Dating when you already have feelings you never intend to act on?
March 8, 2013 5:47 AM   Subscribe

I have feelings for another woman that I have no intention of ever acting on, and my current relationship seems doomed because of it. Help.

("Alice" is 24, "Beth" is 29, and I (dude) am 32. I dated Alice casually while she was an undergrad and I was a grad student. We did not start a serious relationship until we'd known each other for a year and she was graduated and working.)

I have a friend, Beth, who I've known for almost my entire life, and we were fleetingly romantically involved, physically and emotionally a year ago. I love Beth, in that I desire for her to be safe and happy, and I feel warmth and comfort when I think about her. Beth is halfway across the country, and I like it that way. If we interact too much, I want to be around her and I feel strong romantic feelings towards her. But, I absolutely do not want to spend the rest of my life with Beth, because I don't think I would be happy, based on our personalities. I am very sure of this, but not 100% sure. In any case, the thought of it makes my skin crawl. Therefore, I limit my contact with Beth in order to be able to have romantic attachment to other people. Specifically, in the present, in order to protect my feelings for Alice (more below), I voluntarily, deliberately, and carefully limit my contact with Beth to maybe an email or two every couple of months and I do not share details of my life with her. We do not talk about anything of substance or anything intimate. By unspoken agreement, Beth does the same. I hatched this plan on my own, and was doing it before dating Alice.

I am dating Alice, now. We have known each other for about two years, and we have been dating for one year. We dated casually for a few months the first year we knew each other, in that we explicitly agreed that we were physically monogamous but not emotionally monogamous, and we put an end date on the relationship. After perhaps a four month hiatus with Alice, during which I slept with Beth, Alice and I decided to enter into an emotionally monogamous, committed relationship. We agreed that we were exploring the possibility of forever. One year later, Alice and I have talked casually about marriage on and off, i.e. a choice and agreement to be together forever, but we agreed that we certainly have not made that choice yet.

Alice is aware of Beth, my feelings for Beth, and that Beth and I slept with each other when Alice and I were not dating. And she was aware of these things when entering into this current relationship with me.

A week ago, I sent a text to Beth, while with Alice (which I have never done before), about coincidental magazine covers showing a character from a TV show that Beth and I bonded over. Alice asked me why I was smiling, and I explained, and Alice has been on high alert ever since.

Alice has demanded that I cease all contact with Beth. Alice has at least verbally stated that she trusts me as competent in accurately predicting and describing my internal state and in regulating my behavior. She apparently believes me in that, for example, if I marry her and have kids, and I say I won't suddenly realize I was meant to be with Beth and run off, then I won't. But she still wants me to cease all contact with Beth. Alice feels that whatever I get from my relationship with Beth, I should get from other friends. Alice can empathize with my feeling romantic feelings for Beth because she still has romantic feelings for her previous boyfriend. However, Alice feels the difference between our situations is that she is working on not having feelings for her previous boyfriend.

I am not working on not having feelings for Beth. I am regulating my feelings for Beth, which I have explained to Alice. Alice has at least verbally said that she trusts me to competently guard my feelings for her (Alice) and to regulate my feelings for Beth. But she still wants me to cease all contact with Beth. Regardless of my competence in regulating my attention and emotional attachment, and her belief that I have no intention of ever spending my life with Beth, Alice feels that it's more risk than she's willing to deal with, and she is currently unwilling to live with that risk into the future. She feels that I am disrespecting her and is amazed that I could be hurting her like this.

I explored last night, alone, the thought of cutting all contact with Beth. It made me want to die inside (not literally), and it made me feel white hot (nonviolent) hate for Alice, simultaneous with my feelings for her. I feel like if Alice and I broke up, I would be devastated, but hopefully, acutely, only for a few weeks. (When we finished our first casual thing, we were both a mess for a few days.) But, I want to continue monogamously exploring what I have with Alice, though I'm not ready to commit.

So. I'm not willing to cut contact with Beth, which I explained to Alice. I've known Beth for my entire life. I've known Alice for two years. Up top I said Alice and I agreed to enter an "emotionally monogamous, committed relationship." I think for me that meant I expected my feelings around Beth to fade, and presumably Alice did too. But that is not happening. Alice feels unacceptably disrespected, powerless, and defeated. She is extremely upset.

For my part, I feel like it is perfectly reasonable for Alice not to want me to look inside and find strong feelings for someone besides her. Period. But I wish she would look at the last year and see whether I've ever been emotionally unavailable because of Beth, if I've ever made a choice that favored Beth over Alice. (Excepting the precipitating text incident.) And the answer is no; I've barely thought about Beth. And, in fact, I deliberately do not follow trains of thought about Beth. I gently acknowledge the initial thought and appreciate it and then turn my thoughts to something else. And, yes, that takes some effort, but I'm going to be making that effort for as long as Beth keeps coming up, and I'd guess I'd like some sympathy for that. (And I'm wondering whether this'll be an issue for every relationship, ever, if Alice and I don't work out. I will not attack myself over this, nor will I not disclose this--I think it's a big deal, as Alice clearly does.)

For Beth's part, well, there is no Beth: Of course she has no idea any of this is going on, because she's not an intimate part of my life! We recommend books and TV to each other, months apart, with emails the length of tweets. It makes me happy, indeed because of who I'm specifically emailing with. We have a long history of TV show and book watching and mutual understanding that is irreplaceable. And presumably we're never going to engage in that again, except in the superficial way we're doing now, because that's precisely what would make me pine for her, which is why I'm not doing it. And Alice is turning Beth into this OTHER who does not actually exist except in Alice's head, and Alice is trying to make me believe in OTHER-Beth, and it's poisoning the pretty uncomplicated joy I derive from what's left of my relationship with Beth, and it makes me furious.

Earlier the day of the text, Alice said something about my career and values that made me feel deeply betrayed. I have been willing to explore that further with her. It's likely that that betrayal incident was somehow related to me sending that text to Beth in Alice's presence. Ouch. So, that's everything.

Where am I being inconsistent? How can I make Alice understand my position better? What is Alice trying to tell me that I am not hearing? I'm really upset. Please be gentle.
posted by zeek321 to Human Relations (74 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Also, I know the above comes off as cerebral, but there is a goofy, joyous, relaxed, intimate, physical, collaborative, conscientious, silly, careful warmth my relationship with Alice. She would agree. I care about Alice and the relationship. Man, the last few days have been ugly.)
posted by zeek321 at 5:52 AM on March 8, 2013

And, in fact, I deliberately do not follow trains of thought about Beth. I gently acknowledge the initial thought and appreciate it and then turn my thoughts to something else. And, yes, that takes some effort, but I'm going to be making that effort for as long as Beth keeps coming up, and I'd guess I'd like some sympathy for that.

You want sympathy from your current girlfriend that you constantly think about a former girlfriend but manage those feelings, despite refusing to totally cut off contact with that former girlfriend? You want Alice to stop "poisoning the pretty uncomplicated joy I derive from what's left of my relationship" with Beth? I think that's asking for too much. Alice is within her rights to feel threatened, particularly if you insist on holding onto the limerance or whatever it is you've got going on right now in your head. You can't just tell her not to be upset because you feel you've made concessions and expect her to comply. I'm not sure what your next step can be to repair the relationship with Alice as long as you protect the Beth fantasy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:57 AM on March 8, 2013 [51 favorites]

I don't understand what you are getting out of your admittedly minimal relationship with Beth that makes it so important to you. I think asking your partner to cease contact with exes that they are carrying a flame for is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. It is also perfectly reasonable for you to say no to that request, but I'm not sure there is an easy way to make Alice automatically feel better about you saying no. Have you talked to Alice about some sort of compromise?
posted by Rock Steady at 5:59 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Alice was afraid it was a big deal, felt like you were emotionally cheating on her, and made her terms clear.

The sheer length of your intellectualization of this points toward denial. If you only send an email every couple of months it shouldn't be such a rage inducing thing to drop. The amount of filtering and self-editing your life seems to involve is fairly substantial. You need to spend some time figuring out what you really want because my suspicion is that you were jilted by Beth and are trying to get back with her subconsciously, but you tell yourself otherwise.

If that's not the case, why would a simple request to stop talking to someone you don't talk to anymore induce hate and white hot rage to the person you're ostensibly committed to?

You're looking for someone to justify ignoring Alice's request but it is her request to make and it is reasonable for her to feel this way, regardless of how you try to frame it, she made her terms clear and now the ball is in your court.

