My girlfriend has started dating another girl who is sweet and funny but was previously monogamous. I have no issue with her, but she is not used to communicating about her emotions and now in a worrying pattern on several occasions, she has avoided difficult conversations when it’s obvious to us both, that she’s in pain. She likes to believe she’s open minded – and of course she is – for having entered into this configuration in the first place. And yet, the more she denies her own difficulties, the more scared I am that this will blow up in all our faces.
I feel like I’m treading on eggshells around her, because without her expressing her concerns, I have no idea what triggers her. It only becomes apparent when she tunes out or runs away. Whilst in theory I would have no problem with not being as involved with her, her tiny studio flat isn’t big enough to accommodate them both and so she is often in our home. How can I support their relationship or reassure her when she won’t open up to me?
– Ms. TerrifiedAboutABlowOut
Dear Ms. TAABO,
What a tricky catch-22 situation. There’s a reason why many polyamorous people do not date newbies, because the learning curve is steep and can hurt a good many other people as it is experienced. You do have cause for concern, but I’m going to remind you that you cannot be responsible for other people’s experience.
This is not an excuse to act without sensitivity, but there are limits to how many eggshells you can tread on, without eventually resenting her for your choice to do so. Because make no mistake, even if it is your choice to walk on the eggshells, you are bound sooner or later to cross your own boundaries if you’re bending over backwards to accommodate someone else. Second guessing someone else’s reactions is therefore unlikely to be productive.
Given that you have no control over whether she chooses to communicate or not, there is really only one thing you can do.
Hold the space for her by supporting yourself.
What I mean by this is that you have to work very hard to suspend judgement and on your own self-esteem because if you give in to your fears, you risk entering into an even worse situation where you start to play in the drama triangle (which never ends well). Remember the first time you encountered non-monogamy, how your doubts and fears played tricks on you. She is likely in the same situation, where the last thing she needs is for you to act out any – unasked for – ‘rescuing’ or perceived persecution in the form of blame/judgement for her inability to communicate, or you playing the victim and feeling hurt by what you perceive as a huge red relationship flag.
You can – of course – be hurt and angry at the situation all the while remembering with compassion that we only ever do what we believe we need to, in order to survive. Expressing your anger is an important part of supporting yourself, but doesn’t necessarily have to be directed towards her. You could find a confidante who is not involved, or indeed do as I do, write it out in journal form. When you feel measured and reasonable enough, you can express your concerns to your mutual girlfriend. It is her relationship after all.
You can make the situation as easy as possible for metamour to communicate her fears, by communicating your own in a constructive way, when you’re all together, as an example. You can also give space to their relationship – as much as you can without treading on your own needs/boundaries. And be as patient as you can. If you’re going to address this issue with her directly, make sure it is done as tactfully and in a non-accusatory way bearing in mind, that you neither have the right to demand she expresses her emotions, nor to give you the space to express yours.
Few know what they’re getting into when they dive into open relationship territory. Your metamour may have thought that she would be okay with it, but at the end of the day finds that she is unwilling to deal with the emotions which signal her underlying insecurities. Or she may learn, in time, to trust you more. Keep yourself grounded, and wait and see.