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Please help me navigate a bizarre love triangle.
October 3, 2012 6:31 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend might have a girlfriend, and we might have a problem.

My girlfriend (we'll call her Jane) and I have been together for six years and have a 3-year old daughter and a nice home and life together. Enter the lesbian co-worker (we'll call her Sam). Jane develops a friendship, then a crush, and eventually can't stop thinking about Sam. They flirt innocently at first. Jane is in a stupor until she finally confesses to me how obsessed she is. She's 30, has never experimented, etc. I have done the whole group thing, and I don't blame her. Now might be a good time to mention Jane and I have the mixed blessing of total honesty in our relationship.
So we discuss it, and I warn her it can complicate friendships (from experience), remind her that they still have to work together, and say if she still thinks it's a good idea, I won't begrudge her wanting to try it out. I also think of it differently, right or wrong, than I would if she wanted to mess with a guy. I have that equipment. I also tell her I'm scared (and a little turned on) about it, but hey love, set free, all that. Mostly I want her happy, and I don't want her resenting me for caging her. She thinks maybe it'll pass, but eventually ends up telling Sam, who's very interested, and they agree beforehand it can be totally NSA, just friends having fun.
Sam has a roommate (an ex, dunno what's really going on there), and they certainly weren't going to come to our house, so they met up a couple days ago for drinks and then went to a park and had some fun.
Jane came home feeling guilty, wondering why I let her do that, said it was tawdry to plan it out that way, etc. She was also very turned on and we had a marathon.
Anyway, so on to the feelings. She loves our life together and doesn't want to mess it up. She also wants to spend more time with Sam, but it doesn't seem logistically possible. She doesn't identify as a lesbian, says she's squicked out by another vagina, but is afraid she'll fall for Sam anyway.
So today she tried telling Sam nothing else will happen because she can't do two relationships. Sam cries, Jane cries, then waffles, and then everyone's hurt. So much for NSA.
On my end, I don't know if I can share. Again, logistics, but also I don't know if I'm strong enough to say sure, you get two. Fair play would be I get a mistress too, but I don't really have any desire to do so. Also, don't know if Sam can share anyway. Don't know much about Sam.
Sorry for the length, and I know we may have made some missteps, but please help me do the right thing from here forward. She's confused, I'm confused, and again, I just want everyone to be happy, even if it hurts at first. So do your worst.

Do I say something like hey it was supposed to be NSA, any more is a deal breaker?
Do I say go figure out which side is greener, but get off the fence?
Do I say hey it's the twenty-first century, let's talk about an open relationship? If so... how? Our daughter is top priority.
Do I say I'm sorry you're having trouble, but I'm staying out of this? (kind of what I've been doing - I don't want to be resented.. but is no decision a decision that will cost me?)
Do I say hey stop waffling, you already said you don't want to mess anything up and put the brakes on, and this infatuation will pass?

Throwaway email: liggubunkoo@dunflimblag.mailexpire.com

I have a lot more questions, but I think you can anticipate them. Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
She's confused, I'm confused, and again, I just want everyone to be happy, even if it hurts at first.

Being open doesn't seem like it's going to work in this relationship. If you and Jane are serious, she should stop seeing Sam, and distance herself. It's not the easiest solution in terms of feelings, but it's the only way that sounds like it will sort out the limerance.
posted by ellF at 6:37 AM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


Before you say anything, figure out what you feel. It is totally okay for you not to want your girlfriend to mess around with someone else of any gender. You say you have total honesty in your relationship, but it sounds like you are not being completely honest even with yourself, and are wanting to be okay with this when really you aren't. It's fine to set boundaries. It's fine to expect monogamy. And if that's what you want, talking yourself into accepting something else is not going to be a very good solution for either of you.
posted by something something at 6:38 AM on October 3, 2012 [32 favorites]


You've done a brave thing so far and, it sounds like, more or less the right thing. It sounds like Jane is going through a tough and unexpected breakup. Support her through that and help her keep from falling into a relationship with Sam out of guilt or inertia.

Talking about the advantages and disadvantages of an open relationship can only be a good thing, though it sounds as though both of you are likely to come down on the side of it being more trouble than it's worth. Incidentally, there's no reason you can't maintain an open relationship while raising a child. It just requires more work (like everything does with a toddler).

None of those options at the end of the post sound like a good thing to say, though. Maybe something more like: "Don't worry, her feelings are hurt, but these things pass quickly. You haven't done anything wrong. I love you."
posted by 256 at 6:43 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


You say you have an honest relationship. Do you honestly feel okay about your girlfriend having lovers? Don't differentiate between men or women, because that detail isn't important.

I suspect that the answer is no, and you just don't want to be the bad guy.

When we partner, have a family, in many respects we decide that we're forming this unit together. We determine what our rules are, and we negotiate and re-negotiate as needed.

So your girlfriend has a crush. Shit happens. This doesn't mean one must act upon something as ephemeral as a feeling.

In relationships we decide, every day, every minute, that we're doing something for the greater good. The greater good of our family, the greater good of our partner, etc. Acting on feelings is selfish. As you've discovered.

Sometimes it's worth it to say, "Sure, I have a feeling for another person, but it's more important for me not to act on it, and to hang in there with the family and for the family."