Good luck. We've all been there. You'll figure it out.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:00 AM on March 8, 2013 [35 favorites]

"the pretty uncomplicated joy I derive from what's left of my relationship with Beth"

Your feelings about Beth sound very complicated, and if it takes this much deliberate willpower to keep a lid on your attraction to her, I can't imagine it's actually that enjoyable for you right now.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:02 AM on March 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

I seem to have lost a paragraph there. I was trying to say that by blowing this up into a huge thing you validated and confirmed Alice's worst fears.

If it truly was nothing and she was over reacting, you would have thought nothing of the request to cut off contact. Maybe joked around a little about her being jealous or whatever. But she had a hunch it was more than that, and boy was she ever right.

Consider just how much you had to write to contort it all into something justifiable. Look at how many qualifiers are in that post.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:04 AM on March 8, 2013 [43 favorites]

I don't understand this, it sounds like you want the best of both worlds - the committed relationship with Alice and he relationship with Beth who you're obviously still interested in. Guess what, Beth to alot of people is going to sound like your ex who you're still pining over some fantasy version of her. Alice has a right to say that she doesn't want you to stay in contact with an ex (who doesn't sound like it was a friend's with benefit deal) and you have the right to pine for the rest of your life for Beth.

Make a choice, because right now, it seems like your just stringing two people along while acting like a spoiled child over needing to make a difficult adult decision that is going to make one party hurt and unhappy. If you want Beth, date (or sleep with) Beth or choice Alice or don't choice either and get your priorities in order.
posted by lpcxa0 at 6:09 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am not working on not having feelings for Beth.

Well, there's your problem. You ain't gonna get anywhere with anyone else until you are really, truly, 100% over Beth.

So, start working on "not having feelings" for Beth - or, to be more accurate, getting over Beth. Because you aren't.

(And believe me, that can bite you in the ass if you don't - I was one of a string of women my last ex had failed relationships with because he hadn't let himself get over a divorce ten years previously.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:10 AM on March 8, 2013 [11 favorites]

Yes, are being inconsistent with Alice. If you are emotionally committed to her, the request she made is not unreasonable and out of place. She feels threatened and clearly explained her boundary. If you are having so much trouble with it, then you may not be fully committed to Alice. You want it both ways in and that can't happen in this relationship. It will harm your relationship with Alice over time and leave you feeling resentful, so someone has to make a change. She compromises and may become resentful or you cut off communication entirely and make this work. I am in a relationship where I asked the same of my partner and he still has a hard time with it and has not entirely cut off the relationship that most threatened me. I still don't manage well with it. I understand it makes you feel like you are giving up a part of yourself, but you have to choose. It's not a lot to ask for, but if it's such a big deal, then you need to look at why it is and work through that yourself. It should not be.
posted by i_wear_boots at 6:13 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to say something that I am pretty sure you won't believe right away, because I have a tendency to think the way that you do, and I've been struggling with this for a long time. But it's really true:

You cannot control your feelings by thinking about them.

You can control whether and how you choose to act on your feelings. You can choose behaviors that end up causing your feelings to change. But you can't think your way into having different feelings, because that's not how feelings work. And so when you say things like "I am regulating my feelings for Beth," and that you want to "competently guard my feelings for her (Alice) and to regulate my feelings for Beth," what I hear is "I am trying very hard to intellectualize my feelings so that I can keep them under my control." But that is just not how feelings work.

I know I've said this before on MeFi, but one of the best things I've ever heard about feeling is that they're not good or bad, they're just like having to pee. And what that means is that you can't just decide not to have certain feelings because they're inconvenient or unpleasant, because eventually, no matter how hard you try to hold them in, they're going to end up spilling out, and if that happens after you've refused to deal with them and ignored them for a long time instead of actually doing something to address your needs, you're going to wet your pants, emotionally.

You have an unrequited crush that has been going on for a long time, and you're trying to control it because it's sort of inconvenient for you and you're not really comfortable with it. But you can't do that. You have to actually let yourself have those feelings instead of trying to bottle them up and make them fit into a tiny compartment in your life. Because right now, you basically have a secret relationship with Beth, except instead of actually cheating on Alice, you're just having this prolonged fantasy in your head. In fact, you're not actually even emotionally involved with Beth; you're emotionally involved with a fantasy ideal of who you think Beth could be for you, an ideal to which Alice can never measure up because she's a real person with flaws and disagreements and needs of her own. The fact that you get enraged at Alice when she threatens your relationship with Beth shows that your control over your feelings isn't working as well as you think it is, because you're so fiercely protective of this fantasy affair you're having in your head.

You need to cut off contact with Beth. You would need to do that even if you weren't with Alice. (And if you don't do it, I suspect that very soon, you won't be with Alice anymore.) You need to do it because if you want to be happy with anyone else and have them be happy being with you, you can't be having a one-sided emotional affair with someone else. Do this for yourself, if not for Alice. Yes, it will be painful, because to you it will feel like a breakup. And you'll need to mourn this fake relationship in the same way you would mourn a real breakup. But you need to get over this, because if you don't, you will never be able to be truly in love with anyone else.
posted by decathecting at 6:17 AM on March 8, 2013 [141 favorites]

Break up with Alice, she deserves a partner who is committed to her. Stay single until you've gotten over Beth and the first step there is to go completely no contact. Completely. Stop talking to Beth, stop emailing Beth, stop texting Beth, stop thinking about Beth.

The mental effort you're expending just to keep her out of your head is astounding, and trust me, you will be incredibly glad when you don't have to tip toe around your consciousness any longer.
posted by lydhre at 6:18 AM on March 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

What the heck do you want? Do you want a committed relationship with Alice? If you do, then you can't go having lovey feelings for Beth AND remain in contact with her. Physical distance isn't enough for you to lose it, obviously.

If you don't, and you value your relationship with Beth such as it is above Alice, then you need to leave your relationship. You cannot have both things.

I honestly don't think you're available fully for anyone right now because you're not over Beth. You regret what can't be...and nothing is more expensive than that.

So be with someone who can accept Beth as part of your life. Dump Beth, keep Alice. Or dump Alice and keep Beth. Do which ever makes you happiest. You just can't keep doing what you're doing now.
posted by inturnaround at 6:26 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I doubt that you're in love with Beth, per se - you haven't been super emotionally intimate in a long time, you haven't shared much about your lives in a long time (except for the interlude when you weren't dating Alice), you have undoubtedly both grown and changed a lot. It's not so much that you're in love with an idea, more that you're in love with a habit or a link to your past or a sense of emotional possibility.

I think it would be worth exploring what Beth represents to you. (That whole "white hot anger" thing is not about the actuality of Beth.) What are you really being asked to give up when you are being asked to give up contact with Beth?

I'm not sure I'd want to partner up with someone who has so much unresolved emotional stuff around another person - even if I didn't think they'd run off the minute that a long-term relationship and child-raising got boring, I wouldn't want to put all my emotional eggs in a basket with a hole in it, because I'd figure that it would make me feel lonely. There I'd be, being all faithful and monogamous and loving toward someone who would always have this Fire! Of Important Serious Emotions! Burning Brightly! for someone else. In a casual relationship, sure, but I would not sign up for, like, fifty years of that until death took us.
posted by Frowner at 6:27 AM on March 8, 2013 [33 favorites]

Here's what I did and it worked for me. I once had a very committed relationship with a guy, Z. Z and I broke up for a year. During this year, I met a guy, P. P and I had a really solid connection but never pursued an actual relationship (he lived an hour from me as well). Z and I got back together, and I had told him about P and that I still had feelings for P. Z asked me to refrain from communicating with P.

So I told P, "Listen, I really care about you, but it's best that we don't talk so as to not threaten my relationship with Z. If/when Z and I break up, we can be friends again".

Three years later, when Z and I broke up for good, I got in contact with P. P said 'you sure do know how to keep a promise'. Then three years later, I was a groomsmaid in his wedding.

SO, ceasing contact and preserving your friendship with Beth are not mutually exclusive. Respect Alice and give her what she needs. She's been more accommodating and honest about her feelings than most people would be, so you should honor that.
posted by greta simone at 6:29 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was trying to think about this situation in your shoes as well as Alice's. I do understand your feelings. I know you don't have any desires to explore a relationship with Beth. For now. You are not exploring it because you are afraid it may fail and what wonderful feelings you have about Beth will turn sour. You don't want that at all because you don't want to cease your relationship with Beth. You'd rather have a minimal relationship and still love her than not have her and not have good feelings for her.

The unfortunate thing is, Alice is unwilling to let you continue that because she is aware of what you are unwilling to see.

If you want a life with Alice, you will have to give up Beth. Alice will eventually feel betrayed and then the rest of the relationship will start to be questioned.

