we were going to see each other much less. We talked about it some more and he told me that my meta would break up with him if anyone other than her that he was involved with met his friends and family. So while he didn't love that she'd put that ultimatum in place he was fine to go along with it because it meant being with her. I plan on a clean break after a while, but the main reason I'm still seeing him although much less frequently is because I've got a few sexual bucket list items I want to tick off before the end of the year. Then I'll drop him. But my question is, is this not a rather fucked up dynamic? If I had a partner who tried to dictate who my other partners could and couldn't meet I'd tell them to kick rocks. Also, why didn't he make this clear earlier? Also, is this even a boundary? It seems like more of an ultimatum. I'm in pain about this and know the best thing for it would be for me to stop seeing him entirely, but I hate the idea that an otherwise uninvolved third party has such a influence on my relationship with him. It doesn't seem fair. Help please.
Ethical non-monogamy is specifically about whether all parties are agreeing and aware of what’s going on. And that’s essentially what’s going on here. Your ex is aware and is actively agreeing to this arrangement. He can say it’s his other partner’s boundaries however much he wants. But ultimately, he is a grown adult and he is fully capable of walking away from this relationship if it doesn't suit him. Just as you walked away from your relationship with him when it didn’t suit your needs.
You’re not wrong to feel disrespected. Those feelings are valid. But he’s also not wrong to agree to something if that’s what he wants to do. If his partner contacted me about this boundary, I might invite her to explore it more. But ultimately, if they all agree with it, it’s an ethical arrangement. I don’t personally see any benefit in passing judgment specifically in my column or on a public platform on the dynamics other people have or attempting to demand perfection from every dynamic. You’re also welcome to feel this is a fucked up dynamic. Just as some monogamous people are welcome to feel that polyamory is a dynamic they don’t want or agree with. You’re absolutely allowed to not only have your own boundaries but to have emotions around those boundaries.
In terms of why he didn’t make this clear earlier, to his credit I don’t necessarily think he would have been fully aware that you would feel so disrespected by this. Even you may not have been aware you’d feel this way in particular. A good deal of people wouldn’t care so much about this boundary. You absolutely do care and that’s fine, but it’s not necessarily something he could predict versus say failing to mention in a monogamous relationship that you absolutely don’t want kids months into a relationship. I absolutely understand why you would feel pain about this and I don’t know that seeing him is helping you with that pain.
Technically, third parties have influences on all of our relationships. We have to go to work which can and does cause stress that impacts our relationships. Some of us have disabilities that influence our relationships. In some cases in polyamory, even if we don’t have boundaries like this, a breakup or other issues with one relationship could affect yours. Heck, even a friendship breakup could impact our romantic relationships and family also have an impact. I absolutely understand wanting your relationship to exist in a parallel way, but I think if you take a step back from this particular situation, you would be able to see that lots of things we can’t control impact our relationships.
What perhaps drives you particularly up the wall about this impact is that it seems within the control of one person. Because your brain sees this as a problem that can be “solved” it makes sense to hyper focus on it. If your partner got into a car accident and was in a coma, that would impact your relationship but you would not hyper focus on preventing the car accident in the past. But the truth is, you have about as much control over whether or not your partner gets hit by a car at any point as you do about what goes on in your ex’s other relationships.
Furthermore, because you have such a fondness for your ex, it’s very easy to divert the responsibility from his shoulders onto his partner and blame the partner for what’s happening. And while obviously this boundary is her idea according to him, he is agreeing to it as a fully grown adult. And avoiding seeing him as the responsible party really is avoiding the brunt of the pain of the fact that fundamentally you have an incompatibility that cannot be amended. If seeing this arrangement as fucked up helps you learn to distance yourself from it, then I would so go ahead. But what worries me is that it just intensifies resentment towards your metamour without actually addressing the issue.
In the future, you can ask people ahead of time if they have any boundaries like this so that you can avoid ending up in this situation again, but don’t blame yourself too badly for it. This does seem like a case where you are both generally not fully compatible. Even if you have some sexual bucket list items, I honestly, if you find yourself feeling pain about this and feel unable to separate yourself from the discomfort this causes, which is very legitimate, you may want to have a clean break now and find someone else who is more compatible with you down the line. I’m sure you will find someone who is compatible and you have the same chemistry with, but I absolutely understand the feeling that you may not, so the balance there will be up to you to work out.
I hope this helps and good luck!