June 4, 2010 8:02 AM   Subscribe

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?

I'm in my early-mid-twenties. Person 1 is in his mid-twenties. Person 2 is in his late teens.

Person 1:
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...)

Person 2:
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
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I'm not quite sure I understand what is left to decide. You already broke it off with both of these guys. You do not HAVE to pick one, and if that's how it feels to you, you definitely shouldn't, either. If having a boyfriend is about having a warm body next to you and doing romantic things and blah blah blah, you're not in love with a person, you're in love with love and are just casting for the role. That's not a foundation to build a healthy relationship upon.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:17 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

My hunch is time off from both is the thing to do, but, it's going to hurt regardless. From your description of person #1, it sounds like a genuinely, unavoidably tragic situation — the way you describe your day to day life sounds like What A Relationship Should Be(tm), but the deeper problems you describe are 100% for reals serious and possibly irreconcilable. You seem to be describing person #2 as more of a fling than long-term material, and if that's the way you feel you shouldn't be with him quite right now.

I've kind of got a stick up my ass re: polyamory, so I'll keep my mouth shut on that front, but... my hunch? tell person #2 he's very sweet but that it's just not good timing, take some time off from person #1, and if you absolutely positively know you want to get back together with person #1 a little later, try to do so... maybe with the polyamory stuff, maybe without, but DEFINITELY with some couples counseling to figure out how to deal with the different ways y'all manage stress.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:18 AM on June 4, 2010

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.

Sorry, "I'm lonely and I like the attention" is not a good enough reason to keep a relationship going, nor is it fair to keep these two people in limbo. You are trying to have it all, and in the meantime you're depriving everyone of anything. Retire from this situation and spend it getting to know yourself a little better. This is coming from a pro-poly person, FWIW.

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!

The rest of your life is (probably) much longer than you think it is. You will have no shortage of regrets, but this situation will probably be the least among them.
posted by hermitosis at 8:21 AM on June 4, 2010 [19 favorites]

I vote for person 2. Being "unreceptive to your boundaries" is deal-breakingly serious, and probably will not get better.
posted by mreleganza at 8:23 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

To me, the strange thing about this situation is that you and person #1 did not get together to work on solutions to the terrible stress that he was experiencing at work, which resulted in these interpersonal problems. Together you should have been able to come up with some means of making his work less stressful. There is always some means of solving such problems, although in extreme cases it could require a solution such as selling the business and getting into some other, less stressful line of work. If you wanted to you could still go back to person #1 and see if this underlying problem of work related stress can be solved in some manner. However, my guess is that this is not the best strategy, the moment for that has passed. I suspect that your best bet at this point is to go with person 2. And despite several people who have suggested that you don't have to bother with either person 1 or person 2, I think you still have something worth pursuing with person 2 - and in any event, if you give it a try and it doesn't work out, you are still free to change your mind once again. I wouldn't give up too quickly, if I were you.
posted by grizzled at 8:30 AM on June 4, 2010

What I actually want? (It's unclear) What would be best for me? (It's unclear - perhaps neither of them)

If you don't know what you want nor what is best for you, then you don't deserve either one of them. It sounds like you need to spend some time alone figuring out the answers to the above questions.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:51 AM on June 4, 2010

I feel like I'm choosing between being young and romantic and being old and serious.

Nothing in your question explains to me why you'd feel this way. Equating thinking about the future with being "old and serious" strikes me maybe some sort of justification you've come up with for ending that relationship?

If you want a long-term relationship with Person 1, you two really need to figure out a way to work on your relationship expectations regarding what you mean by fidelity, and how you two can manage your respective stress levels. It sounds like you two did have things worked out pretty well "in reality," but that his flirtatious behavior was bothering you. There's possible room for compromise there -- if he really, really isn't going to sleep with these women, then is it really really important that he disclose his relationship with you in proscribed terms? Regarding the vicious circle of stress, it seems obvious to me that one solution would be for you would find a secondary partner/close friend who could give you the type of support you need in times of your stress.

But it's not fair to drag Person 2 into a compromised secondary role unless he consents to it.

At the end of the day, though, you're right, you need to make a choice about what you really want. Yes, there's risk either way. You don't get a guarantee that either relationship will work out. You may get your heart broken either way, at which point you can pick yourself up and try again with someone else.
posted by desuetude at 9:10 AM on June 4, 2010

You shouldn't be with person 1, because it seems that you are fundamentally incompatible. From what you've described, he will always feel the way he does re. polyamory (which is fine) and so will you (which is also fine) but means that there would always be conflict in your relationship. You need to be on the same page. So, no #1.

