A polyamorous pickle perhaps
July 10, 2019 4:53 PM   Subscribe

Stuck in a weird polyamorous pickle and not sure what a clear path might be. In a happy poly marriage, best friend is in a happy monogamous marriage, and have developed feelings for her that seem serious and won't go away. Poly people especially, please weigh in.

Thanks for reading and responding to this sweet & sour pickle of a situation. I (37 y.o. woman) am in a very happy polyamorous marriage. I have an amazing wife and a great boyfriend and am really happy with how things are working out in those areas right now.

I also have a very close woman friend who is as close to me as anyone could be, definitely"best friends." We've been very close for about 2 years now. She is married also, in a monogamous relationship, and my wife and I are friends with her husband as well and really like him a lot.

In the last 6 months or so, maybe since February, I've here and there noticed things that lead me to think that maybe she's flirting with me, and I know that I've been somewhat flirty too. I didn't think anything of it at first, since we're such good friends and I thought it was all just joking around, like how you do, with your friends. Lately, however, it seems to have a different feel to it, on both our parts. I realized maybe 2 months ago that the feeling that I get when we're together, being flirty or fun, is not actually anything like the feelings I have with any of my other (many) woman friends with whom I joke with and tell them they're beautiful, et cetera. It is distinct and different in a warm, glowy, intense, sweet way.

This was not an easy realization to come to, and I tried really hard to ignore it for a while (not even telling my wife because I figured it was just a momentary crush-feel and I felt embarrassed about it.) I tried to chalk it up to how great our connection is As Friends, but now it's been 2 months and my feelings have only grown and I feel like a Hot Mess, because other than in rom com type things, who the fuck in real life ends up (GULP) falling for their best friend? (By the way I did tell my wife about it and she has been nothing but supportive but also has no idea what to do in a situation like this.) I feel alternately excited and sick over it, because I truly love her and I would NEVER want to get in the way of her marriage/relationship - that is not ever something I would do or would want to do - but the dilemma comes in that now I see that these feelings are something more significant and more serious than I thought, and now I feel like I don't know how to act. It isn't an option for me to slow fade or distance myself from her - we literally see each other almost every day, and it would make zero sense for me to try to scale that back, because it would be a direct tip off that something completely bizarre is happening. I also wouldn't want to distance myself from her, because our friendship is a constant joy. I'm more looking for the so...what DO I do? Has anyone had the experience of falling for a bestie and being able to talk about it like adults and somehow make the friendship work? She is so important to me.

To have developed romantic and sexual feelings for this particular woman almost feels like an existential catastrophe, because I don't want to do anything to lose her - but I also don't know how one keeps a secret this intense from the one person that you tell everything to and who knows you so intimately that she will at some point (if she isn't already, there have been a few moments) be able to tell that there's something I'm not saying.

I feel kind of heartsick because I don't know what to do. I would love to hear from fellow poly people especially about your thoughts and experiences on any similar situations you might have experienced, and what you did and what worked and what didn't. If the answer is grin and bear it because she's in a monogamous relationship, I would do that - I just genuinely have no idea what other people do in these situations because I'm newish to being poly and have not come across anything like this so far.

Please be gentle with me - this is so embarrassing and worrisome that I couldn't even write the phrase "falling in love" in MY OWN goddamn journal the other day. Yeah, that's where I'm at. Thanks for any help with my precious feels.

throwaway email: theonewhoquestionseverything at gmail dot com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I'm not sure why your being poly is the issue... it sounds like the issue is the same as any platonic friendship where friend 1 has fallen in love with friend 2, who is unavailable.