Now, it's possible that as one ages, one's sexual identity may change. I'm liberal minded, I can hang. But at that point one must weigh the impact of acting upon this change with the impact on other relationships.

Crushes are unreasonable. That's how they work. They attack the lizard part of the brain, the one that doesn't think, it's all impulse and lust and want, want, want.

Acting on these impulses is deadly, as your girlfriend and her friend discovered.

Now it's a mess.

1. You need to tell your girlfriend that you don't want her to have sexual relationships outside of your relationship. (if in fact, that's a thing for you.)

2. Your girlfriend may need to find another job to get away from this person, since the whole thing is FUBAR.

3. You need to redefine your relationship as it is today. If you want an exclusive relationship, say so. If you want an open relationship, you need to determine the terms of that.

4. Your girlfriend might benefit from discussing this episode with a therapist so that she can process what happened and better understand it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:44 AM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, you have to decide what you want first. It's okay to not want to be in an open relationship, you know, and it sounds like you might not. You need to talk about limits.
But don't tell her to shit or get off the pot, that will just lead to the resentment you fear. She needs to work out her feelings.

If you don't want to share, then tell her that it's a dealbreaker for you. If you find that you can, then work with her to establish limits to your behavior. Above all, keep communicating. For as honest as you can be, staying out of the fray means that you've been keeping some of your feelings and thoughts in.

So be honest with yourself, know what you're comfortable with, acknowledge it and speak to her about it.
posted by inturnaround at 6:44 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Open relationships almost never ever ever ever work when they arise out of an "I found myself attracted to this one specific person and would like to tell you somewhat pre-emptively" situation. And when they do work, typically in a situation where the primary couple makes the decision beforehand, they take a TON of work. A TON. You have to keep your primary relationship strong in order to even think about sharing something in a secondary relationship.

On a separate point -- the "I don't want her to feel caged" thing -- my husband knows all about that. When he was married to his former wife, she developed a close relationship with the husband in another set of couple friends. They were ostensibly talking about writing, but soon it progressed to giggling over the phone, furtive texts with an "oh, you probably shouldn't see this," all that.

As my husband put it, "I wanted to be cool about it, and not be That Controlling Husband, so I didn't say anything. But I knew something was a little off, so I just sat there and watched as our relationship eroded and she danced around it all." Both couples eventually divorced after my husband's ex and the other guy cheated; they're now married.

We saw that happen with several other couples we knew. Your gut instincts that things are weird and you're uncomfortable with one thing or another? Don't let those pass. They are real feelings that won't go away.
posted by Madamina at 6:45 AM on October 3, 2012 [26 favorites]


I am concerned that your daughter is your alleged "top priority" yet we only hear about her in passing mention at the beginning and end of your question. Most of your question is about the the emotional roller coaster and titillation.

Having a child together brings a new set of priorities. That means that one does not get to act of every impulse as one might have in the past. Crushes and infatuations happen. Acting out on a temporary feeling is not worth jeopardizing your permanent status as your daughter's parents.

What is going on right now is your preview of how things will go if this continues. Do you see it as beneficial to your daughter?
posted by Tanizaki at 6:57 AM on October 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


From what you wrote, I can move the pieces of this around and reframe the situation as your girlfriend needing more from you, or something different from you versus your girlfriend needing Sam.

When her crush became emotionally overwhelming, she came to you to talk it through, and your response was tacit permission to explore the situation; once she does, she accuses you of putting her into a situation she was ultimately uncomfortable with and then initiates a sex marathon with you.

She decides she wants a life with you, and tells Sam as much, it's apparent that there are feelings (at least on Sam's side), and Jane's "waffling" because, it seems to me, she doesn't want to hurt her friend, but she wants (I'm suggesting) a strong statement of your desire for an exclusive partnership with you (which she's not getting, and instead receiving your enlightened understanding).

This is not to say that what Jane needs is your permission or possession of anything. But there are ways that this feels like a crush that was more a theoretical exploration on Jane's part, that had more to do with Jane than Sam, and when she took it to you and received permission for something she wasn't even thinking she would act on, the entire situation became (for Jane) more about what she wanted with you and for herself with you than about her and Sam. Unfortunately for Sam, who went from the object of a theoretical workplace crush to the beginning of a new relationship (from her perspective), she was not benefitting from anyone's honesty, not really.

Obviously, you and Jane need to talk, and perhaps talk not from the perspective of what to do about her and Sam, but what Jane needs from her relationship with you, how she really felt about your part in her decisions about Sam, and what both of you want (and want versus 'are philosophically okay with') for yourselves as parents and partners--what you really want to look and feel like together.

Once you've set those aspirations for your relationship, Jane does owe Sam the benefit of a gentle and honest break-up, and to be prepared for Sam's hurt and anger without trying to salve that hurt with more promises Jane's not ready for.

In any event, if I'm way off base, it's true that sometimes a lot of "communication" masks what everyone is actually trying to say. Time and boundaries will engender a great deal of clarification on what actions to take if it is uncertain what to "do" right now.
posted by rumposinc at 7:01 AM on October 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


Fair play would be I get a mistress too, but I don't really have any desire to do so.

Actually, "fair play" is you get a boyfriend. ; )

You said logistically it is difficult (assuming that is because you have a young daughter) and ignoring that definately increases the likihood of resentment - a true relationship-killer. So it may be something to shelve for right now. Meanwhile, it sounds like you don't know Sam well, why not have her over, get to know her, let her see your daughter and you guys as a family unit.
posted by saucysault at 7:01 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


She doesn't identify as a lesbian, says she's squicked out by another vagina, but is afraid she'll fall for Sam anyway.

