Auntie SparkNotes: Poly Problems
I'm in a polyamorous relationship with... let's call them Elena, Jessica, and Dylan. By "polyamorous," I basically just mean that the four of us are in the relationship together. We call ourselves the love gang. So, starting in July, things were going awesome. Jessica, Elena, and Dylan were already together when I joined the relationship, so I was getting to know them, they were getting to know me, and the emotional and physical intimacy were growing every day.
Then... I don't know what happened. See, sex is really, really important to Elena. Jessica has a very low sex drive, which is fine by me. Dylan enjoys sex, but doesn't need it the way Elena does. Elena and I started having personality clashes and arguments around October. We still love each other, we just had to learn to live with each other. Around this time, my sex drive towards her plummeted, but towards Dylan it stayed the same.
Elena and I didn't really work out our differences, but we did put them aside. My sex drive didn't come back, though. We all agreed to change the way we treat each other so there wouldn't be so much friction in the love gang. Still no sex drive. Did I mention sexytimes are like super important to Elena? She doesn't care if we do the HND, but she needs some hot-and-heaviness several times a week. And I just don't want that with her. So we had a breakup (as in, I moved all my stuff out and cried on a friend's shoulder for seven hours straight), but then we realized we were even more miserable than when we had been together.
So now we're back together, and we promised not to break up this time unless all four people agree to it. I have no clue what to do. My sex drive towards Dylan is starting to drop, and I know that some of that is guilt—I love Elena, and I want her to be happy. But every time she and I start heading towards Sexytimesville, I just want to detour to Cuddletown. Every. Single. Time. Elena is resigned to a less-than-happy-existence with no sex. I feel awful and don't know how to change. I've actually started wondering if I'm somehow becoming straight. Dylan is desperate to fix things but doesn't know how, so he's gone on a raise-everyone's-self-esteem rampage—which is great, but not fixing the problem. And Jessica just wants us to give it more time, even though it's been months.
I know this is kind of an unusual letter. But do you have any advice for repairing the love gang? The situation is getting increasingly uncomfortable, but none of us wants to give up. We all love each other, and I never want to hurt them the way I did by leaving. I really just don't know what to do.
And to think that just this morning, Auntie SparkNotes looked at the calendar, and sighed, and said, "I can't believe that it's almost 2014, and I haven't received a single letter about a polyamorous quadrangle."
IT'S A NEW YEAR'S MIRACLE, YOU GUYS.
And I'll be honest, Sparkler: polyamorous relationships are not exactly my area of expertise. But with that said, I don't feel even the slightest compunction about saying that yours, despite your best efforts, is a dangerous mess that isn't working.
Because every relationship requires flexibility and respect—and a relationship between multiple people requires these things exponentially more than one with just two participants. Four people, even four people who love each other, cannot be expected to love or relate to each other in exactly the same way.
Which is something you seem to understand, actually, at least insofar as it applies to everybody else. You acknowledge that Elena is a different person, with different needs, than Dylan or Jessica. You recognize that everyone is approaching this relationship in their own way, and that that's okay. You probably don't think twice about it if, say, Dylan's relationship with Jessica has a different dynamic than Jessica's does with Elana—because why wouldn't it? They're different people, and they're bound to relate in different ways.
Not you, though. You, apparently, are expected to get along equally with all three of your partners, regardless of your individual personalities. You're obligated to provide sex to Elana in accordance with her needs, even when you don't get along with and are clearly not attracted to her. You see your dwindling sex drive as something wrong with you, instead of a warning sign of something wrong with the relationship. You've even given up the right to end things with these people, unless you get their permission.
Do you hear that sound, darling? A sort of wheezing, gasping, mewling noise? That would be your dignity, your agency, and your right to self-determination being slowly smothered to death.
And this relationship, which has so many rules, so little balance, and no regard at all for at least one of its members' individuality, is not a healthy, equal, respectful, or functional partnership. And when you ask me how to fix it, I want to unholster the Punishment Salmon and give you a gentle, compassionate beating with it. Because it doesn't matter how many people are in a given romance: if one of them is uncomfortable, unhappy, and stifled, and if the only thing keeping her in the relationship is a desire not to hurt its other participant(s), it's time for that relationship to end. Period. Exclamation point.
Which isn't easy, I know, and I suspect it'll be particularly difficult for you. You seem to be a people-pleaser by nature, and with multiple people to please, you've been putting your own needs not just second, but third and fourth, for long enough that asserting yourself is going to probably feel really weird at first. But that's all the more reason why you need to extricate yourself, and soon, from a relationship in which you've become three people's doormat, and why you need to be wary of making yourself the romantic servant of any master—but particularly multiple masters—until or unless you're ready to be your own first. Maybe it can be your New Year's resolution.
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