Ask the former polyamorist

I guess the first question I’ll answer is “isn’t this a terrible idea for a thread? What are you thinking?” Yes, it probably is a bad idea. But then as this thread will demonstrate, I’m not immune to bad ideas.

I’ll cut to the chase. Some years ago I was involved in a triad relationship with two women I’ll call Alison and Bianca. Our relationship was a “triangle”–all three of us were dating each other, so I had a relationship with each of them, and they were dating each other and me, all at the same time. Our relationship lasted about six months; before that Alison and I had been dating, and Alison and I continued our relationship afterwards. I had not been involved in any polyamory or any other type of plural relationship such as swinging or open relationships before and I haven’t been involved in one since.

I was an unlikely candidate for polyamory. I am a rather dull heterosexual male, kind of boring to be honest. I am a very introverted person who has struggled with personal relationships for most of my life. Until my current marriage my relationships have not been good. I am socially a quite conventional person and this was a world I was unfamiliar with. I look back on the time that Alison, Bianca, and I had with a mixture of happiness and discomfort. I think it did affect me a lot, for better or worse.

I will answer one question before I open the floor so to speak. “Why are you starting this thread?” Firstly I wanted to fight ignorance. I don’t know any other polyamorists, even online. I rarely see anyone discussing polyamory and I went into the relationship completely blind. Maybe someone who is curious about it will read this thread and learn some things and avoid mistakes which I made (one of which was probably “don’t even start this”). Secondly I do have significant mental scars from it all. I have never discussed this with anyone in person, and only online during the relationship. I’ve buried this for years and it is time to address my problems. Lastly, well…it is an interesting way to live. I suppose others might feel the same way.

Ask away. I warn you that my schedule may prevent me from coming back on a regular basis, sometimes for a couple days or so.

I thought “triad” was an organization similar to the yakuza.:confused:

I have so many questions, some of them very nosy and personal. Feel free to give me a slap if I deserve it.

How did you feel about each of your two partners? Was one of them your “favorite” either emotionally or sexually? If so, did they know that?

I can answer this one quickly. Polyamorists have a name for everything, as I came to learn. A triad is just any relationship involving three people. One where all three have relations with each other is a triangle. If Alison and Bianca hadn’t had a relationship it would have been called a “V” and I would have been referred to as the “pivot”.

In what way was it significantly mentally scaring?

Coke or Pepsi?

As a heterosexual male, I naively imagine that being with two women could be a dream—or a nightmare. But I’m curious what the reality is like, as opposed to the fantasy.

What was your initial reaction when the triad was proposed (unless it was your idea, which I doubt from your comments)? Did you have to be talked into it?

Do you think it is a wrong choice period, or was it mostly just a wrong choice for you?

I’m going to try to answer some of these questions in an order that will make the answers make more sense. I’ll start here because I hope this will explain some of my thinking as to why I agreed to it.

In one sense I don’t think it’s wrong to tell consenting adults that they can’t enter any relationship that is not harmful, even if it’s not a good idea. I didn’t grow up thinking that. I came from a rural, conservative place. My parents were happily married (as were Alison’s and Bianca’s). They’d met in high school and never even dated anyone else. I thought that’s how relationships worked. But I never dated in high school and my first real relationship was a total bust and then my first marriage was a complete disaster. I was very disillusioned with traditional relationships. Meanwhile I saw second marriages and non-traditional (as I thought of them at the time) relationships flourishing. I started thinking any relationship that made one happy was acceptable and that was the mindset I had when I met Alison.

I don’t know at what point I thought a three-person relationship was OK though. To be honest I hadn’t even thought of it until Bianca suggested it to us. I’ll go into more detail on that later.

Having been through polyamory,though, I realize there is a lot of potential for abuse in that kind of relationship. My only exposure to plural relationships, and I think what most people think of first, is a big “Sister Wives” type polygamous marriage. In those relationships the man has all the power and the women serve him. Our relationship wasn’t like that but I could see how it could go that way. One of the struggles of our relationship was a constant sense by each of the three of us that we lacked control of our relationship. If Bianca and I were happy together that left Alison out and she started feeling powerless, so then we’d try to regroup and give her more power. There was an ever-shifting balance of power in our relationship. If any of the three of us had had a domineering personality it would have been tempting for that person to say, “you know what? Fuck what you guys think, these are the rules here.” Instead we tried to distribute power equally by imposing more rules on our relationship. (Which Bianca usually immediately tried to break, but I’ll get to that.)