So this isn't about "fun sexytime open the marriage to outside play partners"--this is about a primarily emotional affair, and that's a whole different kettle of fish (more intimate for many people, for one). I don't blame you for not wanting an emotional love triangle in your marriage.
posted by availablelight at 7:08 AM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ethical Slut. Now. In which you both will learn that open relationships can only be conducted by fully mutual consent and an endless amount of talking. Whether you do open it up further or not, there's skills to learn in the communicating and along the way.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:10 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do I say hey stop waffling, you already said you don't want to mess anything up and put the brakes on, and this infatuation will pass?

This is the sensible thing to say to her, as long as it is how you feel. She got her college experience - shitty drama and bad decision-making and all - so she can check that off her list. She needs to cut off contact, stop the drama cycle, and move on. Looking for a new job might not hurt, either.

This is not how you have open relationships. There was pretty much zero sense applied here.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:14 AM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


Here's an alternative point of view:

Tell your girlfriend to knock this shit off right away. No more Sam, no more crying, no more vaginas, no more distraction from your home life. Tell her you love her and want her, and that if she's bored or lonely you're sorry and that you'll give her more attention, and then do that. But make sure she understands that you aren't so disinterested or timid to just stand by while your relationship erodes because of this interloper.

I know all about Ethical Sluts and the rest of it, and it's fine for a very tiny subset of the population, who are overrepresented on the Green. For the rest of the world, affairs generally kill primary relationships one way or another. You have a kid together. This matters. Don't get sidetracked.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:17 AM on October 3, 2012 [71 favorites]


She's confused, I'm confused, and again, I just want everyone to be happy, even if it hurts at first. So do your worst.

This was a bad idea that is unsurprisingly going badly. You both need to make a choice separately and then from there make a choice together about how y'all want to go forward.

Frankly, it doesn't sound like an open relationship is the way to go here and it definitely doesn't sound like an open relationship with a co-worker is ever a good idea.

There isn't a damn reason in the world she should resent you. She had years to experiment and it never interested her, so no, she doesn't get to do it now just because you had a threesome at some point. Life is not a chose your own adventure book, where you can endlessly go back and try different routes, just because you're bored or curious.

Y'all have a home, happy life and a daughter. Do not fuck that up because one of you doesn't want to control your hormones.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:18 AM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


this is about a primarily emotional affair, and that's a whole different kettle of fish

Or it's a one-sided sexual relationship, which is not really fair to Sam unless that's what she's explicitly signed on for.
posted by elizardbits at 7:20 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder, truly wonder, if she wants you to say "no way! I love you too much to possibly stand the thought of you with anyone else." Perhaps she wouldn't have such an obsession if she was getting all the love she needed from you. I have wandered from guys because they weren't making me feel loved enough; I've wondered if relationships with women would make me feel more loved because women often (not trying to generalize here, all women are not the same by a lot shot) show love more easily/enthusiatically than men. If I had a guy who I loved and had been with, who was like "knock it the fuck off, I love you, I don't want you with anyone else," it would have knocked out the insecurity that was leading to my wondering.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:21 AM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fair play would be I get a mistress too, but I don't really have any desire to do so.

There are plenty of relationships where only one side is open--where one partner only dates certain people under a certain set of mutually-agreed-upon contingencies and the other partner is monogamous. In fact, this is what you already have. If you're letting your GF sleep with other girls, your relationship is open.

She doesn't identify as a lesbian, says she's squicked out by another vagina, but is afraid she'll fall for Sam anyway.

It sounds like she hasn't come to terms with her own attractions. Which is normal, but I feel for you, being caught in the middle.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:21 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Request that Jane hit the brakes on this thing with Sam until you and Jane can have a moment to work on your relationship and make sure everything's solid between the two of you - your relationship needs to be the priority for both of you.

She needs to hit the brakes on Sam anyway because it's impossible to have an NSA relationship with someone you couldn't just walk away from without consequences, be those consequences related to feelings or work or whatever. Maybe someday she can try this again, but Sam is a bad idea.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:31 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jane may be bisexual and just realizing it now - it's not unusual for women in particular to come to realizations about their sexuality "later" in life.

Or she may just have a crush on this particular person who happens to be another woman. That's also possible.

Seconding the recommendation of Ethical Slut, not because you *have* to have an open relationship, because you surely don't, but because it has a lot of really helpful stuff about communication, and whether you go the open relationship route or not, wending your way through this is going to be all about communication.

It's okay to feel shitty and confused about this. It's okay to be angry, scared, uncertain, turned on, weepy, confused. You aren't required to be feel a particular way about this in order to be a good person or a good partner.

And therapy for you both, as a couple, and if at all remotely possible, individually as well.
posted by rtha at 7:32 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel like you can tell a lot from these relationship questions just from the way they're written. Often they're rambling, emotional and repetitive in a way that reflects the obvious stress on the person writing them. But yours is clear, direct and objective, almost to the point of being detached. So although you say you're confused, you obviously have a good handle on the situation and your own options, which is itself a positive sign.

