I've listened to a few of your episodes while I'm seeking some guidance with a relationship issue, and I am pretty certain I know what you're going to say.
I'm a 46 yr old cis-bi woman, married almost 12 years (together 17) to my 40 yr old cis-het man. We had had a couple of threesomes just for fun early in our relationship and joked about how great that would be if there were "only some way" to find someone that we could do that with on an ongoing basis. Fast forward to 2018 and he had an "affair"--there was no secrecy, but he left me for a younger woman that he fell for hard before realizing that she was profoundly mentally ill with significant substance use issues.
About 3 months after I moved out of our house, I moved back in at his insistence ("if you don't move back in, we might as well give up on getting back together" which was my ultimate goal, but I wanted to do more repair and healing first.) About 6 months later he brought up ENM, and I read The Ethical Slut and More than Two and Polysecure. I felt like I could give it a try although it wasn't a big drive for me.
We tried swinging for about a year and a half and wanted more emotional connection with partners. He dated a woman, and I started dating a man around the same time in late 2019, and these were parallel relationships. Come Covid and both of these relationships fell apart, and I got Covid and don't remember about six months of 2020 as I was in and out of the hospital, required CPR (from my husband, who saved my life), etc.
When I started to recover, he started dating a woman, and then another woman after that. I did not have enough energy to try to date and work my job, so while I met these women, there was no effort to connect or communicate with them. I was a bit out of sorts because he was going out on dates and having fun but bringing home no positive energy, but instead just grumbling about this or that from the relationships, so it was not fun. He never dated more than one person at a time.
Then he met a woman and after a few dates she wanted to meet me, and we really hit it off. This was really unexpected and we had a hot and heavy 4-6 weeks in which the 3 of us were in love, and she essentially moved in. There were a few bumps on the road, but towards the end, she was getting very jealous of me, and angry at him, and resentful of us both. She sunk into a deep depression, broke things off with him, and then told him that he was the love of her life and she was angry that I existed. He broke up with her about a month later (he had hoped she would move out of that headspace.)
He had a flurry of first and second dates literally that week "so I can feel wanted again." He met a 23 yr old and they hit it off, and they have been dating for the past 10 months. He wants her to be a part of his life forever, and considers her my co-equal partner in a nonhierarchical relationship. I am NOT on board with this. I understand the ethics of trying to be non-hierarchical, and his goal was for all three of us to be in love like we'd experienced for that brief time in the previous relationship, but this woman was never someone I was attracted to for a lot of reasons. I like her, I like hanging out with her, and we even tried dating, but we both agreed it was not for us.
Here's the catch (omg like there's only one problem): he and I are refitting a sailboat with the plans to move onto the boat and live on it, sailing around the world for the foreseeable future, and our rough timeline to take off is about 2 yrs. We have put EVERYTHING into this, time, money, and I've changed my career so that I'm working two jobs AND in school so that I will be able to work remotely from anywhere in the world.
We are in so much debt because boats are expensive. It's a 35' boat, maybe 120 sq feet. I do NOT want to sail with her. I don't trust her with my life, which we'll need, and I don't want to be hanging around in such a tiny space when they're making out or whatever. She needs kinky sex and comes apart emotionally if someone isn't punching or kicking her at least twice a week, and she's explicit about that.
There's a lot wrong here, I know--he wants a unicorn. She's half my age. He doesn't want her to date anyone else. He had encouraged me to date but now says it would be detrimental to the relationship (I honestly don't want to; I am working all the time for our future). I know that this is him being controlling and unethical. I have talked to him about this, and we're both seeing therapists, and we are interviewing poly friendly couples therapists. I spend every day hoping they'll break up, because he's said he won't try poly again after dating her.
I am coming to the conclusion that I have to leave him. After all this time, after our big dream, our house, our dogs, our whole lives that are deeply entwined. But I am so deeply unhappy with this situation. I have worked and worked on my feelings, and I keep thinking that maybe I can feel better... I am functionally ok with the nuts and bolts of our everyday arrangement with him spending 3 nights a week with her, one night with us all together, and 3 nights with me.
I have friends and hobbies outside of our relationship (that's not very well maintained due to work and homework, but I do try to do something for me at least once a week, even if it's just taking a long bath.) That time away gives me time to do homework and study. So if things were like this, then I'd be fine. And I keep wondering if I can just wait until the end of the year when I finish school, and see if they're still together.
