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Guest blog: The poly break-up that never was

This week’s guest blog is incredibly personal, and I found it a fascinating read. It’s from a male reader who wants to discuss some of the complex emotions and situations thrown up by his open relationship. We’ve talked a lot here about monogamy, polyamory, open relationships, and how different people navigate their own relationships and work out what’s best for them – his post gives an interesting perspective on break-ups within an open relationship, and I’m so glad that he’s happy to share his story here.

The break up that never was

(Or “how feelings can sneak up on you and poly often means complex”)

I’ve never been comfortable referring to myself as poly.  I guess the best fit word for myself is ethically non-monogamous and the best phrase for the relationship I have with my long term girlfriend is “swings with friends” but they’re all pretty hateful phrases too.  We’re an item, a pair, partners in crime, but we do have sex with other people and neither of us are averse to having Actual Relationships with other folks too, though we haven’t of late.  Why am I explaining this upfront? Well, it’s important, because all of the emotions I have tied up in that relationship came into play when “the break up that never was” happened.  I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last 6 months, and about lots of the people in my life.

Almost three years ago I started chatting to a women I met on a fetish site.  Initially online, then over coffee and cake, and we fell into an easy friendship.  We’re both kinky.  We’re both non-monogamous, and there was an attraction, but I didn’t let myself kiss her because I’m very serious when I say I’m an ethical non-monogamist. She had a long term boyfriend and he knew nothing of this side of her life.  She also had several on and off lovers, and they knew nothing of each other, or the boyfriend.  Much as I fancied the pants off her, I wasn’t going to get into that mix.

Roll forward a few years and we’ve remained good friends.  The boyfriend went and another came, the lovers moved on, and over the course of six months we chatted more and more electronically whilst she was away.  It got explicit, we both got good at getting the other off by text and had a pretty good grasp of our kinks.  There was a strong Venn diagram if I’d ever got round to drawing it, and I felt much more comfortable because everybody in our lives knew that everybody else exists.

She returned to the area and we bumped into one another at a party.  We both shied away from each other a bit I think, the jump for text messages to face to face maybe caught us out a little, she looked amazing and I felt my chest jump, an actual physical knot.  We chatted, there was the smallest of physical contact, and I was pretty sure It Was On.  Sure enough a few weeks later some shenanigans happened and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves.  It’s fun when you find than something you spelled out with predictive text, leaving pauses between messages for them to frantically rub themselves up to an edge before you tease it out a little further, tuns out to be as good in real life.

And then the bombshell, the delayed bomb shell.  To make things work with her boyfriend, monogamy was the way forward, and when she told me, I replied that what was right for them was right.  I was naturally disappointed, but I’m not about to get in the way of something that had been going on for longer than our dalliances and in the long term scheme of life was probably more important for her and I would be just fine, and I really meant it.

And I was for a few weeks, and then something tripped me up (a text message, a glanced FB post, I don’t remember now) and my heart dropped out of my chest one evening, sitting watching TV.  I’d fallen for this girl and now It Was All Over.  I moped and huffed for about a week before my girlfriend asked me what was up and I explained, “I think I hadn’t realised how much I like her.”

The next few months were pretty shitty.  I muted her messages on my phone to stop my heart jumping every time its little light went on.  I purposely didn’t message her to start conversations and carefully didn’t open up lines of communication when she messaged me.  I didn’t meet up and lied about diary clashes.  I tried to protect myself because I was utterly miserable.

My girlfriend was great though this time, and God knows it can’t have been easy for her to watch me, her man, pining and whining for Another Women, and I can only thank her for everything over that time.

I talked to a few poly friends over that time about the feelings I was having, because some had gone through breakups with “non-primary partners” (*cough* *spin* *yet another dreadful phrase*) and lots of good stuff came out of those chats, but one phrase stuck with me at the time.  “It’s OK to mourn for something that never was” – words from one of my wisest and most thoughtful friends.  At the time one of the things I was finding hardest was that I felt like a fraud.  We’d got up to physical things once or twice.  I felt like I had no right to be as messed up as I was.  I felt like a fraud asking for support from people who’d been through really rough breakups and here was me bitching on about a girl who I’ve never even woken up next to.  “It’s OK to mourn for something that never was” meant to me “it’s OK to mourn the death of hope and desires” which reads far too dramatically, but put the focus on my feeling for the future that relationship no longer had.

During another conversation, with a non-poly friend who I basically ended up outing myself to because I was 100% sure our friendship would stand it and I needed his guidance, he chewed his lip a lot and came out with “What you’re going though, is a break up” which I baulked at.  How could it be a break up?  We’d barely been together.  I had a long running relationship as well. What could he possibly mean?  He explained further, “shenanigans might have only happened in the last few months, but you’ve been courting this girl for a year. You’ve invested a year of time and emotions, and that’s a tough thing to let go of.”  Top marks to the man who’d until an hour before had never heard the term polyamory for an insight I had managed to completely miss.  Whilst huge amounts of our communication was over email, FB messager and text message, he was right, for the last year or so I’d been courting her (a lovely old phrase) and what had grown over that time was now not gone, but blocked.  He suggested I treat it like a unilateral breakup hence the muting, not replying and distancing myself and I took up his advice.  He was right, he often is.

His view on what had happened also gave me a fresh spin on the mourning quote.  It is OK to mourn that which never has been, but in my case, something had been.  I’d fallen in love over that last year and now I was stuck still loving somebody I didn’t have a future (like that) with.

