…that Jon and I finally had yesterday. Ooops.
Luckily, it worked out well in the end.
I have always felt uncomfortable asking Jon questions about Lora, or asking him what exactly is going on when they’re fighting. I have projected on to Jon that he also feels as uncomfortable as I do. I’ve also always gotten tangled up emotionally every time I’ve tried to sort out my feelings of discomfort. Jon and I had a conversation this weekend that helped me get my feelings straight, as well as led into another vital relationship conversation that I usually have within the first few months of a relationship.
First, the Lora conversation. One of Lora’s red flags for abusive and controlling behavior was her demand that Jon never talk about their relationship with friends. I’m not a fan of the idea of spilling my guts over every little detail to every friend I have, but when I’m having relationship problems, I believe that we all have the right to talk to a close friend or two about our problems. I’ve dated people in the past who also tried the “you can never talk to anybody about your relationship ever” line with me, and I’ve told them all “When I have problems, I need to talk to my closest friends about that. If you don’t like that, or if you’re worried that your behavior towards me in a fight was so egregious that you’d feel uncomfortable knowing that someone else knew about it, then this isn’t going to be the relationship for you”. Once or twice, I agreed to try not talking to anybody about my relationship problems within that paradigm. It didn’t worked out well.
Knowing that in Lora’s ideal world, Jon wouldn’t speak to anybody (including me) about their problems caused me to feel uncomfortable hearing about their problems. Also, as time went on and I slowly came to realize how much of her behavior was controlling and abusive, it felt uncomfortable to me to talk to Jon because I really didn’t think they should be in a relationship. I thought she was a bad person to have a relationship with. I was worried that being honest about that would sound like I was trying to break them up. I was also worried that being honest about that would make it more likely that Jon would ask me point-blank if I thought they should break up, and it felt really bad to want to say “yes” to that question. I also worried (because Lora and Jon started dating before Jon and I) that I would either look like a cowgirl (someone who is monogamous and dates a poly person partially with the intention of getting them to give up poly) or just that I was out to have Jon all to myself. Lastly, I worried that if Jon and I talked in depth about his relationship problems with Lora and I said that I thought he should do X, but he decided to do Y, that he would feel really judged and like I was demanding that he do X because we should make joint decisions about our relationships.
At this point, I should backtrack a moment to say that I have the kind of relationships with my friends where if we do talk about relationship problems and have differing opinions on what should be done, there are no hard feelings. Part of what I find valuable in friendships is to have a disagreement about something like that, and both parties being able to be respectful of the other person’s autonomy. If a friendship hangs on the idea that we must agree on all actions and/or me doing something differently from the way my friend would have constitutes a betrayal of the friendship, then I don’t want to be in that friendship.
It’s all about autonomy. We should all have the maxim amount of freedom to make our own decisions, so long as they don’t hurt another party.
I’ve had many thoughts on autonomy and control within relationships recently. While I plan on getting into those thoughts in-depth in later posts, for brevity’s sake, I want to keep my comments based on what autonomy and control Jon and I have within our relationship.
Jon and I didn’t have an in-depth conversation about autonomy and control when we started dating. I suspect this is because both of us feel strongly about our autonomy and have a desire to have no control over each other, or be controlled by this other. Our relationship rules were developed organically, as we got closer to each other and decided that we wanted to share our lives together. In terms of relationship rules, our list of rules is pretty short:
- No unprotected sex with other parties unless an express commitment to fluid-bonding is being made. STI tests must happen before fluid bonding.
- If we want to have sex with someone, let the other partner know (To be clear, this isn’t about getting permission. It’s just a heads up to each other that if we feel serious enough about someone to have sex, we want the other party to know. Neither Jon nor I are into casual sex (which is fine if other people are, it’s just not our cup of tea), so if we’re thinking about having sex with someone, chances are that we feel pretty strongly about them. It can be an indication that a deeper commitment could be developing.)
- If we are thinking that we want to make a serious emotional commitment to someone new, let the other partner know (Again, this isn’t to get permission. This is to fill the other partner in that one of us feels so strongly about someone else that we want to start potentially including them in major like decisions and/or living with them).
That’s it. Them’s the rules.
Past those rules, we both like the idea of being kept abreast about other people we’re dating/playing with. But that’s in line with the way that we keep each other abreast on what is going on in our work lives and with our friends. It’s not a demand, it’s just that we like to know what is going on with each other in most aspects of our lives. It feels good to share those things, so we do.
But when talking about personal autonomy and control, Jon and I both feel strongly that personal autonomy and putting the people before the relationship is the right way to do things. Neither of us vet the other’s partners. We are each welcome to get into whatever kind of relationship we want to. However, if one of us had a problem with a relationship the other has, we are welcome to express that, and walk away from the relationship, if we can’t live with it. What we aren’t allowed to do is force each other to do something.
Which is why I kept focusing on how – as inconceivable as it was to me that Jon was continuing to have a relationship with Lora – my only option was to evaluate what I could live with, and alter my behavior/living situation accordingly. I could decide that I was not able to live with Lora. But I couldn’t decide that Lora and Jon shouldn’t live together. I could decide if I was unable to have an emotional relationship with Lora. But I didn’t have the right to demand that Jon stop his emotional relationship with Lora.
As Jon feels the same way that I do, I realized that we never had an in- depth conversation about autonomy and control within our relationship because we both feel the same way about how much autonomy and control we should have within our relationship. This was very different from previous relationships I had where the other party tried to be far more controlling towards me and would attempt to demand that I change my behavior to confirm to their desires. And on that note, let me be very clear: I think there are a lot of things that are acceptable to ask a partner to do/not do. However, those requests should always be treated as requests – the other party can say “no”. And if the other party says “no”, then the person making the request has the right to decide if they still want to be in the relationship if their request isn’t going to be acceded to. Because the people are more important than the relationship. It is better for everybody that a relationship is severed rather than severing a person (or both people) within a relationship from themselves, in order to continue the relationship.
The way this ties into now, today, with Jon and Lora’s relationship (they do still have one, as they’re still talking) is that I am certainly welcome to ask Jon what is going on with him and Lora. Jon has the option of telling me as much as he feels comfortable – and he let me know that he does generally feel comfortable talking to me about his relationship with Lora and hearing my opinion and how I got to my opinion. I am welcome to offer my opinion, even if it’s a dissenting one. Even if it’s that I think Lora is demanding too much of him or that I don’t think a relationship with her is worth fending off her continued attempts at controlling him. Jon is welcome to take or leave my opinion as he sees fit. Him doing something differently than what I think he should do in no way disrespects my opinion or the relationship that he and I have.
If at some point one of us were to no longer feel comfortable with the other’s thoughts/actions in regards to Lora (or any other relationship) that person should absolutely bring up that discomfort and see if it can be worked through in a way that honors the autonomy of both of us. And if there is no way to work that through and stay in a relationship, then honoring ourselves and our needs must be more important than staying in the relationship.
I feel a lot better knowing that Jon truly is OK with (and wants to hear) my opinion on his relationship with Lora and how things go. I’m glad that we’re both clear that I can disagree with how he handles his relationship with her, and that doesn’t necessarily affect our relationship or how we feel about each other. It feels really good to know that he doesn’t feel angry at me that I don’t agree with their relationship. It also puts both of us on really good footing in terms of how we’ll handle each others’ thoughts/feelings on future serious relationships and makes our relationship feel that much more safe, stable, and build on a foundation of mutual trust and autonomy.