The armchair shrink in me wants to say that maybe that emotional detachment is carrying over to your relationship with your girlfriend, and she's trying to "break through" it by provoking you this way. But honestly, given the story so far, my gut feeling is that her romantic attachment to Sam will pass and this will work itself out. It actually sounds like that's already starting to happen. If I were in your position, I wouldn't bring up open relationships or give any kind of ultimatum right now. I mean, it's pretty clear you're not 100% on board for an open relationship if she says yes to it, and you're not at all ready to split up if you say "it's me or Sam" and she chooses Sam or refuses to choose. So why force the issue?

Also, I would respectfully disagree with this:

Do you honestly feel okay about your girlfriend having lovers? Don't differentiate between men or women, because that detail isn't important.

The OP says that "detail" is important to him. Who are we to tell him otherwise?
posted by pete_22 at 7:36 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think a lot of people here are being fair to you because, of course, you aren't going to go on and on about your daughter in a questions that has little to do with her. The number of characters you spend discussing your daughter online have nothing to do with how much you love her, so try to prune the good advice from that nastiness.

But I also don't think your girlfriend is being fair to Sam unless she's specifically told her vaginas are ick to her. Because I'm pretty sure that would be a deal breaker. And if it isn't, it'd be unhealthy.

It's totally possible for a 21st century could with kids to have an open relationship. But this isn't the groundwork for it. Strings are attached that you aren't interested in -- that's all you need to focus on in this situation and I'd explain it that way. Your girlfriend isn't being fair to Sam or to you, and one of you needs to call her on her shit.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:48 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


[Folks, ease up a little with the sarcasm and such.]
posted by cortex at 7:54 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Take a deep breath. You don't have to decide anything right now. An open relationship might or might not work for you. Your wife may or may not be bisexual. You might want to swing or you might not.

People tend to take any trouble in a non-monogamous relationship as an obvious sign that you should immediately clamp down, cut off, and make sweeping statements about permanent rules. In a time of crisis, this is not a good idea because it adds more stress for everyone and frankly, your wife will not be able to stop seeing this person because they work together anyway.

Focus on the present and the concrete. What do you need to feel okay right now? What of that do you need from your wife and what can be gotten elsewhere? What are you willing to do right now in terms of supporting your wife? What does she need? What can she do for herself in terms of self-care?

Remember, this will pass, and take it one day at a time until you've both had time to stabilize and get some perspective. Then, and not until then, you can start drawing some larger lessons from this and making more permanent decisions.

Good luck, and mefimail me if you need to talk to someone who has been there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:03 AM on October 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also, from experience, there's what is "fair" and what you both "should" be feeling, and then there's reality. Reality is that your wife cares about this person. You can be a hardass and focus on controlling or punishing your wife for having the "wrong" feelings, but the result will be stress, a lot of distance between you, and an adversarial relationship with your wife. Not worth it when you have a child tying you together, because even if you split up your interaction with your wife will affect your child.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:14 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you would benefit from couples counseling. I would look for someone that specializes in dealing with LBGT and open relationships.
posted by Silvertree at 8:21 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Open relationship veteran here.) I agree that "get the hell off the fence already" is not the approach to take. You've been honest and patient this far; stick with that and don't pressure Jane, 'cause that'll just add extra complications and stress. She needs to work through something.

It's okay to want to be monogamous. It's okay to need monogamy. It's also okay to decide you're willing to go with the open relationship. It's not a good idea to fumble around between them without establishing boundaries, and it's also not okay to get harsh on Jane when you were willing to let her try all this out, anyway.

The fact that you're willing to acknowledge that Jane's thing for Sam could get real shows a lot of maturity on your part. A lot of guys would just think it's a big porn fantasy put on for their benefit. On that note, don't feel too bad about being turned on by it, 'cause you can't consciously choose your kinks; just remember that this issue goes well beyond what amounts to a turn-on (and it sounds like you have, so forgive me if that sounds patronizing).

Establish whether or not you and Jane want to stay together regardless of her attractions and kinks, and her maybe-genuinely-bi sexuality. It sounds like you do. So past that, be patient and stick with her.

(Also, Jane's mess with Sam is a real thing. I fully agree that she (and you) need to remember that she shouldn't get into or stay in any relationship out of guilt. Jane may need all possible distance from Sam.)

As for the open relationship potential--you need to define rules and boundaries before you consider partners. It's totally fair to say "I'm only okay with this for you if you're okay with it for me," and it's also absolutely okay to consider the logistics... and I can't say this enough: monogamy is perfectly okay, and in many ways easier. I am monogamous now, and have no interest in ever going "open" again, but I'm not gonna slam it as an option. You just need to understand that yes, your first instincts are correct--going "open" really can cause serious problems, and logistics are just the beginning.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:37 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fair play would be I get a mistress too, but I don't really have any desire to do so.

Actually, no it doesn't. You explicitly stated that if the partner has the same equipment as you, it's off limits. Which means you could have a mister, but not a mistress, if it was fair. If you're bi-curious, that's fine, but both of you getting a woman only works if she's okay with a different scenario than you.

I think you and your partner need to talk, because she's hurting everyone involved by being all over the place. She may need therapy, and you both might need some too, to reconcile the layers that are involved here. This is complex.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:38 AM on October 3, 2012


It sounds as if Sam does not have good boundaries with this. And that the NSA agreement is not what she really wants.

