I'm in love with a man who is pathologically poly. He has to have new sex partners constantly, and as soon as the NRE wears off, he gets bored with the new puppies & kicks them to the curb. I've come to resent the new playthings deeply and I want to warn them all away. I want to explain to them that I've been there, that I remember falling for this man who makes you his intense focus, for a while, and that's deeply romantic and and addicting. But after the shiny wears off, he'll lose interest in the fluffy new puppy and she'll be the old dog chained in the backyard with the rest of us, watching her master go off and play with the next new puppy. Those of us who have stuck around hate the new ones and barely tolerate each other. But I love this man, so I can't leave.
This is a paraphrase of something I've heard many times over the years. The posts are usually dripping with resentment, bitterness, and anger, and usually all directed at the poor metamours. Pointing out that the bitter "old dog" should just leave if she's not happy with her relationship only results in her defending her decision to stay by insisting that she loves him, all the while complaining that he's a "sex addict" or NRE junkie, or some other derogatory thing that makes him sound like a bad guy & her his victim.
A lot of people take the tactic of sympathizing with the poster, saying that the guy sounds like a royal asshat & she should get out while she can. This is, of course, assuming that the picture the poster has painted is even close to accurate. But his royal asshatness is usually not present to defend his side of the story.
Now, I'm not going to disagree with anyone who takes the position that the posters in these scenarios are in bad situations and should get the fuck out. If their partners are as callous & compulsive as it sounds, or even half as bad, they definitely should GTFO. And, frankly, there are people like that. We've all heard the stories of assholes who use the label "polyamory" to justify, what is essentially an excuse to fuck around without compassion or consideration for who he hurts in the process.
(Also, I'm going to stick with the gendered pronouns to make it easier to follow my ramblings - but any gender can be any player in the hypothetical scenario I'm describing).
I have tried to step back from the details themselves when posting responses, and just address the emotions. Here we have one person who is expressing extreme distress at a relationship partner's behaviour, and two people who appear to want different things out of the relationship they are in. Regardless of who is right or wrong, or who is seeing clearly or not, if you're that unhappy in a relationship, then this is not the right relationship for you.
I want to exempt from this analysis any scenario that actually makes it, for all practical purposes, impossible to leave - shared kids that the spouse has threatened to steal, some sort of financial or legal entanglement that can't be separated, whatever. Let's just leave it at people who are in the poster's position who say they can't leave only because they "love" their alleged-sex-addict partner too much to leave.
Basically, when one person is as miserable in a relationship as these posters express that they are, I see two possible solutions: 1) Talk to the other partner & renegotiate the relationship so that the miserable partner gets more of the relationship that they want; 2) leave the relationship (which may be *step
* 2 instead of option 2, if #1 doesn't work).
Yes, I *know
* it's terrifying / heartbreaking / difficult / painful / awful to leave a relationship - even one that is making you unhappy. I've certainly overstayed my own share of broken relationships because the idea of losing him, or of being alone, made me feel bad. That doesn't change the fact that it's what needs to be done. Cunning Minx's most recent Poly Weekly
podcast called "I Hate My Metamour" actually brushed on this very subject. It's hard, it's scary, it sucks to think of being alone & starting over.
Do it anyway.
But I actually want to address this issue from the other perspective for a moment. I don't often do this because 1) the other person in the story isn't around to hear me anyway, and 2) the person making these sorts of pleas for help never appreciate hearing what I'm about to say because they're currently hurting and what I'm about to say is not flattering to someone already in pain.
If I were the "sex addict" in the story, and I heard that this was how my partner thought of me, I would be appalled - at my partner. This would make me lose all respect & caring feelings for my partner to know how resentful she felt towards me & how much she hated my other partners. And I would want to ditch the poster if I knew this is how she felt about me.
There are a couple of reasons why the NRE Junkies in the stories might feel that way. This may be a wake-up call for some people, who don't realize how much they are hurting their partners. But my observations suggest to me that the more likely reaction is to become defensive about one's behaviour. Either the Junkie really is an NRE Junkie, & they're likely to dig in their heels & try to justify what they're doing with "well, you knew the rules when you signed on, so tough shit", or they really aren't an NRE Junkie and this is just a typical reaction from a monogamous cowboy who was not honest with either her partner or herself about what she wanted in a relationship.
I hear stories about "sex addict polys", and I see things just a little differently than how they're painted in the story. The reason is because I have often been on the receiving end of "sex addict" accusations. I have had people mad at me for taking new lovers, or even just wanting to, and I have been accused of being a sex addict, of being uncaring towards my partners, of having some "need" for NRE. And as the person currently residing inside the head of someone being so accused, those accusations are just baffling.
I have the lowest sex drive of anyone I've ever met who doesn't actually identify as "asexual" (which I don't, because I do occasionally desire sex). I can go months, even years, without feeling any particular desire for sex or sexual activity. And I really don't like NRE.