I see how you feel it is unfair, but there is an expiration date with Alice somewhere in the future if Beth continues to live in your heart. There may or may not be an expiration date without Beth, but definitely with Beth.

I don't know how you are going to unravel that, but you have to decide which you are willing to sacrifice because Alice won't change her mind about it (and there is nothing we say that will help change her mind.)
posted by Yellow at 6:29 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

"Help me harbor this crush on another women"

Now... it's a big world... I'm sure some woman will find that request reasonable.

Alice is obviously not that woman.

I would consider dropping Beth from your emotional head space completely if you'd ever like to date other women.
posted by French Fry at 6:30 AM on March 8, 2013 [14 favorites]

Okay, let's remove Alice from the picture for the moment, and just focus on what you say about Beth:

If we interact too much, I want to be around her and I feel strong romantic feelings towards her. But, I absolutely do not want to spend the rest of my life with Beth, because I don't think I would be happy, based on our personalities. I am very sure of this, but not 100% sure.

Then why continue to interact with her at all? What you've described demonstrates that as long as you maintain contact with Beth, your feelings for her (and you have them whether you admit it or not) will persist. And they will get in the way of your future. I know whereof I speak. Only once you stop all contact will the feelings you have for her fade. Will it hurt? Sure. But that's just the way it is. Life is too short to spend it hung up on fantasies that won't ever amount to anything. To bring Alice back into the picture, she deserves better than to be made the scapegoat for laying out the choice you face. And it's the same choice you'd face whether Alice was in the picture or not.

If you care about Alice, for her own sake, and not just for what she does for you, the kind thing to do is to end it with her and let her find someone who can give her the commitment she wants. It doesn't sound like you can give her that commitment right now. As long as you persist in this, you will keep hurting her.

If you care about yourself, the kind thing to A) finally fully explore things with Beth to answer the obvious questions you still carry about whether Beth is a good partner for you, or B) end contact with both women, fully grieve your relationships with both women, and you can start exploring relationships with people you can fully commit your feelings to.
posted by dry white toast at 6:34 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

The problem with your crush on Beth is that what you are doing will only continue to fuel it, rather than quell it.

You have unresolved feelings for another woman, there's no way you can commit to Alice while these exist.

The fact that you don't want to disengage from Beth, for the sake of someone you claim to love, is incredibly problematic.

Reminds me of the Meatloaf song, Two Outta Three Ain't Bad.

You may not be in love with Beth, but you're in love with the fantasy of her and that is a dealbreaker.

Frankly, I have no advice for you, other than get your head in one game or the other. If you don't want to stop interacting with Beth, then Alice isn't ever going to be the one for you. Frankly, I'd have NO interest in maintaining a relationship, friends or otherwise, with someone who threatened the tranquility of Husbunny.

I do have advice for Alice. Girl, this guy isn't ready to commit. You deserve someone who only has eyes for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on March 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

Have you talked to Alice about some sort of compromise?

For example, what if you agreed to cut off contact with Beth for two years? Cutting off contact FOREVER with someone I'd known my whole life would feel a bit self-destructive. But maybe a hiatus, with an agreement to revisit the issue, would reaffirm to Alice and to yourself that you're willing to focus on, and sacrifice for, your current relationship?

Definitely discuss the career-betrayal-values incident, if not right away then during the agreed-upon hiatus time. It totally sounds connected, not just in timing but in theme. Possible themes include: Alice wants you to change for her, you want her to respect who you are; and/or: your commitment calendars are out of sync.

It may be that resolving these larger themes will help make the Beth issue a moot point -- either because you & Alice realize you're not right for each other, or because you become more committed & Alice feels more secure in your commitment.
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:43 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty much nthing what everyone else has said. I just have two observations:

In the whole thing, I can't find any hint of your feelings for Alice -- any qualities you like or enjoy specifically about her, anything you have in common, etc. It's all about this complex set of agreements you have (or don't have). Even though you give almost zero details about Beth, you have known her all your life, you have books and tv in common, you couldn't help smiling when you texted her, etc. Even your saying the thought of making a life-long commitment to her "makes your flesh crawl" (while I don't get that one at all) shows some sort of sanguine feelings and not just a lot of thinking and agreeing to terms. It's not like you are saying I love ABC qualities of Alice but Beth has these other EFG qualities that are also great.

Also, you have known Beth all your life, and I am assuming had feelings for her (that may or may not have been mutual) prior to meeting Alice, yet you did not become romantically involved with her until you and Alice (cerebrally and mutually) decided to take a break after a "predetermined end date of the relationship." Which would have been when you were 30-ish and she was 27-ish.

If I were Alice, this would definitely push all my buttons. Not just that you were also interested in someone else, but that you waited to get involved with me (not saying this is what happened, just that this is how I would likely interpret it) to act on it.

But yeah, I think you should resolve your feelings with Beth before involving a third person, and I agree with others that it doesn't seem like you have done that.
posted by loveyallaround at 6:46 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

TL;DR. You're not emotionally available for Alice, despite your conversations with her about emotional monogamy.

You can love someone and be with them today without making it all about the "rest of your life." What if the rest of your life is only another day, or a week, or a year and a half?

Life is short. Go love Beth already.
posted by mibo at 6:49 AM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Alice will find someone else and move on. Everyone always does.

I'd advise you in the future to try to keep your life as simple as possible. People who end up in love triangles are usually drama seekers and after the rush from all the "Oh, woe is me, I'm the star of my own romantic problems," they end up making a mess of the "lucky" new love's life. Your experience may vary.
posted by discopolo at 6:53 AM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

I like feral goldfishe's suggestion about a compromise.

I think the majority of the answers here, the ones telling you that you only have a right to feel seriously about one single person if you are going to be in a monogamous relationship, are mis-guided and unrealistic. A lot can happen in a person's lifetime. No doubt you will meet people who intrigue and enchant you, people who are not your SO. To expect this not to happen is ridiculous; to ignore, repress or deny those feelings is futile; to act on them (if you are supposed to remain monogamous) is dishonest and will most likely not end well. There will be times when situations like this will come up. Its not ideal or comfortable, but as long as you are truly being straight with Alice about the extent of your contact with Beth I think she should back off and be thankful you care enough about her to be honest. Of course she is well with in her rights to decide that she doesn't want to take a risk on a guy who admits to being involved (even in a small way) with an ex. She can break up with you and find someone else, but she runs the risk of finding someone who claims to be perfect, all the while just doing whatever they want behind her back.

Relationships are complex, people are complex, lifetimes are long, and shit happens.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:06 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Crushes are fine; even fantasies are fine, but this is not.

While most people misuse the term "emotional affair" and it ends up being an eye-rolling cliche, this is a perfect example of what an "emotional affair" means. Your purely emotional relationship with Beth is completely getting in the way of your relationship with Alice.

Whether you and Alice consider an emotional affair to be as upsetting as a physical affair or not is up to you, but Alice has a right to be upset. She also deserves to have someone in her life who isn't cheating on her in this way.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:09 AM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

And I'll just add that Alice, who is still very young, deserves someone 100% into her, who would find losing her forever something that takes more than a few months to get over.
posted by purenitrous at 7:16 AM on March 8, 2013 [13 favorites]

Break up with Alice already. Go be with Beth, whom you are so deeply emotionally enmeshed with. It might not work out; but if it does, win/win; and if it doesn't, maybe you'll be able to be free of your Beth obsession and be able to actually commit to the next woman you care about.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:18 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Where am I being inconsistent?

You say you and Alice agreed to be emotionally monogamous. You are "managing" your feelings? If you have feelings to manage that you are not trying to get rid of, you are not emotionally monogamous.

How can I make Alice understand my position better?

Alice understands your position perfectly I would think. But she sees through your self delusion and is justifiably worried. Her demand isn't about one text. I'm pretty sure that was just the last straw.

What is Alice trying to tell me that I am not hearing?

She's trying to tell you that you are deluding yourself. You're not over Beth, you don't want to be over Beth. The slightest provocation could send you running to Beth. Your intellectualization of the situation notwithstanding, you can't commit to someone else under these circumstances.

I'm really upset. Please be gentle.

I don't think you are a bad person but I think you need to unpack your feelings for Beth under the glaring light of day. You may find you actually don't have the strong feelings for real life Beth you think you do. At the moment you seem to be using your concept of Beth as some sort of emotional pornography, to elicit specific emotional responses in yourself. This is not fair to Alice, Beth or yourself.
posted by rocketpup at 7:21 AM on March 8, 2013 [29 favorites]

This is simple and no amount of obfuscation can take away from the following reality :

- your GF wants you to cut off all connections with your lifelong friend. That's significant controlling behavior by GF.

