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I’ve been seeing someone since February, and I love spending time with them, but I need help. My partner, C., is poly, and while I don’t identify as poly, I’m very familiar with the community and the ideology behind it, and I know and understand why it works so well for some people.
C. has two other partners besides me that they see a lot, and I try to be very respectful of those relationships, but recently I feel like they are prioritized above ours. I don’t see them more than once a week, usually after 11 PM on a weeknight, due to the fact that we are both insanely busy (between us we work four jobs and I am in school at night), and sometimes C. will text their other partners or potential partners when we are together. A couple weeks ago, they spent twenty minutes booking a trip that they are taking with another partner while I was sitting in their bed. I don’t want C. to stop telling me about other parts of their life, such as their other relationships because I want to be involved and aware of what they’ve got going on.
I’ve written them a letter about feeling like I’m getting the short end of the stick, but I’m afraid that it comes off as a break-up letter and I don’t want to break up with them. I really just want to be happy with them. Not to mention that I only see them at 11 PM once a week, and I don’t want to talk about all this stuff when we could be spending time together.
My friends say I should just break up with them, but I REALLY like them. I’m driving everyone crazy. Please send help!
Hi hi, friend!
First off, I want to commend you for knowing exactly what’s bothering you. That doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but it is—some people just know they’re unhappy or frustrated in their relationships, and they can’t put their finger on why. So kudos! A lot of the legwork on this has already been done because you can articulate what’s going on for you.
I also highly recommend to people, while figuring these kinds of things out, that they do write a letter. It helps you clarify what exactly it is you’re asking of your partner. Rarely, however, do I recommend to people that they send said letter. For one thing, putting a relationship discussion in a letter makes your stance feel permanent, like you are unwilling to respond to what the other has to say. For another, if it’s a letter that leans more toward the constructive criticism side of things, there’s the chance that the person could read it over and over, dissecting every little thing and making themselves feel really awful. And that’s not at all what you wanted when you sent the letter! You just wanted to air some things that are bothering you and get them fixed up or explained so you can continue enjoying your relationship. Lastly, there’s the exact risk you mention in your letter—because it’s writing and not something where you can see each other’s faces and body language and change how you’re acting accordingly, letters can hit breakup territory really fast and without your control. You might be wondering: if that’s all the case, then why do I recommend people write letters?
Not to send them, that’s for sure. I recommend them as a sort of practice, a script you can follow when you begin this conversation with your partner. When you’ve written something out, you’re more likely to be able to calmly say exactly what’s on your mind. Because you’ve already done the work of picking out the words. Practice! You’re already ahead of the game. But I am gonna say you really do have to actively have the conversation. Here are some strategies you can use before, during and after the conversation.
Ask Permission First, And Schedule It In
You say you’re both really busy, which means you’re going to have days where neither one of you wants to do this. You might have had a rough one at work or school, or you might just be exhausted and you don’t want to deal. The conversation needs to happen, but you want it to happen when both of you are ready for it. Ask if now is a good time to have a more serious conversation, and if it isn’t, ask to schedule it in. But be ready to hear “not tonight” and respect that answer. Don’t try to force a conversation if C. says no, not right now. A) that’s kind of a jerk thing to do and b) it makes it more likely that the conversation won’t go the way you hope.
Literally Say This Isn’t a Breakup
You can say that, you know. If you’re worried it comes off as a breakup, legitimately say it’s not. “This isn’t a fight, and it isn’t a breakup. This is a few things that are frustrating to me, and I don’t think you’re intending to do them.” That’s the other thing—assume positive intent. C. probably has NO IDEA that you’re feeling deprioritized, especially if they’re busy too. They’re probably just trying to jigsaw their life together without any knowledge that anyone’s feeling any sort of way about it. They might have legitimately forgotten things they said they’d do with you, or things they were supposed to do earlier in the day. Likely, since you like them so much and I happen to know you have good taste, they’re not intending to be malicious toward you. When you’re going into this kind of conversation, remind them that you don’t think they’re trying to frustrate you.
Say Exactly What You Want
This is what I hear when I read your question: you want C. to be totally with you when you’re spending time together because your time is so limited. That doesn’t mean they don’t get to talk about their other people or what funny conversation they had with someone else they’re seeing. It just means that you want your time together to be valuable because you’re together. This is the part I think you’re going to have the easiest time with, because you’re really clear on what you want out of this conversation.
Be Prepared For Several Outcomes
So the most likely outcome is, wow, I had no idea I was making you feel like that, my bad, sorry, I’ll try not to do those things that are bothering you. Mostly because your asks aren’t huge. But people are people, and maybe this person will get defensive. Or maybe this person is unwilling to alter the flow of their life. Be prepared for these outcomes by knowing what your price of admission is. I’ve talked about price of admission before—it’s your deal-breakers, the things a person MUST have or do to partner up with you. Everyone has them, and everyone has different ones. Different things are weighted differently for different people. How weighty is this for you? Only you can tell.
If You Like The Outcome, Say So!
If you like how the conversation went, say that! Too often we’re caught up in providing feedback when we don’t like something, without any attention to the good stuff. If it goes well, say that you’re pretty pleased with y’all’s communication skills right now. And if they stop texting their other partners while they’re with you, let them know you notice and appreciate it.
A Note On Driving Your Friends Crazy…
Listen, every friend is going to feel differently, but in my experience, it isn’t the repetition of the actual words that drives friends crazy when you talk about something that’s going on in your life. It’s you feeling bad. That’s the part your friends don’t like to see. Bonus driving your friends crazy if you’re feeling bad AND there’s a solution you’re not taking (like having this tough conversation that will probably make everything better). Because if they could make you not feel bad for you, they’d do it! Your friends love you. They want happiness for you.
And that’s all I’ve got—AS community, what’ve you got?