Trying to impose rules and boundaries and goals on a relationship is hard. Even with two people one person often wants something out of a relationship that the other doesn’t. So imagine then there are three voices asking to be heard. What happened with us was that we spent more time trying to keep our relationship together and less time actually having a relationship. And the landmarks which identify the progression of a relationship weighed us down more than they built us up. If Alison and Bianca had a fun time without me I’d have to be OK with that even though I wasn’t allowed to have the same fun time alone with Bianca–during the time period we weren’t allowed to date alone because Alison wasn’t comfortable with it yet–and I’d have to say to them “no I’m not jealous because this is for the good of the relationship” even though I was jealous. Everything that happened in the relationship was a mixed blessing. You could be happy when things happened but not TOO happy. Everybody had to be equally happy, which usually meant everyone ended up being equally miserable.

Which is a way of saying polyamory is not for everyone. But if someone wanted to do it I wouldn’t stop them. I’d be honest with them but I wouldn’t stop them. It is an interesting but difficult way to live. But I don’t think it’s wrong. I just wouldn’t do it again. I think.

No Pepsi, Coke.

Drinking was a big part of our relationship actually. Alison spent a lot of time drunk especially in the beginning. I drank more than I ever had. And Bianca was hammered on a fairly regular basis (also dabbling in harder stuff we think). Coping mechanism. I swore off booze afterwards and was totally sober for a couple years.

Did you tell your family? Who ended things?

Two things in particular. One was that what I mentioned before about not being able to be too happy or too jealous or too much of any emotion. Before I felt I could be–had to be!–completely honest in relationships. I still feel that way. Tamping down my emotions was a real roller coaster for me. As I have problems with bipolar disorder, this did not help me.

The other and more pervasive problem is that my expectations for relationships is now off. I don’t trust myself any more. I am always second guessing. So much of that came from constantly asking myself “is Alison happy? Is Bianca happy? Are they telling me the truth or do they just not want me to feel bad?” Too many times one of them would tell me they were OK when they weren’t because they didn’t want to hurt me. Then I started feeling that they were never happy. As a healer type in relationships that is hard for me to handle. And I started feeling like I was responsible for a lot of hurt and I still feel that way. I avoid conflict and friendship more for that reason. It did affect me negatively.

Did you ever try admitting that you felt jealous? If so, what was the result? Is that what caused the breakup?

  1. Oh God no I didn’t tell my family. They weren’t even over my divorce, I hate to think of what they would have thought of polyamory. Alison’s mom was pretty homophobic and she would have never talked to her again if she’d found out she was in a relationship that included a woman, so she didn’t mention it either. I don’t know if Bianca told her family but she was kind of estranged from them so I doubt it.

  2. The short answer on how we broke up is that Bianca cheated on us. Maybe. It’s not a short answer after all. As with so much in the relationship, there’s a long story behind it, but I’ll tell it now to describe a bit of the heroic measures that kept our relationship afloat (or not).

Alison and I lived together. This rankled Bianca who felt she should be living with us too. She felt she was the secondary in the relationship. (And my God you did NOT use that word around her. Biggest fight in our whole relationship started that way.) So Bianca would use various guilt trips and rules and self-destructive behaviors to win other concessions from us. That was how Bianca finally wrangled a platonic date from me, something I thought Alison would never agree to. Honestly if Bianca hadn’t gone off the deep end right after that, that might have been the end of Alison and me…after endless “no I’m fine” s from Alison it became clear she wasn’t so fine with the date and things were tenser than usual. After that there was a lot of sniping between them and I would hear it from Alison then get long, emotional texts from Bianca. I spent days trying to patch up things.

That finally ended with Bianca saying “well I don’t need Alison anyway. I can have fun somewhere else.” Oh what did you mean by that B? “Well you know I get invited to parties and they always like to have another girl around and…” Yeah I don’t remember the rest of that text. I called her immediately and said a lot of things I shouldn’t have said, but the gist of it was, geez Bianca, you were the one who wanted to fluid bond*, now you’re insinuating that? Oh no no no she said, I was just saying I COULD go to those kinds of parties. She wasn’t particularly convincing in her denials and she kept digging herself a deeper hole. To be honest I still am not sure if she cheated or not, or if she brought it up for yet another power play. By that point I’d been through so much I didn’t care.