Friendships are not to be 'negotiated' in new relationships. Friendships are the equivalent of family that we choose - they mean far more to who we are than an outsider may realize. To kill a friendship to satisfy the demand of another devalues the very essence of what it means to be someone's friend.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:26 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Stop bullshitting yourself. Your mind is fixated on Beth. Get that settled before you date anyone new seriously. Get it out of your system. It's only going to harm you and your future relationships to carry a torch like this over years.
posted by ead at 7:32 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Alice is right. You're in love with Beth, whether you think you're regulating your feelings for her or not. Alice doesn't want to be in a potentially permanent relationship with someone who is actually fixated on another woman. This is totally normal.

Ordinarily I'd say asking you to break contact with another person is controlling, inappropriate behaviour, but in this case, it's a pretty natural response to the fact that you're in love with that other person, and she feels threatened.

The best solution is for you and Alice to break up and for you to not date anyone else (unless it's Beth) until such time as you actually are as not in love with Beth as you wish you were. Given that you think you're not in love with Beth now, I'm not sure how you'll know when it happens, but if the idea of not being in contact with her no longer fills you with white hot rage, that'll probably be a good start.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:43 AM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Kruger5 your GF wants you to cut off all connections with your lifelong friend. That's significant controlling behavior by GF.

This completely ignores that she isn't just a friend. She's someone with whom the OP basically considers the love of his life that he can't be with because of some reason not really made clear with their personalities. She's someone with whom he had a sexual relationship recently. That's not just a "friend". That's an ex.
posted by inturnaround at 7:44 AM on March 8, 2013 [41 favorites]

Therefore, I limit my contact with Beth in order to be able to have romantic attachment to other people.

So in essence, if you were around Beth, you would not be romantically attached to others.

I think mibo nailed it. Go love Beth already.

You are in love with Beth, but you are terrified it won't work out, because she's been part of your life for so long. As everyone else has said, you've made many rationalizations to explain away what is obviously a deeper, emotional attachment.

When we got involved, both my husband and I had longtime friends, former lovers, who did not respect the boundaries of the new relationship. Whenever we communicated with them, each ex continued to behave in intimate ways, as if we were still involved with them. His ex was actually married to another man, but continued to send him risque emails and expensive birthday gifts. My ex was heavy on the "you're the one that got away" guilt tripping. By continuing to remain in closer touch with the exes, there was still some unresolved feelings cluttering up our new relationship. I felt threatened also, about this past relationship that made my husband seem less available to me. He felt that way about my ex. But both fears were minute compared to the way we felt about each other. I didn't need to freeze out my ex so I could be "free" to be with my husband. Expanding a boundary just made our new relationship stronger and safer.

The difference here is that you are not really available the same way to Alice. You are not dealing with Beth behaving inappropriately, you are dealing with your own heart, which won't let go.

At this time in your life, it sounds like the only person you can be that close to is Beth - which is probably what scares you so much about being involved with her.

If you have to limit your friendship with Beth first to be with someone else, that still shows that Beth is the important party in your heart. Emotionally, you feel like Alice is the interloper - even if rationally you want to be with someone like Alice.

Separate from Alice, so she can be with someone who can give himself more fully to her. Then go be with Beth.
posted by mitschlag at 7:45 AM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

You're overthinking this. Your skin may crawl when you think about a relationship with Beth, but that's probably because you fear her rejection of you. So break up with Amy, go visit Beth, and actually tell her how you feel and see what happens. That doesn't mean you have to date her -- she lives far away -- but once you've admitted it, you and Beth will have an honest relationship finally, and even if that means she rejects you hard, that's still better than dwelling over these thoughts.
posted by davejay at 8:05 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

So, if you were in a relationship with Beth now, would there be someone else you were thinking of? In other words, are you a little bit addicted to always having another relationship that's on the side? People vary in how much of this they think is OK in relationships-- both for themselves and in a partner. There are a lot of people who can ignore, or else be amused by, their partners having workplace crushes, fantasies about movie stars, etc. Or even still carrying an obvious torch for an ex. It's really a matter of individual comfort zones. I think you could find plenty of people who wouldn't be upset about you texting your ex sentimentally in front of them-- put like that.

However, you write:

Earlier the day of the text, Alice said something about my career and values that made me feel deeply betrayed. I have been willing to explore that further with her. It's likely that that betrayal incident was somehow related to me sending that text to Beth in Alice's presence.

Thinks really stinks to high heaven, for me. Alice hurt your feelings, and that was "somehow related" to your doing something that hurt her. You're angry that she wants you to stop doing what you admit right here is a gross power play. That is, you say, "was somehow related" as if you had no agency in this. But you admit you are using this other relationship either specifically to hurt her, or as a way of dealing with your feelings without going directly to her. In a weird way, Beth has become a safety valve. It is fine to have some safety valves in this life but it seems like in this case, you are using each relationship as a way of avoiding the other and potentially hurting both people a lot.

I would suggest you show Alice your post, but I think it would be pretty hurtful for her, and unnecessarily so. I think you should just leave Alice and work out what you need in a relationship.
posted by BibiRose at 8:06 AM on March 8, 2013 [11 favorites]

You may be in love with the *idea* of Beth -- or you may love the real Beth and Beth may love you. Find out -- go and see her. Sure -- it might not be might get rejected or you might discover you don't actually love her. But whatever happens you will be able to move on.

As for Alice, let her go.
posted by Lescha at 8:12 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Actually, after perusing your posting history it seems you might still be struggling with your Puzzling Relationship Pattern.

Getting antsy after eight months in itself is really no evidence that polyamory is the right choice for you. But I'm not sure that polyamory wasn't really code for "I'm into Beth." In any case you seem to have made an intellectual decision how to proceed -- complete with internal compromise -- and are attempting to straight jacket your own feelings to fit and get the other affected parties to buy into it as well. You really need to figure out your feelings and follow them rather than try to make them conform to this path you've chosen. That's really not going to work long term.
posted by rocketpup at 8:24 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think for me that meant I expected my feelings around Beth to fade, and presumably Alice did too. But that is not happening. Alice feels unacceptably disrespected, powerless, and defeated. She is extremely upset.

Why did you tell Alice about your feelings for Beth? That seems like something you should keep to yourself and if they continue to haunt you, you need to not make them someone else's anxiety, you need to address them yourself. I had a "Beth" and an "Alice" and in the end I had to accept that there was something I loved in "Beth" that I would never find in "Alice." "Alice" just wasn't right for me and it wasn't their fault. I broke up with "Alice" and committed myself to finding someone I'd love the way I loved "Beth." And I did, and I didn't think much about "Beth" or worry that if I saw them I'd fall in love them them again. "Alice" was so great- I would have described our relationship exactly as you described your relationship with your Alice, but there was always something missing. It would have been unfair to carry on with him.
posted by melissam at 8:44 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmmm..interesting dilemma. You ask how you are bing inconsistent and how Alice can understand your position better. Here is my take. You are inconsistent if you "commit" to a monogamous relationship, but then think that you can share your not-quite-dead feelings for your ex, with your current girlfriend, and think there won't be repercussions.

Really, you need to do a little bit of acting and not be quite so transparent. Once you got back togeher with Alice, you should have been sending the message to her, "Yeah, Beth is nice enough, but not a good fit for me. I really dodged a bullet and am so much better off with you."

You may now really need to cut off Beth entirely to preserve your current relationship. That's just one of the tradeoffs of monogamy. Believe me, i'd love to contact my three old girlfriends from 20+ years ago, just to find out what they are up to and what kind of people they've turned into. Really, i'm just curious. But my wife would probably not react well (understandably), and so, it's just something that I've had to let go of. So, I don't even tell my wife of this curiosity, and if she asked, I'd downplay it.

A bit of lying is necessary for a relationship, and maybe you are a bit too idealistic about wanting to be honest and share everything with your significant other. Believe me, you don't have to, and shouldn't, share every little thing. good luck!
posted by see_change at 8:46 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just go pursue Beth already.

You say it might not work. You say it might end badly. And, okay, you're right. But the way you're handing it right now -- refusing to try anything or take any risks, refusing to let go of her and cut off contact, tying yourself in knots trying to convince yourself that you want to date someone else -- is 100% guaranteed to end badly: it will poison your other relationships, it will probably sooner or later poison your friendship with Beth, it will fill you with regret and frustration and self-loathing.

