In the last three months, I’ve been cheating on my husband (more consistently) with an old flame from over a decade ago. The old flame is in an open marriage and so it was always safe for me because there were no expectations and I didn’t have to commit. The problem is NOW I want to commit to the old flame and my current husband. I can love both (a once proclaimed serial monogamous person) — and I think I am coming out. By the way, sadly I have never been monogamous in a relationship. I am for a while but then I get out because I need something more or else. I love to flirt and I love sex.
Here’s the issue — my husband is NOT interested in open anything and he wouldn’t even want to meet an old boyfriend as a “friend.” So that’s that. Then my married old flame loves me (he really does) but is very conflicted (because he thinks it’s amoral to love two people at the same time) — even though we are extremely close in every way. He revealed that he doesn’t love his wife anymore but staying out of loyalty (she doesn’t work) and for his kid. He has been retreating and advancing for years but came on really strong this time — so much that I have opened up completely. Now as I am expanding my heart and mind, he’s in conflict and turning me off with his lack of communication (and uncharacteristically giving me as little as possible). In my mind, I’m like Jesus Christ, gimme a break! I don’t know what to do…I’ve got two relationships where I’m not fulfilled. In the perfect world, I want them both.
So first question — How do I tell my husband that I need more without having him divorce me? (I have a small child.) Are there resources for tools? He’s a beautiful soul, great friend and father! I couldn’t ask for a better partner.
Second — How do I tell my old flame that he needs to love me for real or else I am not hanging around? I love him a lot but I’m not a doormat. I’ve loved him from the first time I met him over a decade ago. (He was married then and I was his first open partner.) I really hate to end things with either because I can think of this arrangement only now with them. Only my old flame could get me to open up from my monogamous marriage (as far as I know).
Third — am I crazy ? Meaning… am I asking too much from these folks, the universe? I love the companionship and friendship of one but I crave the sensuality and powerfulness of the other.
Crazy in Love
Dear Crazy in Love,
You certainly have gotten yourself in a pickle, relationship-wise. I’m guessing that the main reason you got married is that, like many people, you didn’t think polyamory was a legitimate choice, even though it seems you know that lifelong monogamy isn’t for you. What I can tell you is that polyamory can work, but it’s hard when you’ve made choices that entrench you in a monogamous situation. So let’s take this one step at a time.
First, you can start by explaining to your husband that, for whatever reason, you weren’t completely honest with him when you married him because you knew even then that lifelong monogamy wasn’t for you. But perhaps you loved him enough to think that you could change for him and you now realize that you can’t change who you are. But instead of a divorce, you want to work through this together, and he should listen to you at least for the sake of your child.
Ideal marriages are those where both parties can continue to grow, rather than holding each other back. Explain that this is the kind of marriage that you want. There are several books on polyamory, but I personally think it’s best to talk with other people in similar situations, so find a poly group near you to get support for yourself and your husband. You might also seek out a poly-friendly therapist for couples counseling.
Second, tell your old flame that there’s nothing amoral about loving two or more people, just like you can love both a mother and a father, or any number of siblings. Love is love, period. But even so, he says he doesn’t love his wife anymore, so what’s his problem with loving you now?
What IS immoral (in my opinion) is the act of lying to the people you claim to love. That takes away their ability to consent to a relationship by failing to disclose pertinent facts about said relationship. When a relationship is non-consensual, it cannot be moral.
Polyamory is often described as ethical non-monogamy, emphasis on ethical. So you’re not “crazy” for wanting more love in your life but sneaking around and deceiving the people you love isn’t the answer. You have the right to live without someone else controlling you, but you also have responsibilities to your husband and to your child, based on the promises you’ve made to them. Finding that balance between your freedom to love and your responsibilities to others is what relationshipping is all about. It’s hard work, but there’s nothing more rewarding when you can get it right.
Leon, over to you!.
Congratulations on identifying your needs, and finding people to meet them! Those are two very important keys to healthy relationship building. Unfortunately, the next prerequisite is going to prove to be more challenging: making sure that your partners’ needs are being met as well.
You’re not asking too much of the universe to get your needs met, but you might be asking too much of your current partners. Statements like “loving two people at once is amoral” and “won’t consider an open relationship” sound like pretty clear conflicts to your ideal. You’ll have to change their understandings and convictions somehow, or you won’t get your happy ending.
It’s quite likely these people are too ingrained in their lives and roles to be able – or want – to change to fit your ideal. Besides, you’ve been cheating on one for years and aren’t on the same page with the other (btw, now that you’re emotionally available he’s backing off? Sounds like there are more issues there than you know or admit) – you’ll need to do some behavior management on yourself, before you can realistically expect any from anyone else.
You’re probably going to have to do some game theory analysis. How much of your current jerry-rigged situation are you willing to risk in order to get all your needs met? Honesty is the best policy and likely the only way to potentially get everyone on the same page – Mischa outlines some excellent suggestions – but either situation could blow up in your face and leave you with less than you have now.
In a likely worst-case scenario, I imagine you’d probably be able to start honest relationships with new partners as a divorcee with an ex-husband with whom you share custody and who loves and cares for your child. You certainly wouldn’t be the first to realize that divorce might actually be a desirable option, rather than the last resort for pariahs and “failures”.
By the way, do you find it ironic that you are derisively looking at your old flame’s staying with his wife out of loyalty and family responsibilities despite them not being compatible, in much the same way that he is probably looking at you?