There was a span of time just prior to my separation from my wife where I wasn’t writing on this blog even though my life was progressing at what felt at the time like incredible speed. It seemed something was happening almost every day that shaped my outlook on life. I was searching for meaning after leaving Mormonism. I was struggling with the concept of god and of the absolutist morality that came as a result of belief. I was questioning the purpose behind marriage. I was reevaluating long-held assumptions about the balance between the needs of society and of the individual. Most of those stories haven’t been told on this blog yet.
As I got back into blogging after my separation, I told myself that I’d pick up from where I was and only go back to some of the other stories as the need arose. Otherwise, I would have been too overwhelmed to begin writing again. I recently went back and related my discovery of polyamory and the reasons that I believed it was a more rational approach to relationships than monogamy. But I never detailed my transition into polyamory. Today that story needs to be told because it provides information that will help put in context the bomb that has been placed in front of me.
Soon after I learned about polyamory, I realized I was no longer willing to try to squelch my feelings toward Girlfriend. I was no longer willing to accept without question the assertion that my duty as a husband was to have feelings only toward Wife. Essentially, I rejected the premise of monogamy and of marriage. I told Wife that if I could go back to before we married, yet retain the knowledge that I now had, I would never have married her. I would have been happy to have a relationship with her if she were willing, even to have children–in moderation–with her. But marriage? Out of the question.
Of course, if you know anything about Mormonism, you know that, for a believing member, having a relationship and children outside of marriage is equally out of the question. As a result, she and I were instantly at odds. She was convinced that marriage and monogamy were requirements for happiness. I was convinced that marriage and monogamy were guarantees of eventual feelings of confinement and dissatisfaction. And since I had feelings for Girlfriend and no longer believed that external restrictions were appropriate for interpersonal relationships, I felt justified in continuing my friendship with her.
I was willing to work with Wife. We discussed limits on the relationship. I offered concessions on what I would and wouldn’t do. But the rules kept changing. No matter what I was doing with Girlfriend, Wife felt a need to ask me to do a little less of it. “How long did you spend on the phone with her today? An hour? I’m only comfortable with 30 minutes.” Followed by: “Did you talk with her on the phone today? I’m only comfortable with you texting.” Then: “How much did you text her? Don’t you think that’s a little excessive?” Every time we talked about what would be appropriate and comfortable limits that would honor both Wife’s desires and mine, we came to the realization that Wife really wouldn’t be happy until the connection was completely severed. It was a tense and difficult period to try to work through.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the breaking point probably came when she asked me how far the relationship would go if there were no boundaries whatsoever. I thought about it for a while and then honestly admitted that I felt like it was probably inevitable Girlfriend and I would eventually have sex if there were nobody telling us that we weren’t allowed to. Wife didn’t immediately explode at that, but I think the idea kept bugging her, because during the days leading up to the separation, she just couldn’t shake the thought. She kept repeating how I had told her “it was inevitable” that the relationship would become physical.
Eventually, the tension was high enough that she asked me to move out.
Meanwhile, Girlfriend and Mr. Wonderful were having similar discussions. I can’t provide details of how that went, but the end result was that Mr. Wonderful was receptive to the idea of polyamory. He was comfortable with the idea that he didn’t own Girlfriend, and that she was free to seek happiness in the best way she saw fit. He expressed some concern about how he would be able to handle jealousy, but assured her that he felt he would be able to manage. He supported her in her desire to pursue a relationship with me while continuing to maintain her relationship with him.
It wasn’t long after I moved out that the three of us sat down and had a discussion. Girlfriend, Mr. Wonderful, and me. We talked as openly as possible about where things between us stood and had some frank discussions about our expectations for the future. In the following weeks and months, we often did things together, celebrating Christmas and New Year’s, having informal dinners and playing games or watching movies. We all worked together on several projects around their new house. I would come over almost every morning before work to share a cup of tea with Girlfriend and, when he hadn’t already left for work himself, with Mr. Wonderful as well.
It may not have been the perfect situation. I probably would have liked to come over more often than I did. Perhaps Mr. Wonderful may have preferred me to be there less often. But it felt workable. It felt like the three of us were defying not only society’s expectations but their predictions of our inevitable downfall as well.
And it almost lasted six months.
On the morning Girlfriend and I were preparing to return from our visit to Girlfriend’s hometown, Mr. Wonderful called Girlfriend and spoke with her for about an hour. We had just experienced rejection from almost all of Girlfriend’s family. We had just been yelled off the property of Mr. Wonderful’s parents. And Mr. Wonderful had just heard from his family members and from Girlfriend’s mother in depth and volume about how terrible things were. He told Girlfriend that when we returned, I was no longer welcome in his home. He didn’t demand that she no longer see me, but said that from now on she had to pursue her relationship with me outside the home.
