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Feminspire | April 23, 2014

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Accidental Polyamory: How I Found Myself in an Abusive 3 Person Relationship

Accidental Polyamory: How I Found Myself in an Abusive 3 Person Relationship

I met Tina* when I was in the 7th grade. She was beautiful and fascinating, with a gentle voice and demeanor. She was a year older than me, and lived down the street from my house. We spent a lot of free time at her house, chatting and telling stories, drawing and reading books together.

She wasn’t like the other girls I knew. She was dark and mysterious, with long flowing blonde hair and crystal blue eyes. I didn’t have many friends, but she genuinely seemed interested in me and enjoyed my company. So when she pulled out a book on the occult, and showed me a photo inside of a woman having sex with “the Devil,” I was curious and revolted at the same time.

I went home that night and told my mother about what I’d seen, and she forbade me from seeing Tina again. I was raised in an extremely Christian home, so things like the occult were off-limits to me.

It was 13 years before I ever saw or heard from Tina again. Oh, the miracles of Facebook! Somehow we reconnected through there, and when I was invited to visit her, I also met her boyfriend of 10 years. His name was Andy.

Tina and Andy were inseparable and adorable. I loved them both from the moment I walked into their home. My boyfriend at the time, David, disliked them immediately. For some reason, he seemed to have this paranoid delusion that they were trying to steal me away from him. As it would turn out, he wasn’t too far off the mark!

When David and I eventually went our separate ways (not long after he met them, incidentally), I decided it was time for a change. I booked a flight to Australia, gave notice for my place, and started packing up my life.

But when some plans fell through and I found myself temporarily homeless until my departure date, Tina and Andy offered to let me stay with them. It was a short-term arrangement, as I was due to fly out four weeks later.

My first night there found us having a somewhat light-hearted discussion about my ex’s suspicions regarding their intentions toward me. It was mentioned that they did, actually, really love the idea of my being part of their relationship. Not just in the bedroom, but as a permanent third party. They of course realized I was leaving the country shortly for an undetermined amount of time, but I think they just had incredibly strong feelings toward me and wanted to see where it would lead.

I had never engaged in this sort of relationship before. I didn’t even realize that other people had. My relationship experience with women was limited, but I felt a connection with Tina that I had never found with another female. Andy seemed like a really sweet man, and while I adored him as a person, I wasn’t attracted to him sexually. However, it was a package deal, and I figured it was worth a shot.

At first, everything seemed to fit like a glove; we spent our days together smoking cigarettes and talking about our lives. We made grandiose plans for the future and spent our evenings drinking beer and smoking weed (I didn’t partake in the weed; I’ve never really been a fan).

The first time we were intimate with each other was a mixed bag of feelings for me. On the one hand, I enjoyed being physical with Tina; she was passionate, gentle, and sensual in our lovemaking. However I felt quite awkward sharing that moment with Andy looking on, and occasionally participating. There was no real direct sexual contact between he and I, which I was actually quite grateful for.

Our lovemaking sessions became even more uncomfortable for me, as I quickly realized that I only wanted to be intimate with Tina. She started developing deep feelings for me, as I did for her. Having to share our lovemaking with Andy made me feel dirty and cheap.

Our relationship outside of the bedroom was faring little better, due in large part to Andy’s growing jealousy of the chemistry and emotions shared between Tina and I. When we tried to broach the subject with him, he became moody, sullen, and volatile. She suggested to him that perhaps he simply needed to fuck me and be done with it. I was totally against this idea, however in the end, I figured that if it could help repair the damage in our relationship it was worth a shot.

Andy and I went into the bedroom and awkwardly began to undress. He was very cautious and kind, making sure to continually ask me if everything was all right, if I was ok. I lied through my teeth, wanting the whole ordeal to be over and done with as quickly as possible. There are no real words to describe how uncomfortable it was, how violated I felt.

The experience did little to help, in fact, it ending up making things worse. I believe that Andy could tell how uncomfortable I was and that I had zero interest in him sexually, which seemed to fuel his anger even further. It didn’t seem to matter if he was drinking or smoking weed, either seemed to trigger his aggression.

I remember hearing them fight in the other room frequently, and soon they stopped trying to hide their fights from me at all. Instead Andy would explode at me in front of Tina, who had given up on her attempts to defend me, and also began to join in on the attacks. Suddenly, it was my fault that their relationship was damaged. It was my fault that they were fighting all the time.

The emotional abuse escalated to a point where I was physically afraid of them, specifically Andy. Part of me didn’t feel like he would ever harm me, yet there was still a niggling feeling at the back of my mind that he was capable of it.

