Failedpolyamoryfilter: Help! I care for two people and I have to choose between them. What does one base a decision like this on? How do I tackle this situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in my early-mid-twenties. Person 1 is in his mid-twenties. Person 2 is in his late teens.
We dated for nearly two years (ending a little more than a month ago, when I told him I couldn't do things anymore the way we were doing them). We lived together (with roommates; he moved out around the time we broke up), run a small business together (he's the owner, I'm the manager), and are part of the same social circle. We get along very well in the ordinary things of life. Our problems were big ones, not small ones. We loved being roommates, we love working together. It was a pleasure doing the totally dull, ordinary things of life with him - cooking meals, filing things for the business, weeding the garden, doing the taxes, cleaning the apartment. I liked the look in his eyes, and his stupid hair. We both knew about local history, but in different ways - we both liked to wander around the apartment singing stupid songs at the tops of our lungs. I felt like I could have spent my life with him (aside from the bigger problems), and we talked often about what life together might be like, and about raising children. We weren't overly enmeshed, as I've been in other relationships I've had - we had our own lives, but they were complimentary, and I cared about the things he was up to and he cared about the things I was up to. I thought he was absolutely lovely, and sleeping with him was nice - we thought the same sorts of things were sexy.
Then the bigger problems. He's often under a lot of stress because of the business, and tends to isolate himself when he's stressed - part of the problem with the relationship was that he isolates himself when he's stressed (which is often) and I lean on those close to me when I'm stressed (which he often had no patience for, because of his own stress). This manifested itself in a horrible cycle of him sleeping on the couch in order to be alone for weeks at a time, and my stress levels skyrocketing because I felt so unsupported, and then a series of fights where we'd try to figure out how to both get what we felt we needed, followed by a period of things being (to me at least) fine, during which he'd start building up stress again and the whole thing would start all over again. We'd talked about how to make this not happen, but nothing seemed to work.
The other problem with our relationship was that he considers himself polyamorous. This wouldn't normally be my thing (and typically I'd even be kind of suspicious of anyone who espoused it), but I liked him so much that I thought I'd give it a shot. I figured he might be right when he said I was being close-minded, and I did agree with him that perfect monogamy is difficult and that it's probably better to acknowledge other attractions and talk about them than to lie to one another and have attraction to others - or even acting on attraction to others - be a relationship-ending thing (love should be stronger than that, I thought - the real betrayal would be not acknowledging it). But in the context of my feeling so unsupported so regularly, his casual interest in other people (a customer of the business who he invited to a BBQ our apartment had and flirted with a bunch, a drunk and flirtatious girl at a party who he wanted to make out with) felt like a real threat. I couldn't help getting upset. We'd discuss it, but too often after the fact and not enough before the fact. He was unreceptive to boundaries I wanted to set (making sure girls he liked knew he had a girlfriend, talking to me before pursuing someone, making solving our own relationship problems a priority over fulfilling his desire to pursue other people, however casually). In reality, he never seriously pursued anyone else (the only time he actually slept with anyone else was when a good friend from high school who he used to sleep with came to visit, and this was with my full permission, as I like her a bunch. And I slept with her too.)
This brings us to Person 2. About seven months ago, during a period of particular discontent with Person 1 (the business wasn't doing well, he wanted me to leave him alone most of the time and was generally isolating himself from everyone), I realized that Person 2 had a bit of a thing for me, and that I had a bit of a thing for him. I was completely open with Person 1 about this - in retrospect, I really wish he'd have talked to me about it more since I had virtually no experience with doing non-monogamy myself, and he has plenty (though based on all of the above I suspect he's not actually very good at it...)