The highly monogamous reading this might well be spitting feathers right now.  “What about your long term girlfriend!  How dare you mope about feeling sorry for yourself and talking of heartbreak when you’ve an amazing and strong long term relationship.”  I understand those feelings.  I had them too, about myself.  This was the first time in our relationship I had to deal with my feelings about somebody else that weren’t just jealousy or lust.  I really struggled to reconcile in myself the feelings of loss with the guilt.  I muddled though.  Time helps.

And where are we today?  She’s still with her boyfriend though I think struggling with monogamy.  My partner and I have come out the other side stronger knowing that we’re there for one another when things happen that society doesn’t teach you about.  But my heart still sometimes makes a little jump as a facebook post slides past and I spot her face in the crowd, and I’m watching those feelings.


  • M says:

    This is a lovely post, thank you. It’s nice to read about the “amory” part of these situations (although of course the rolling about naked stuff is fun too).

  • Mel says:

    Oh i really needed to read this right now! My heart has been broken in a similar situation. Love?! Pah! That wasn’t part of the deal, except when the ‘i don’t think we should hook up anymore’ text came, i felt physical pain in my chest! Me! Logical & rational – or so i thought. It really hurts.

  • The Anon Author says:

    I tried to write a couple of different replies but everything seemed trite. I know what that feels like. It sucks. You’ll be OK.

  • A very good post. Acknowledging that there’s more to life than monogamy does take you into moderately uncharted territory, because we’re really only a generation and a half or so into recognising that it’s possible to negotiate non-exclusive relationships.
    That means we are all likely to trip up, get our fingers burned, inadvertently cause others pain and generally fuck up in a dozen different directions.
    Mind you, that’s exactly what the traditionally monogamous have been doing for centuries, as well. Being human is complicated, but it’s always worth giving new things a try to see where you end up.

  • Jessy says:

    I don’t know anything about poly but now I know something.
    Please write more.
    My breath hitched with “It’s OK to mourn for something that never was.”

  • I’m in a long (long) term relationship and had always just assumed that monogamy was right for me/us – until a little less than a year ago, when a blog post got me thinking. A few months later, I was confronted with the issue in a personal way and now I’m dipping a very cautious toe into non-monogamy. I haven’t had this specific experience, but I can empathize.

    Even if you’ve got a good thing, the loss of something else still hurts. And that’s OK.

  • I remember a male friend who was desperately in love with one of my girlfriends at school. He poured his heart out to me because no matter what he did she wouldn’t talk to him or date him. Really sad and he was quite good looking. I’ve not seen someone in such a total anguish over another person who wanted nothing to do with him. I even spoke to her on his behalf and she just thought he was horrible, but could never explain why.

    It truly was hopeless for him. So much heartache and so much hurt. I know yours was not quite the same sort of rejection, but the emotions appear to be similar.

  • Hazelthecrow says:

    Thanks so much for writing this. And thanks GOTN for continuing to post accounts like this of complex messy beautiful love. I wasnt allowing myself to feel properly when one relationship suddenly turned abusive, so it came out sideways in panic attacks…and yet my other partner stood by me like a trooper, and the gratitude and awe I feel doesnt fade nearly 4 years on. Its not wrong to feel stuff, just what you choose to do about it counts I guess; I’d always known that but still felt so guilty, that it was my fault. I wish I’d known it was OK to mourn. Your girlfriend sounds like a thoroughly good egg, and I’m sure you make sure she knows it.

  • Hazelthecrow says:

    Thanks so much for writing this. And thanks GOTN for continuing to post accounts like this of complex messy beautiful love. I wasnt allowing myself to feel properly when one relationship suddenly turned abusive, so it came out sideways in panic attacks…and yet my other partner stood by me like a trooper, and the gratitude and awe I feel doesnt fade nearly 4 years on. Its not wrong to feel stuff, just what you choose to do about it counts I guess; I’d always known that but still felt so guilty, that it was my fault. I wish I’d known it was OK to mourn. Your girlfriend sounds like a thoroughly good egg, and I’m sure you make sure she knows it.

  • twiglet says:

    I empathise, you’ve lost a possible future, that hurts. But you’ve talked about something we don’t often hear about the emotions, the relationships we build in poly life styles, it’s not just three ways and hook ups… although they are great. Thank you for bringing it forward in our thoughts in such a sympathetic and well written way.

  • StillProcessing says:

    Thank you for writing this, it’s very hard to articulate these kinds of feelings to the world when you aren’t really sure how they will be received or if you should even be having said feelings. I’ve had a similar experience in practicing non-monogamy without really knowing how to define it and only very cautiously wading into a new situation. And then really falling for and having an emotionally intense relationship with my ‘non-primary’ partner.

    Sometimes even if you can’t call it a Relationship with a capital R, you still have to have a Breakup with a capital B, because that will be the only way forward and through those feelings. And my primary partner definitely saw me break down. I mean, come home and put my head in my hands and sob like a small child over someone who wasn’t him. And I felt horrible. And guilty. And many other things besides the heartbreak I was feeling. But it is really, really wonderful to know you can come through something like that with someone and understand each other a little better, communicate a lot stronger, and love even more when you feel a kind of gratitude you didn’t know you were capable of.

    • The Anon Author says:

      I’ve just come back to re read this post and found your comment. Thank you for the words and the Capital Letters, that’s very helpful

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