Finally, during one particularly terrifying episode, I knew it was time to leave. Andy’s eyes were full of hatred and fury, and I simply couldn’t take being their emotional pincushion any longer. I called my best friend in tears, and asked her if I could stay with her for a week until I left for Australia.

In the 5 years since our short-lived relationship, I’ve spoken to Tina a handful of times (when I was in Australia), and run into Andy once. They have since gotten married and had a child, which came as a shock to me, since they had declared they would never do either.

When I first started hearing about Poly relationships a few years ago, I was slightly confused and even a little skeptical of the whole idea. Coming from a general background of monogamy, the idea of sharing my partner with someone else didn’t feel quite right to me. I poured over every article I could find on the subject, curious about this “new” relationship dynamic.

After much deliberation on and consideration of the idea, I came to the conclusion that while it was a valid lifestyle choice that worked well for others, I would never be comfortable in a Poly relationship.

It wasn’t until I remembered the relationship with Tina and Andy that I realized I had been living in one.

Written by Sara Hanna

*All names have been changed for privacy reasons.

  • Kaitlyn

    This is really interesting article. Thank you so much for sharing. There isn’t enough awareness and discussion about abuse in “unconventional” relationships.

    • Sara H.

      Thank you for your supportive comment! I don’t think I even realized or acknowledged it as abuse until I started writing this article.

  • Chris Allen

    Thank you for sharing, Sara! I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. I hope you don’t mind me analyzing your experience in an effort to help others who might be considering a poly relationship—it will probably cover things you already know, but others reading this might not. :)

    First: there’s a difference between “Swinging” and “Polyamory”: Swinging is casual, and tends to be focused on sex for fun and pleasure. Polyamory is about *relationships* (it’s in the name: amor=love), which may or may not involve sex. If you’re considering a polyamorous relationship, it’s a good idea to read up on it some first, to get an idea of what questions to ask, to consider beforehand what your own boundaries and rights are, etc.

    Polyamorous relationships are a lot of work: the people involved have to be dedicated to pursuing honesty with the others and with themselves; they have to understand insecurities (which lead to jealousy) and how to heal them; and there has to be a strong commitment to do these things and to the love involved.

    It’s clear Sara had a long-term attraction to Tina (not just physical, but also as a friend and a potential relationship partner). Andy, however, was a total stranger for Sara. Relationships take time to grow, yet Tina and Andy asked Sara to have a relationship with *both* of them pretty quickly. For Tina and Sara, this wasn’t really a problem because they had past knowledge and liking of each other. For Andy and Sara, it was a huge problem. Think of it this way: if Sara had met Andy by himself, she might have become friends with him—but the initial attraction for more than friends wasn’t there. IF it was to show up, it would likely take a long time of them getting to know one another better… and even then, there’s no guarantee that Sara would feel attraction to Andy as anything more than a friend.

    Basically, that’s the key: a couple taking on another partner is still two individuals; each needs to have their own relationship with the third person. If one or both of the individuals in the couple are too jealous to allow their partner to have a one-on-one relationship with the third person, it will not work.

    NOTE: Not all polyamorous triads are “a couple + 1″—sometimes it’s “yes we’re a couple, but one of us also has a boyfriend or girlfriend”… or even, “she has another husband, but he’s not my husband as well.” Also, polyamory isn’t limited to three people; it could be any number. Bottom line is, the people involved are capable of loving more than one person at the same time, and loving each as the individual they are. There’s all kinds of potential problems people have to face, including the idea that any significant others to someone in a “couple” relationship *also* have rights, and feelings, and deserve respect.

    So, in this case Andy and Tina found out they had issues in their own relationship—specifically this time, Andy was jealous. Jealousy like this stems from fear: fear that compares one’s self to the other person and makes you afraid your partner will love them more, have more fun with them, possibly leave you… in short, it activates an insecurity in yourself; you fear loss of being “special” to your partner, and loss of their love and attention.

    The way to combat this is to go to your partner and say, “I’m feeling insecure about when you do things with ‘X’ and/or spend time with ‘X’…” and then tell them what you fear losing, how you fear you won’t ‘measure up’ or aren’t ‘special enough,’ etc. They need to listen to you with all their love and compassion for you, and TELL you exactly how they feel about you, what makes you special to them… and you need to listen to them and believe them. If they don’t, or if you can’t, it’s something you’re going to have to keep working on, whether they continue their other relationship or not.

    So, instead of them working on their own problem between them, they tried to pretend it wasn’t there, and pushed Sara to do things with Andy when she didn’t want to.