You shouldn't be with person 2 because you are still hung up on person 1. It's not fair to person 2.

You should take a good long time and get to know what you, yourself want, without putting either of these people in the picture at all. Insert cliche about fish and sea right about here.
posted by gaspode at 9:16 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

God, just reading your description was exhausting. I think you need to pull a Kelly Taylor and "choose you."
posted by venividivici at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Pull a Kelly Taylor.

This 90210 reference is probably too old for you. Pick yourself.

Yes, you will be alone, you might be lonely, but that's not the worst thing in the world. Learning how to be okay by yourself is the best thing one can do to prepare for a long term relationship.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:30 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here, let me make it easy.

If you can't figure out in 10 seconds why you should be with 1 or 2? Then pick 3. Go get out of this drama and figure yourself out for awhile.

Lonely? Seriously? It sounds like you have bunches of friends, with two who flatter you (and get naked with you.) Take some time to figure out life beyond that.
posted by filmgeek at 9:45 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

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!

Okay, I skimmed the rest of your question (a condensed version would be immensely useful) but my eyes snagged on this sentence.

Deal with being lonely. Deal with it deal with it deal with it. Lonely is good sometimes! Lonely is what makes you figure yourself out. Lonely is what prepares you to deal with the complexities of relationships, because it has forced you to face the complexities of yourself. You sound incredibly young, and you seem to equate a relationship with immediate gratification instead of an opportunity to grow as both an individual and as a couple. You have your whole life to cuddle with a guy or two guys or whatever equation gets you off, but you will keep fucking up relationships if you're terrified of loneliness.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:03 AM on June 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

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).

I'd just like to say that if this is the sort of reason you're skeptical of polyamory, this guy is doing it wrong. Polyamory does not mean running roughshod over everybody's feelings to have what you want. This guy would be a creep whether he was with one person or three. Polyamory can be difficult, but being an honest and respectful partner shouldn't be.
posted by mykescipark at 10:15 AM on June 4, 2010 [8 favorites]

Despite all of the good qualities you have detailed about Person 1, getting back with him sounds like an exercise in masochism. He wanted a polyamorous relationship, but not any of the work or rules that go along with it. You say he was "unreceptive" to any boundaries you wanted to set (generally a deal-breaker regardless of whether said boundaries are related to polyamory)... and then suddenly, when YOU find a relationship/fling on the side, he suddenly wants to be monogamous? The whole thing reeks.

That is a biggie, and that's even before you get into the whole isolating himself to the point of sleeping on the couch for weeks on end. Ugh.

Person 2 seems like a viable option, possibly, once you get your emotions sorted out. Although, as you have said, choosing "neither" is also a viable option, and possible the best one.
posted by couch fort dinner party at 10:24 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're kidding yourself if you actually think that Person 1 is available to you in any real, significant way. Limit your contact with Person 1 to profession settings only.

Tell Person 2 you don't want to make him the rebound guy.

Then spend a few months living with yourself, and learning about yourself, instead of distracting yourself with relationship drama.

If Person 2 is still available and interested in a few months, and you still feel really warmly towards him, give dating him a another try.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:25 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay...take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Would you want to be pretty much led on while one of these guys were in the same position as you? Really, think about it. Emotions are not to be toyed with, imo. It sounds like you need time to yourself to figure out what YOU want. This is all a learning process. What do you really want out of a relationship? What are you willing/not willing to put up with? Be honest with yourself.
posted by zombiehoohaa at 11:05 AM on June 4, 2010

I agree wholeheartedly with the "choose yourself," idea, but I gotta say your entire attempt to be "fair" to Guy #2 is total backfiresville. Being fair to Guy #2 means, ya know, letting him choose what is fair for himself with full disclosure and eyes wide open. And it sounds like he would choose you and take that risk for himself.

And you don't have Old Marrieds love with Guy #2, but instead it feels young and fresh?? Oh the hoooorrror. I don't get why so many AskMes piss on Romantic Love because it's not sustainable. Romantic Love (think: cloud nine) is fricking amazing. If you're a healthy adult you take the good and the bad and realize that Romantic Love is not forever, but in the meantime you enjoy and see where it leads, because it is awesome, awesome, awesome. If it leads to the love of Old Marrieds, then you are very lucky indeed to have the chance to experience the full spectrum of love with one special partner. (If you're not healthy and prone to depression, obsession or choosing abusive partners, then, yeah Romantic Love might be something to be wary of.)