I know there's nothing wrong with my perspective or feelings. I really do want to make this work, but I don't think I can force myself to feel differently about wanting to spend my life with a woman that I don't want to, in service of him having...whatever he wants. There's so much tension and conflict around this; she and I are crying almost every weekend for the last 10 months, and there's a lot of crying on the nights when he's with either one of us. I feel like he's trying to jam through what he wants, and any resistance is met with more pressure. I'm exhausted, and I don't want to leave him, but I don't see how I can keep doing this.
Like I said, I'm pretty sure you're going to say that yep, I need to go, but I wondered if you had any more insight into the situation?
The first item of confusion here is how you went from what was a pretty bog standard primary/nesting partner situation to a “non-hierarchical relationship” without talking about it and agreeing to it. Because if you did agree to a non-hierarchical relationship, I’m not sure why you would have agreed to go forward with such a hierarchical life plan where you both live on a boat together. Though maybe you envisioned yourselves as a thruple on a boat but it seems this relationship is also moulding further into a closed triad — with pretty much you and this other woman having little to no say on it? It doesn't sound like a closed triad was on the cards either.
I’m not sure when you decided on this life plan and whether this was before or after he started dating her, but obviously, it’s not the life that you want. It doesn’t really seem to be the life that this 23 year old wants either. I doubt very seriously that someone so young would want to essentially commit to a retirement plan. Maybe they might think they do, but it's a lot to gamble on someone who still has a lot of exploring to do. If I could go back, I would advise you both that the idea of having a person you both felt the exact same for was a very unrealistic goal, but at the end of the day, this is what you’re now facing.
Unfortunately, at this point, it does seem like your choices are to live on the boat with both of them or not. Continue to invest in a future where you may be incredibly unhappy and you know you likely will be or attempt to change gears and make a future for yourself where you will be more happy. It sounds like he has not really figured out his own plan. Maybe he thinks if he can just get both of you on the boat, he can somehow “make it work” but he’s being extremely naive for his age and ludicrously selfish. It seems like neither one of you really wants this and both of you are sacrificing what you really want to stay with him. Of course you're crying. You've both got a one way ticket off the edge of a cliff and no one is doing anything to stop it.
It might be worth thinking about whether spending the rest of your life on a boat with someone who is not really willing to face the reality of a situation is the best decision for you. This isn’t really about her and her age (although personally I would find that a major red flag in terms of what it says about my partner’s emotional maturity if they chose someone that young), her sexual habits or really anything. Even if she were the most emotionally balanced, vanilla person in the world, this still wouldn't work the way you'd planned. You must’ve known you were not interested in her within the first few months of their relationship and it’s clear you weren’t on the same page with regards to your goals, or you’re all too willing to play a really awful game of chicken.
He’s waiting for you or her to give up and try to get along with the other, she’s waiting likely for you or him to give up on each other and you’re waiting for him to give up or her or her to give up on him. It’s no wonder there is an immense amount of tension. Everyone’s waiting for someone else to give and it seems like no one is willing to white knuckle it to the bitter end.. Unless you want to risk and bet your whole life on either him or her giving in — and really is that the most desirable future for yourself? — you’re going to have to be the one who caves in. I think honestly it will be far less anxiety provoking for you if you do.
At the very least, stop investing in this shared future together. Speak to a lawyer, see where you can salvage your own financial future and make steps towards your personal independence. If what he wants truly is a non-hierarchical partnership, then make it that — which makes me wonder if she is contributing equally financially towards this retirement plan? If not, there's not much of an equality going on here and either way, the boat is a dream for a thruple. You’re not a thruple. You have not consented to that in word so stop consenting to that in action.
Part of me thinks that the second you make actions towards securing your independent future and move away from this boat idea, that might shock him into action and realise what he’s asking of you. Or maybe not? Maybe you can switch the rest of the debt towards him and his girlfriend and she can pay the remainder and he can pay you back for what you’ve put in? Who knows? But I do wonder if he’d be quite so keen on keeping his head in the sand if you stopped going along with everything.
Worry a little less right now about where your relationship stands and instead move towards making sure you have a future to go forward with yourself. I know this is easier said than done. I know it must be difficult to go forward into the future when you have invested so much in this one. But don’t get trapped in a sunk cost fallacy. You can’t control him and you can’t control her but you can control yourself and you have more of a hand in your own destiny than it sometimes feels like. You just have to take control of it.
I hope this helps and good luck.