For me, Sam's behavior is the deal breaker here, which preempts moving to other considerations.
posted by Danf at 8:51 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lot of people with opinions that are coming across as a bit... quaint? The people that are saying 'don't have an open relationship" - not useful as he's in one now.

" Don't differentiate between men or women, because that detail isn't important. "
absolute nonsense.

I don't know if I can share.
Yes, you do. Because if you could, you wouldn't be wondering. To me, it sounds like you want to be able to, or maybe think you should be able to. Those aren't the same.

here's what jumped out at me: you're taking a hands off approach to a major feature of your partners life, the new partner. you seem to want to push that outside your relationship (requiring a hotel, not meeting the new partner). That compartmentalization doesn't seem to fit with your other desires to have a very close relationship. wouldn't you be interested in meeting your partners new platonic friend? Or a friends new partner? Same deal here.

"don't know if Sam can share anyway. Don't know much about Sam."

Well, after you figure out if you do or you don't want to share your partner, fix that. You and Sam have a relationship now, if only by proxy. If this doesn't end, the three of you need to should talk, at least to understand some of the end goals and major concerns, like life for your kid.
posted by anti social order at 8:57 AM on October 3, 2012


She doesn't identify as a lesbian, says she's squicked out by another vagina, but is afraid she'll fall for Sam anyway.

You told Jane how you feel about her having some sex on the side with someone who has "the other equipment"... now she has told you that she is not (or no longer?) interested in "the other equipment." Things have changed. Figure out what you think about the new situation, and tell her.

And this is advice I wish I could give to Jane, not to you, but regardless: as a lesbian, let me say that if I were getting into a thing with a straight girl and she actually felt squicked out by my vagina, and didn't tell me because she didn't want to hurt my feelings? That would be pretty terrible. Best case scenario for Sam, whether she knows it now or not, is for Jane to end their relationship.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:59 AM on October 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Your 3 year old daughter and her well-being trumps Sam and her crying.

Tell Jane this, specifically.

Sam sounds well-meaning, but fucked up emotionally, and frighteningly unconcerned about how much Jane has to lose. Jane should stay far far away from her in an emotional sense.

I don't know where Sam specifically is coming from here, but it seems like Sam doesn't care very much about the stability of Jane's family. It's hard to feel hot for someone sexually when you know that following through with those feelings will torpedo the stability of a 3 year old's world - or maybe Sam is immature and myopic enough that this important aspect of Jane's life hasn't crossed her mind??

If Sam really cared for Jane and was worth all this emotional turmoil, Sam would show more maturity where Jane's family and child are concerned.

Sam sounds younger than Jane, and like maybe she's into drama, high emotions, which can all be very sexy, but there is no substance underneath for Jane to latch onto there.




If Jane re-assesses her feelings for Sam from this perspective, I bet her feelings for Sam will cool, almost instantly.

What Sam has to offer is only sexy and compelling until one considers the bigger picture.
posted by jbenben at 9:30 AM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


She doesn't identify as a lesbian, says she's squicked out by another vagina, but is afraid she'll fall for Sam anyway.

I really, really don't want to be glib about this, but trust me when I say: this problem is self-resolving.

If you're not not suffering an angst of jealousy, I would let her play this out.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:55 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry I called her your wife!

The book I'd suggest is Opening Up, by the way.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:06 AM on October 3, 2012


It's hard to feel hot for someone sexually when you know that following through with those feelings will torpedo the stability of a 3 year old's world - or maybe Sam is immature and myopic enough that this important aspect of Jane's life hasn't crossed her mind??

Well, sometimes it's very specifically the taboo nature of something that makes it hot and seemingly irresistible. Sam isn't necessarily some amoral homewrecker; she may be, yes, just confused and overwhelmed. Or both - feelings are rarely completely mutually exclusive of one another.

What I think won't help - though I don't get the sense from your post that you'd go there - is demonizing Sam to your partner. You get to have whatever feelings you want about Sam and Sam's role in all of this, but denigrating her in a way that lets your partner know that's how you feel (if that's how you feel) almost certainly won't help your relationship or your communication with your partner. Keep your eye on the ball. Whatever feelings you may have about Sam are probably best worked out in individual therapy or similar.
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on October 3, 2012


anonymous posted">> Sorry for the length, and I know we may have made some missteps, but please help me do the right thing from here forward. She's confused, I'm confused, and again, I just want everyone to be happy, even if it hurts at first.

"Being happy" isn't really a simple state, it's made up of a big ball of interwoven multifaceted bits.

I think you're being too hard on yourselves. It's totally okay to be confused about what you want, and this isn't necessarily an indicator that mistakes were made. You're both trying out some new ideas and thinking about how they make you feel. You're being honest with each other and talking things through together, and looking to make decisions that work for your relationship (as partners and parents) as well as both of you as individuals. You're totally on the right track. Just keep talking about your insecurities and fears and wants and needs together.

One really nice thing about reading some of the well-regarded books out there is that they can help you think through options and examples of how others have navigated negotiation, compromise, expectations, etc. in their relationships. And it's not always "you must follow the one true path to poly or you're doooooomed" as is sometimes conveyed -- life is messy.
posted by desuetude at 10:53 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


This isn't about demonizing Sam, this is about Jane's concerns in life.

