Trying Parallel Polyamory

Sometimes it is so hard to write because you don’t know if you’re explaining all your thoughts correctly or how they will be interpreted. You might think it seems perfectly explained in your head but then you realize you forgot to add a key thought. This is a very raw blog; a look into my imperfections and struggles in polyamory. For any monogamous folks reading this, the answer IS NOT that I need to be monogamous; I’m not interested in monogamy and would not be happy in monogamy. For any polyamorous folks reading this, the answer IS that I need to manage my own jealousy better; I have the books and I’m working on it. I write this so that others who are in a similar situation can see they aren’t alone; that we all struggle, and we are all trying to move forward and find the best version of ourselves and our lives. Hopefully, I included enough details for it to make sense.

Friendship on Hold

So, I decided to stop talking to my meta (short for metamour, meaning a partner of one of your partners) for a few weeks. Originally, it was because she was operating at a different level of risk during quarantine than me. She and her family have been continually driving hours away to visit family and staying the whole weekend or having family/friends over to stay at their house. And for some reason, I got myself all worked up every time I found out they were doing this. Literally every time. It didn’t matter how often my nesting partners reminded me that there’s no point in me caring so much because it’s not putting our family in danger at all and it’s not my life – I still ended up going from 0 to 60 on the stress and frustration level in about 60 seconds. By the 3rd and 4th time, I tried to just let it go and be chill, but my feelings ended up bubbling out sooner or later. By the 5th time, I realized that my frustration about someone else’s life was putting me in such a bad mood that it wasn’t fair to my children or partners. So, I decided to put our friendship on hold.

As I kept thinking about my emotions and my interactions with my meta, I realized that there were so many inane situations that I would get myself worked up over. I let everything she did stomp on my insecurities (when she wasn’t actually doing anything wrong at all.) Let me be clear: these are all my own problems and insecurities. There is nothing she is doing wrong in any way. She’s an amazing person. She’s nice, funny, and caring. I want to be best friends with her, the best of best friends. I’m almost constantly trying to work on myself and my feelings, but I realized that staying in communication with my meta and trying to work on my feelings at the same time, was just not working. I just can’t deal with being friends with my husband’s girlfriend right now. So, I decided I needed some time to center myself; to just focus on myself, my family, and the emotional work I needed to do.

Giving Advice Gives Me A Realization

Later that same day that I told her I was taking a break, someone called me for relationship advice, which actually turned out to be open relationship and jealousy advice. This person, D, had originally agreed with their partner, A, to have an open relationship when they first started dating. A wanted to be able to be friends with benefits with an old friend. However now, months into their relationship, D did not feel good about the agreement any longer. D was having a lot of insecurities coming up and feeling very upset about A being with anyone else sexually. Knowing that I’ve had (and have) a lot of issues with jealousy and my partner(s), D wanted to know how I handle it. I paused silently for a long moment on the phone and then kind of chuckled. “That’s a hard one…because honestly, I still don’t handle it well.” I said. I gave the standard poly advice: be honest, communicate, figure out what works for both of you, work on your insecurities, realize mental illness plays a part in your reactions and feelings on any given day.

Then I talked myself right into a realization of how unhappy I currently was with my own situation. I told D that A can’t be forced into monogamy and D can’t be forced into an open relationship, they’ve only been dating a few months and can still choose to part ways before they become any more enmeshed if they can’t find a comfortable medium. “I, on the other hand, am married and have kids, so I kind of just have to deal with it,” I found myself saying. Later, when I was telling my boyfriend about the conversation, I said matter-of-factly, “I’m stuck. I don’t really have a choice. I can’t tell husband that he can’t see other women because I have jealousy issues and insecurities that I can’t seem to shake, because I have you, a live-in boyfriend.” Despite those feelings of stuck-ness, I wouldn’t change my situation for the world. I wouldn’t want to go back to being monogamous. I can’t imagine not living with two partners who so completely and utterly love and care about me and the children. We all mesh so well, life is easy with the three of us. The only thing I continually get caught up on are my partners wanting to see more people. I get stuck on my own jealousy, my insecurities, my fears of other people being more fun and exciting than I am.

I Forgot Parallel Poly Was A Thing

I did some more thinking, and some more, and some more. Obviously, the way things have been going has not been working for me. What else could I change? How could I change one small thing to improve my situation without upending our whole relational structure? I had already gone about dealing with my partner having other partners in a host of wrong ways: trying to be overly involved, coming up with a variety of restrictions, and pouting and freaking out A LOT. I had also tried going about it in healthier ways: getting to know my meta, trying to distract myself when he was gone or busy with her, and talking out my feelings A LOT.

All the conversation and thinking really made me start to think about how hard I’ve been trying to force myself into Kitchen Table Poly (KTP) and how difficult it has been for me. I came to a realization: why not try Parallel Poly (PP)??? Kitchen Table Polyamory and Parallel Polyamory are terms that denote how much contact someone wants with their metamours. In KTP, you want to meet, know, and spend time with your metas aka be able to sit around the kitchen table together, drink coffee, and talk. In PP, you know that your partner has other partners, but you don’t want to get to know those other partners personally or hang out.

