Shunned in a triad

About four months ago, my long-term girlfriend (Z) and I opened our relationship to include her best friend (A). Seemingly everyone was ok with this, nonmonogamy is something I’ve been interested in, but never experienced. Z and A have also been friends for a very long time and have dabbled somewhat in nonmonogamy before.

They hadn’t done anything since Z and I started dating, but one day, quite suddenly, Z asked if I “wanted two girlfriends”. I was taken by surprise since months prior I tried to have that conversation, but Z seemed completely turned off on the matter. However, this seemed like the opportunity I was looking for, so I agreed. To use my girlfriend’s words it was a “safe option”, since Z and I are pretty committed to each other, and A lives out of state.

For a while things were going ok, I was getting to know A better, Z and I were also doing well; we all seemed happy. About 2 months ago, Z and I took a trip out to visit A, where we also meet C, someone A has been involved with physically and somewhat romantically for a few months. A keeps saying she’s not “in a relationship” with C, but I keep hearing about the activities and time C and A spend together, which, to me, sound like they’re “in a relationship”, and can’t help feeling like I’m not getting the whole story.

Also, during the trip, Z and A were very adamant about not telling C about our arrangement, because it was “so new and not really figured out yet.” This seemed like a problem to me, because if we’re trying to to do ENM (they use “polyamory”) correctly, shouldn’t everyone be on the same page?

Not telling the people who are directly involved seems like setting ourselves up for problems down the road. I should also say that Z and I don’t like C; it’s hard to explain, but C just rubs us the wrong way. However, we both realize that it’s wrong to think A can’t look for more consistent emotional fulfillment, especially since we live in different states.

Despite that, I go along with what they want for the sake of having a good trip. When we get back however, I’ve noticed a change in A’s communication with me. We used to have conversations, text back and forth, and share things on social media, but that has stopped. I try to reach out when I can and in between sparse texts, I try to remind myself that she’s probably busy or anything else to placate my anxieties about being replaced, but it doesn’t seem to work, since A is keeping steady communication with Z.

Also, from what I’m told she’s spending more and more time with C; going on dates, spending multiple nights together at their homes, etc. but still being adamant that they’re not “in a relationship”. I try to talk with Z about it, but she is also confused by this behavior, and doesn’t really give me any suggestions on what to do. So I’m kind of left to stew in confusion and a little bit of jealousy.

This leads to a couple of weeks of my mental health starting to decline, because I feel stuck, jealous, and a whole slew of bad emotions, that nobody seems to be able to help with. At the end of September, A comes to visit for the week of Z’s birthday. The whole time Z and A can tell something is wrong with me, but I don’t want to say anything to ruin what’s supposed to be a good trip. Eventually, I get around to speaking what’s on my mind: I’m confused, I’m feeling left out, like an accessory, among other things.

However I’d been drinking to cope with my anxiety tied to speaking up about my emotions (a mistake, I know) and it all blows up in my face. First, A says what I’m feeling is “too extreme” since we don’t have a label on our relationship and second, Z starts bringing up ways in which I’m failing in our relationship, which then takes over as the topic of discussion.

We all get defensive, and the discussion goes nowhere constructive. After a while, we start working hard to get to a place where we don’t feel at completely at odds with one another, so we all don’t go to bed angry and resentful. The next day I apologize for how things went, because I felt that it was my fault for not coming correct, and not being clearer on how I wanted to express myself. Z and A both accept my apology, but there isn’t enough time during A’s visit to have the conversation I wanted to have.

Since then, it’s been about two weeks, A hasn’t been talking to me, she stopped all social media contact, she doesn’t text, and Z seems on the same page, but doesn’t have any solutions. How I’m feeling is that I screwed everything up and A just doesn’t know how to tell me it’s over. I’m trying to reassure myself that everything is probably fine, but without any reassurance from either Z or A, I’m struggling.

