[Non-monogomous Filter] How to handle meeting my partner's partner?
December 5, 2016 2:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I handle this situation in my open relationship? Details inside.

My partner and I are in an open relationship. It's taken different forms over the years, but for the majority of the time, our experience with other people was very casual/short-term. Recently, my partner has met someone and has been seeing them regularly for the past few months. We live in a major city, but the arts/music/activist scene (which my partner and I are a part of) is pretty small. This person happens to be pretty active in the scene, and in fact knows some of our friends.

One of our mutual friends has started an all-female anti-Trump/pro-positive action group and has invited me to be a part of it. The first event is next weekend. Turns out my partner's partner (for lack of a better word, they don't use that term) will be there. I was already on the fence about whether to attend the event due to my generalized social anxiety, but now I'm even more uncertain.

My partner feels that the two of us would get along, and thinks that meeting her would dispel some of the anxieties I have about her (e.g. I will realize that she is just a normal human being. He has not pushed me on this in any way and supports whatever I want to do in this area). She has expressed interest in meeting me.

There's a lot to unpack here regarding my general feelings on meeting her: I don't know if I'm ready for that. This situation has never come up before, since other partners have generally been casual flings. A part of me wants to be the kind of person who is cool and confident and can handle something like this no problem. Another part of me is just kind of freaked out by the prospect and doesn't want to deal with it.

Back to the specific event - I'm not sure how many people will be there, but I'd guess no more than a few dozen (small enough that it would be weird if we didn't interact in some way). Again, I want to be cool and confident and graceful - but I don't know if I can be that person. If I end up skipping out on this event, I worry that I will feel like she "'won"; e.g. she can attend events worry-free, and I will be living under the constant dread of eventually running into her, or avoiding events when I know she will be there. I guess all things considered, I feel like maybe I should rip the band-aid off and go to this event.

All of that said, here's what I'd like from the hive mind:

1) Should I go to this event?
2) If so, how can I mentally prepare myself beforehand? And what can I do in the moment if I start to feel anxious and insecure?

Bonus question:
3) Anyone have recommendations on reading (blogs, articles, etc) about how to handle insecurity in an open relationship, or how to handle meeting your partner's partner?

NOTE: My partner is really great and I can talk to him about anything. He's very encouraging and I know he loves me. We've talked a lot more in the past 6 months than we have in the past few years and we are really solid right now. That said, I guess I'd like some advice from a neutral 3rd party.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think by setting it up so that this event would be your first meeting, you're making it harder for yourself than need be. Event's two weeks out - seems like it should be feasible to have coffee with her before that. Then you can make a better informed decision about the event and if you decide to go it will be less fraught from your perspective, most likely.

I read a lot of ambivalence about meeting this person at all. If so, you will do yourself a favor by figuring out what's going on there and what you need, both on your own and in communication with your partner, among other resources. At least part of it seems to be (self-imposed?) expectations of being "cool" and "graceful." It's nice if that happens but you're allowed to be anxious and awkward if that's what's real. Poly- is hard.
posted by PMdixon at 2:51 PM on December 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

When I was in an open marriage with a sometimes-insecure partner, short and low-stress meetings worked best. Almost literally a "hi and bye" thing... like at one point we arranged to meet in passing at an art opening; they shook hands, we wandered off in different directions, and the stress/ tension was much reduced. It made future less fleeting meetings less awkward.

If I were you I'd try to meet her briefly before the meeting, so you'll both be in a "get to work" mindset there instead of multitasking by both meeting for the first time and needing to interact in a not purely social way.

Insecurity wasn't a significant issue for me in open relationships so I don't have specific advice there, but long term, remember that if you keep feeling this way something needs to change about how your relationship works.
posted by metasarah at 2:52 PM on December 5, 2016 [12 favorites]

If you need a word for it, 'metamour' seems to be a well accepted term for "partner's partner".

Yes you should go, but this isn't a competition. It's a collaboration.

Polyamory Weekly has addressed the "when and how and why to meet your metamours" a number of times, but I think I remember Episode 435 - Metamour Fears being something that might be useful.