Moving to A Different Way of Polyamory Isn’t Failing

I guess I’ve subconsciously felt that KTP was the ultimate goal and PP was failing. But I’m realizing that’s not true. I’m not failing at polyamory. I was just trying to force myself into a certain way of doing things that I thought was the ‘best’ way to be poly, the ‘right’ way to be poly. But there is no right way, as long as everyone is consenting and ethical. I do want KTP, but I think I need to spend some time in PP to get my insecurities straightened out.

Interestingly, Jess Mahler wrote that PP is the default. However, my husband and I defaulted right into trying KTP. We thought it would be cool to all be friends and be able to hang out. And it’s not that I don’t want that, I really do, and it has provided so many great moments. It’s just that I can’t manage my emotions right now and I’m tired of all these miserable feelings every time I hear her name or know they’re talking or know they’re together. I feel like my end goal is still KTP, because I’ve loved the fun things we’ve all been able to do together. I guess I’m just hoping that a couple weeks or months of separation on my part and working through my feelings without feeling entwined with my meta might help.

Working on Myself: Compartmentalization and Compersion

Here I am, a few days later after I decided to stop contact with my meta, and I’m mentally feeling much better. I’m not constantly comparing. I’m not anxious. As long as I don’t start thinking too hard about her, I’m good. The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola calls this ‘compartmentalizing’ (p. 102). “Some people find that any reminder of their partner’s other relationship is excruciatingly painful, and that any intrusion ruins the entire date or even creates distress for the rest of the week…This coping strategy works because the less they think about it, the safer they feel, and life goes on more smoothly and comfortably” (Labriola, p. 102). Oh, how true this is for me!

The thing that sucks though is that I don’t want to be this way; I don’t want to have to compartmentalize or avoid the topic. I want to be happy for him because I have had fleeting moments of compersion (a poly term that means feeling happy when you see your partner with another partner). I still can drum up some compersion in my mind when I think of my husband smiling and being happy with a girlfriend. But if I try to put a specific name or face onto that girlfriend in the daydream, the compersion quickly retreats.

I totally agree when Page Turner says, “Whenever possible, it’s better to attack the underlying cause of personal discomfort rather than looking for the quickest way to remedy the immediate situation.” I know at this point, I’m jumping into what may seem like a quick remedy, but I’m really trying to use this time in Parallel Poly to work on the underlying causes of my discomfort. I’ve tried for the last 9 months to work on my discomfort while being in contact with my meta, and it’s only partially worked. I’m over my abandonment issues (Thank you, Husband – he’s the real MVP for talking endlessly with me about my insecurities, being patient, and showing me his undying love for me), but I still have the am-I-not-enough issues (am I not fun enough? Am I not exciting enough? – still working on these). So, I know something needed to change for me to be able to keep moving forward. I’m hoping this time apart from my meta will allow me to move forward with my insecurities and come out the other end being able to practice KTP. Or I hope that PP goes so well that I realize that’s the way I should always be doing it. Either way, something needed to change, so I took the initiative to change it.

(Would time with a poly-friendly therapist be helpful? Of course. Unfortunately, there are none in my area or even close-by. I’d have to drive at least an hour to find one, and that’s not plausible right now.)

4 thoughts on “Trying Parallel Polyamory

  1. Sounds like you are doing the best you can given the situation.

    If you’ll take a suggestion?

    As this post is written, it sounds like you are taking it as given that the relationships are healthy and the problem is you. And that may very well be the case. But the polyam community emphasis on individual responsibility often leads folks to miss relationship problems. Especially problems that aren’t any one persons fault. Stuff like — do you and met ahave different communication styles and that is causing conflict? Poor boundaries is another common issue, or conflicts between your boundaries/needs and other people.

    If you’ve considered all this stuff already, well and good. But… honestly your relationship is factually NOT healthy right now because it was harming you. Unhealthy relationships don’t mean toxic people. Often wonderful people end up in unhealthy relationships together because of incompatibility or missing small things that grow into big things. The relationship maybe unhealthy because of insecurities and jealousy — but there may be other issues.

    Now that you’ve stepped back and can see your interactions w/ your meta from a distance, definitely work on the issues that are yours — be they jealousy or insecurities or poor personal boundaries. But be open the idea that it’s not just you with/causing problems.

  2. I can’t thank you enough for writing this. I’ve been destroying myself for the past year and a half because I have specific very negative jealousy reactions about my boyfriend’s girlfriend- and not the one he lives with!

    I’ve been trying to force myself into KTP because he wants me to like her. I wasn’t listening to *any* of my own boundaries and needs (the second time
    I met her was her coming to my house…) because I was so caught up in this perfect fantasy of table poly and was completely torturing myself for what I saw as my “failure” – being jealous- that I completely ignored and ran roughshod over myself. Because I was ashamed of having nerds and boundaries in this; I had this idea that the most perfect, most enlightened, highest state of polyamory could only be KTP.

    I’m so afraid of being avoidant and not “trying hard enough”. I have been spending so much time trying to combat my feelings, I forgot to listen to them.

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