You already have two partners you love, who love you; plus a great friend. Were you get involved with her she'd be -- at best -- an extra; at worst a problem for your existing relationships. I'd just try to keep enjoying her company and not complicate the nice setup you've got.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:16 PM on July 10, 2019 [23 favorites]

I’m not poly but from an outsider’s POV, this doesn’t really have anything to do with being poly. (The fact that you’re able to maintain multiple relationships and follow through on your feelings means nothing when the object of your affection isn’t.) You’ve fallen for someone who is unavailable. I feel really badly for you. The ethical thing to do is say nothing and wait for the feelings to fade. This may involve distancing yourself. I know you said it would tip her off that something bizarre is happening...but something bizarre is happening so...
posted by Jubey at 5:18 PM on July 10, 2019 [13 favorites]

Being polyamorous does not give you a pass on behaving in an ethical way.

If you know that she is in a monogamous relationship, the usual rules of the road are that you suffer in silence about any crushes and work to get past those feelings, either by keeping contact lighter/only in groups/etc. or by exercising 4x as often as you do now, or whatever else you have to do. You are basically supposed to be a friend to the marriages of your friends (unless they are abusive ones or whatever.) You deal with this as if you were single and planning on monogamy, and had a married friend that you had a crush on.

I did read your post where you said you have to have daily contact with her because your friendship is so important. But I don't think that is actually anything but feelings. If you back off and she asks why, you could either say "you're being flirty and it makes me have feelings that are inappropriate given that you're married monogamously," or you could give some excuse.

But behaving ethically here will mean some short-term loss, you will have to lose the romantic side of things, and that may mean losing some of the intensity of the friendship. Ethical adults are willing to go through those losses in order not to sew destruction around them.

I will say that there are people in poly communities who instead try to advocate for polyamory with monogamous people. I personally believe this is not a sound approach and results in a lot of collateral damage. I'm assuming your friend knows your status and is aware of the option. If so, and she wants to be polyamorous, the ethical thing for her to do is not start flirting but for her to open her marriage by talking about it with everyone involved.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:18 PM on July 10, 2019 [54 favorites]

I have found when having crushes on unavailable people that really thinking through the logistics helps me de-escalate - like, "I pursue this and my crush cheats on their partner with me and everything is terrible" or "I pursue this and break up my friend's relationship and our connection is forever shadowed by that" or "we have a short affair which ends badly because of the pressure of secrecy and then I have neither my friend nor my relationship" or "my other friends all think less of me because I start an affair which breaks up a marriage", etc etc.

I find that regardless of the actual likelihood of my crush being interested back, just focusing on the inevitable awful stuff that would have to happen for us to have a relationship really works as a reality check. It definitely tips my brain over into "yes this would be great if she were unattached but actually now I just have feelings of dread".
posted by Frowner at 5:48 PM on July 10, 2019 [27 favorites]

You seem to be flying so close to the sun! Take a step back. Take a breath. Assess what an outwardly amazing situation you have, by your own admission.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:58 PM on July 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don't succumb to "clearing the air." Once those feelings are out in the wild, they're a lot harder to ignore. You feel how you feel. But you love and are loved by two other wonderful people. Focus on your actions with your friend, not your feelings, and wait until the crush dissipates.
posted by kate4914 at 7:11 PM on July 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm polyam and married and have been since before polyam was a word.

I have been in this situation and survived it with all friendships and marriages intact. How: Don't discuss your feelings with your friend. At all. Ever. She knows. You know. But it's disrespectful of her marriage to voice these feelings. If she becomes polyamorous, I promise you'll be the first to know.

Instead, blow off your steam to your wife. Bore her with your crush if she's willing to do that emotional labor for you. With your friend, be her friend. Play parcheesi or ultimate football or weave baskets or do whatever you two do. Feel free to privately enjoy the feelings and the fantasy, without bringing them up or acting on them. Eventually -- and no lie, could be a couple years -- the limerence and crushiness will fade on its own and you'll get your normal friendship back. And you'll be glad for it, and glad you said and did nothing now. Write some good songs or bad poetry or something.
posted by shadygrove at 7:19 PM on July 10, 2019 [48 favorites]

I am poly, I have four partners, I fell in love with my best friend from college. She has been monogamously partnered since before I ever met her.

