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Love 2.0 -- It'd be weird if this felt normal

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Dear Clay,

I'm newly involved with someone who is in a Long-Term Relationship (LTR) with a partner (they've been together two years), and they live together. Honestly they are doing polyamory in a way that feels ideal and great to me. They do not use the hierarchical poly system (not saying it's bad for anyone who wants to use it, but they don't, and that feels good to me), and all the vibes about everything feel out in the open and good and inclusive, supportive and positive.

Dream, right? And what's more, there feels like there's complete space for my relationship with this person to grow into whatever it authentically will be. It's not limited by their existing partnership, besides on a practical level, if you know what I mean. Obviously they have obligations and time commitments and such, but emotionally and vibe-wise it doesn't feel limited. It's kind of a mind-blowing amount of freedom and awesomeness, such as what many of us hope to create I think. Also I like the person's partner and would be happy to get to know them and feel like they would be a friend. Me and this person have only known each other a month, but we've fallen in love. We are quite serious about one another and want to be in one another's lives. And one more detail: we're in the same city right now, but in a few weeks I'll be moving, so we'll be long distance and visiting.

The thing is, I'm new to poly being a part of my life in a serious way, and I'm having feelings. Big feelings, that feel like they're blocking off my heart, and it feels tragic. I've been surrounded by the poly community and poly ideals and philosophy for a long, long time, and I've been interested in it for a long time. But I've never been in a poly situation of this depth with someone I really care about. So it's not unexpected that I'm dealing with feelings about it, right? But I'm struggling a lot because the feelings don't make sense to me. I mean the situation is ideal! No-one has done anything 'wrong.' I just feel like I'm watching my heart betray itself or something. And these negative feelings are getting in the way of what I see could just be an easy bliss with this person.

I am not sure what to do. I've been processing with friends, writing about this and having open communication with the person I'm seeing. I'm just so scared that maybe I won't get through it and that I'll stay blocked off, or that maybe I'm not cut out for this even though I want it, or that I'll ruin the relationship with my bad feelings.

Any advice? I know I haven't been specific about the emotions themselves, but we can generalize to say they relate to struggling with the concept of being in love with someone who already has a partner.

Thanks so much.




Thanks so much for writing about your bad feelings about being in love with someone who already has a partner!

Sure the situation is ideal. Except, wait, your partner has a partner. So let's not discount this for a second and take a closer look.

If your life has been at all like mine, I grew up on a lot of ideals which are not in any way compatible with consensual non-monogamy. Portrayals of romance in the last century would have us believe from the depths of our souls that if we want to have anything that even remotely looks like happiness, we need love. And that love needs to be, well, perfect, because that's not too much to ask for. Perfect here means both flawless in devotion and compatibility. Anything less is cause for the grief and moaning that has been the subject of the majority of music, art, and advertisements of the last hundred years. That’s one point against us.

And if the people outside your poly-cule are anything like the people outside of mine, they're already worried about the future, right? Because sure this can be fun for now, but the collective monogamous imagination seems to have a lot of difficulty fathoming a future for non-monogamous lovers. And hey, if there's one thing that love is supposed to do besides patch the hole in your happiness, it’s supposed to be the guarantor of a shining future. And what can you tell them other than, yup, if things get serious, the THREE or FOUR or however many of you will make plans for the future including each other. A great source of skepticism.

Honestly, it would be weird if you were not getting bad feelings.

I'm not going to tell you that the bad feelings will change or go away by themselves over time. But I feel fairly confident that there is nothing wrong with you, and, as you've said, nothing inherently wrong with this relationship. Just like if you were trying to get everywhere by walking backwards or had decided to switch the hand you brush your teeth with, there’s going to be tingling awareness of everything as new and awkward. The difference, of course, is that you're risking your heart, not just a public stumble or raw gums. There are some entirely reasonable parts of you stepping in to prevent incoming hurt.

But there are some wonderful trade-offs to the switch you are making, ones which may start to show themselves in new positive emotions you may have never felt before. I can only speak from my own experience and for me, as my non-monogamous relationships grew, the new feelings began to outshine the vestigial old.

First of a quick list: compersion. When I first experienced this emotion (known to be brought on by the empathetic joy in another’s romantic joy), I felt as though the sun had been switched on inside my chest. Pretty incredible to discover a new, glowing emotion that we're not typically taught is even a part of the spectrum, huh? Second: a newfound sense of freedom within a loving relationship. I'm guessing with some honest communication and checking-in you are "allowed" to pursue other interests outside of the relationship, whether they are in the form of crushes, close friendships, one-night-stands, or maintaining other lovers -- all sans terrible guilt and an impending break-up.

Third: you're gifted with this window of insight into your own insecurities. I know this sounds like the kind of gift most of us would gladly do away with on Boxing Day. But take this opportunity to look fearlessly into what you feel and you can learn an incredible amount about yourself. I bet you’re not half as fragile as some of your insecurities would have you think you are. This is an awesome time to confront them face on and come out the victor. Fourth: your situation offers a different way of feeling that you are loved for who you are. There are no rules in this model of love telling your new partner that they have to be with you, depend solely on you, or are “stuck” with you until they find someone else. Nope: you're a good thing in their life exactly as you are.

You sound like you are totally on track with how in tune you are with how you feel. Continue without trying to deny or resist the feelings. No, this love is not going to be perfect or easy (exactly what love is?), but can you observe your feelings and acknowledge them as they are without trying to change them or make them go away? If you don’t already have an awareness/meditation practice, now would be a superb time to start one. I hope the positive begins to shine through the doubt. If not, you have at least taken the risks involved in trying and can always return to a form of relationship that works better for you.

Here's to loving more and better,


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