I want to have the conversation I was planning on having, but I’m not sure how to bring it up again. I’ve been having deep conversations with Z and she has kind of helped, but I also feel like she’s keeping her distance.

I’m very much confused by a lot of this and don’t really know how to bring it up with either A or Z.

A will be visiting us again in December, before she travels out of the country for 6months, and a lot of me is thinking I should use the next 6-8 weeks to figure out exactly what my feelings are regarding this triad, so when the time is right, I can more clearly express my feelings, and also what my expectations are. But another part of me feels like I need to do the work right now to try to get back to where we used to be. Or should I talk to Z about maybe finding someone else (without unicorn hunting), since A might not be the right person for us, right now?

I would really appreciate your perspective and any wisdom/advice you have.

A lot of your instincts here in this are very spot on. Maybe your girlfriend can give you more information specifically about the decision to not tell C about your arrangement, but it feels a little dishonest and for me personally at least, the idea that it’s “so new” doesn’t really matter. It’s an agreement essentially and I’m sure if you were in C’s position, you would likely want to know. Especially when it comes to STI risk. It’s not personally a situation that seems fair.

You were right that, yeah, you did make the mistake of not actually being honest about your feelings and trying to just “be okay” when you clearly weren’t but… it makes sense that you did this. It makes sense that you’re confused and it also makes sense because something you would have clearly voiced your objection to — basically hiding things from C — was pretty much discouraged. It makes sense that you would continue to feel like secrecy and not rocking the boat is important, because that’s a value that’s been clearly communicated to you.

To me, there is a difference between “a triad” and three people who are dating each other. There are individual relationships to manage in a triad, but there is also the three of you all together and from the looks of things you need to address your relationship with A and also the relationship between the three of you. I really feel like if someone who is essentially in what is mostly a long distance relationship with you is not communicating with you… then are they actually in a relationship with you? Being ignored like this with absolutely zero explanation… is that really what you want out of a relationship?

Even if you did mess up in terms of bottling your feelings, it’s not an unforgivable sin. There is really no reason for someone to just ignore you like that and it’s incredibly awkward for you to be put in a situation where a person doesn’t even speak to you and yet is staying at your house. I mean… that’s an odd situation to be put in and why should it be a situation that is acceptable to you. If she feels uncomfortable or needs some space, she should make that clear so you aren’t out here playing a guessing game. And it worries me a little bit that your girlfriend is also being basically ghosted (what I assume being “on the same page” means), why is she also okay with this?

So, essentially, two conversations need to happen. You need to have a conversation with A about why there has been silent treatment essentially (while also maybe Z needs to have her conversation separately with A if she is in the same boat) and then you need to have a conversation with Z at least about how she feels about the triad situation given you’re both being ignored. Or, if you’re just being ignored, then that needs to be addressed.

You need to express your discomfort regarding the secrecy and establish a clearer policy together on how to handle all of this. Especially when it comes to sexual health, you need to make it clear with each other what safer sex practices you would like to implement because STIs do not care how new or experimental your relationships are and you need to implement something that actually can work with all of your comfort levels.

Last but not least, if your perception of this relationship is that it’s you and Z primarily and A is an add on to that, it’s worth communicating that to A. In my opinion at least, a “triad” is not really a situation where there is a couple and a third. It’s a situation where all of the relationships within them should be equal. While you say you don’t want to unicorn hunt, and that makes sense and I believe you in that, if you are going to prioritise your established relationship with Z (and she is going to do the same) then that is worth communicating to future partners.

But part of this is also you as individuals figuring out what polyamory or this situation in particular brings to your life and why it is that you want it. I have some introductory articles, my polyamory 101 and polyamory 102 articles, that can help you figure out what it is that you would like from a polyamorous situation as an individual and that may make it better for you to negotiate as individuals how this triad works. In the future, forgive yourself more for being afraid and for having feelings and be wary of any relationship, monogamous or polyamorous, that encourages you to hide your feelings.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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