Fuzzy Definitions

When your friends with benefits relationship could lead to polyamory but you're not quite sure.

I (24-year-old cis heterosexual woman) am in love with my best friend (let’s call him Julian, 25-year-old cishet man), he’s also in love with me and it’s really amazing.
We’ve known each other from university and I’ve known since the beginning of our friendship that he has a girlfriend (let’s call her Katie, 25-year-old cishet woman), they’ve been together for 7 years now. Julian and I had been best friends for about two years and we were growing closer and closer, to the point where we spent a lot of week-ends together and i often spent the night at his place (where we slept in the same bed).
One morning (I guess more than one but it took me a while to realize that this wasn’t just friendship), we woke up in each other’s arms and later that day he told me that he liked me a lot, that he was physically attracted to me, that he had talked about me and about opening their relationship with Katie and that they wanted to try.
At the time, I had never really been in a relationship. I was seeing a guy casually, who was in an open relationship with his girlfriend, which had me questioning my relationship ideals and what I wanted in life. I was a bit lost and very good at denying my feelings because I had just been through a friendship break-up and additionally I had confessed my feelings to another quite close friend, who didn’t feel the same way.
So I guess I was in a place where I wanted to be alone, independent and really didn’t want a serious relationship. I already liked Julian a lot and was happy to try to be friends with benefits. That worked quite well for some time and eventually he confessed that he was in love with me, and some time later, I realized I also fell in love with him.
Our relationship never really changed though because from the start, we were honest with each other and always knew that the most important thing would always be our friendship. I know that might sound dumb or delusional but we have this genuine connection and i just know that we will always be able to make it work and to keep each other in our lives, one way or another. Thanks to him i opened up and now realize that i do deserve and want a loving relationship in my life. We’ve been dating now for one year and a half and it makes me incredibly happy. 
The thing is, once Katie realized that it wouldn’t just be something that would pass and that he really loved me too, it wasn’t working out for her anymore and she wasn’t happy with the situation. At one point, she almost made him choose and almost broke up with him because he wanted to keep dating me.
He was always honest with her and with me and of course I can’t talk for her and I don’t really know the details of what’s going on between them, but ever since then, every time we talk about his relationship with her (which is not often, but sometimes I need to know how it’s going and how often he sees her), he just tells me that she still isn’t happy with the situation and that he doesn’t know what to do. She didn’t break up with him but from what I know, they don’t spend a lot of time together anymore. He says that he could never leave her because he doesn’t want to abandon her. 
I guess sometimes i don’t really understand why they stay together. But I would never encourage him to break up with her, it’s not my place and not my relationship. He also struggles with depression, has really low self-esteem and refuses to seek therapy, so l know that sometimes it’s complicated to help him but I try to always be there for him. 
He once told me that i’m more present than Katie and that she isn’t able to support him when he’s struggling mentally, that she just leaves him alone when he isn’t feeling well. I don’t know if I’m allowed to judge her for that but it does make me feel weird and a bit sad for Julian. So I don’t really know what to think about that and it also does bother me that Katie isn’t okay with the situation. 
I for my part am, most of the time, really fine with the situation, even though I am technically monogamous. I would be open to date someone else too but since dating Julian I never wanted anyone else.
I’m also wondering about our future. I’ve had a hard time telling people about our relationship and except one close friend, no one knows officially that we are together. A part of my family has met him and knows we’re together but not that he has another girlfriend. I think i’m scared that people would judge us and especially i don’t want people to assume that he’s bad for me or to get a bad opinion of him.
In my friend circle, polyamory or open relationships are not really common. On the other hand, i would really like to be able to tell people about our relationship, so that’s a bit frustrating. Maybe i also don’t want to tell too much people if i’m not sure where we’re going and what our future looks like.
I would like to spend the rest of my life with him, but I’m not sure if that would work if the situation stays like it is now. Maybe I’m just overthinking it and we’re young and have time to figure it all out but I would really like to hear your professional thoughts about it, even just to feel less alone in this particular situation because i can’t really find representations in books or films… 

The thing that worries me the most about this situation is that Julian admits that he outright has no interest in leaving his partner and no interest in going to therapy to address his problems. He knows he has problems, but he doesn’t seem to be willing to address them. And you’re both sitting in a situation where I kind of feel like you’re both lying to yourselves about how you feel for the sake of ease and avoiding the confrontation that needs to happen.