Seriously: if you go after Beth and she rejects you or breaks your heart, in the long run you will still be left better off than you are now. Either things will work out between the two of you (in which case, hey, happily ever after) or things will not work out -- in which case you'll be able to finally move on instead of spending the rest of your life pining after her.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:47 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

And I'm wondering whether this'll be an issue for every relationship, ever, if Alice and I don't work out.

posted by fireandthud at 8:55 AM on March 8, 2013 [24 favorites]

Have you had serious relationships in the past? To me, it sounds like you might have commitment issues. You hold on to a relationship with someone you've been sexually involved with (who happens to live far away), yet you seem scared to death about marrying. You essentially pine over her though...

You are dating e a woman near you (Alice) who is trying to be emotionally intimate with you, talks about a future, etc. but you don't want to give up this former woman. It also seems from your post that you are starting to sabotage your relationship with Alice (if everything she says is starting to annoy/anger you). Alice has a right to be upset. I don't communicate with any of the men I dated in the past, especially if they're involved with someone else. That would be crossing boundaries (although this is your fault, not Beth's).

Speaking as a former commitment-phobe, myself, and as someone in my 30's, I recommend the book, "He's Scared, She's Scared".
posted by Butterflye1010 at 9:11 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, if I were Alice, I would take a "compromise" like feral_goldfish suggests to mean that you'd spend the 2 years resenting me for not letting you talk to Beth, then you'd go resume your feelings as soon as the 2 years were up.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:42 AM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am not working on not having feelings for Beth. I am regulating my feelings for Beth, which I have explained to Alice.

This is not a thing you can do. It is a thing you can be completely certain that you can do, but not a thing you actually can do. If the heart listened to the brain, you wouldn't even be having to ask this question.

But, I want to continue monogamously exploring what I have with Alice, though I'm not ready to commit.

This sentence would not be a problem after a few weeks or even a couple months. After a year, it's a big warning. You've been together for a year. You're not exploring. If at this point you don't know whether the answer is yes or no, then the answer is probably no.

Also: The disconnect is that you're treating this as though Alice is upset over your actions, when in fact she's upset about what those actions mean. You keep trying to have either your feelings or Alice's be okay on a technicality. You can't. She wasn't upset that you got texted or that you smiled, it was just what set her off and made her realize she doesn't have as big a place in your heart as Beth does.

See this:

And Alice is turning Beth into this OTHER who does not actually exist except in Alice's head, and Alice is trying to make me believe in OTHER-Beth, and it's poisoning the pretty uncomplicated joy I derive from what's left of my relationship with Beth, and it makes me furious.

No, this is wrong. Alice is seeing Beth for who she is: Someone you're not over, someone for whom you still have feelings about which you are in denial. If you have to struggle and fight not to think about someone, you're not over them and it's not really fair to be in a serious committed monogamous thing with someone else. Alice's issue is not with any version of Beth. It's with the place Beth has in your heart and head. It's not with the fact that you're trying to force yourself not to think about this woman, it's with the fact that you have to try.

Honestly my advice is that you're being unfair to Alice (I'm not going to say you should or shouldn't break up, just that this situation is not fair to her) and that a therapist would be a pretty good idea because there's a lot to untangle here.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:59 AM on March 8, 2013 [19 favorites]

Beth won't have you, so you are with Alice, instead.

Why should alice be OK with that??

Please break up with Alice. You're not ready for committment yet.

Find someone who is fine with playing second fiddle in your heart to Beth. Alice is not that woman (and good for her about that.)
posted by jbenben at 10:28 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sometimes the hardest part of any relationship is saying "you know what, you're right, I'll [do|not do] that any more". It's one of those things you're going to have to make peace with and not try to rationalize your way around. You're with someone who you love, there are other people you love. The person you are sharing your life day to day with has made you part of their lives and you are part of theirs. In my experience that sharing means that you give a little control and you take a little control, you have the freedom to say hurtful things that *might be true* and you have the freedom to forgive hurtful things *that might not*. That's part of a dynamic and long term relationship.

The woman you are spending your life with feels threatened by a former relationship, if you're not willing to accept and understand her feelings then get out of the relationship, because this isn't a short term tough through it thing, this isn't going to go away and it's going to present other facets to you given enough times. If you honestly believe that your partner has no sway over your external relationship you need to lay that out and either move on or reframe the terms of the relationship.
posted by iamabot at 10:30 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Honestly? I don't think this is about Beth or Alice. This sounds to me like it's about commitment. You are in a pickle of your own making, and I think you've turned Alice and Beth into avatars for a very typical commitment-phobe problem:

Beth scares you because you can't control your feelings for her. Maybe the idea of a relationship with her makes your skin crawl because you fear that if you were to go for it, 100% with her, and it did not work out, or you lost her somehow, you might not ever recover. As a fellow commitment-phobe, I can relate. Loving someone fully and without abandon is COMPLETELY terrifying -- and honestly, it feels a little gross.

Your relationship with Alice is safe and comfortable -- maybe you fear being trapped by it, and never experiencing the depth of connection and the highs of lows of emotion you have felt with Beth.


You probably should let Alice go find herself a guy who is ready to be with her and really wants to be. I don't think you're that guy. If you feel blinding white hot rage at her asking you for something that is totally reasonable, you just aren't ready to give her what she's asking for, because you're hung up on something else.

Honestly, I think you should risk getting your heart broken by Beth. OR maybe you can think it through and figure out what it is that Beth represents for you, and live happily ever after OR get your heart broken by that.

I'm just a stranger on the internet, but from my little corner of the intertubes, I think that until you figure this out, and really recognize your own fears and desires in this, you are going to keep giving these women -- and ALL women you date -- more power than they have over your contentedness in life. You aren't looking at them as people, with real needs and the capacity to grow and change, alongside you - a real person with the same capacities. You are looking at them as emblems for larger fears that you somehow, in all of this overthinking, seem to be missing. It's not about them. It's about you.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:08 AM on March 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

Where am I being inconsistent?
You're being inconsistent by claiming to be emotionally monogamous and committed to Alice while simultaneously wanting to maintain real-life contact with a fantasy woman who you still have feelings for.

How can I make Alice understand my position better?
She understands your position just fine, and is not cool with it. As you can see from the responses above, this is not an uncommon or unreasonable response. She does not have to be cool with you having an emotional crush on another woman to the point where the thought of giving up a rare text or email induces "white hot rage" towards herself. Most people wouldn't, in fact.

What is Alice trying to tell me that I am not hearing?
Nothing. She's told you her position clearly. You just don't want to accept it. See:

...Alice feels that it's more risk than she's willing to deal with, and she is currently unwilling to live with that risk into the future. She feels that I am disrespecting her and is amazed that I could be hurting her like this. ... (she)feels unacceptably disrespected, powerless, and defeated.

If I were Alice, I would continue to pursue this topic, and if you remain defensive and angry about cutting contact with Beth, I'd break up with you. There is no way around this. You don't get to have your cake and eat it, too.

Decide which is more important: Alice, or the Beth-fantasy. Right now you are actively hurting someone you claim to care about for reasons that you yourself claim are not going to go anywhere or mean anything. Be honest with yourself, and her, or be prepared to be broken up with.
posted by celtalitha at 11:12 AM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

The problem here isn't that you keep in touch with Beth, the problem is that you have built up an elaborate fantasy in your head about Beth that you are now putting a lot of energy into channeling your thoughts about and arguing with Alice about.

You have this deliberate limited contact with Beth to keep your feelings at bay, but you have no knowledge that she would even be interested in you. You think there's an unspoken agreement with Beth to only email every few months and not talk about details of your life for the purpose of keeping your giant crush at bay -- but for all you know, Beth's apparent keeping up of her end of this "agreement" may only be due to her not having much interest in sharing the details of her life with you or emailing more often.

Alice is aware of Beth, my feelings for Beth, and that Beth and I slept with each other when Alice and I were not dating.

One thing missing in all this is: What are Beth's feelings for you? You don't mention the slightest thing about this in your question. If you showed up across the country tomorrow and wanted to start a relationship with her, would she welcome this or refuse?

You've been intellectualizing for years over your feelings about Beth and making predictions about how you would get along in a long term relationship (you're over-dramatizing this by making it about "forever"). You aren't quite 100% sure that you wouldn't be happy with that. That's the same thing as saying there's a chance you could be happy with Beth.

You could probably spend a lot of time and money unraveling all this in therapy, but it will be a lot quicker and cheaper to call Beth, tell her how you feel, and see if she would like for you to buy an airline ticket to explore your feelings for each other in person. Yes, there's a chance she'd say no, or that things wouldn't work out. That's a risk you've been avoiding by keeping this all in your imagination.

You seem like someone who spends a lot of time in their head theorizing about how the world is, time for some experimental verification.
posted by yohko at 11:13 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I don't think that cutting off all contact will get you over this. You'll just harbor resentment that you "gave in" and did it.