I told her, and her husband, and we talked about it endlessly. We did so. much. processing. trying to find something that would make everybody happy.

Guess what? There wasn't a solution. We all wound up evaluating our options, and came to the conclusion that I should suck it up and wait for the limerence to fade. I mean I came to this conclusion, as well as my crush and her spouse; this was the outcome of literally months of dissecting everyone's feelings.

Time went on. I? Am now totally over her. It's fine. We're still friends. We're not as close as we were, but honestly that's geography and separate life paths rather than anything involving the whole crush feelings-mess. If she were suddenly free, I would not, at this point, date her.

And knowing that? I'm honestly kind of sorry I told her and we spent months with everyone being in anguish about it, because it was hellish. My friend and her husband did not want to hurt me, but there was no way around it, though of course when it all came down to it I was really the one hurting myself.

I think you're still holding out hope. I think that on some deep level you think, maybe if I talk to her about this, they will open their marriage, and we can do this thing. And maybe that's a reasonable thing to think-- I don't know you or your friend. But I think you should think very, very hard about whether that hope has literally any basis in reality, and about what would happen if you tell her and there is no hope.

And if you wind up choosing to suck it up and deal-- you can, you will, you will get over it, and it will get better eventually. Someday, maybe a long time from now, this is all going to be just fine, as long as you hold onto your moral principles and behave like the person you truly want to be.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 7:52 PM on July 10, 2019 [48 favorites]

It isn't an option for me to slow fade or distance myself from her - we literally see each other almost every day, and it would make zero sense for me to try to scale that back, because it would be a direct tip off that something completely bizarre is happening.

Something out of the ordinary is happening, and I think it's unrealistic to assume she won't notice that.

Personally I think you should talk to her about it, if for no other reason than to defuse the power that a secret crush holds. Telling her you've caught a case of the feels and figuring out with her -- someone who knows you and the situation very well -- how to keep things appropriate might be awkward, but no more awkward than the mess that silence will eventually make of everything.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:12 PM on July 10, 2019

How: Don't discuss your feelings with your friend. At all. Ever. She knows. You know. But it's disrespectful of her marriage [in my case ltr, ed.] to voice these feelings.

Yeah so I violated this guideline. Didn't work out so well. Now I miss my friends and likely will forever. Fwiw.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:37 PM on July 10, 2019 [17 favorites]

Your friend is in a monogamous relationship. You either respect the agreement she has, or you don't. That's not a judgement, please don't take it as a negative statement and read on.

Personally, I've eliminated almost all pain from my life by never behaving in a manner I wouldn't be fine with my most hated enemy or best friend knowing. I think if you consider it that you, you will know what to do. I don't want you to be embarrassed, I only recently realized that I could behave in a completely self-ethical manner where my entire life could come under scrutiny and I'd be like "Yeah, I do embarrassing thing." but generally, I am PROUD of all of my decisions. This shift has been the most incredible feeling as someone who's suffered from extreme anxiety and depression.

I know the feelings are strong. They're like an earworm you can't get out. Acknowledging them does help get them out of your head. Have you thought about telling your main partner? I'm poly by nature but happily in a monogamous relationship right now. Personally, I would be upset if a friend knowing I and my partner was in that confessed to feelings for one of us. They are saying either them or me. I'm sorry, the answer is my partner because I am in a monogamous relationship.

Let your feelings of "I am proud of this" guide you is my recommendation. I think the path becomes much clearer when we run the scenarios and behave as we feel our ethics or morals require. I'm proud of you for putting it all out there in this question, most people don't do that introspection.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:54 PM on July 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

What you do when you have a crush on someone when it isn't appropriate to act on your crush is you don't act on it.

It's possible to do this without distancing yourself. You just continue the way things have been, not acting on your crush the same way you have been not acting on your crush until now. With time these feelings will fade and not bother you so much.