What worries me about you in this situation is that you’re nearly stepping in to “solve” the problem because he refuses to. There is at least on your part — because you’re asking these questions — part of you that knows this is not a reasonable or sustainable long term solution. And I do wonder if you had another stable romantic relationship in your life if you would have gotten this close to your best friend.

Consider for a second that this solution is only really unsustainable for you. For Julian, it’s kind of perfect. He gets his needs met by you and his girlfriend. You may be unhappy and his girlfriend may be unhappy but he’s not going to confront anybody or leave anybody so at the end of the day, he’s still getting what he needs from the situation regardless of how everyone else feels.

Now this may not be how he actually thinks about the situation. He may struggle with his own self-esteem and be a people pleaser who just goes along with situations because he doesn’t know how to assert his own boundaries. But as much as people pleasing may seem self-less on the outside, the problem is that at the end of the day, it is actually more selfish than it appears.

Because the main motivation of avoiding confrontation is avoiding personal discomfort or loss. He doesn’t want to lose his girlfriend and he doesn’t want to lose you because he personally doesn’t want to go through difficult emotions or guilt of having caused pain to someone else. You can be uncomfortable. His girlfriend can be uncomfortable. And maybe he doesn’t like the thought of that but it’s mostly because he doesn’t want to deal with the difficult feelings it causes him as the primary motivator.

And it can be easy to slip into a semi-romantic situationship where you’re super close and do feel love for one another without realising it for some people — but I genuinely feel like if he was someone with integrity, he would have put more boundaries on your situation the second his girlfriend felt uncomfortable. If your friendship is so solid and important, then toning down your connection shouldn’t threaten it.

Friends understandably confide in one another about their relationships but I find it slightly different when there is a comparison that is made. The fact that he openly admits that he gets something from you that he doesn’t from his girlfriend is super troubling. He’s not a child. He knows what to do. He just doesn’t want to do it. And it’s not because he doesn’t want to “abandon her”. She is also not a child. She doesn’t need him to live. He just really isn’t stepping up to the plate.

For a minute, I’d like you to put yourself in Katie’s position here. How would you feel if your partner not only had this incredibly close friendship, but what would you feel if your partner said all of this stuff about you behind your back to this person? Wouldn’t you want them to just break up with you? Would you enjoy being in this type of situation? Does this sound like a good romantic partner? Does this sound like someone who would communicate well in a relationship?

Part of me feels like you’ve put him on this pedestal because you have this close relationship, but honestly really think about what type of romantic partner does this to their partner. I have no doubt Julian fills a need you have but honestly, I feel like you deserve better both as a friend and as a partner. Don’t you want someone who both wants to be with you but has the strength to make the choice deliberately? 

I definitely see myself in this situation because I have absolutely been in relationships where it was basically “good enough” and where, due to low self-esteem, I have put up with someone who is lacklustre about me because I thought, hey, beggars can’t be choosers. And I do feel for people who struggle and also want to be there for them. But you have to secure your own mask before you can secure other people’s. And polyamory sometimes makes it super easy to stay in relationships that don’t serve you and avoid a breakup — but that really shouldn’t be a motivation to date multiple people.

Sure, one person can’t be everything for us, but there is a difference between expecting one person to meet every need and staying in a relationship that doesn’t meet your basic needs because you don’t want to break up. I would really take a step back from this situation and ask yourself if this is how you want to begin a relationship — with considering polyamory as a monogamous person simply because you’re in love with someone who doesn’t have the strength to leave a relationship that clearly doesn’t work for them. 

Don’t you deserve someone who is sure that they want to be with you? You are young and you should spend that time with someone who is willing to get therapy, is willing to address their problems, has the strength to have difficult conversations and whom you don’t have to change up your entire lifestyle just to accommodate. You’re bending over backwards for someone who doesn’t even want to go to therapy for you.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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