I think the thing to do here is break up with Alice and pursue Beth, as others have said. I definitely think you're afraid of that failure, and would rather just never really try than try and fail.

How are you going to feel when she gets in to a relationship with someone, or even does so and cuts off contact with you? I'm betting you're going to feel pretty betrayed. And upset. I think that's part of the reason you don't want to cut off contact, is that you're worried she might "hang up the phone" on her end as well.

In the end, if you don't try on this, you're either never going to get over it or its going to take a very long time, during which this will ruin every relationship you try and have.

I'm also nthing the whole sentiment of "you can't just put your feelings in boxes and control them", which seems to be something people are really willing to argue over at times.
posted by emptythought at 11:13 AM on March 8, 2013

You can't just put your feelings in boxes and control them.

Well, yeah, to some extent, you can. Not just by flipping a switch, no, but by changing your emotional environment and eliminating triggers for certain things and adjusting your beliefs and aligning your priorities, very often you CAN change, at least the intensity and extent of your feelings in response to a certain thing. That's part of the purpose of therapy, actually... if nobody could ever change their obsessions/phobias/unhealthy compulsions/crushes/etc, there would be no market for CBT, for self-help, for any of the stuff that gets recommended here all the stinkin' time.

So nobody really expects the OP to flip a switch in his brain and stop thinking about Beth; but by cutting contact with Beth (voluntarily, he should have done this himself not at someone else's ultimatum, assuming he doesn't actually want a future relationship and DOES want to be emotionally available to current real-life partners) he would be eliminating a very real emotional trigger that feeds into and encourages this mental cycle of obsession. If it helps, you can think of it as addiction; nobody says re. an alcoholic "well, he can't just put his feelings (desire to drink) into boxes!" ... nooo, that's why he has to stop drinking alltogether, as well as address the other factors that contribute to the compulsion and whatever emotional issues are making it difficult to disconnect with an unhealthy pattern.
posted by celtalitha at 11:21 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

1. You have to at least pick one or the other girl. Maybe in this situation it may be better to have no girls.

2. You would rather break up with a real life in person girlfriend than break up with a so-called "friend" that you "manage" with occasional e-mails? This clearly shows that your priority in life is not Alice. Alice is the girl you are settling for. Nobody wants to be settled for. Break up with Alice so she can find someone who puts her first. Her request would not be unreasonable if you really were into Alice more than Beth, but you're not.

3. Either just date Beth and eventually deal with (inevitable?) flameout later so you can know for sure you're incompatible and then you can get over her, or cut her off as a "friend" (which she isn't) if you absolutely refuse to date her.

4. You can't end up with anyone as long as you are secretly pining for them. Which you are, given this "management" thing. You can't be friends with someone you want to boink, and that horse already left the barn anyway.

5. You won't get over Beth until you have no contact with her. Preferably for at least a year, or even more preferably until you find someone else to love more. She is not your friend, she's sort of an ex and definitely a crush.

I kind of wish I knew why exactly it would be so horrible to be with Beth, though. But unless you're looking for a babymomma and she's childfree or something, actually full on dating her might get her out of your system or get over the crush. If you really really don't want to go there, you need to cut her out of your life. "Managing" doesn't work.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:24 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

A week ago, I sent a text to Beth, while with Alice (which I have never done before), about ... Alice asked me why I was smiling, and I explained...

I just have one thing to tell you - I was in a relationship once where, at the end, I spent months in Alice's position here. I would wait for my boyfriend to get home because I couldn't wait to see him and spend time together. And sometimes we'd be watching a movie or something and I'd look over and he'd be wrapped up in his phone, grinning. Or he'd jump up from dinner after 10 minutes and go outside, and I'd look out there and he'd be wrapped up in his phone, grinning. It did not make an iota of difference if he was "doing" something with that person or not. What he *was* doing made me feel lonely, shitty, unattractive, uninteresting, and as it kept happening it made me cry a bunch towards the end too.

Not everyone is like me and I don't know if Alice is or not - but part of the point for me to get into serious monogamous relationships is that I want to focus on this person and I want them to focus on me. If someone is a million miles away during your interactions because they're focused on this other person they're infatuated with, not only can that really feel like shit, but it's taking away part of the point of being in that kind of relationship with them in the first place...
posted by cairdeas at 11:50 AM on March 8, 2013 [17 favorites]

So...let me get this straight. Your relationship with Alice is so serious that you have been discussing marriage and already have an "emotionally monogamous" relationship. You say that you "expected" your feelings for Beth to fade, but you:

1. Admit that you aren't working on no longer having romantic feelings for Beth
2. Keep in regular contact with Beth, and the thought of ceasing this at the request of Alice makes you hate Alice.
3. Might be using Beth to hurt Alice (texting Beth in front of Alice after Alice had done something that made you upset).

Really, it doesn't sound like you're doing anything to get over Beth, nor are you interested in an emotionally monogamous relationship with Alice.

I feel like if Alice and I broke up, I would be devastated, but hopefully, acutely, only for a few weeks.


I explored last night, alone, the thought of cutting all contact with Beth. It made me want to die inside (not literally), and it made me feel white hot (nonviolent) hate for Alice...

It really doesn't sound like you have feelings for Alice at all. Telling Alice that you want to be in a committed, emotionally monogamous relationship with her, while expecting her to have sympathy for you for loving another woman that you refuse to cease contact with, and then insisting that the "other woman" is only something that exists in Alice's head is pretty cruel.
posted by inertia at 12:00 PM on March 8, 2013 [21 favorites]

What I get from reading your question is: You are not being inconsistent. Alice already understands your position, and she finds it unacceptable.

She believes that you can regulate your emotions with Beth to keep things as they are. You think this is fine. If your emotions were a garden, you feel like you can plant a big crop of Alice flowers and then just have a tiny little pot of Beth to look at when you're feeling nostalgic.

Alice doesn't want that. She wants to be the only flower crop in the garden of your heart. When you're mad at her, she doesn't want you to be going off to croon to your morning-glory-in-a-tin-can, even if you're never planning to plant a whole crop of morning glories. It's reasonable that she feels that way. I think the majority of women would probably feel that way.

When you add to this that being asked to separate from Beth makes you feel white-hot rage, I think the vast, overwhelming majority of women would be uncomfortable with the Beth situation. Alice's comfort should be a lot more important to you than the pleasures of sharing the occasional email with Beth. If this isn't so (and the white-hot rage seems to indicate that it isn't), then I think you might be somewhat deluding yourself about what the situation is really like.

What's more important? Going out with Alice or occasionally emailing Beth? I think you might be at the point where you get to make this decision. Good luck, zeek.
posted by feets at 12:02 PM on March 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

I had an ex that I dated for 3.5 years who had a similar emotional attachment to a previous woman that he had barely dated but remained incredibly hung up on. That woman became this powerful presence in our relationship - for him, she represented his youth, lost opportunities, and a person who he had a perfect relationship with (since they didn't have a relationship, they never fought, and she was PERFECT). For me, she represented his unwillingness to commit. It also made me feel like I would always be second banana, and if she had come into his life and ask him to run away with her, she would of. All this strife over someone he never talked to and I never saw!

The point being, having this level of feeling for someone you're not in a relationship with, even if you're "moderating" it, is a recipe for resentment, jealously, and crazymaking. It's super-unfair to both sides, and you're doing Alice and yourself a disservice by continuing a relationship you're only half into. Please consider breaking up (or please, please don't try to convince Alice otherwise when she breaks up with you) -- you need to unpack these feelings and see what need Beth really represents.
posted by superlibby at 12:15 PM on March 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

Also, if you strip away everything else but the bottom line and look at this logically:

Given a choice between all of Alice (her company, her love, her body, heart, mind, a life with her, children with her) and this occasional email correspondence and internal feelings about Beth, you would pick that little piece of Beth.

You have been clear with Alice and yourself that you would pick that little piece of Beth over all of Alice. So much so that you would only be upset about losing Alice for a few weeks, while you are filled with "white hot rage" at even the thought of losing that little piece of Beth.

How absolutely humiliating for Alice. What an absolutely humiliating thing to ask of her. Seriously, how could you ask someone for their heart/mind/body under those circumstances, when you've made it so crystal clear how quickly you would chuck it away compared to the merest slice of this other woman? Who would agree to that??
posted by cairdeas at 12:18 PM on March 8, 2013 [60 favorites]

I think you need to break up with Alice. The fact that you feel "white hot hate" for her at the thought of her asking you to cease contact with a past partner that you still have romantic feelings for.... that is pretty ridiculous. And bizarre. All Alice is asking for is for you to love her and not another woman. She is asking for some pretty basic and resonable things, and you're reacting as though she asked you to cut off one of your hands.\

You need to step back and look at this WITHOUT all your rationalizations and justifications.

