Dan Savage: Problems with Polyamory 

"Sloppy seconds," a miserable wife, and more.

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I'm a 25-year-old woman currently in a poly relationship with a married man roughly 20 years my senior. This has by far been the best relationship I've ever had. However, something has me a bit on edge. We went on a trip with friends to a brewery with a great restaurant. It was an amazing place, and I'm sure his wife would enjoy it. He mentioned the place to her, and her response was NO, she didn't want to go there because she didn't want to have "sloppy seconds." It made me feel dirty. Additionally, the way he brushed this off means this isn't the first time. I go out of my way to show him places I think they would like to go together. I don't know if my feelings are just hurt or if it's a reminder of my very low place in their hierarchy. I hesitate to bring this up, because when I have needs or concerns, they label me as difficult or needy. Is this part of a bigger trend I'm missing? Should I do anything to address this or just continue to stay out of their business and go where I wish with my partner?

—Treated With Outrage

I'm having a hard time reconciling these two statements, TWO: "This has by far been the best relationship I've ever had" and "when I have needs or concerns, they label me as difficult or needy." I suppose it's possible all your past relationships have been so bad that your best-relationship-ever bar is set tragically low. But taking a partner's needs and concerns seriously is one of the hallmarks of a good relationship.

That said... It's entirely possible that you share your needs and concerns in a way that comes across as — or actually is — needy and difficult. I would need to depose your boyfriend and his wife to make a determination and issue a ruling.

That said... It's a really bad sign that your boyfriend's wife compared eating in a restaurant you visited with him to fucking a hole that someone else just fucked, i.e., "sloppy seconds." It has me wondering whether your boyfriend's wife is really into the poly thing. Some people are poly under duress (PUD), i.e., they agreed to open up a marriage or relationship not because it's what they want, but because they were given an ultimatum. PUDs who don't come around will engage in small acts of sabotage to signal their unhappiness. The most common form of PUD sabotage? Making their primary partner's secondary partner(s) feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

That said... As you (probably) know (but if you don't, you're about to find out), poly relationships have all kinds of rules. If one of their rules is "My wife doesn't want to hear from or about my girlfriend," then your restaurant recommendations are going to fall flat. Being poly means navigating rules and juggling multiple people's feelings, needs, and concerns. You have to show respect for their rules, TWO, as they are each other's primary partners. But your boyfriend and his wife have to show respect for you, too. And if their rules make you feel disrespected, unvalued, or too low on the hierarchical poly totem pole, you should dump them.

My wife said she didn't care who I slept with soon after we met. At the time, I didn't want to sleep with anyone else. But we eventually became monogamish. After a couple years of playing together with others in private and in clubs, she said she wanted to open our relationship. I got a girlfriend, had fun until the new relationship energy (NRE) wore off, and ended things. Then my wife got a great job on the other side of the state and I stayed behind to get our house into a sellable state. Right now, we see each other only on weekends. I also got a new girlfriend. The NRE wore off, but we still really like each other, and we've discussed being long-distance secondaries once the move is complete. Here's the problem: Last night, my wife confessed to me that being in an open relationship was making her miserable. My wife is the most important person in my life, and I don't want to do anything to hurt her. But my wife told me not to break up with my girlfriend. I don't want to string my girlfriend along and tell her everything is fine — but my wife, who doesn't want to be poly anymore, is telling me not to break up with my girlfriend. What do I do?

— Dude Isn't Content Knowing Priority Is Crushingly Sad

Your wife may want you to dump your girlfriend without having to feel responsible for your girlfriend's broken heart, DICKPICS, so she tells you she's miserable and doesn't want to be poly anymore, and then tells you not to end things. Or maybe this is a test: Dumping a girlfriend you didn't have to dump would signal to your wife that she is, indeed, the most important person in your life and that you will prioritize her happiness even when she won't. Or maybe she's watched you acquire two girlfriends without landing a boyfriend of her own.

But there's a middle ground between dumped and not dumped, DICKPICS: Tell your girlfriend what's going on and put the relationship on hold. Get the house sold, get your ass to your wife, and keep talking until you figure out what is going to work for your wife going forward: completely closed, open but only to sexual adventures you two go on together, i.e., "playing together with others in private and in clubs," or open with GFs (and BFs) allowed. Good luck. 

mail@savagelove.net

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