When people hear that we all live together and are all in love, their thoughts turn pretty immediately to sex–whether it’s about jealousy regarding sex, or what sort of sexual configurations do or don’t exist in our house or, more negatively, that we are hedonistic sex-fiends who should be ashamed of ourselves. Any of these people might have been shocked to learn that, for a trio of lovers, there wasn’t very much physical loving going on. In fact, sometimes for months, there was none at all.
This is not to say that we were unloving. We were warm and kind with each other, and there was plenty of positive touching — foot-rubs while watching TV, snuggling in bed — but the deed itself was hardly ever done. When a couple of us did manage to naturally fall into bed with one another, the other one was often hurt — and for one or more of many varied reasons.
Imagine the jealousy first (because it’s been weeks since you’ve been with either of them), followed by self-deprecation as you realize that, hey, you’re being silly. They both love you and want you and didn’t do what they did to hurt you. Why are you so upset? Isn’t this part of what you signed up for?
Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re not cut out for this. Maybe you’re too selfish — you want two people, but you can’t handle sharing. Or maybe you have a right to be upset, because this means that they’re more natural together and you’re just an add-on. Maybe the way you feel is actually how things are: you’re extra, you’re an after-thought, you’re the third wheel. They actually like each other and seek each other out; you get penciled in.
Next step, of course, is to share that you have these feelings. I’ve written before about how important it is to be honest about everything in a polyamorous relationship, and this absolutely includes voicing your insecurity — ESPECIALLY when you think you’re being stupid, melodramatic, or crazy. In fact, if you find yourself thinking “this is stupid,” you should immediately ear-mark the notion that triggered that response for sharing out loud. Odds are that it isn’t stupid and, even if it is, if you keep it to yourself it will slowly break down the relationships it concerns. Don’t let a so-called stupid thing ruin the biggest part of your life: your relationship with your loves. Say it, even if you must preface it with “I know this is nothing/lame/weird, but…”
Having said that (ha-ha), your problems don’t end there. Now there’s this worry about you. Can we, over here, be as confident and comfortable being with each other when it feels natural if that has made you upset in the past? No, probably not, because we love you and don’t want to hurt you. (But our worry is NOT YOUR FAULT, and never, ever let yourself stay silent because you don’t want to rain on our parade. Okay? That’s not fair to you, and we don’t like that. Not in our house, no, no.)
So now what? We’re awkward, you’re sad. Or, you guys are awkward and I’m sad. (It happened to each of us at different times regarding the other couple.) What do we do to fix it? Well, what we tried first was working in more time where the three of us could be intimate together, at once. It sure sounds like a good idea: let everyone be present, and pay attention to everyone else, and really develop a stronger sense of ourselves as a cohesive, loving, equal unit.
Except, we who were already feeling insecure brought those insecurities into the bedroom with us. Look at them, those people you love so dearly, interacting with each other. Why can’t they be like that spontaneously with you? Why can’t they manage to feel this way when you’re alone together? Is it you? Do they not like you as much? It’s not fair!
Our individual backstories and baggage make for some pretty valid insecurities when it comes to one not being liked as much as another. For me, it was really hard to feel like Other Husband could really want me (during a dry spell) because I knew that he had previously identified as gay. He has been married to women twice before in his life, and been with women in-between, but the knowledge that he had given up on relationships with women was always at the forefront of my mind. I remember him telling me he was not attracted to women, when he was beginning his relationship with Legal Husband. Later on in our relationship, he explained that he tells women that because he has hurt/disappointed his wives because his sexuality tends more toward men than women. “They’re not for you,” he would remind himself: “you only break them.”
Of course, our arrangement is perfect for him, and me, if I’m being logical. He gets to have an emotional/sexual relationship with a man AND a woman, and I don’t mind that he likes men, too (because I just don’t — see adolescent conditioning). But jealousy isn’t logical. When you’re sad, your mind goes for the sharpest memory first; in this case, it’s Other Husband saying he doesn’t like women, period. Ever. No.
Other Husband worries, in a dry spell, because Legal Husband and I have this established, years-longer relationship that existed before him. We have history — history alone together. He could be shut out by us, he fears. (Indeed, once he very truly was shut out. That’s another post, too.)
Legal Husband worries in a dry spell that he is boring to me, that he is old news. He worries that I am slipping away, and this means that he changes toward Other Husband.
Loving turns to fearing. We’ve all lashed out, and oftentimes at the person we’re not feeling insecure about. It’s a mess. We would get together to talk about it, over and over resolving to make more time to be together as couples, to make it balanced. As good and honest as our intentions were, it never panned out.
“We need schedules,” the men kept saying. It made me want to scream.
I am a hopeless romantic. I feel like that might seem oxymoronic when coupled (ha-ha) with my relationship status(es), but that is another post entirely. Let it suffice to say that, really, I am an idealist, a sentimentalist, and a hopeless, hopeless romantic. Before Other Husband, Legal Husband and I never planned dates. We just went on them. We didn’t plan sexy time, either; it just happened. I don’t NEED a schedule, I wanted to say, and they shouldn’t either. This should just happen, and if it can’t just happen then I was right all along and Other Husband obviously doesn’t want me at all and never wanted me and fuck it all I quit.
So we tried the schedule thing one week, sitting down on the previous Sunday to set some things down in stone. Each of us got a block of time on one day out of the week that would be just for two of us (one for LH and me, one for LH and OH, one for OH and me). I was prepared for the utilitarianism of it, the dryness, the feeling of being on the clock. I had accepted that it was not going to feel romantic. After weeks of misery without scheduling, I had come to the conclusion that maybe to have this wonderful little community also meant giving up something wonderful (equivalent exchange, that whole deal). Maybe spontaneity is the price. I was okay with giving up the romance, in the end, if it meant I could keep my family.
To my surprise, it was not unromantic at all. In fact, having a block of scheduled time was — get this — freeing. The block of time was not, in itself, scheduled. That is, we (the couple concerned) could do whatever we wanted, and nothing we didn’t, with each other. Sometimes we went out, sometimes we stayed in, and sometimes we had time enough to do both. It was our time, and we used it for all it was worth before rejoining with the third person for the rest of the day. And the third person didn’t feel sad, or left out, or bitter anymore because they either had just had couple time the other day, or knew exactly when their next couple time would be. What’s more, that upcoming date is never so far off as to be frustrating, since we plan weekly.
We’re getting even better about it. We’re learning when is and is not a good time-block for which couple (because of work stress, or moods that come on by the time of day, etc.). I am so embarrassed that it took me this long to let go of how my relationship with Legal Husband was before to experiment with it now (says the adventurous poly girl). Seriously. I was so unhappy without scheduling, and am so much happier now that we manage it this way.
It’s funny how we hang on to the current state of things, even when the current state of things sucks. Right?