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The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Anatomy of a poly break up

I'm afraid that it's a rocky road ahead, so apologies in advance for sporadic posting and a complete lack of sexual exploits. I had hoped that after all the ups and downs with The Photographer, we might have come to a better, stronger place, but sadly that isn't the situation.

I also feel it worthy of comment that this is the first of my posts that has ever been sent over to someone else before going live. Because it is probably the most personal thing I've ever written about us, especially about him, so I wanted him to see what I was going to put. There have been a couple of changes from the original, but only in terms of "what actually happened" - nothing about what I thought or felt. That was hard in and of itself. After me, he is the person most exposed by what I write here and despite having reservations has been generally ok with the project, and perhaps I am not as sensitive as I could be to this fact. I was tempted to not put it up at all, because I didn't want to upset him. But I wasn't sure what the point of the blog would be then, if I didn't talk about this experience - if I only talked about the light and frothy side of BDSM rather than when things fuck up. And I couldn't write without saying what had happened. Warts and all. So here it is.

I've recently been congratulated on being variously "strong", "brave" and of "doing the right thing". These are all wonderful accolades, and come from folk who have been very loving and supportive of what has happened between myself and The Photographer. Which is why writing this feels so strange. Because I don't feel strong, or brave and I'm not especially convinced that I've done the right thing. Unconvinced because the whole thing is so painful and seems also so foolish - there was no argument, no terrible fight, yet here we both are, on other sides of an internet connection. Apart.

For me it's a very difficult time, I've never left anyone whilst still being in love with them, I've never really had my heart broken before and I am surprised to find that all those things I had scoffed at in films are turning out to be true. It is painful. Physically painful. And that pain is located in my heart: under my ribcage is a very sore place, it's almost like a panic attack - sometimes strong, sometimes abating for a while but always there. I'm scared and I keep on bursting into tears. In a way I'm really glad that I've managed this far without having to go through any of this and on another hand the cold, calculating bit of me is trying to get to grips with it, to understand it like any other experience I've written about here.

And I'm hoping, amongst other things, but more on that later, that by understanding what is happening it might feel better. I always reach for knowledge when I need solace, it was always a difference that was evident in our relationship - I found security in knowing the options, in having a plan or a list.
I usually pride myself on knowing what I'm doing - on being secure in my own mind and my own decisions. At the moment, I don't have any of that security. Which is ironic, because ongoing anxieties were the main reason why I couldn't continue in the relationship.

Let me take a step back. I've often refrained from discussing poly and the poly set up in the blog, partly because I wanted to keep a kink focus and partly because when touching on it I feel as if I'm interfering with someone who I don't want to make the subject of conversation - The Photographer's other partner. After all, she and I don't have a connection outside of him and she certainly hasn't agreed to be the subject of any internet related dissection. But also because I didn't want this to be a blog about poly relationships - I wanted it to be about interesting kinky adventures and my responses to them. Like a lot of things, time changes what they were initially meant to be and they become something else. So here it is: Poly, me and what came after.

I'm not a poly person. I thought though, that I might be able to be in a relationship with someone who was poly. And whilst the person is probably the most amazing partner I've ever had, who came along at a perfect time in my life, the poly lifestyle that he has makes it impossible for me to stay with him. I know that now, and I also know that I am unlikely to enter into any similar sort of set up again. I don't have the mindset, the desire or the emotional toolkit. I'm not going to apologise (although I do feel sorry, but that's not the same thing) because it's part of who I am.

The poly made me anxious, and that anxiety ate away at me. Little seeds of doubt, once planted, are very hard to get rid of. Questions that I wouldn't normally have to ask in a monogamous relationship cropped up. We agreed that we wanted to live together, however there was no clarity on what that life might look like - what sort of time commitments, what kind of space sharing? I felt sometimes pressured by requests to form a dialoge with his partner, because previous relationships had worked well when this had happened. I wasn't expected to become friends with her overnight, but to be able to talk, to be in the same space. And I couldn't do it. Didn't want to do it. I wasn't in a relationship with her, and we didn't move in the same circles. I only saw her when she was doing something with him. I didn't want to manufacture a relationship, but there was something else. I was forced to admit that in fact I was happiest when I could pretend that she didn't exist. When I could pretend, for all intents and purposes that it was a monogamous relationship and he had a very good friend who he visited and sometimes slept with. But that wasn't true, certainly wasn't healthy for any of us. And sometimes I remembered who she really was to him, inasmuch as I will ever understand it. I remembered that she was someone who he loved deeply, who he had been together with for a long, long time and who must know him so much better than I ever could. I felt dwarfed by that relationship - rendered insignificant.