However, you will never be able to be fair to your partners until you learn how to learn how to be fair to yourself. How much of your decision to be polyamorous was the result of the so-called "disease to please"? (Worth Googling) How much of your decision to break it off with Guy#2 was because of the idea that you "should" feel the same love toward him that he feels towards you? Cop outs! Ultimately, at the base of it, the only fair reason to break up with someone is because you selfishly want to--because you will be a happier, more rounded, and more fulfilled person without them. Another way to think about it: Do you compromise who you are for them or do you *become* your better self inspired by them?
posted by Skwirl at 12:28 PM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Pulling out my Pop Psychology textbook, it's probably not a coincidence that from the start you felt like you'd known #1 forever and belonged with him eternally and that his big issue totally worsens your big issue. I think the self-help manual on this topic is Harville Hendrix's Getting the Love You Want.
posted by salvia at 12:42 PM on June 4, 2010

You don't miss Person #1, exactly: instead you describe missing a theoretical future which you guys MAYBE could have together, IF you figured your very-complicated problems out, which you don't make it sound like you guys were making good headway on.

In contrast, you do miss Person #2. I would get back with Person #2 (who can make his own decisions) and go visit his grandmother in the woods and have a good time.

Also, keep in mind two important points: 1, until you make a decision you are going to feel tormented, and 2, THERE IS NO CORRECT DECISION. There is no "best" decision. There is only what you choose, and how it turns out.
posted by hungrytiger at 1:07 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I suspect this is a "choose yourself, followed by some guy #3 in the future" sort of thing.

Guys shouldn't be a choice of identity.

I feel like I'm choosing between being young and romantic and being old and serious.

Why can't you find a guy who is a balance of the two? Even besides the rest of the drama, who wants to pick the "old and serious" and never be young and romantic again, or choose "young and romantic" without the option of adulthood later? I don't really like this duality you've got going for yourself, and if it's really framed that way, no wonder you can't pick because one choice shuts off the other side.

I think Person #1 is done and over with, regardless of the decision though. I can't say yes to that one. I think Person 2, on the other hand, sounds like he has possibilities for more (hey, maybe someday he'll want to grow up along with you), if you have to choose. But if you don't feel much for him beyond fling material, maybe just don't bother going back if you really want that "old married" thing eventually.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:08 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Regarding the polyamory angle: I'm with mykescipark and couch fort dinner party. Person 1 sounds like lots of folks who're initially attracted to the idea of poly (and I may go so far as to say, give it such a bad rap)--they think about all the goodies that can accrue to them, not the work and compromises that will be required of them.

You're finding out about some of the toughest parts of poly relationships, too. New relationship energy is just *different* than the comforts of an established relationship--and can often throw the challenges of an established relationship into high relief. Also, the love you feel for two different people, with their unique strengths/weakenesses/attractions/difficulties, can just be totally different in tenor, because the chemistries of your one-on-one relationships are just different. The kinds of comparisons you're making can drive you crazy.

Lots of good suggestions here, I think, about what to do next. I think there are way worse fates than being alone, or even lonely, and that's *definitely* something you will benefit from for the rest of your life if you learn to live with it in your early 20s.

Be glad you know them, be glad you loved them, be glad you love them, and let 'em go.
posted by Sublimity at 4:18 PM on June 4, 2010

For what it's worth, I think the different ways you and Guy #1 react to stress would be a dealbreaker, and I kind of wonder if at first it wasn't one because you don't seem to like being alone and didn't have any "backup" plans, so to speak. Also the fact that he's doing a pretty skeezy version of polyamory is a problem; I don't have anything against polyamory when it's done right, but not being honest with the people he's interested in, not agreeing to ground rules, etc, is not cool behavior. Anyway, I say this just because when you talk about your imagined future with Guy #1, I don't think it would be as happy as you imagine. How people handle stress is really important because you're both always going to have times of stress, and you guys escalate each other's stress. And he's probably always going to be doing his skeezy version of polyamory, too. I dunno, to me, Guy #1 should obviously be out of the picture, and any lingering feelings for him are just of the normal kind everyone has after a break-up and should be dealt with.

Which isn't to say you should pick Guy #2. I think probably you should try to be alone and not stay with guys just because you're lonely.