I tend not to like my partners going through NRE because I know how fleeting & unstable it is and they so often don't so they usually end up doing things that I hate, like him mistaking the rush of hormones for proof that we're "meant to be", making the long-term plans like marriage & cohabiting before we really knew each other, etc.
But I also don't actually like the feeling of NRE itself. To me, NRE is kind of like being drunk. I know a lot of people who enjoy getting drunk & feel no remorse afterwards (even if they do feel hangovers). I also know a lot of people who like getting drunk but who feel bad about it or the things they do afterwards. I never liked even the idea of getting drunk. I have never been drunk, but the descriptions sound awful to me, even when someone is telling me what they think are the good parts about it. I have been on various sorts of medication whose effects match the descriptions I have been given of being drunk, and I hated every minute of it, even while I might have been laughing at the time. I do not like NRE.
It's kind of like being tickled. Apparently some people really enjoy the feeling. I'm one of the many who hate the feeling of being tickled, even if my automatic response is to do something approximating a laugh. It's the same feeling as the one those who enjoy being tickled feel, but to them it's pleasant and to me it's torture. Being drunk and NRE are torture for me like tickling is torture. And I do not say that as hyperbole. It. Is. Not. Pleasant.
But I like being in relationships. I'm not afraid to be in relationships. And I view the outcome of a relationship as being proportional to the amount put into it. So once I've decided to be in one, I jump wholeheartedly into it. And when the other person is going through NRE, whether I am or not, sometimes that means that the person I thought I was getting into a relationship with isn't the person I end up in a relationship with (because they're putting on the NRE best-face that people do), and the relationship I thought I was getting into turns out not to be the kind of relationship the other person wants. So I've had a pretty long string of short-term relationships - almost exclusively with people who either did not want the same kind of relationship I wanted, or who did not want a relationship with me, but instead with a person they were hoping I would be.
So, to a person who really, in their heart of hearts, doesn't really want a poly relationship or believes it's something people do only until they find The One, my having a series of relationships that end fairly quickly becomes another point in their confirmation bias that I'm only in it for the NRE, because they don't understand the other factors involved.
I have someone who I have gradually come to call "my stalker". We've known each other since we were in grade school. He decided the moment we met that I was his One True Love. Thanks to fucked up books & movies like Twilight
(not that Twilight
was around back then, but it's an easy example to give), I thought this was romantic. When he pursued me relentlessly through our teens & into adulthood, I still thought this was romantic and it was definitely an ego boost, particularly when I had just been dumped or had been single for a while.
Even after I learned that he used to sit on my front lawn at night, watching my bedroom window while I slept, I still thought it was romantic. I didn't learn just how creepy that was until much later. I refused to date him because, although I didn't know I was poly at the time, I knew I was still looking for *something
*, and I didn't want to repay his devotion to me with any sort of pain or betrayal that I was sure I would inflict while I kept "looking" for whatever it was I hadn't found yet.
There's a country song whose basic theme is that a guy changes his answering machine message with "I'll be doing this thing until this date, and if this is Austin, I still love you" for years. The girl is amazed at his level of devotion & after a string of broken romances, finally decides that a man who is that devoted to her is worth loving. Crap like this is what made me finally give him a chance. Plus, he was hot & I was single. And I didn't understand how coercion, "settling", and the "wear her down" technique were all abuse tactics.
At this point, I had discovered polyamory, and I spent about a year trying to explain to him what it was and how I felt. The whole "it's possible to love two people at once" concept and everything. Finally, he said he understood, so we started dating.
The short story is that he was fucking miserable the whole time, which made me miserable. We just did not want the same things out of a relationship. We broke up, but remained friends for another decade. During which time, we had the same conversation, about once a year. He swore to me that I was his One, I reminded him that I was poly, he wanted me to "give up trying to fill some emptiness with an endless string of men" & find happiness with just him, I tried to explain that my life was not actually a revolving door and that I didn't feel empty but that I finally felt happy, he would recant & say he understands poly now and could I give him another chance, I would really drive home all my poly talking points yet again to make him face the fact that I *loved someone other than him
*, and he would break down crying and asking why I couldn't love him.
I finally had enough. I finally learned that this was not actually romance, that this was a serious problem and that he needed to get over me and find someone else who would love him the way he wanted to be loved. Or, failing that, maybe some psychiatric attention. I had not yet read the book Why Does He Do That
by Lundy Bancroft, so I didn't recognize all of this as abuse, but I finally recognized that I couldn't keep having that same conversation anymore. So the last time we had this conversation, I told him that he was never to bring up the subject of us dating again. The consequence for bringing it up was to lose all contact with me entirely and forever.