I STILL couldn’t get Alison to agree to break things off though. Fortunately Bianca helped out by randomly accessing US of cheating soon afterwards. Then I had no problem convincing Alison that not only she’d cheated but she was trying destroy our relationship (between A and me) and Alison sent a “fuck off and die” message that day. I never heard from Bianca again, although Alison received a couple of teary apologies. In other words, it ended as badly as it had progressed at times.

*Yes, this means what it sounds like. Basically “we’re only going to be with each other so protections can be dispensed with.”

No questions for you (yet), Cognoscant, but thanks for starting this thread. It’s very enlightening.

How old were each of you? Was this Allison and Bianca’s first poly relationship? Did you (and/or they, individually or as a group) do any research, talk to other poly people, try to learn the rules of the road? Any counseling involved?

It sounds like a pretty horrible dysfunctional relationship, honestly. And I say that as a polyamorous person, so I’m not at all judging the orientation/lifestyle. But it sounds like y’all really could have benefited from some friendships and advice from other poly people. I’m sorry this particular relationship was the one poly experience you got. :frowning:

I am also sorry this was your only experience with Polyamory. I can say wholeheartedly that Poly relationships can be beautiful experience as long as there is total honesty among everyone involved. Score keeping, lack of communication, or using Polyamory as an attempt to fix a relationship will not go well.

Certain personalities are not suited for Polyamory. Jealousy is a natural emotion, however there must be full communication of each person’s needs in order to avoid unhappiness. I wish the three of you could have had Poly friends (like WhyNot said) to answer your questions.

For anyone curious about Polyamory, there is a really cool website here.

Was everyone having sex together as a group, or were you all having one on one sex with each other?

Before I answer this, I should say one thing. From what I seemed to find on polyamory message boards, about half of the people there would say “Polyamory has nothing to do with swinging! It’s about love and relationships and learning to share one’s life with others!”. The other half met their partners through swinging. Alison and I met Bianca through the latter pathway. Maybe I’ll talk about how we–neither of whom had ever swung either–got to that point, but long story short we went out looking to couples swap and ended up in a triad with Bianca.

How did that happen? As with so much in the relationship, it was Bianca’s idea. She was seeing a guy I’ll call Dave. Honestly I’m not sure what they were looking for, but they looked nice to us and we wrote to them and about three other couples. Only they wrote back. (Bianca liked my writing style! This all started because of that!) The four of us met in a bar, we hit it off and decided to meet up later elsewhere. Ugh, this just sounds so sleazy. Anyway that encounter was a little disappointing. But Bianca wanted to try again. The second time Bianca and I hit it off hugely. I mean we just clicked together like I had never clicked with anyone. Even Alison and Dave were a little in awe. At one point Bianca, who had been so fastidious about safe sex to the point that we all washed our hands every few minutes too, suggested to me that maybe she would like to engage in an activity that did not involve safe sex (I’m not sure how to make that any less graphic).

Ugh that all just seems so sleazy. Kind of cringeworthy looking back. Anyway, Alison had enjoyed her time with Bianca but not so much with Dave. I told her what Bianca had said, I’m not sure why. I thought Alison would flip out. Instead she seemed intrigued. “How do you think she will make that happen?” We talked about it. We sort of came to the conclusion that Bianca wanted some kind of closer relationship to me, and Alison seemed a little disappointed.

Some time later Bianca texted us back and invited us to her place for a “non sex date” (it was). There we met up with her and Dave. When Dave left the room she kind of leaned towards us and said, hey, things aren’t going well between me and Dave but I’ve fallen for you two, how about we start something? It really was just like that. It took us about two months to set boundaries and disassociate with Dave ( Bianca claimed she invited him into the relationship too but he was not interested). Alison agreed to it right away, which shocked me. I was the one who needed more time to think about it. I’m not sure she and I discussed it for more than an hour. Within a week we were ordering polyamory guides on Amazon and referring to “our girlfriend”. It happened so fast. We were just so naive.