But if you were going to pick one, Guy #2 seems like the obvious choice since you don't have any major problems with him yet; it would be just like normal dating where you broke up with Guy #1 because a few major problems meant it didn't work out, so now you're trying Guy #2. Later down the line you might have major problems with Guy #2, but that's why you date people before you marry them. Don't make a bigger deal out of this than there needs to be.
posted by Nattie at 11:12 AM on June 5, 2010

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 had to reread this. I think what you mean is that your feeling of identity and self stayed discrete and you were not a codependency-mind-blendo-entity that sometimes happens when folk couple. Please understand that, to an outsider reading your description of your living situation, YOUR LIFE WAS TOTALLY ENMESHED WITH HIS. He was your boss, your housemate, your lover, and the object of your affection. Most of our relationships with others involve only one or two of those categories.

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).

Good wording in this one: he considers himself polyamorous. In reality, he's a Cake-with-a-little-varietypak-of-SnackCake-on-the-side for whom women's liberation never happened. Your boundary #1 is the "open" in open relationship, and his "unreceptivity" is what I am basing my snarky assessment on. You may really be the polyamourous one, in that you seem to believe that a true, expansive and satisfying love life would be achieved by adopting the most tolerant set of rules possible. Please do not own the "failure" as if it was on your part, nor should you own the "polyamoury" if, as you say, This wouldn't normally be my thing (and typically I'd even be kind of suspicious of anyone who espoused it) is still the case.

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)

that is alot in a month, for someone you have broken up (or are trying to break up) with.

I don't know what to choose, or even what a good basis for thinking about making a decision would be.

I'm not sure why #1 is still even an option. Did the goose/gander dynamic cause tension when you began with #2? Has #1 said anything about wanting to get back together or missing what you had? Were you even #1's #1 relationship while you lived together, or does he have a wife or alpha-girlfriend that you haven't mentioned? (making the polyamoury label make alot more sense.) Your pulse for #1 is a thing for lack of a better word I will call LUST™, and LUST™ is a not-great basis for decision making regarding SOMEONE WITH WHOM YOU ALREADY HAVE A COMPLICATED AND DISAPPOINTING HISTORY (beautiful stranger? different story!!!). Take it from someone maybe twice your age: it is addictive as hell, it thrives on hurtful, adverse, and forbidden situations, and like cigarettes it can make you cry trying to quit.

Advice? Pretty much articulated by MCMikeNamara, filmgeek, zoomorphic, couch fort dinner party (although i'm not sure you ever said #1 wanted to be monogamous), Squeak Attack, and Nattie with the following extra fluffy-bits sprinkled on top:

1) In your time of "choose you" (i can't call it "being single" because that carries connotations of out and about on the market, and the goal here is to process this relationship you had with #1 and focus on your relationship with yourself and how you want to form your future), please conduct as much cleansing of #1 from your life as you possibly can. I know moving might not be an option, but moving your furniture around might. Buy a new set of linens that you like. Gather up his things, and have the Death Bear pay you a visit. Okay, I know ditching beautiful, sentimental gifts can be regretted later, but at the very least PUT THEM IN STORAGE OUT OF YOUR SIGHT. You can get sentimental over them when you're 80. PLEASE CONSIDER GETTING ANOTHER JOB. Let me repeat. PLEASE CONSIDER GETTING ANOTHER JOB. I know, not easy. But the place where your esteem and survival are still dependent on #1 is the place that is going to make it harder for you move on, when you have already made the decision to do so. And being around his physical presence, pheremones, etc. makes it harder to get over craving and needing the LUST™.

2) In your time of "choose you" get a piece of paper. Draw a line down the middle. #1 goes on one side. You go on the other. Now read back over your post, and any other posts you may have made regarding this relationship. Everytime a statement makes an excuse or justification for the behaviors of #1, put a hash on his side. Everytime it is an excuse or justification regarding your own behavior and choices, put a hash on your side. Who ends up with more hashes? If those statements had to be boiled down into simpler concept or sentence, what would that be for him? For you? If that concept had to stand in as a summary for either of you, would it seem accurate? Why am I asking you to do this? Facts are facts; justifications are a human's way of obfuscating the obvious, so as to stay in a comfortable state of denial.

3) In your time of "choose you," do some creative projects in your own discipline. Or a completely different one. If you are a painter, write a song or poem. If you are a musician, choreograph an expressive dance or write a skit or play. If you are a programmer, make a collage. If you cut hair, sew a dress. It may draw you into processing emotions (especially in the case of writing maudlin, morrisey-like lyrics). While that would be a plus, that is not the goal. The goal is to create a little bubble that is completely within YOUR control, you are doing what pleases YOU, where considerations of all these #1s and #2s and OMG_WHATTABOUT_THE_FUTRE_WHAT_IF_I_NEVER_HAVE_A_SWEETIE_AGAIN thoughts are put aside. When you look at the result, what does it say about what you really value? Please, always choose to nurture what you really value.