So we drifted apart (because, apparently, if he couldn't beg me to get back together, he didn't have much else to say to me), and if it wasn't for Facebook, I wouldn't have had any contact with him in several years now. Except for 2 emails he sent me, one of which is relevant to this whole story. He went back to school, and in his creative writing class, he wrote a story about his perspective of our relationship over the years. He said that he knew there was no hope for us, but that he thought I would want to read his story and see how things looked to him.
All my years of knowing this person, all our conversations, all our arguments, all our letters, and I still didn't know just how different his perception of me was until I read something he wrote that he did not intend for me to read when he wrote it. After YEARS of talking about how much I loved my very few concurrent partners (4 being the most number simultaneously, but 2 at a time being the more common number), how much happier I was in poly relationships, how devoted I was to them, how I felt I was building futures & lives & families with these people, and also how important it was to me that my partners had other partners in part because I didn't have the sex drive to be *anyone's
* only partner, let alone several people's only partner, he still never got it.
In his paper, the image he had of me, after all these years, was still a person who shied away from intimacy, who was "promiscuous", who filled some emotional gap with a variety of casual sexual partners, and who kept people at arms-length to protect herself from hurt.
* this person he was writing about? It couldn't have been me! How could anyone hear me talk about my loves and not hear the depth of my emotion, or the severity of the heartache when it ended? How could anyone know me in person for any length of time - hell, how could anyone *date
* me and not know my sexual limitations? Where was he when I poured my heart out to him over the phone for all those years? How is it even possible for someone with even a cursory peek into my life to be unaware of my heart's desire?
Because he never fully saw me. From day one, he never *saw me
*. At first, I was an idol, a work of art, put on a pedestal to be worshiped, too perfect to touch and only safe to view from a distance. Later, I was a TV sitcom character, a personality written the way the writer wanted her to be & layered over the actor regardless of how she felt in real life, but able to be brought into the home via the airwaves, able to spend time with & pretend to get to know. And finally, I was a stick figure drawing - two dimensional, empty, heartless.
For all that he professed his love for me for decades, he didn't seem to know me very well, nor did he seem to really like me very much.
He was not the only person in my past to do this, but his story was the most dramatic, the most long-term delusional. So when I hear stories about these supposed-poly sex addicts, these NRE Junkies, from people who also claim to be in love with them and who won't leave these people who are hurting them so, I'm reminded of my stalker. And I have to question just how accurate their perception of their lover is, or of his motivations. Maybe sometimes they're completely accurate. Maybe even most of the time the people making these complaints are completely and absolutely accurate.
But having been someone who had partners who saw me in the same disdainful, resentful, bitterly angry way as these posters see their own partners, it's really hard not to feel contempt for the *posters
*, rather than the alleged NRE Junkies. It's really hard for me not to be contemptuous and disgusted by someone who claims to love a person they describe with such anger and resentment. It's really hard for me to feel very much sympathy for people who feel such bitter feelings about another person but who won't leave the person they seem to hate so much. It's really, really hard to be hated and resented that much by someone who claims to love me.
And it's really hard to see that as "love" at all.
As any member of the LGBTQ community can tell you, "hate the sin, love the sinner" is a hollow, empty, painful definition of "love" that many of us would prefer to do without. It does not feel like "love" at all for someone to say they "love" me but hate everything I do, everything I hold dear, or who I am down to my very core, as polyamory is to me. People keep saying that word, "love". I do not think it means what they think it means. I don't recognize that bitter, resentful, disgusted emotion they describe as "love".
So I write this here, rather than respond directly to the dozens, probably hundreds, of people who have made online posts like this over the years. They are genuinely hurting, and me telling them that I am disgusted by them while they are in the middle of their pain and reaching out for help is not productive for them. I stick with the "you're obviously unhappy, this relationship doesn't seem to be the type of relationship you want, I think you will be happier if you look elsewhere" line, because it's true and it's more helpful.
But maybe one of these so-called sex addicts will stumble across this article someday and see their situation reflected in my story. And maybe this will help them to make the courageous decision to cut someone loose who feels tied to them and unhappy about it. Or maybe they have been harboring similar feelings to mine of disgust and resentment of my partner's obvious dislike of me renamed as "love" and they feel guilty for having those resentful feelings - after all, if their partner can feel such resentment and still love them, then shouldn't they hold on to the "love" part & ignore their own bad feelings too? No, I don't think so.
Or maybe one of these resentful posters will stumble across this post and, since it's not a direct response to their specific post, they will be more open to hearing it, and therefore be made aware of how much their resentment may be poisoning the very relationship they refuse to let go of. Maybe they're not aware that all this anger & resentment can make their partner feel angry & resentful back. Maybe they're not aware that they aren't the only ones in the relationship who is looking on their partners with disgust and contempt. And maybe they'll learn to change their perspective or maybe they'll talk to their partners to renegotiate a more equitable relationship or maybe they'll finally get the courage to leave & find someone who wants the same thing they want out of a relationship.