Sometimes a relationship doesn’t work the way you think it will. Sometimes you go into something expecting it to look and feel a certain way, travel a certain path, and as you go, it turns out that is not what you (or the other person(s)) wanted after all. When that takes place in a monogamous partnership, it usually means the end of the relationship, or an awkward ‘let’s stay friends’ that may or may not ever take place. When it’s not the only relationship and it works for all parties, a transition to a different style or intensity can take place.
My experience in non-monogamy has involved more of these shifts than I expected it to. I think of myself as someone who knows my own mind and what I want, but there have been so many unexpected situations and feelings that have come up that show me frequently that I really don’t have a clue.
We jumped into a triad with Iris this year that was super fun and flirty and sexy. Whee! Feelings started to intensify, and that all felt really good. I was having romantic feels for a woman for the first time and exploring that part of my queer identity. The intensification of feelings continued over the next couple months and suddenly we had a weekly date night scheduled and I was beginning to panic. I fought that reaction because a) I knew the regular night was to simplify planning and scheduling for a busy mom and b) I didn’t want to be the monster that kept Iris and Flick apart due to my resistance to scheduling.
Trying to be something I’m not for other people worked about as well as you’d expect it to. It was perfect and we lived a happy perfect poly triad ever after!
Oh, wait. That’s not how it happened.
Instead, my emotional walls slammed up and I spent the next few months attempting to be present when I didn’t necessarily feel good about it and it showed in the experiences the three of us had together which regularly ended in awkwardness or tears. Sometimes I was able to drop my walls and we would all have a wonderful time and I would think that I was doing fine and when steps like group travel were suggested, I was on board. The rest of the time I just felt broken. I was beginning to wonder if I was on the autism spectrum due to my inability to feel what I thought I should be feeling.
Iris & Flick had their own regular thing and I encouraged them to see each other for fun and sex and kink both for their sake and because it took some of the pressure off me. I didn’t HAVE to be present for them to have time together.
Some relief came in the form of the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love by Amir Levine & Rachel Heller, which a few friends recommended and I recommend in turn (despite the self-helpyness of the subtitle). In it, I discovered that I have an avoidant attachment style and when people with anxious attachment styles try to get close to me, my avoidance is activated and my walls go up. Most importantly, I learned that although this is a dysfunctional pattern, it’s extremely normal.
I now understood why I was having so much resistance and began a mantra of ‘you’re not a broken robot, you’re avoidant’ but it didn’t stop me from having cold feelings for someone that I really liked and wanted to spend time with. The three of us continued to do things together which were sometimes incredibly fun, fulfilling, and sexy, such as our weekend getaway to the mountains in the summer, but were sometimes incredibly uncomfortable, tearful, and stressful, such as an ill-fated dinner date.
Things became progressively more awkward. I wasn’t able to feel fun and flirty anymore. I found myself having to think, ‘How would a human react to this?’ before replying to text messages. My walls were up nearly full-time, and I found myself saying to a friend, “I wish we could just rewind and stay with a ‘Friends with Benefits’ relationship.” The next day Iris messaged me about how wrong everything felt and we had an intense discussion, and many more tears, and decided to back right off.
One of the things we discussed was that perhaps the long distance relationships I have worked, not despite their distance, but because of their distance. I’m not overwhelmed by needing to see people on a regular basis with those partners so I don’t have the same resistances activating. She and I decided to have what is essentially a long distance relationship but locally, and decided that other than occasional encounters, we’re not trying to do a triad with the three of us engaging all the time. She and I have our thing, and she and Flick have theirs, and he and I have ours, but we’re not trying to wrap three people in a package that doesn’t fit us all in the same way at the same time.
It wasn’t easy. I felt extremely guilty for having done what felt like leading her on, though at the time when I’d suggested intensifying the relationship to her being our girlfriend, and introducing her to our friends, it felt really good. Even though I know where the feelings come from and though I know I can be a really kind and loving person, I still felt like a feelingless automaton incapable of love. Iris expressed that she felt terrible because she felt like she’d been violating my boundaries repeatedly by pushing against my walls, which I assured her she hadn’t because I’d been telling her that everything was good, desperately hoping to get back to the place where was.
Neither of us felt happy about how things had been going, but we knew how much we liked each other, and we knew we wanted to stay in each other’s lives, so we changed things up. We decided we could be FWBs who happen to love each other. That may not be typical but we get to make our own rules. It hasn’t been simple or easy, and life has thrown a pile more crap on the dumpster fire that is 2016, but we’re figuring it out as we go. Nothing is permanent and we can evolve our relationship into what works for us.
This weekend she’ll be joining us for brunch to get introduced to Flick’s mom, so onwards we go.