I wanted to know what it was that I wasn't, what it was that I was up against. I viewed it as a competition, which to me it was, but not to anyone else. I thought of the two relationships as separate. Him and me. Him and her. I kept forgetting that for him, we were a three. And perhaps he also forgot that for me, we were two. There was a difference in how we viewed the relationship and I became on guard - looking to protect what I had against the unknown threat that she represented in my eyes: whatever he was getting from her must be something that I was unable to provide. If I could provide it, he wouldn't need her. So I tried hard. Really hard. To be everything in a partner that a person might want - I'm not saying that I did anything I didn't want to do, after all, the relationship with him was something deeply satisfying that I desperately wanted to continue. It wasn't the trying that was the problem. It was the fact that it didn't make any difference, because the only person in the competition was me. It wasn't something I could ever win at - I was never going to make him leave her no matter what I did. I could not make him fall out of love with her, or want to suddenly become monogamous with me any more than I could make myself be polyamorous, or comfortable with someone who was. But I did try.

When that didn't work, I tried to work alongside the setup, to try and boil down my anxieties into clear goals, reasons why I was worried about our relationship. I wrote a list. It started off as a short list, a simple checklist of what I wanted in a partner:

1) One main partner
2) Shared living space with that partner
3) A shared life with that partner - not just weekends here and there
4) Long term, permanent, till death do us part, looking after each through thick and thin type commitment
5) Publicly recognised, formally, by family and friends
6) With a big party to celebrate it
7) Kinky sex (lots of)

I sent it over to him. To my mind, if he could say yes to all of those things, then everything in the garden would be rosy. I waited. I had my ups and downs whilst I waited, but I also knew that these things couldn't be rushed, that thinking time was hard and people needed space to do it. After a couple of months I asked for a response and it was not what I had wanted. There was a lot of uncertainty - he didn't know. I felt let down, I was fairly angry with him, even after he explained how a lot of this was new to him and he was finding it difficult. He also explained that he'd been scared by what I'd written and felt unable to engage with it. I didn't understand what he meant at the time, part of me still doesn't. We have very different outlooks on life. The questions remained.

It all came to a head last week. A series of tensions drove him out of the house, despite me asking him not to leave and indeed, being terrified of him leaving. After a week we scheduled a time to talk. This time I wasn't going to walk away with anything less than the answers I wanted. I'd sent an extended version of the list, going through each point, then adding things I'd like him to talk to his partner about, so that I would know for definite, who they were to each other and what impact that would have on me. What X deducted from the 1 of him and me.

I got some answers that made me happy: that he wanted to live with me and share a life and a house with me. I got some that made me nervous, but that I thought could be worked through: that he was scared of a marriage or any sort similar public commitment, which to me made it appear as if he was embarrassed of me or didn't believe that there was any future worth shouting about. Then I got the answers that I didn't want:
that he would not leave his other partner for me, that I would never be his and his alone and he would never be mine entirely. That he could not explain or define the life that they led, how it might work or what room there would be for me. That he would never not be polyamorous, in effect. And for his part, no matter how much he wanted it (and I wanted it to) I would never be happy with someone who was.

And in the end that is the sad, entire truth of the matter. I am who I am, he is who he is. Neither of us love each other any less because of it (we probably love each other in part because of our stubborn, self-confident stance about what we want and what we don't want)

Being with someone who was in a poly relationship gave me all the drawbacks of such a situation (jealousy, limited time, concern over who was the "better" partner) without any of the benefits. I tried. I have done a lot of soul searching and can honestly say that I tried as hard as I could. However it wasn't good enough. Or rather, there was nothing else to try. It would have meant changing who I am. A mean part of me wonders whether he would have tried monogamy for me, yet that sort of thinking is unlikely to end up in a place that will be good for any of us. And again, that would have meant changing who he was.