We'd been seeing each other for about six months when I broke things off (about two weeks ago). We share a social circle in a small, quirky, artsy field. Both of us are involved in this field both professionally and for fun. I met him through a job in this field, where we both still work. At the time that I realized that he had a thing for me, he was aware that I was in a relationship with someone else and that I was unhappy. We talked a lot, and we'd gotten to know each other. And I liked him! I thought he was cute, I thought he was interesting and smart, I thought he had good taste, I was impressed by his relative maturity (he's much younger than I'd have thought proper for me to go for), my friends in our field loved him, thought he was sweet and impressively competent. And there was flirting, and there were mix tapes, and there were dinners at the diner - and then, one night, there was his head unprovokedly on my shoulder. Around this time, I took him to task and said - "Look, I like you too, but you have to understand what you're getting into. I'm dating someone else, and I love him. He and I have problems, but I'm not going to leave him for you. But he's fine with it if I smooch you on the side." And he said that he understood and so I started smooching him on the side.
The more time I spent with him, the more I liked him. What began as something I thought of as sort of a casual thing on the side began to feel more serious. We were talking (and simply hanging out) more often than I ever had with Person 1: we'd go out to films, go out to dinner, sit around and cuddle and listen to records, fix audio equipment, read stuff to each other - it was romantic, it was nice. We had wonderful, unusual sex - things that would never have occurred to me on my own. The only real problem we had (aside from what would soon become obvious) was that I would occasionally look at him and think that he looked kind of weird. It was completely different from the way things were with Person 1 (with whom I'd felt, nearly from day one, as if we'd been married for thirty years - the best parts and the worst parts).
And eventually, Person 2 unhappily told me that, though he had said he'd be okay with me keeping on with Person 1 because he liked me so much, he'd really prefer to date me exclusively. I told him I had to think about it.
Person 1 made plans to move out with the thought that perhaps if he had more physical and psychic space he'd be able to treat me better and feel better himself. I decided to break up with him anyway (a little more than a month ago) because of our own relationship issues (described above) and his general inability to promise or commit to anything - which I'd only felt worse about since having someone to compare them to. I stuck with Person 2 for another two weeks or so, but ultimately told him I felt like I couldn't date him in good faith because I still felt so strongly for Person 1, and because I felt that my situation with Person 1 didn't feel fully resolved. In the month since then, I haven't seen much of Person 1 (except for work, a series of epic conversations about whether we should be together or not, and two come-over-for-dinner-oops-I-guess-you're-sleeping-in-my-bed incidents), but I've seen Person 2 about as much as usual (minus most of the cuddling and all of the sex) and still talk to him daily. He misses me terribly (Person 1 is completely stoic, as usual). I miss both of them. I feel all sorts of warm and affectionate things about Person 2 (it makes me sad that he is so sad, and it makes me sad to think about all the things that we won't be doing as a couple anymore, or that we won't get to do as a couple - taking the train to visit his grandmother who lives in a little house in the woods, walking around holding hands, going to the diner where the waitress knows us as a couple). At the same time, I feel a vague, throbbing yearning for Person 1 and for the way we went through life together - there, I feel like I'm losing a whole potential life, our imagined future: children, growing older, finally solving our problems, managing our finances, figuring out where and how to live.
I feel like I'm choosing between being young and romantic and being old and serious. Both of these things appeal. And I love both of these people, in completely different ways. Completely different parts of myself are attracted to them. I feel, at this point, like I'm jerking both of them (and myself) around by keeping on saying, "Gosh! I just need to make up my mind!" and not actually doing it.
I don't know what to choose, or even what a good basis for thinking about making a decision would be. Raw emotion, unadulterated by reason? (I'd choose Person 1) Raw emotion, tempered by reason and empathy? (I'd choose Person 2) What I actually want? (It's unclear) What would be best for me? (It's unclear - perhaps neither of them)
I could just be single for real and just be friends with these guys - but I will be lonely. And I care about these two. And it's nice to have someone to cuddle with. And what if I lose something and regret it for the rest of my life - or even just the next time I want someone warm next to me? aaah!
I am looking for both advice and criticism. I can be privately emailed at askmefianonymous at gmail dot com