Thursday, August 25, 2016

Work in Progress: The Imaginary Third-Wheel Blues

The main reason I started this blog was to try to help folks on either side of Mono/Poly relationships relate a bit better, and to provide one of the few Poly (well, Mono/Poly) resources written from a monogamous point of view (since many mono folks don't really relate well to the For-Poly-By-Poly resources out there). When I post, then, I tend to wait until I feel like I have my shit together - that I've examined it from all sides, come up with whatever awful analogy I hold dear, and can present it in a way that might make sense to both Mono and Poly folks alike.

But I don't always have my shit together, and I struggle with those posts.

This is going to be one of those "work in progress" posts. There are many things I and my partner (and my metamour) have worked through over the five years we've been navigating the Poly road, and that's fantastic. We're all in a different place than we were back then, and I think that's a good thing. However, the issues that remain are the sticky ones, the ones where the root cause isn't easily identified, or solutions aren't easily found.

In the original spirit of this blog, I've tried to dig a bit deeper into the reasons behind the emotions, but it's not a finished product, and I don't know if it ever will be. I do, however, think that sharing these things are a way to show that the passage of time isn't always a silver bullet for the issues in a Mono/Poly relationship. There may be work and maintenance that goes on for the life of the relationship... and if it's manageable for everyone involved, then that's okay.

So... getting to the point.

I tend to prefer a "separation of relationships" when it comes to my partner's partners. I don't really do compersion, outside of a generic sense of, "I'm happy for you." I'm happy my partner gets to be true to who he is, and I'm happy to see him excited about meeting new people, but that's kind of where that ends for me. Everything else to do with a particular relationship - things they obviously enjoy and get excited about - cross that line of separation, and I feel like I'm intruding on that relationship, even if they don't feel that way.

This comes to a head in very inconvenient ways, however.

My partner's other nesting partner lived for years in a Big Coastal City, which will subsequently be referred to as "BigCoastalCity" (because I'm nothing if not original). BigCoastalCity is on the opposite coast from the general area in which we all live now, but in the early stages of their relationship, he would fly out to visit, and they, of course, had some great "together time" and made many memories out in BigCoastalCity.

Which is why I blanched every time he would tell me that *we* should visit BigCoastalCity. Because that's *theirs*. Because anything that we would do would be clouded by "this was their stomping ground, and their experiences." Because I would be a third wheel going to their special places.

Not that THEY said any of this, mind you. This is all my own internal monologue working overtime.

That said, let's rewind a bit. Early on in our relationship, when both relationships were still young and the path we were walking wasn't just strewn with holes, but the occasional lava flow, my partner and meta were tossing around the idea of going to ForeignCountry (consistency in originality... that's my bit). I clearly had some sort of presence of mind to know that this was going to be an issue for me, and I brought up the idea, early on, that I didn't want anyone in either of these relationships to be limited by what's "ours" versus "theirs." In other words, I didn't want ForeignCountry to be "theirs" and feel unable to share it with my partner in our own way. We all agreed, and I felt pretty good about it. No artificial limitations.

So why on earth am I shutting MYSELF out of the things I feel are "theirs"?

I do this with quite a few things: places that have special meaning to them, TV shows they both like, music they both like - anything that my brain/heart have come to think of as "theirs". I have a feeling it's why, despite my need to keep my Geek Cred up (I clearly haven't gotten enough CECs in lately), I haven't been motivated to finish watching Firefly yet. Please, feel free to beat some sense into me here. I probably deserve it.

When they express enthusiasm for something together, I wall it off as "theirs" - and wall myself off from it in the process. Why?

I'm not entirely sure, but I have some theories. Come, we'll go spelunking in my brain...

In monogamous relationships, you don't really have this situation. Places you went and things you did with your ex are in the past. Maybe you look back wistfully at the time, place, and situation, but ostensibly, you've moved on. If you're in a new relationship, you're building new experiences, even if they're built on things that happened in the past. The experiences of your past shaped and influenced you, but you're focused on the "now". Focused on the "new". The past is in the past. In polyamorous relationships, this isn't necessarily the case - both relationships and experiences may be happening "now".

Because these experiences with an ex happened in the past, it's easier (at least for me) to process those emotions. It becomes "this is a place you liked and now you want to share it with me" and I end up feeling happy that you want to share this important place/thing/idea/whatever with me now.

But in a Poly relationship, there is no sense of "now this is ours". There's no sense of having moved on. And as such, I feel awkward about hanging around BigCoastalCity because in the back of my mind, I'm wondering things like, "Is this reminding Partner of Meta and the things they did here? Is he not in the moment with me? Is he wishing he could be here with her because they shared x, y, and z together?" Basically, I wonder if I'll feel like I'm on a "Partner and Meta tour of BigCoastalCity"... like a third wheel.

Now, I *know* that different experiences happen with different people, even in the same places. I've gone to BigOtherCoastalCity with not only my partner, but with friends, with my daughter and her dance class, and yes, with my ex-husband. And with each and every one of those people (or groups of people), I had different experiences. I know that, and I've felt that. I'm even happy at a general level that my partner gets to experience that with multiple people. However, when he does, the emotional side of me goes, "Okay, this is now their thing, move along. Nothing to see here."

There's a reason that the Heart and Brain warrant their own webcomic.

It's even goofier because if Meta came to me and said, "Oh! You should go see this," I'd register it as a friend giving me some pointers. But if Partner wants us to do something because he and Meta did it, now it's "theirs" and a source of discomfort. Oy. Brain is looking at Heart, going, "Dude! WTF!"

And so, I'm trying to fix it by pushing myself through those uncomfortable feelings. Not only am I going to eventually cue up Firefly (maybe after Stranger Things), but I'm going to BigCoastalCity with my partner. I have asked for reassurance (to try to help poor old emotional Heart deal with things a bit better) that this will not be a "Partner and Meta Tour of the City," but our trip. Not that it wouldn't have been anyway, but you know... emotions.

It's funny... there are things that I've found easier to navigate within a polyamorous context than others. Sexual fidelity, for example, was never a big deal to me, while I know it's extremely important to others. This? This is one of my hangups.

At least for now. Gotta have something interesting to work on, no?

Any advice or commiseration, please feel free to comment.


  1. I feel what you are feeling as I am in the same position you are in as I am the mono in poly. I am not going to beat any sense into you as your emotions are valid simply because they are yours. Are you feeling this way perhaps because you want just one thing to be "mine"? This year I went to a resort with my partner where he went with his wife years before. I also wondered if he had memories and we talked about it too, and I realized that was all it was, just memories and we were making it our own. It was a new memory for me and I was pretty happy with that.

    I had an experience today similar to that, I took my youngest to her open house at school, where I had gone with my older one just 3 years ago. It was a completely different experience because it was a different child it was nothing like the experience I had before. I hope you can view it in that way as your time with your partner doing "their" thing, is still YOUR experience. I hope that makes sense.


  2. Hey I just want to say thanks for blogging. I read all of your blogs and found great comfort in them. My husband(9 yrs, 2nd time for both) and I just came to the realization that he is poly. I'm mono. It was really a godsend to find your blog. Thanks again & keep it up. Aloha, Theresa

  3. Hey I just want to say thanks for blogging. I'm very new to this mono/poly thing and it is tough. I hope to get to your level of even "I'm happy he gets to be true to himself." On an intellectual level, I got it, but the practice is still hard for me, the mono one. I'm glad I found your blog, read them all and they have been a great comfort. Aloha


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