It doesn't really matter if you are poly or not, that is only relevant for crushes you would actually be acting on.
posted by yohko at 11:43 PM on July 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

Sometimes when you (the general you) have a crush there's a tendency to place a lot of importance or value on those feelings - to romanticize them, as it were. I feel this way, therefore what feel is special and something just has to come of it - what a terrible waste it would be if nothing came of these feelings.

But in the end, they're just feelings. The chances are you'll have them again in different contexts, and that one day you'll look back at your current feelings with a sense of distance and you'll be a different person at that point and that's a good thing, not a missed chance that should be romanticize and mourned. Sometimes feelings should be given a lot of importance; sometimes it's the right thing to do to de-emphasize them or deconstruct them or just do what you need to do to help them to dissipate.

Given that she's in a committed monogamous relationship, I'd view it as an act of friendship to her to deal with your feelings on your own.

Something out of the ordinary is happening, and I think it's unrealistic to assume she won't notice that.

A lot of times people don't notice the things you're sure they do, whether because they're just not attuned to the possibility or because it's something they would actually prefer not to notice.
posted by trig at 2:15 AM on July 11, 2019 [7 favorites]

... the dilemma comes in that now I see that these feelings are something more significant and more serious than I thought, and now I feel like I don't know how to act.

A while back I went to a 6-week anxiety workshop led by a yoga teacher and former therapist. She told the group that she had stopped offering therapy because people did not get better. They were convinced their thoughts were all-important. "They are just thoughts," she announced emphatically. "They don't necessarily mean anything." That was important information for a bunch of people with anxiety disorders. It may be applicable to your situation as well.

In Al-Anon, one of our slogans is, "Don't do anything, just sit there." That is because people in the fellowship tend to be reactive and impulsive, often rushing to action in response to outside stimuli or internal thoughts rather than being thoughtful, deliberative, etc. I am a poly person, but I do not believe that being a poly person is necessary to point out the obvious: That you have a big ole crush on your best friend does not make your feelings significant or serious to anyone but you and, potentially, your existing partners.

Your significant and serious thoughts will only be a problem for your best friend and her partner if you share them. Why would you choose to emotionally upchuck all over your absolutely, no-kidding unavailable best friend? Like, how much sympathy would you have for a straight woman crushing on a gay man because she had genuine, serious feels? How much sympathy would you have for monogamous person X who was crushing on poly person Y, a person X who desperately wanted poly person Y to give up other relationships and Become as One in a monogamous relationship because the crush was so deep, so meaningful, so real?

I understand that your feelings are deep, real, serious, and meaningful to you. Do not make your feelings your friend's problem. Do not tell her. Take a step back. Spend more time with your partners. Date other folks (if that is appropriate within your relationships). Do whatever it takes to preserve your friendship and not shit on her marriage by making declarations about your feels that will be awkward and, potentially, kill the friendship.

Stop flirting, too. If it turns out that your BFF is pulling an Elizabeth Gilbert and has fallen for you as well, then she can tell you that. Leave that up to her. Forever. Otherwise, don't go there.

It sucks to have a huge crush you cannot (or, at least, should not) act on. But I and many others have survived that experience. More than once, even. You can too. Coping responsibly with the discomfort of unhelpful and/or inappropriate feelings and thoughts is a signature hallmark of adulthood. Don't let your lying brain lead you astray, away from ethical behavior into icky squicky confessions of love. Be better than that.