(Own perspective: Theoretically poly but functionally mono guy who listens to polyamory podcasts because I like getting the "communicate, communicate, communicate" mantra drummed into me for help in my monogamous life.)
posted by straw at 3:11 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Coffee, ditto. The more you humanize her, the less scary she gets. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski is great for managing your own insecurities (focused on sexuality, but applicable to many situations) and More Than Two by Veaux and Rickert is good for poly ships — though I'd skim, gets repetitive.

Personally I prefer some distance from my metamours, but my talky social scenes are inbred to two degrees. Getting to the point where you can say "hey" in public and occasionally grab dinner makes life a lot easier. Ping her and say "Hey, I'm a bit nervous about meeting you! Want to grab coffee before the event?"
posted by fritillary at 3:16 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're feeling a lot of insecurity and some hostility, with this idea that she will have "won" if you don't go. It makes me wonder if you may not be as comfortable as you'd like to be with the idea of your partner seeing somebody long-term, or if there's something about this particular person you find threatening to your relationship. If so there's nothing wrong with that, but it's something you need to get clear in your own mind and work out with your partner. Put some energy into that, and if you decide you want to continue with this arrangement then I'd say meet her before the event and see how that goes. But if you're nervous about meeting her at this event, you don't have to do that. She won't be "winning" anything other than a contest in your own mind.

You're not bad or uncool or whatever for feeling what you feel here. This is a complicated situation, and you shouldn't force anything if it doesn't feel right. I couldn't do what you're doing, I'd be a mess. I can see being party of a happy trio but I have no idea how people make it work when they're seeing other people separately. The jealousy would eat me alive.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:38 PM on December 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm hearing that the terms of your open relationship have changed with this person entering into a relationship with your partner and that has made you feel really uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with that. You're in a situation you haven't previously encountered and aren't sure how this is going to be handled moving forward. It seems that really clarifying what your partner sees happening moving forward is important and then deciding whether that is something you feel comfortable with is even more important. As you guys are hashing out the ground rules for this kind of relationship, you can also think about your boundaries in terms of what you are ok with as far as contact with metamours. There is no rule saying that you have to have contact with them, just as there is no rule saying that you must be comfortable in a poly relationship where your partner is having more attached/deeper relationships with others than your are ok with. Talk it over, identify each of your boundaries and make your decisions from there.

It's ok to wait to attend the group until some of this other stuff is feeling more sorted.
posted by goggie at 3:55 PM on December 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Okay, two things.

One is that you feel how you feel. Pressuring yourself to feel a different way is unhelpful. Telling yourself that it would be cooler or more graceful to feel a different way is unhelpful. Trying to bargain yourself out of your feelings is unhelpful. The way to make this sort of thing work is to get in the habit of being pretty damn blunt about this shit and just say "Look, it's uncool and inconvenient and whatever else, but here's how I'm feeling."

But the other is that your feelings might surprise you. Right now you're anticipating how you'll feel when you meet her. That's not necessarily the same as how you'll actually feel when you meet her — especially since this is new territory for you.

So I think it might be a good idea to try meeting up with her — not because your current feelings of trepidation and anxiety are invalid, or because you need to be "cool" and suppress them, but just because it would be worth finding out whether you feel the same or differently once she's actually in front of her. I agree with other folks that it would be easier to do a brief, low-stakes coffee meetup sometime before the event itself. If you walk away from that feeling like "Oh god, I never want to do this again," then it's okay to listen to that. If you walk away from it feeling like "Hey, that wasn't so bad," then it's okay to listen to that. Either way, you learned something.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:23 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

1. I keep reminding myself that my partner has good taste in women and it's always been true! I tend to become good friends with them because his 'type' is more mental and so we have similar values and tend to have a lot in common.

2. Acknowledge the weirdness. When you don't know what to say, just say "I'm sorry, I'm new to this. I'm just feeling really awkward!" probably she's feeling awkward to. Or she's a but more experienced but she remembers feeling awkward at the beginning to.

