Polyamory and needs

Before a month ended my last relationship which was with a solo polyamory person. He has been such for many years while for me this was the first such kind of relationship.
I grew up in a family which members have various type of relationships — from strictly monogamous to polygamous and polyamorous. So for me this situation wasn’t something I didn’t understand. Even the contrary I found it completely natural. For me it was important to be with a partner with whom we have mutual understanding and show respect, love and appreciation. I believe that all of this is a standard necessity in any kind of relationship (might not be right though).
We started with his statement that he is a solo polyamory person who doesn’t want to have hierarchy in his relationships because he is against a situation in which one of his relationships might dictate the rest. I was aware for all of his partners, I have always had friendly and positive attitude despite the fact that I never had the chance to be introduced to them (we have planned this and it never happened).
One of his partners was one of his closest friends. He used to describe their relationship as mainly platonic despite his need to change this. We had many conversations of how he could do this and I tried to be entirely friendly in discussion his problems with her, most of the time I showed only sympathy and when he needed an advice I was there to give it.
At some moment apparently what he wanted slowly and gradually turned to reality. Our meetings changed from spending a Friday evening and part of one of the days of the weekend to 2–4 hours a random day once in a week or in 10 days. He almost stopped initiating conversations except when we used to meet face-to-face. Here is the place to admit that in personal meetings our communication was flawless but only then. Outside of that we rarely had any unless I started it. We stopped having any dates outside his home. For months it was like that — one evening after work in 7–10 days.
Initially I thought — ok, maybe everything will get better with the time. But it didn’t. The communication deteriorated with every single day. He had some unfortunate events in his life — a health accident and he lost his job. I do understand that he was through very tough period. Therefore for the almost 6 months we have been together I didn’t allow myself to tell him more than 4–5 times that I am not happy with the fact that we spent together less time than we have initially agreed to. Twice I was strongly upset and I appreciate his patience and understanding.
Until we got to the day which was our last date. I wanted to cheer him up and to organise an evening which might distract him from his problems. We haven’t talked with each other for almost a week. And all of the sudden he started to tell me about a very sad situation his abovementioned partner had the last week. This became the main topic of our conversation. As much as sympathetic person I could be, I felt offended. I have done my best to make this evening pleasant for him, haven’t bothered him for a week (he needed time alone) and at the end in the few hours we had I had to be in the role of a friend but not a lover and a partner.
Later for the first time since we’ve been together he insisted each of us to go in their own home. I believe that then I made the biggest mistake in our relationship. Feeling intuitively that something was deeply wrong I became very upset and said that I didn’t want anything else except to spend some time with him. I wish I have never done and said this. That was the last evening we had together. After I left his home on the other day, in 4 days he sent me an e-mail in which he wrote that he didn’t see any future for us in the romantic context.
I just feel that I never wanted to lose him. And the most painful is that the fault for this was entirely mine.
I would be more than grateful if you tell me your opinion for this relationship.

I’m sad to hear that you think this situation is your fault when it doesn’t sound like you did anything wrong.

In so many of the letters that I get, I see many people whether perhaps due to cultural influence or because of things they have survived in their lives, interpret some of the concepts in polyamory as “no one has any needs ever”. This is, yet again, one of the many problems I find with people who insist they do not operate any any form of hierarchy.

Fundamentally, I just don’t believe that is true. I believe that we can love and value multiple people in ways outside of the typical way that monogamous culture sets forward — but I do believe that because of our limited time and resources, we absolutely have to make real decisions about how we spend our time and what we prioritise in our lives. For pete’s sake, our own mental health and well being should be at the top of our own life hierarchies because we can’t help anyone as well as we can when we are fully healthy.

The thing that confuses me about this situation from the beginning is why your partner, if he was/is solo polyamorous, is involving you in the matters of his other relationships in ways that might put you in awkward positions. Of course we talk to our friends and partners about people we’re interested in. I would likely tell my domestic partner if I had a date with someone or if I had a crush on someone, but you seem weirdly over-involved here. He has this drive to change one of his platonic friendships into a romantic and/or sexual relationship and he’s relying on you for support and advice when… especially if he is solo polyamory and has limited time, you should be focusing on your connection, not his problems with other people.

Which isn’t to say he’s not allowed to have feelings or he has to compartmentalise them and pretend to be happy when you are together, but there are plenty of ways of cheering people up without being personally involved in their relationships and he got you way more personally involved than you really needed to be. What he needed for his angst about his pursuits was a therapist to speak to, not a partner.

And then it looks like what happens is he has a classic case of “sparkly shiny new person” and then promptly neglects all of his other relationships in favour of sparkly new person. And you are even willing to deal with that… over a period of six months, prohibiting yourself from even mentioning to him that you are unhappy, even though you very plainly are. And even though you have all of this self control, nothing changes… but you are happy with his patience and understanding?

You had every right to upset that, after a week of ignoring you (and I’m sorry but you speaking with your partner is not bothering them), you finally allow yourself to express your needs and his response to that is to then ignore you for a further four days and then break up with you via e-mail?

Goodness… this is an absolutely disgraceful way of handling this. He was downright neglecting you, but the important thing I want you to learn from this is that in some ways you were allowing him to neglect you. A lot of people in polyamory seem to think that they’re not allowed to have needs, emotions or feelings and that expressing these needs or emotions or feelings is “controlling” someone else. And add the whole “you are responsible for your own feelings” hogwash and you get this horrible cocktail where people constantly suppress their needs and feelings for someone else to be happy until they, inevitably, burst.

It can be very, very hard to know when an emotion is “legitimate”. I have been there. And I struggle so hard with this. The way I experience emotions is that they all kind of slap me across the face at once and then immediately after having them, these horrible voices in my head tell me that I am being dramatic, that I am overbearing, that I am controlling, and that I am ridiculous, etc. I struggle so hard to understand if my feelings are “legitimate” or my concerns are valid. Sometimes I have to ask people for help on this. I ask friends and I ask my therapist. And I am trying very hard to be able to feel confident in my own needs and emotions when I have had them invalidated throughout my life.

It’s not going to be easy for you in the future to understand that your feelings of unhappiness are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed, especially if there have been people in your life who have dismissed the seriousness of your feelings or been uncaring to you about your needs. But what you need with this is a partner who can understand this. I have my moments where I don’t say what I need until I burst and I’m emotional and sad and crying and my partner has to deal with that — but my partner understands where this comes from and I am making and have been making good progress and trying to express my needs and feelings in healthier, constructive ways and let my partner know when I am unhappy when it happens, rather than waiting until I just can’t take it anymore.

Your partner was not supportive. Not throughout your entire relationship and honestly, when he decided to leave you, he did you a massive favour. You deserve better than this and it is not your fault at all. You did everything to try and be accommodating and, even if you could have done better at telling him when you were unhappy, the way he decided to manage this was very, very poor.

The pain is there because it’s sad and that’s legitimate, but it’s not your fault. Definitely seek out a polyamory friendly therapist who can work with you on identifying when you’re unhappy and trying to assert your needs to your partners. I feel like some of the pain you experienced could have been avoided if you were more explicit about what you needed earlier. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have bailed on you, but he would have probably done so a lot earlier because you wouldn’t have tolerated being used as his therapist instead of a partner. Your own therapist will be able to help you identify these behaviours in future partners and know when to demand more for yourself and when to even leave people who are not giving you the communication that you deserve.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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