I am not saying it's easy. I am saying that it is the right thing to do, and you posted this question so people could confirm what you already know. The feelings you have are common. They aren't especially noteworthy, except to your brain. Regardless of what it is telling you, hitting on your best friend is a terrible, no good, very bad idea. Good luck, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:30 AM on July 11, 2019 [23 favorites]

Some people have suggested that you take a lot of distance if necessary. I more or less lost a friendship this way (not due to limerance, due to me being angry about something but not knowing how to handle it and reducing contact hoping to get over it on my own). Friendships like you describe are very rare. Suddenly going distant can cause her to feel very hurt and can really damage the friendship. Hopefully you can maintain contact while letting the feelings fade.
posted by salvia at 6:36 AM on July 11, 2019

She's in a monogamous relationship. Unless she explicitly communicates otherwise, it behooves you to assume you have mis-read what you think is flirtation. I'm sorry you're twitterpated over this person, but telling her isn't going to have a good outcome.

I mean, what would that even be? You confess your love, she admits she returns it, she tells her spouse, her spouse magically agrees to open their marriage, your spouses are totally on board, and the two of you get to be together?

Oh honey.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:43 AM on July 11, 2019 [9 favorites]

1) If there is any way you can suddenly develop an interest in taking a solo trip to meditate or recharge or whatever, do it. Get yourself physically away from this situation, give yourself an out for not seeing her for a week or two, and give yourself time to think. Or take a vacation and focus on your primary partner.

2) If that's not possible, I'd force yourself to at least scale back to not seeing her every single day-or try to slowly focus more on hanging out as a group than just her. There are ways to do this without tipping her off. This is a great time to start a new hobby. Deliberately plan more dates with your SOs. Go on other dates. If she notices and asks why you aren't hanging out as much, you can white-lie and tell her "Wife and I decided to have more Spouse Dates lately"; "Things are going great with BF and we're spending more time"; "I am so into this kickball team." (If she has even an inkling that things are getting a little weird between you, she will probably read between the lines.)

If your friendship can't survive not literally seeing/talking to each other every single day, then that's a separate issue - but a healthy friendship, even a BFFship, should.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:25 AM on July 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would NEVER want to get in the way of her marriage/relationship - that is not ever something I would do or would want to do...

By following this with but, you render it false. Either you respect your friend and the choices she has made about her own life and relationships, or you don't. Act accordingly.
posted by headnsouth at 12:09 PM on July 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

As a non-monogamous person, people in monogamous relationships are entirely off limits to me. If the monogamous pair wants to open their relationship it needs to be something they do themselves, not with nudging from an outside party.

If your best friend comes to you and says "spouse and I have decided to open our relationship and I have a hall pass to ____ with you" then you can begin a series of conversations about what that means and where the boundaries are.

This is akin to being in a poly relationship and having the hots for your boss or a subordinate employee at work. Boss or employee is still off limits until the employment situation removes the power differential.

ALSO: humans appear to be Very Bad at distinguishing flirting in double blind studies.
posted by bilabial at 1:01 PM on July 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

do you know or have good reason to think she's bisexual? I'd figure the answer must be yes, for this to be a question at all, but I wonder, because you don't say. because it's very noble and all for you to hate the thought of getting in the way between her and her husband, but you say that like you're sure you could.

so I hope you have something to go on other than your completely untrustworthy (because you're in love with her and want it to be true) sense that it feels like she's flirting back. your feelings about that tell you nothing objective about what she wants or might want if things were different.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:06 PM on July 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

This isn't JUST a polyamorous situation, but it's a common one. Falling for a friend is a human experience!

She's off limits. You can't engineer it to be otherwise. You just have to focus on diverting your feelings. Talk with your partner, journal, etc. Just don't share with your friend, unless you're prepared to potentially end the friendship completely.
posted by RainyJay at 9:15 AM on July 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Having a poly friend reveal her true feelings for me nearly ruined my monogamous relationship.

I am really, seriously, truly a monogamous gal. My (at the time) dating partner is also monogamous, but when my poly friend told me that she hoped we'd open our relationship up (while she was with both of us) really threw us for a loop. So much so that I ended up moving out of my partner's house and assuming we were done for.

We ended up getting back together and are now married, but .. save your friend from a possible few months of troubled feelings. Please.
posted by dwbrant at 10:40 AM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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