The picture I get is that Jane has been completely over-taken by Sam and Sam's perspective on things, up to the point of considering sex with a gender she is normally not attracted to. That's a lot of charisma Sam's got going on!

It's a HUGE turn off when you realize the person you are pining for doesn't have your interests in mind to the same degree you have theirs in mind. I believe that is the point of overcoming this infatuation and putting it in perspective for Jane.


I also agree this will resolve itself because of the gender thing, but resolving it from the emotional side is important, too.
posted by jbenben at 11:16 AM on October 3, 2012


Jane came home feeling guilty, wondering why I let her do that, said it was tawdry to plan it out that way, etc. She was also very turned on and we had a marathon.

Anyway, so on to the feelings. She loves our life together and doesn't want to mess it up. She also wants to spend more time with Sam, but it doesn't seem logistically possible. She doesn't identify as a lesbian, says she's squicked out by another vagina, but is afraid she'll fall for Sam anyway.


I think this is the crux of the problem. Jane had this fantasy, you gave her permission to act on it, and now she is feeling ashamed about having actually done it and (I suspect) enjoyed it. She may really be "squicked out" by another vagina, I don't know, but I doubt it. If the sexual attraction wasn't a factor, why feel the need to confess to you, and then go to a park and "have fun" with Sam alone?

By the way, wasn't that "fun" sexual? Didn't it turn her on enough to have a marathon with you later? I suspect Jane is more into it than she feels she should be, and her guilt and shame stem from that. Here she is, a Mom in a significant relationship with the father of her kid, and now she's having feelings for a woman?! Clutch the pearls!

She's protesting too much.

It is, I mean this sincerely, a very natural reaction on Jane's part to be a bit stunned and shocked by the reality of her feelings. And I think her confusion is very real. She is backing away from Sam because she feels Sam threatens her relationship with you, but she is waffling because she has real feelings for Sam, or it never would have gone as far as it did.

Yes, it's a mess.

Can you handle sharing Jane--her body, her time and her emotions, with Sam? If, and ONLY if, you feel comfortable renegotiating the terms, you are going to have to meet Sam and set up mutually agreed upon boundaries for the three of you.

But I think you've decided, as you already indicated, that you are okay with a physical relationship on the side, and anything more is off bounds.

Talk to Jane again. Ask her if she really is "squicked out" by the idea of being sexual with Sam, or if her feelings are so strong that they are frightening her instead. Let her know that you love her and want to support her through this, but the two of you having a child means that you need to work together as a team.

If Sam does not respect that she cannot be emotionally involved, Jane is going to have to end that relationship as she said she would. Remind her that you are not giving her an ultimatum--these are terms the two of you already decided on. If you would be comfortable having an actual NSA thing with another woman later on, let her know that, too.

But be clear with Jane that if she cannot agree to break it off with Sam, then the two of you cannot stay together, as she is not respecting YOUR needs.
posted by misha at 11:26 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's not universally true for everyone, though, and acting as if that's the one way to help Jane put things in perspective won't help if she's someone for whom it isn't true, or for whom it isn't true at this point in her life. Keep talking, keep listening. You know your partner: even if she's going through something you haven't seen her go through before, it's not like she's suddenly become a totally different person.

/in response to jbenben
posted by rtha at 11:26 AM on October 3, 2012


[This is a followup from the asker.]
I know I barely mentioned our child, but that's because I thought it would go without saying that she is the only reason I'm even asking this here. If she weren't a part of the equation this would be something I could maybe take more in stride on my own. Not to say it would be easy, but it would certainly be a lot less wondering about the long-term effects of everything.
I'm not concerned about my daughter having to understand her parents may be different, I'm concerned about stability.
The idea of any of this coming into my home *now* is out of the question for that reason alone. She is by far the greatest concern for both of us.

WRT Jane being squicked out by the V, she did tell Sam this in the beginning. She also may have overstated it, as she remains curious and isn't ruling it out as something she might like after all. But at the moment, it's not a big draw.

Sam is in fact older, but she acted completely cool with the NSA part, and maybe figured Jane would be too. When Jane broke it off, Sam acted cool. She said yep that was the deal. It wasn't until the waffling started that Sam said Jane was messing with her heart, and that she could see herself falling for Jane. So even though she says of course your family comes first and you shouldn't mess it up, I think it belies her feelings. I'm not mad at her - Jane instigated this. (Not mad at Jane, I stood by.)

Regarding the fair play thing, I guess I phrased it poorly, but yes, we've discussed the m/f factor, and Jane said a girl would be fair - As long as I was honest and came home to her, that she'd have to be okay with it. Not that it wouldn't hurt her. Anyway I don't think it's really a nit to pick in this case as it's not something I'll pursue.

Jane's ideal notion is that she could have a close friend with whom she occasionally messes around. In reality, we're not sure she can do it without feelings getting in the way, which leads us back to this.

Also, in Jane's defense, she does know this is her id at work and she hands-down chooses me if she has to choose. She feels terrible for putting all of us through this, and she is reading this thread as well. The only person that isn't is Sam. Hmm..

"But yours is clear, direct and objective, almost to the point of being detached."
I worked very hard to be objective in the post, but please understand I'm not emotionally detached. I think it helps that we've had such open communication and been able to lay out a lot of these thoughts ahead of time. And I still thought I rambled!

