Terms and Conditions
I briefly mentioned J in my previous post, and now he makes an encore appearance.
J’s and my relationship had been off to a great start. Insane romantic chemistry. So many things in common. Intense lust for each other. He and his wife had been nonmonogamous for a few years at that point, and claimed that, “they didn’t like labels — swinger, poly, it’s all about the connection!”
However, there were cracks in our relationship before the NRE could wear off.
The biggest was that J’s wife was threatened by my existence, and would flex her primary partner powers on me (like canceling my date night with J so they could have a date night, instead). This was further compounded by J’s increasingly intense feelings for me, about which he seemed to vacillate between admitting he was falling head over heels in love with me, and keeping me at arm’s distance.
At some point, however, that pendulum swung in the opposite direction and stayed there. There was a literal night and day difference to how he interacted with me (in that he was loving with me the night we had a steamy date, and the next morning he was cold and distant). I became the type of girlfriend who was practically begging for scraps of attention, let alone a simple date.
He finally agreed to get coffee with me, where he dropped this bombshell: he decided he was really a swinger, after all, and didn’t want to do anything romantic with me anymore (oh, but we could still flirt and have sex!)
I was heartbroken — and this revelation only played on my demon that says everyone wants to *ahem* fornicate with me, but no one wants to be in love with me — but I agreed to these new terms and conditions, because I felt I had no choice.
(Although it wouldn’t matter: within a month, he would end things for good when he and his wife went back to being monogamous.)
Perhaps the biggest misconception I had during my time with J was the attitude that because I was his “secondary”, I had no say in our relationship. I was already bad at expressing my needs in relationships, and this only furthered that problem.
When M came into my life, I found a similar thing happen, which — very long story short — resulted in him wanting us to be this weird friends-but-more-than-friends-but-still-only-friends dynamic that only muddied that waters, and shackled me to emotional misery while freeing him up to be inconsistent in my life. And I agreed to it, because, again, I felt I had no choice. I was his “secondary” in his eyes, and therefore I felt I had no say in the terms and conditions of our relationship.
I think a huge problem in the world of polyamory is one of its greatest assets: the malleability of relationship parameters. Things don’t have to look like the mainstream version of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”, which is — mostly — a good thing. But it’s a double-edged sword: people might feel like they have to agree to terms and conditions that are incredibly unsatisfactory (if not unacceptable), because the whole point of ENM is to let connections be what they are.
(And if you find that unsatisfactory, then you just have to work on yourself more!! A horrible attitude in the polyamory community that I’ll discuss on a later day. Yes, yes, another story for another time.)
My anchor partner always says, “You have exactly one lever in your relationship. And that is the power to leave.” I used to see this as a low-key threat (yay attachment issues!), but now I understand it better. You always have a right to cancel a contract if the terms and conditions are being changed on you.
I have every right to say, “I don’t like these new parameters.” And — most likely — the other person isn’t going to change their mind. But I’m not saying it to change their minds (ideally). I’m saying it so they understand why I will not click “Accept” to this End User Agreement.
The smartest thing I could’ve done with J (and M) was say, “I can’t agree to this, and it’s time we end things.” It would’ve shattered my heart, but it also would’ve saved me a lot of pain in the long run (including the pain of feeling like I gave up my power for the sake of keeping someone around).
I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure you can’t change a signed contract just because you want to. It requires all parties involved to agree, and it could result in rendering the contract itself null and void. There is no “secondary partner” clause, stating that the “secondary” partner has no say in their own relationship and must mold to whatever their partner (and their partner’s primary) deem fit.
You can state what you actually want. You can protest any proposed changes. But — at the end of the day — it’s also important to remember that we really only have one lever.
And sometimes, that lever needs to be pulled.