    It’s easy for us armchair pilots to say, “Sara should never have let them pressure her into sleeping with Andy,” but the reality is more complex. Here’s Sara, finding Tina again, feeling great attraction to her, and hoping it will grow and develop into a beautiful relationship… and then she’s told the pricetag for that is to be intimate with Andy. Conflicting impulses. We’ve all had them, and it’s hard when you’re in the middle of them to analyze them and sort them out. Hindsight is 20/20, but in-the-moment sight is often less so.

    I hope Sara doesn’t let this experience define polyamory for her… because she may or may not be someone who would be happy in polyamorous relationships—but if she does find a yearning for more than one person, I hope she uses what she’s learned since then about polyamory as her yardstick, rather than this bad situation—because it’s clear Tina and Andy weren’t ready and didn’t handle it well. As the couple with the idea and who instigated it, they were taking on a leadership role for Sara, and in my opinion they failed her as well as themselves—not in *having* problems come up, but rather in how they tried *not* to deal with those problems, and ended up making it much worse.

    Sara, I hope things go better for you in life (whether you go for monogamy or polyamory or being a solo life person)! Good luck! :)

    • Sara H.

      Thank you so much for your insightful and helpful explanation about multiple aspects of polyamory as well as my experience with it. I of course realize that not all experiences are like mine, and wish nothing but happiness for those who choose to pursue an unconventional relationship. I think this experience is simply one more instance in my memory that helps to clarify my sexual orientation as well.

      • Chris Allen

        It’s important that people who’ve had bad experiences share them, because otherwise people think “Happily Ever After” is not only real but also “a piece of cake.” That goes for *any* relationship, lol. *All* of them are hard work. Human beings are in all relationships; therefore, mistakes are made in all relationships. :D We learn by doing, but we get a leg-up on learning when people share their mistakes and/or problems they’ve encountered. Thank you for sharing!

  • Chris Allen

    For those interested, here’s a link to a good website on polyamory. I don’t agree with every single thing he says throughout the site, but he has a LOT of good advice… and even if you don’t agree 100% with him, at least he points out a lot of potential issues one should think about.

    The particular article I’m linking in is about Primary and Secondary relationships—but feel free to use the sidebar menu on the right to see other articles by this author. :)

  • Lindsay

    Hi Sara I love your ability to open a window that most people don’t often have the courage to open, let alone the curtains. To be able to show yourself, and your feelings to the world through this public forum is inspiring. I could never do what you do… Thank you.

    The way you described Andy touched a personal note with me, I was in a relationship similar to yours but I said no, and he ended up cheating on me with the “other” woman who was to be “with us”. This was something we had talked about for years… being with another woman, something we both really wanted, she was actually the girl I had a crush on in high school. The difference between our story is that they connected, and I got scared, and jealous, like Andy. I thought they would fall in love and leave me. Which turned out to be the truth…. in a sense because I made the first move, in the direction I thought the safest. In all honesty I know they both loved me, but I couldn’t get over the “fact” I knew the she wanted to be with more people than us, she wanted to see other people. I could share “Andy” with her but not someone else, on the side… She turned out to be unfaithful to him, over and, over again. He ended up crushed… but what was done was done.

    I’m sorry if this sounds offensive, but it sounds as if you had already made plans for the future before this experimental relationship began? You were leaving for Australia before the relationship entered the “uncomfortable stage”. Why didn’t you stop it like I did? Why didn’t you tell Andy the truth? I told the truth, you didn’t, and we both ended up hurt.

    I’m sorry if this sounds like an attack, but this is still something I have yet to fully deal with. If she hadn’t lied to both of us we would probably still be together. She was a greedy individual that lied to both of us. Everything she did in life that didn’t work out the way she wanted was to be blamed on someone else…regardless of who she hurt along the way.

    I know it’s not you who stirred these emotions of the past in me that I have yet to overcome….but it sounds similar.

    If you are in a relationship you HAVE to be Honest, and I’m sorry but from reading this I honestly don’t think you were you committed to the relationship from the beginning. It sounds from this and your other posts that you are making excuses to blame everyone except yourself. I blame myself for the thoughts and desires that lead to the demise of a relationship that was better than any I’ve had since. I lost out on what was meant to be , (maybe?) because of the selfish actions of a dishonest person, who lied to both of us.

    Again thanks, and sorry. L

    • Sara H.

      I hear what you’re saying and I’m sorry to hear of your troubles too! Andy and Tina were well aware of my situation and that I wasn’t looking for any sort of long term triad with them. They wanted to open their marriage to me and I was flattered but certainly honest with them both. Although speaking up for myself to let them know I was uncomfortable having sex with Andy was not something I knew how to do.

      This was many years ago and I have grown a lot since then. I am now fully honest with my partner and its working out very well.