Thank you all so much for weighing in on this. I'd love to hand out some favorites, but since I can't, please know that once again this place has been invaluable to me, and I very much appreciate the insight all of you have given.
posted by cortex at 11:28 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Jane's ideal notion is that she could have a close friend with whom she occasionally messes around. In reality, we're not sure she can do it without feelings getting in the way, which leads us back to this.

It seems like this is the central problem, and this may be the reason that Sam is exactly the wrong person for Jane to explore her possible attraction to women with-- it's already clear that feelings are part of the picture here, and figuring out the emotional attachment she has to Sam is going to be a very different process from figuring out how she feels about vaginas.
posted by dizziest at 11:58 AM on October 3, 2012


Jane said a girl would be fair - As long as I was honest and came home to her, that she'd have to be okay with it.

That's not really how emotions work, I think you probably know that.

I think you guys are doing okay. It's confusing, there are some tears. These things happen. I like that you are so honest with each other -- although, I would caution about using your partner as a stand-in for a therapist. There are all sorts of conversations that can go WAY BETTER with your spouse if you're not working out your feelings in realtime.

I'm also glad that you have a strong sexual relationship together, that's a big help.

Your wife's curiosity might or might not develop into something that she needs an occasional outlet for. I would say that the experience you described about the two women wanting it to be NSA but then weeping over it when it ended is not just typical, it's STEREOtypical. So one thing to remember is that in relationships between two women there is a whole landscape of emotional ranges that neither of you are used to. It's especially good to for your wife to be prepared to encounter that in the wild. Maintaining the boundaries -- which she has helped to set, in your discussions -- is your wife's MOST IMPORTANT JOB in these dalliances, if there are any more of them.

And you know what? It may work out just fine that way. The first time my partner and I opened up, it was dizzying and at times upsetting. It got much easier each time -- thankfully most of these other people were good, safe people to experiment with.

So, it's possible that the worst is actually over. You have a lot more information than you used to, but you don't have to figure out everything right this very minute, or even this month.
posted by hermitosis at 11:59 AM on October 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


I do not think you should share her. You have a child together to think about. The first thing I would do is see a lawyer since child support and custody battle is an eventual outcome.


keep in mind once child support and custody comes into it she could turn to a really nasty person to deal with.

Since youhave a child together it really comes down to does she just want you or this other woman. Sharing will not work.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:17 PM on October 3, 2012


child support and custody battle is an eventual outcome... Sharing will not work.

Without a cite of some kind, this is just incredibly biased and unhelpful. The idea that nonmonogamous relationships are by default dysfunctional and an unhealthy setting for family relationships/children is actually a pretty radical idea to hold.
posted by hermitosis at 12:29 PM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


There are a fair number of sexually active hetero men who are squicked out by vaginas, so that may not be the dealbreaker that some imagine it to be. Not to mention that some women are more into giving than getting, as it were.
posted by gentian at 12:46 PM on October 3, 2012


OP, after your update, I really really think Sam isn't in a place to consider Jane's feelings from the best place for ALL involved, and Jane should keep this in mind.

It's not attractive to emotionally secure people when someone less experienced than them "waffles" in their feelings. This usually makes the more experienced person back off and gravitate towards those they are on more even footing with, experiencially and emotionally.

You know who does find confusion in others that have less experience sexy and attractive? Drama-hounds and people with screwy ideas about power dynamics and relationships.

It's OK to play sexy drama-filled power games in a consenting BDSM-type situation, not so much with a younger woman who is the mother of a 3 year old, inexperienced with lesbian relationships, and with an existing commitment to her partner of 6 years.

I really wasn't thinking poorly of Sam before your update, I just thought she sounded immature.

I still think she sounds immature, but as the older and more experienced individual in this equation, she should know better than to say things that inflame the situation once the initial trial run left Jane feeling conflicted and uncomfortable.


Sam needs to get her own life, not take sips of Jane's.


Jane - no one is the bad guy here necessarily, but if you are looking to Sam for guidance through this as someone older or more experienced - please don't.


I said it up in my initial comment in this thread, this woman does not have your deeper interests at heart. She sounds very focused on herself and how compelling she finds this whole thing.


I think if it was "right" you would not have felt so icky and conflicted afterwards. Walk away from this "opportunity" because it doesn't make you feel good all the way through. It's not about the genders involved, it's about everything else.


Your gut said there was something hinky going on. I agree.



Disclaimer: I'm female and have had relationships with boys, a few girls, and more than a few transgender individuals. I'm married now to a man, our son is 1.5 years old. I've done variations on open and polyamourous relationships, and I've been close to people who have done them long-term. I'm not a prude, nor a proponent of monagamy. Just saying this in case you think I might not know what I'm talking about. The same sex aspect is the MacGuffin, IMHO. I know it is so titillating! This is less about the gender you are attracted to, and much more about how this person is attracting you. I know the blame has been put on you because you're "waffling." I hope I've made a strong case for why that is bullshit. Whatever is going on here, don't fall for it. If you want to explore different variations of things in the future with safer boundaries in place once the dust settles - go for it!! But this situaton sounds unstable and is all kinds of no bueno. Stop messing with this mess. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 1:26 PM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


You have already experienced some of the trajectories open relationships offer. Now, so has your partner.