Breaking up with a poly person is as unusual and curious as being together with one. Part of my hurt right now is being driven by the knowledge that whilst I'm alone and feeling lonely, and have lost a great strength in my life, as well as someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, he is with his other partner. I'd like to be happy for him, that he has that support - but I'm not that charitable, unfortunately. The fact that he is with someone who is not me, someone who he loves and who loves him in return is contributing to my unhappiness. Exactly the same as it did when we were together.

Yet there is a nagging doubt. I know how happy he made me. How much I want to be with him. I know that life is about compromise and that nothing is perfect. I know how right he is for me, and wonder if perhaps there was a little bit more clarity, a bit more understanding of what the situation is, might I be able to pick up the phone and say, as I so want to do "come back, please?" I worry if I haven't just substituted one sort of anxiety for another.

Everyone I've spoken to keeps telling me that it gets easier with time. That the unhappiness and the pain fades. I'm hoping that it does - that the clouds will clear and I will be confident in the choice that I have made. I just need to get through it. So I'm currently a little bit of a robot, putting one foot in front of the other. Trying not to think about much of anything at all. Until it becomes possible to think properly. There is sense in that, even the act of writing this has helped slough off some of the nerves and worries, to make it all as black and white as perhaps I foolishly would like my life to be.


Charles said...

I feel for you and wish to echo what your friends have said - relationship breakdown does hurt but it does get easier with time and the the pain and unhappiness does fade.

If it is any conciliation, and I understand it might not be - I found the post moving and extremely well written.

I have no personal experience with any form of polyamorous relationship, but from what I have read here and on other Blogs, I am beginning to understand that they might have lots to offer those involved, it, like monogamy, is not a bed of rose's.

I would like to ask one question, and please feel free not to answer is (or to even edit this paragraph it out of my comment) - you talk about the The Photographer's other partner not "move[ing] in the same circles" as you - was she into BDSM as well ?

Once again, keep smiling and look forward to your next post.

electronic doll said...


Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. The same circles comment was much more mundane than that - we live in different cities and our only mutual friend is The Photographer. I'm not going to get into personal details about her lifestyle. The point was simply that we would have never met or been connected without him, so the idea of a "making friends" process seemed somewhat strange to me.

Charles said...

Glad your blog is back up ! - I was worried for a bit until I saw your tweet.

As for the kind words, your more than welcome.

Thanks for the more info, I understand now what you meant by same circles.

electronic doll said...

Yes, that was a slightly concerning half hour. But all seems ok now.

slave7 said...

Electronic doll;

All the way over here in the USA, I feel your pain. I had a similar break up in January. One of four slaves to a Domme, I could sense things changing, although she denied it. She carved her initials just above my genitals and the next day on line I found her wedding engagement to another slave. The scarcity of partners in bdsm makes poly acceptable, but the reality is humans were meant to couple. When one has multiple partners, it is much too easy to walk away from one of them. Only time heals the wounds you feel. Hang in there, 7

Annabell de Rocketoire said...

Hey My Dear,

I feel you! I have been in the exact same situation with my boyfriend and we are long - distance.
We tried the open relationship and I was feeling the exact same feelings as you did:) I really can not live such of a life and I tried for weeks and months, but I concluded I will never get over being too jealous and too unhappy with this and I also think the othe girl wanted to swipe him. I believe your need for comeptition was created by him being up in the air/vague.
All the best, Annabell

electronic doll said...

Hi Annabell,

Thanks for that, I think that clarity is really important, no matter what sort of relationship set up you have and yes, that clarity was rather lacking here.

kellian71 said...

I thank you for your words. Insurmountably helpful, as I just ended my first - and definitely last - poly relationship. You hit on so many exact points, including the competition part, and I especially appreciated not seeing the reasoning for "hanging with the other woman" because I felt forced to do that and hated it. I didn't really like her before anyway, but now I'm in love with her husband, who is the most compatible person for me I have ever been with, and he chooses her. So sad and so hard to reclaim myself, but reading your experience helped. Thanks.