In addition to my husband, I have a boyfriend, B, I have been dating for the past 11 months. B identifies as monogamous. He knew the deal completely when we started dating. I do not practice prescribed hierarchy, so I do my best to prioritize my marriage and my relationship with B as best as I can. I love B very, very much. It’s a charged, passionate, fun relationship, unlike any other I have ever been in. I see a long-term future with him and my husband concurrently.
However, we have a small issue.
His ex, the woman he has dated off and on since he was 15 (so roughly over a decade) is moving to our city. He has no clue what he wants with her, if anything at all. They have had minimal contact the last two years or so. I am anxious because what I know from their relationship is she was emotionally abusive. Some examples include she got married behind his back without telling him, she made him listen on the phone while she attempted suicide several times, she would withhold communication, she would tear him down verbally, etc., etc.
Now I would have no issue whatsoever with him dating someone else, but I have a boundary that I will not date someone who is in an abusive relationship. He is aware of my boundary. I do not believe in ultimatums or rules, and we have talked extensively about this. It’s causing me huge anxiety because he says things like “I don’t know what will happen when she moves here” and “I’m worried about having her back in my life” as if he has no control over his feelings/desire to date her. I agree that we do have little control over our emotions, but our thoughts and actions are all ours. He also reiterates that he is madly in love with me and wants to be with me.
My anxiety is at an all-time high. I am the kind of person who once I break up with someone, I cut off all contact. I cannot for the life of me figure out why he is even entertaining the idea of speaking to her at all. I also feel he is very anxious and I want to be there for him and reassure him that I am willing to work through this, but not at the expense of my own mental health. I do not want to lose him, but I also can’t be with someone who is in an abusive relationship, full stop.
Any ideas/suggestions? — Anxious and Poly
PS: My husband, myself, and all of our partners are intentionally child-free and plan on staying that way; IUDs, birth control, condoms, vasectomies are all used, as well as frequent STI/STD screening.
I would be anxious, too! B is someone who spent ten years on and off with someone who did not prioritize his feelings or their relationship, who took advantage of his trust and his vulnerability, and to whom he has not completely severed ties. And now he is in a relationship with you that, even despite your open communication and your obvious love and concern for him, is not wholly balanced or equal. You are polyamorous and married while he is monogamous and committed only to you. Even without his history, I might worry that eventually he would tire of not being your sole love while you are his. Of course, every relationship carries risk of pain and hurt feelings though, right? And if there aren’t red flags, most of us proceed with that understanding and decide to cross the bridge of potential pain if and when we get to it, hoping that the joy the relationship brings is worth that risk.
But with B, his history and his present suggest a potential pattern — and it’s a pattern that waves a red flag you can’t ignore. His two major relationships — or at least the only two you mention, which span 11 of the past 12 years — have been with women who, for different reasons and through different means, have not been monogamous with him while he identifies as monogamous himself. And there have been signs in both relationships that he isn’t 100% satisfied with the arrangement (the “off and on” nature of his past relationship and now the fact that he’s entertaining thoughts of his ex while with you). Of course, you have been nothing but honest and open about your polyamorous status. With you, he knows exactly what he’s getting, and… maybe that’s the draw for him. Maybe pursuing a relationship with you is a direct response to his relationship with his ex.
I would not necessarily jump to this conclusion if it weren’t for his continued contact with this woman and now his wishy-washy stance on her move to your town, saying he doesn’t know what will happen when she moves there and feeling worried about having her back in his life. Obviously, he never shut the door on their relationship or he wouldn’t have these feelings now. And if he never completely shut the door on their relationship, it makes the pattern of women he chooses to date even more significant. It makes his choice in dating YOU, specifically, very significant. And that is what would particularly worry me if I were you — that at least on some subconscious level he chose you specifically because of your lifestyle and because of the kinds of unique relationship boundaries you offer.
The unique relationship boundaries you offer give him the permission to pursue something with someone else, and so the freedom to reconnect with an ex, for example, is inherent. The unique relationship boundaries you offer also give him the kind of knowledge that he lacked with his ex: he knows the score with you. There are no surprises. He isn’t going to be caught off-guard if you marry someone else behind his back… because he already knows you’re married. There is safety and security in being with you in a way he did not have with his ex. The flip of that though, as you are experiencing, is that you aren’t getting the same sense of security in return.
Whether monogamous or polyamorous, serious or casual — we all deserve to feel the same sense of security and commitment in a relationship that we are able to offer in return. That doesn’t mean that the identities of two partners have to match. I’m sure there are plenty of relationship success stories between people who differ in terms of being monogamous and polyamorous – we’ll hear more about them in a Women Discuss post I am currently working on! — but I would imagine the thing they all have in common is that all partners’ needs are equally met a majority of the time. Right now your need to feel secure in your relationship is not being met, and there’s a glaring red flag that is directly related to the anxiety you’re feeling.
I know you don’t believe in ultimatums, but that shouldn’t preclude you from ending a relationship that continues to leave you feeling anxious if there’s no end in sight to the anxiety. So my advice is if your boyfriend cannot give you answers that satisfy you — if he can’t close the door on his abusive ex once and for all, it’s probably time to MOA.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.