The simple fact that you would have such a difficult time deciding between your stable, comfortable, reciprocal relationship and your 3-4 emails a year with another woman means you are NOT being fair to Alice by any stretch of the imagination. I actually think you are being quite cruel, but that is just my opinion. I wish for Alice's sake that she was able to end this herself, but I think you need to man up and end this. You are being totally unfair and unkind to Alice, and whether you think she 'agreed' to it or not, it isn't healthy for Alice or for you.

Seriously, what if someone 'agreed' to getting punched in the fact every day. The fact that they agreed to it doesn't mean it isn't damaging and causing pain and is unhealthy, nor does it absolve the puncher of the fact that they are hurting someone else.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:39 PM on March 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

that little piece of Beth. 

Unproductive characterization. Beth is a lifelong friend. Dude wasn't asked by Alice to limit the amount, but to sever the friendship completely. Partners do not build bonds by negotiating an end to what one cherishes.
posted by Kruger5 at 1:47 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Partners do not build bonds by negotiating an end to what one cherishes.

(Monogamous) partners also do not build bonds by "cherishing" romantic relationships with other people.

Alice is not telling the OP to get rid of all of his friends. She's not banning him from talking to women. Or emailing them. She's not even telling him to never talk to any of his exes.

She's telling him that she is unhappy continuing a relationship with him if he will not try to cut off feelings for another woman. Not only is he not trying to cut off those feelings, he's actively encouraging himself to have them, AND ACTING ON THEM in the sense that when he feels lovey or nostalgic towards Beth, he emails or texts her. Apparently thinking as long as he "limits" this somewhat, it's ok. Alice disagrees, that doesn't fit her (or many people's) definition of emotional monogamy, and it's a dealbreaker for her. That is absolutely, completely well within her rights.

If a couple agreed to be sexually monogamous, but one partner insisted upon occasionally indulging in physical relations with another person, claiming that it was something they "cherished" and had always done ("we've been FWBs for years! You can't make me give that up!") - if they were insisting it was OK because s/he was "regulating" the frequency of the contact and the type of relations (only oral! no PIV! and I don't spend the night!) I don't think anyone would hesitate to say to that person - quit shitting around, you're not monogamous. You're not even really pretending effectively. And if the other person was doing the asking, we'd all say, he's screwing with you. Don't settle for someone who wants something on the side when you want to be the whole dish. Be true to yourself and what YOU cherish.

It's ok to cherish being someone's Only One.
posted by celtalitha at 2:45 PM on March 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'm about to give you some tough live here to advance apologies. Look at it from potentially how Beth could see it. There's a guy you've known your whole life. You hookup briefly but it fizzles out pretty quickly because he's a nice enough guy and all but meh, you've known him your whole life and there's nothing really there. You hear from him occasionally and like other people you're in loose contact with, you send him the odd joke or comment about a tv show you both like. So far as relationships go for you, this barely even registers as a blip, you've pretty much forgotten about it already.

What I'm saying is what you, the OP is reading into this, as a great love for all time, on Beth's end might just be a week long hookup that happened ages ago which didn't pique any real interest and she got over it a few days later. You say 'by mutual unspoken agreement' you don't speak of anything of substance or intimacy. Like there's a collusion between the two of you to keep this great love secret. From Beth's end, I read this as, she doesn't share anything that matters with you because you're not close, and while she may be fond of you, she's not going to any lengths at all to build a relationship, you only warrant a passing occassional email - if there was anything to ever move on from, this girl has long since done that.

You could well be holding this huge torch for this woman who only ever thinks of you when it comes to cc'ing you in an email. You don't know what's going on in Beth's life - she doesn't even bother telling you, for all you know she could be engaged by now. If I was her (and I have been) and found out that a guy I barely dated more than a year ago had developed an obsessive interest with me to the point that he was sabotaging an actual real life relationship - it would freak me the hell out.

Nothing you've written gives any indication this woman feels anything for you at all, passing vague emails and the odd text message means nothing. I have male friends I slept with once or twice that I keep in brief contact with too, it means nothing and has zero impact on my marriage. Chances are Beth feels exactly the same way. You need to face the very real prospect that this is a fantasy built up entirely in your head, then ask yourself what is going on in your actual life that you're trying to use this fantasy to escape from? Because this isn't being fuelled by Beth at all.
posted by Jubey at 4:01 PM on March 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Dude. It has nothing to do with Alice. Your obsession (yes) with Beth is destructive to your current relationships. There are no healthy relationships that require the wall of justification you've written here.

Believe it or not I can relate to the comfort that this kind of "I love her but..." thing can be, but it's clearly keeping you from moving forward. Drop Beth. Cut it off, man.
posted by cmoj at 5:30 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh my god. Break up with Alice. For her sake. What in hell.

Having dated someone in the past who wanted me to "share" his crush on another woman... no, what the fuck, you will never be emotionally available and worth committing to as long as you keep up this bullshit. How unrewarding for Alice. This is not a special situation-- you are asking a woman who wants a monogamous relationship to let you play with fire.

Unproductive characterization. Beth is a lifelong friend. Dude wasn't asked by Alice to limit the amount, but to sever the friendship completely. Partners do not build bonds by negotiating an end to what one cherishes.

She asked him to sever it and not limit it because he's ALREADY interacting with Beth in a limited way-- but it apparently is consuming all his passion. If I were Alice I would have wised up to the fact that ANY Beth is too much Beth, too. He's welcome to plaster his bedroom with photos of Beth but it sounds like Alice isn't going to stick around for it, and that's because it is not what she's looking for or what they've both stated they wanted.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:02 PM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

You know, when push comes to shove, I think most people have emotional subcurrents, and subcurrent-beliefs, or beliefs-that-are-not-fully-conscious, and they express those beliefs under stress. So I totally believes you that Alice totally believes you, and yet here we are. She doesn't totally believe you. And, truth be told, I also don't totally believe you. I want to. I do. But the ability to fully regulate one's feelings while being totally in touch with one's feelings in a positive way is a very (very!) rare ability and while one may believe in it, the fact is that it's not intuitive. This is not improved when you say that thinking of cutting off contact with Beth makes you feel you're dying inside(!!) and consider breaking up (!!!), and then,

it's poisoning the pretty uncomplicated joy I derive from what's left of my relationship with Beth, and it makes me furious.

I will say this: you've demonstrated that you cannot regulate your feelings 100%. No one can, so it's ok. But the fact is that you've demonstrated it. Things like fear, fury and betrayal-- these are things you say you've felt strongly, and you need to be able to control them 100% if you were to demonstrate you really can totally self-regulate. At least, putting myself in Alice's shoes, here, that's what I'd require as proof. Your extreme reaction is pretty damning.

I just say this in case you haven't noticed. Pride goeth before the fall, they say. Don't be so self-confident, I say, haha, when it comes to your control of your feelings. If only people could be trusted when they make emotional promises, the world would be a different place than it is. But that's ok, we're human.

I know what it's like when someone doesn't trust that you are just 'really close friends' with an ex you still have feelings for-- from Beth's side. It's very frustrating. But I think it's commonplace for the gf to demand this, regardless. I was angry for awhile, but it's not like I don't get it; it's probably the price you'd pay with any girlfriend, whether Alice or not. If it makes you furious or despodent, perhaps you're not so on top of it all as you think? What you're describing are the feelings of infatuation rather than affectionate love; infatuation which may seem bubbly and joyous only from the surface. In reality, infatuation is always dark and powerful, it's just that if you keep your distance from it (as you have) it seems vaguely harmless. There's a reason love is, well, romanticized. It has a way of seeming fluffy from long distances and/or a long time/distance away. In reality love is a cold tundra, dogs, etc etc (sorry for murdering the reference).

I'd say you need to face your feelings about both Alice and Beth a little more honestly and rawly than you've done so far. There are parts of your narrative that just confuse me, like how the idea of spending more time with Beth long-term horrifies you yet cutting her off also terrifies you: why? Which is it?

I actually am not here to tell you you secretly want Beth; but I am here to tell you that letting go for 'realz' always hurts like hell, and it feels like you're dying, and it's just basically living hell, and that's normal, and that's why rebound relationships are advised against-- you should do it on your own, ideally. Until you hit that moment where you realize you've lost her and you want to cry 24/7 and lock yourself in your room and write crappy poetry, etc, you haven't let her go. I know, how teenager-like-- but adults, for all their self-regulation, still feel like that even if they show it less dramatically. Hanging on, you're only making the crash worse when it comes. Alternatively, I will add that any idea about how you can't make it with someone long-term due to personality conflicts is nonsense; all relationships require work, and what gets you through is part stubbornness and patience, part inventiveness and part just the fear of what it'd do to you to really let them go (YMMV).
posted by reenka at 7:04 PM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

She also deserves to have someone in her life who isn't cheating on her in this way.