[Disclaimer: PRONOIA-IST.]
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 6:26 PM on June 5, 2010

Person 2 asked you to consider dating him monogamously.

Around the same time, you broke it off with Person 1. You then decided that because you broke it off with Person 1, that you were now in a monogamous relationship with Person 2, either by default, or because you wanted to try to be monogamous with Person 2. It didn't work out because you couldn't turn off your love for Person 1 and you didn't think it was right to date Person 2 and love Person 1 at the same time. This restricted your feelings and your behaviors towards Person 1 and made you feel like you were wronging Person 2. You didn't like it.

So, to fix it, you broke off the sex with Person 2 and said "hey, it's over". Now technically you're not together, so you can continue to let your relationship with Person 1 run its natural course without wronging Person 2. This should remove a huge source of guilt and allow you to start seeing Person 1 again, ethically.

Great, right? Wait. There's a catch.

The move you made to free yourself up for Person 1 ended up really hurting Person 2, so you're not guilt-free after all. Breakups are necessary sometimes, that's true, but you didn't really break up. In almost every way, you're still in a romantic relationship with Person 2. Only now Person 2 doesn't get to have sex with you (ouch), and you've made it clear that he can no longer rely on you to treat him as a valued romantic partner (double ouch).

Summary: you figured out how to get freedom to see Person 1 without losing Person 2, but you did it at the expense of Person 2's intimacy and security.

What did you gain from all of this? Technical monogamy--you're not officially dating anyone, so you can't cheat on anyone. That's it. Otherwise, you are back where you started when Person 2 first suggested monogamy. And you've gone through a hell of a lot (and put both men through a hell of a lot) in the meantime.

So here we are, back at the beginning. Problem: Person 2 wants a monogamous relationship but is willing to unhappily tolerate a polyamorous relationship--who knows for how long. What should you do about that? What's next?

Your impulse in this situation is to try to shove your relationships into a monogamous mold and "pick one". We've heard the story hundreds of times. One woman! Two men! A choice that will change her life! Torn between two lovers! It's familiar, and you understand it even if you don't like it.

You can play whatever role you like, but playing opposite of you are two people, real people, not characters. Not concepts. Not ideals. People whom you love and should treat with consideration and respect. This decision affects them as much as it does you, so please include them. You respect their opinions, right? Let them help you and support you, as much as they can. Be there to help and support them. Be honest with yourself AND with both of these men about what you feel and what you want, and work towards making some tough decisions.

I can't tell you what you should decide. Maybe what you really want is to date Person 2 and work towards a fulfilling long-term relationship with him, while continuing to figure things out with Person 1. Maybe you're trying to do that already but you're not being completely up-front about it with them or with yourself. Maybe non-monogamy really won't work for Person 2 and he will decide to break things off with you permanently, including the chats and cuddles. That would be a huge loss for you but might be right for him. Or maybe really want a firm, monogamous commitment from Person 1, but you're afraid to ask for it because you don't think you'll get it, and getting rejected hurts. Maybe you'll make a happy compromise. Maybe neither relationship will work out.

Eek. Doesn't sound so great compared to the romance and seeming simplicity of just picking one man and living happily and wistfully ever after, does it? But that's not going to happen. You already tried to just go ahead pick one, and it didn't work. You need information from both men; you need advice from people who know you; you need to identify all of your options; you need time.

In the meantime, expect a lot of uncertainty, vulnerability, awkward conversations, sadness, hope, among other things. Working through it all, being there for your loved ones as completely and honestly as you can, letting them participate in this decision with you--it is not going to be a 90 minute movie. It's going to be complicated. But it's going to be worth it, and it's the right thing to do.

Best of luck.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:21 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ifdss#9's comment reminded me that I wanted to tell you that it's not necessarily wrong nor counter to the ideals of monogamy to be with one person while you grieve another. There are real downsides, and taking space for yourself might be better, but depending on your other options, it might be a good choice.
posted by salvia at 12:08 AM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being with someone isn't necessarily a cure for loneliness. I adore my husband, love him madly. But I still feel lonely at times. You really need to learn to deal with that.

I think that makes it clear that my vote is take some time for yourself. And, in time, if #2 still wants you and you really love him, go for it. #1 is incompatible with what you want in a relationship.
posted by deborah at 9:13 PM on June 6, 2010

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