3. Have a couple of neutral (not about shared partner or relationships) conversation points ready so you're feeling ready for conversation. Ask partner for hobbies if required but it sounds like you have shared activities anyway.
posted by platypus of the universe at 5:16 PM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

If I end up skipping out on this event, I worry that I will feel like she "'won"; e.g. she can attend events worry-free

If she hasn't met you, but wants to, I can at least assure you she is not living worry-free. Until/unless she does, she doesn't actually know that your partner is in an honest open relationship, no matter how trustworthy and convincing he is. So while I understand both anxiety and not wanting to reassure her that everything's fine and comfortable with you if it isn't actually -- she's not winning as long as she's in the dark about what's really going on. which she is. no matter how truthful your partner is with her, she doesn't know for sure until you confirm it.

which is not to say that you're obligated to do anything, just that she doesn't have anything over you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:24 PM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

My first reaction is that y'all need a low stakes way to meet that isn't this event-thing.

My advice is to try to reframe your thinking a little - you are meeting someone that your partner cares about, and who cares about your partner. You and she both respect the relationships in this equation - your relationship with your partner; her relationship with your partner; the larger relationships in the community that you all have. Jealousy is a social issue. I have found the linked article to be hugely helpful. Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:52 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was incredibly reluctant to meet my partner's husband after her and I started dating, because A.) it is my first poly relationship and was unsure of protocol, and B.) Meeting new people in general just turns me into a ball of nervous garbage. He has a secondary partner as well, and it was suggested to us secondaries that we all go out for drinks and dinner and all meet and converse. I had a couple drinks, good chats with all at the table, and some encouraging knee squeezes from my partner. It helped incredibly, and we all now hang out on a regular basis.

Breathe, meet quickly, make sure your emotional needs are being met by your partner (which should be just as important as anything else that night), and keep an open mind.
posted by deezil at 6:57 PM on December 5, 2016

I recently both met the long-term partner of the person I started dating this fall, and introduced my long-term partner to the person I'm dating. So I've been everyone in this scenario except you. I was really quite nervous for both meetings to take place but ultimately very happy they happened. In both cases all three of us met (ie. long-term couple + person newly dating one of couple) over a beer or something similar. Both meetings were 1-2 hours, low stakes, with something planned afterwards on one or both sides so there was a definite end point. In both cases we chatted about general stuff, common interests, and basic nice-to-meet-you small talk. And while, as I said, I was nervous--both went really well and were actually pleasant. My partner was willing but not super keen to meet the person I'm dating; after the fact she was glad we'd done it.

It's certainly possible for this kind of meeting to go well and feel positive to everyone, is I guess what I want to say. I would really, really recommend setting up a low-pressure coffee/beer/brief meeting instead of/before meeting at this other event. For me, I think it felt better that they were three-person meetings, as opposed to just one-on-one with two people who had never met before. With three of us there, it felt natural to just do introductions and chat generally, like introducing my partner to any other new friend of mine, without needing to actually address why we were all there, and that worked well (for us, since our goal was just to meet each other, not to Talk).

I also wanted to prepare. I did some googling around and read a few blog entries about meeting metamours. (I don't use the term personally, but that's what helped me find stuff.) I don't remember anything stand-out to recommend, but just scoping around for some general anecdata felt helpful to me. In the end, everything was so much lower-pressure and less-awkward than I anticipated. Good luck!
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:26 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the problem is that your partner unilaterally changed the boundaries of your open relationship from "brief flings allowed" to "second relationship allowed". And you feel that technically, you know, this is still within the terms of your agreement (read the fine print), and so you have to be cool about this and if you have a problem with it, you're the one with the problem.

But a serious relationship is more threatening - how could it not be? This is new for both of you. Your partner has not yet proved to you that you will always be the primary relationship. You just don't know how it'll play out.

If you meet the metamour, you feel like she is not only intimidating, but that by meeting and talking you will implicitly be giving the go ahead sign for something for which you aren't ready yet. "Oh look, OP met with Metamour and it was fine! Let's take the relationship even further!"

But if you stay away from her, you fear that this "taking it further" is just going to happen without you.

I think you and partner need to be clear on what a huge ass deal this is, and what a complete game changer. And you both need to agree that if this outside relationship doesn't work for you, then it needs to stop. Even if there is no logical reason, even if one or both of you feels you should be okay with it. If after meeting her or at any point afterwards the relationship makes you unhappy, you, the primary partner have to speak up. And your partner needs to end it.

You don't want to be cool and graceful and win the better girlfriend contest. You want to be honest and direct.

And if your partner won't agree to those terms, or doesn't take them seriously? Then I understand your anxiety.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:11 AM on December 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

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