What you describe OP, in NO way fits my definition of cheating, just so you know.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:53 PM on March 8, 2013

Maybe not cheating, but saying "I'm at the brink of cheating, more emotionally attached to this other woman than you to the extent that I feel white-hot rage toward you at the thought of losing her, and you are aware of this, and I am deliberately positioning myself there, and I would get over you in a few weeks, but trust me to have the utmost restraint." Why put yourself through that stress and risk, as Alice herself has pointed out.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:10 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I voluntarily, deliberately, and carefully limit my contact with Beth to maybe an email or two every couple of months and I do not share details of my life with her. We do not talk about anything of substance or anything intimate. By unspoken agreement, Beth does the same.

If this is the case - if literally all you talk about, all you LET yourself talk about, is little small-talk stuff, why does it make you so blindingly angry to imagine stopping that contact?

I explored last night, alone, the thought of cutting all contact with Beth. It made me want to die inside (not literally), and it made me feel white hot (nonviolent) hate for Alice,

Why would it make you want to die inside to stop having random small talk texts or emails? What are you getting out of Beth's friendship if literally all you CAN talk about is small talk? Whatever else you are getting out of it is what upsets Alice, not just the fact that you text her once in awhile about TV shows.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:20 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

it sounds like you are afraid of commitment. you won't go 100% in with beth to see if it would really work and yet by holding onto beth emotionally while dating alice you aren't 100% there for alice either. enough with the half-assed efforts. pick one and go for it whole hog. it may work or it may not, but at least then you will not have regrets nor be pining for another. there is risk in anything worth having.
posted by wildflower at 2:15 AM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm glad you are trying to figure out what is happening here, because I'm a little afraid for you and for Alice, and I think you might be suffering from considerable denial about your feelings.

Experiencing white hot hate for the person you are considering marrying... because she asked you to break contact with someone you have an ongoing romantic attachment to is not reasonable or normal, and definitely not a healthy situation either for you personally or for your relationship. The ferocity of that emotion suggests to me that inside you feel that you have already sacrificed so much... almost beyond bearing, and that you are at the razor's edge of what you can endure. You may have told yourself that you were regulating your emotions, but it seems instead that you have been bottling them up, and they are explosive.

I do think you should break up with Alice, and if there is a chance for you two, it will be after you resolve your feelings for Beth. I would recommend doing that with the help of a therapist though – at least at first – rather than trying to explore the potential with Beth right away, because the only person who is more a threat to your relationship with Beth than Alice is Beth herself, and it concerns me that you seem to be having what is a fairly epic struggle taming your feelings with rules about your interaction so that you are parceling out small bits of comfort and joy in the form of carefully contained and measured contact, just enough to sustain you as you attempt to also regulate yourself into a whole caring relationship with someone else.

As you have found, this inner struggle is far more volatile than you have been willing to admit to yourself, and you could find yourself with white hot anger directed at Beth for not being the person you are imagining. She's very unlikely, in fact, to be the same as that secret love you are guarding inside, and it seems that you probably do recognize this, but can't bear the idea of actually losing the idea of her. This is what you need to untangle, and I think that anyone would need help with that.
posted by taz at 4:43 AM on March 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think that the reason you got so angry when you contemplated cutting of contact with Beth at Alice's request is because it threatened your denial. If Beth were just a close friend and there was no threat to your relationship from her continued presence in your life, the suggestion that you cut her off might make you sad or piss you off, but it wouldn't fill you with white-hot rage. If you're reading the responses where people are telling you that your inner narrative about Beth sounds like BS that you're using to nurture an unhealthy and unproductive dependence on her and feeling extremely angry and like throwing your computer against the wall, consider where that is really coming from. You don't want to cut Beth out of your life, sure, but you also don't want to admit that you've been lying to yourself and others about what she really means to you because that will leave you vulnerable and exposed and embarrassed. You've built up a particular idea of yourself based on a falsehood and you're afraid to see how much of the structure may tumble down when that part is removed.

I think that's a really common and really difficult problem. You probably take pride in your ability to "regulate" your emotions and control your attachments, and that would get torn down because by cutting Beth off, you'd have to implicitly admit that you can't actually do any of that stuff and you don't have this special strength and all the months and years during which you prided yourself on this, you were the emperor with no clothes.

So I would say, spend some time alone just trying to be really honest with yourself about what you feel and why. I'm obviously just a stranger reading a few paragraphs of text about your life. Maybe you want to talk this out with your most honest friend, or with a therapist. I'm just putting forward one guess about what may be going on with this situation.

None of this sounds easy. I'm sorry you're going through this. I hope you find the light at the end of the tunnel soon. You do not sound like a bad person or like you're doing anything wrong (i.e. I don't have the sense that you just don't care whether or not you hurt Alice), so I fully believe that with some time, you will find a way to do right by everyone, including yourself. Good luck.
posted by prefpara at 8:02 AM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

[I lost the first half of this in a Wifi availability blip]

I have toyed with the idea of committing to Alice.

Alice said something I didn't like on Thursday. I chose Thursday to spend my Beth messaging allowance and I did it in front of Alice.

Alice didn't like it. Alice is irrational and I have explained to her why she is irrational not to like this. How can I put Alice in her place?

My answer: if Alice is no longer prepared to tolerate being treated as second-best, and refuses to comply with manipulation that implicitly threatens that you will leave her for another woman if she says something you do not like, that is entirely reasonable of her. Even by appropriate rational standards. In my opinion, it would be in Alice's rational self-interest to dump you over this. If you're as rational as you say, you should see the good sense of that.
posted by tel3path at 11:09 AM on March 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

[What should have been the first half of the above]

Here is my translation of what you said:

I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth
I wish I were with Beth

who is the love of my life, but we wouldn't get along, so I date Alice.

Alice knows I would rather be with Beth. She has complied with the situation so far.
posted by tel3path at 11:12 AM on March 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

I have had women in my life who were like Kryptonite. They may have meant well, there may have been no chance of us actually working out, but my will was zapped when it comes to them. It has been dangerous to me in other relationships.

Go cold turkey. Superman doesn't stay Superman by only hanging out with Kryptonite every once in awhile.
posted by softlord at 12:44 PM on March 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think the comments that boil down to "as long as you have Beth, you don't have to commit to Alice; and as long as you have Alice, you don't have to try things with Beth" are very wise. It sounds like you don't want a seriously committed relationship right now, and you've arranged things emotionally so that you don't have one but do not have to face the facts of your behavior. I'm good at this kind of thing myself.

1. Do you just not want a serious relationship? Part of you longs to play the field? You like Alice and she's really into heading toward serious commitment?
2. Do you fear a serious relationship? (Examine your friends' and parents' relationships or other things that may have shaped your beliefs about serious relationships.)
3. Do you have some social or sexual need that isn't being addressed? Like, you think you want to be poly, or you want to get involved with BDSM, or you're very deeply closeted? (You can totally love and care for both Beth and Alice, for example, while being really deeply closeted - I had my own closeted relationships with dudes and it took me a long, long time to figure out what was going on in my head because I had learned to control and deny my feelings really well.)
4. Do you feel socially pressured to have a serious relationship before you're ready? Did you get a lot of strong messages as a kid that having a serious relationship was What Mature People Did and only frivolous people dated around?

I mean, what occurs to me on mature reflection here is that you've got your whole life set up such that you aren't moving forward on the relationship front - and that says to me that there's something in you that doesn't want to move. Figure out what that something is.
posted by Frowner at 4:37 PM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you intellectualized this a lot, but essentially what's going on is: 1. you're in a committed relationship. 2. you're keeping in touch with and emotionally close to a prior love interest. 3. this is upsetting your current girlfriend. It seems a bit harder to defend when you break it down to the essentials of the situation.

It sounds like your girlfriend has a more typical view of committed relationships and you tend toward the slightly more polyamorous side of things. You should probably be with someone who you on the same page with about that. I'm not sure how many women are going to be super excited about you maintaining close ties with a former flame, but who knows, maybe there's a woman out there who is. I imagine your current lady is feeling like this isn't what she signed up for. I don't think your "white hot hate" sounds justified. You resent her for something you hadn't agreed upon in the first place.
posted by mermily at 12:14 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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