I don’t quite know what to think. I don’t know the reasons behind his request. I can only surmise, so I’m sure I don’t know exactly where he is coming from. It would be unfair of me therefore to comment on it. But this is the Internet, and not having facts never stopped anyone from expressing their opinion on the Internet before, so here goes.
It’s hard not to think that he’s been influenced–bullied is the word I wanted to use, but let’s try to be fair–by his family. I know that there was a brouhaha after we picked up the children from his parents’ house. I have no idea what was said, but I can hear it all anyway. “I can’t believe you’re allowing your wife to travel with another man.” “If she’s going to be out traipsing around with this hoodlum, tell her to move out.” “He’s replacing you as a father in your children’s eyes.” “You’re actually allowing him to come onto your property and have a relationship with your wife under your very nose?” “Tell her she needs to decide between him and you, and the sooner the better.” It’s all about propriety. It’s all about ownership. It’s all about following god’s plan for the one true path through life.
It feels like a reaction to the disapproval from his family that a situation that he’s been–at the very least–tolerant of for months is now untenable. But Girlfriend has told me that he has now expressed dissatisfaction with the situation from his own perspective as well. He apparently has been struggling with jealousy more than he had been willing to admit before the trip. He is only now telling her of reservations that he says he has had all along. So perhaps the family’s disapproval is only the trigger for him to realize that he needs to take a stand.
Only I’m not sure exactly what he hopes to accomplish. If he’s hoping to combat jealousy by not allowing me into the home, it merely means that Girlfriend will only see me when he is there to watch the children so that she can leave. That will only serve to painfully highlight every face-to-face interaction between her and me. That will augment the jealousy. It will be impossible for it to subside because every time she leaves the home to see me, he will feel sharply every minute that he has to “tend” the children while she is out “having fun.” The only place that can possibly lead is to him making even more demands on her.
He has also expressed some concern with the children preferring me. I don’t have to discipline the children when I am with them, so I can always be “the nice guy” in their eyes. They often ask about me when I’m not there, and every once in a while, as children sometimes do, they call him by my name instead of “Dad.” I can understand the emotion behind this type of fear. But I don’t think it’s a very logical fear. Children love many different adults in their lives. Parents, teachers, grandparents, coaches. They don’t get confused about who their parents are. They don’t measure out a finite amount of love and divide it out among the adults in their life. If they have a favorite teacher who gets a lot of their love, that doesn’t mean that there is less love available to give to their parents. If they have a teacher they don’t really like, the love for their parents doesn’t suddenly increase, either. Children form relationships with adults on an individual basis. If any adult feels that a child doesn’t love him or her very much, it’s not because there is another adult who somehow seduces the child and steals love that would otherwise be available. Children aren’t harmed by having more than just two caring and loving adults around them.
However, it’s a hard sell to convince someone that a fear this emotional and this deep is illogical. Taking me out of the home will definitely alleviate that concern. The children may continue to ask about me for a while, but my continued absence will, over time, dull their memories of me and their desires to have me around. Maybe he sees that as a win. His parents certainly would.
As we were driving home after learning of his requirement, he appeared really nervous. He texted and called multiple times and told Girlfriend that he wasn’t able to concentrate on his work, that he was worried. At one point he told her it may have come to the point where she had to choose between him and me. She told him that she didn’t feel she had to do that. He pressed her, however, and asked if she already knew whom she would choose if it ever came to that. She said, “I choose polyamory. Therefore, I choose both.”
But based on that worry and that line of questioning, I have to wonder if he isn’t preparing himself for the point at which he will demand she make a choice. That’s the point that my wife eventually came to.
I feel really sad if it comes to that. I can just see everyone with whom we’ve shared our journey shaking their heads and muttering: “We told you it couldn’t work out.” The way I see it, though, it’s monogamy that is potentially destroying the possibility of polyamory for us. The ideas that “a wife shouldn’t do that” and that a woman is property of a man and he can decide what she does. The ideas of exclusivity and fear of loss. The idea that there is only so much love to go around, and if she loves him, how can she possibly love me? These ideas are deeply ingrained in our culture.
If polyamory fails, does that mean that polyamory itself is to blame? Or can it be that our social conditioning toward monogamy is sabotaging polyamory before it even has a chance?
I can’t really know. The same way I could never understand why my wife couldn’t accept polyamory, I won’t know the exact reasons that Mr. Wonderful rejects it either, if it comes to that. I realize that there are difficulties with polyamory, just as there are difficulties with monogamy. It may be true that some people really can’t live with polyamory. I wouldn’t want to try to convince anyone to live a lifestyle they feel is unhealthy for them.
I guess I just hoped that Mr. Wonderful was right when he said he felt he could accept it.
Now, though, I feel like we’re standing beside a bomb, and we have no idea how long the fuse is. All we know is that it’s lit.