One thing I notice is that not having a specific relationsip with Sam already has caused you some discomfort. The X factor resonates in several ways. One of its features is that it plays on any nonspecific insecurities a person may have. Your wife also seems to have a few misgivings about this.

Let me confuse the issue a little more: Let's assume that your wife finds a smashingly good lesbian partner, and now they both want to be mothers to your child. How would that play out for you? There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but you could think over whether an arrangement such as this would be a good fit for you.

As you say, this relationship (with Sam) already has some features that suggest it won't be a lasting one. This might be a good time to have another discussion about what the ideal mixture ought to be. After all, it's not realistic to assume that you can enact all your fantasies, or satisfy all your curious musings.
posted by mule98J at 1:29 PM on October 3, 2012


Three rules of thumb:

1) Nobody can ever control (or even necessarily predict) their feelings.
2) Everybody can control their actions if they try.
3) Just because you feel like acting a certain way, doesn't mean you have to do it.

Nobody can ever promise not to be attracted to someone. But they can promise not to act on the attraction — or promise to ask you before acting on it, or promise to keep it within boundaries you decide on, or whatever.

Nobody can ever promise not to be upset about something. But they can promise to deal with their upset like a grownup, not make a scene about it at work, etc. etc.

Nobody can ever promise they'll always be emotionally okay with nonmonogamy. (This is one of the things that makes it difficult and not-for-everyone.) All they can promise is, again, to deal with the upset like a grownup when it comes up.

It sounds like you're trying to broker a deal where everyone promises to have totally convenient feelings and not get upset about stuff. (It sounds like you're treating yourself that way, too, saying "I should feel okay about nonmonogamy, so I'm going to." Nope. Sorry. Doesn't follow. You feel how you feel.)

Cut that out. The two of you need to figure out how you're going to act. And then you need to stick to that commitment even when it's not fun. Whether you go back to monogamy or keep fooling around, that's how you actually negotiate boundaries in a relationship: by saying "No matter what sort of mood I'm in, here's what I promise to do and not do."
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:35 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


General advice to couples: never trust anyone outside your relationship to have your best interests (or even their own) at heart, especially if you have something they want.
posted by hermitosis at 1:43 PM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


TL;DR all the responses but I just wanted to say that you sound like a great guy -- kind, compassionate and thoughtful, all things that really matter in the long run. Kudos on trying to do what's right in this situation. (I don't have any advice on that though, sorry)
posted by blue_bicycle at 3:09 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


TL;DR all the responses but I just wanted to say that you sound like a great guy -- kind, compassionate and thoughtful, all things that really matter in the long run. Kudos on trying to do what's right in this situation. (I don't have any advice on that though, sorry)

I would like to second this. You're already handling this really well.
posted by alex_skazat at 3:18 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Totally from a woman's perspective, you have an opportunity here to score some serious, long-term points to help secure a deep, lasting intimacy together. You sound really cool and smart, so use your head and stop thinking about tit-for-tat, as it were. Stop thinking it's fair for you to have an affair if you're not drawn to someone. This is something that has come up for her. Let it be about her and let her know you'll be there no matter what and on the deepest level she'll be yours forever.
posted by Mertonian at 3:24 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The question is whether you are comfortable with an open relationship (why does it matter what sex the other person is??). So are you?

You both have a child together, hopefully someone is thinking of her and her need for a 2 parent family.
posted by pakora1 at 4:11 PM on October 3, 2012


Experiments sometimes dont work out the way we expect them to. When they dont you take stock of what you thought was true and reconcile that with the actual aftermath. Then you develop a new approach incorporating the new facts as established by the (failed?) experiment.
posted by forforf at 4:53 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds to me like you're all making this unnecessarily complicated. Jane and Sam want to get it on some more and, more than likely, that will continue to result in more sex for you with Jane and will do nothing to affect your family. Sam doesn't sound like she's heavily invested in a D&M relationship with Jane (I could be wrong but it just sound like sex) and Jane's just confused in that OMGsexfeelingsWTF kind of way.

Jane's ideal notion is that she could have a close friend with whom she occasionally messes around. In reality, we're not sure she can do it without feelings getting in the way, which leads us back to this.

Suddenly having a sex-only thing after being in a committed relationship for a long time is a BIG THING. Suddenly doing that with a woman when you haven't done that before is a BIG THING. It doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, it just means there's a huge gear shift going on.

Jane should take some time out (to read The Ethical Slut), and go from there. There's nothing to stop Jane and Sam from getting it on + you and Jane having your loving family and funsexytimes together.

You all know about each other (very key to doing this properly) and it seems to be resulting in a lot of positivity for you all from a sex perspective. The only thing that's holding you back is the concept of ownership - and it is completely fine for you and Jane to want to be monogamous - but from what you've written there seems to have been no great fallout from this escapade other than some confusion (which always happens when things change).

If you don't want Jane and Sam getting together, then tell them that. If you don't mind, tell them that. Jane could run away with her lesbian lover, but given that she's coming home and having hot sex with you, I sincerely doubt that.

Your sex life shouldn't shut down and/or not evolve simply because you have a family. But you all do need to be very honest with each other about what you really want.
posted by heyjude at 8:54 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh and if she's concerned about the feelings - you can love someone and just be friends with them, you can love someone and just have sex with them, and you can love someone and have a family with them.
posted by heyjude at 9:14 PM on October 3, 2012


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