For advice on dealing with the humans in your life

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Monday, October 11, 2010

More advice than he asked for

My second question! I'm noticing that I ought to learn how to edit. As before, drop me a comment if you have anything to add or there's something here that doesn't ring true.

Querent: Recently I started seeing a new woman. Even factoring in the new relationship sparkle, things looked promising.

However, I'm in a long term open relationship with two other women, and one of those relationships has been rocky for a while. My fiancée became challenged by my new relationship, asked for a week where I would not see the new partner so we could focus on our issues. The new partner was extremely supportive of this, though we've maintained contact over texts and she's expressed several times this week that she's missed me.  

On the home front, this was a challenging week, including several times where I told my fiancee that I did not see her and me working out, followed by tearful reconciliations and promises on both sides to work harder.

I cannot say I am entirely hopeful of my current situation with my fiancée lasting, but I want to have tried my best. When she told me that she cannot support my new relationship, I was hurt but understood where she was coming from, and agreed to her terms (specifically, that I could maintain a friendship with this new woman, even have limited intimate exchanges, but nothing involving genitalia and not being involved to a level that would constitute a "relationship"...a term I find horribly vague but understand her meaning).

Now, here's my question. My soon-to-be ex is away this weekend, but we've been exchanging regular texts that are often flirtatious.  I certainly don't want to be a douche and communicate this news over text, but waiting until she returns feels like torture and responding to her as if nothing is different feels disingenuous. Should I break the news to her over the phone? Drop her a hint over text that we need to talk in person?  I really want to maintain a friendship with her, and even though it's possible that my fiancées comfort might change, I also don't want to string this new woman along by giving her false hope.

~Polysaturated in Arcata

RPM: First a quick note to my non-pro-polyamory readers: We could go round and round about whether the relationship setup that PiA has described is a good idea in the first place. For the sake of brevity, however, (too late) I'm going to take the poly-relationship setup as a given, and respond just to the stated tension in the question.

Now, Polysaturated: The question you actually asked is pretty simple. Obviously, the most truly douche-y thing to do is to continue to flirt with the new girl via text message; that's a violation of your honesty with her and a compromise of the agreement you've made with your fiancée. The second-douchiest is to break up with her via text message. (I did that to someone once and, though we do remain friends, he mentions it whenever he feels like seeing me cringe. Then he laughs heartily at my expense. It's good times.) Texting her that something's up and that you should speak in person when she returns will only prompt a 'WTF is going on?' text, which will then lead you right back to douche-door #2. Give her a call and let her know what's up. Long emails work too, if the phone feels too awkward. But for God's sake, yes, communicate the change in status with her ASAP, for the sake of everyone's sanity and no one's misapprehension.

The question implicitly posed by your scenario is more layered. You're doing the right thing by respecting your fiancée's wish that you back off of this new relationship. The forcing function of the week of respite sounds like it's brought some of your issues to the surface--by giving yourselves a week to "work on" whatever's going on between you, you've given yourselves an artificial deadline and a focus on the problems. Here's what I think about that: yay for space, yay for conversations about the hard stuff, yay for a dedication to addressing issues. Boo for the unrealistic expectation that ANYTHING involving major relationship turmoil can be addressed in anything resembling a week.

Whatever the rocks in your relationship consist of, the fact that they've been present for "a while" means that it's unlikely you'll suddenly have some mutual revelation about how to communicate better, and then things will all be fixed. What you're looking at is months or years of being patient with each other, accepting that these things are going to be hard, and working on gaining each other's trust that you're both looking out for the other as well as yourselves where this stuff is concerned. I'm being vague here because I don't know what the issues are. But there's a reason that I'm emphasizing the time it will take.

You wrote, "I cannot say I am entirely hopeful of my current situation with my fiancée lasting, but I want to have tried my best." Not "I want to TRY my best--" you're already looking ahead to the point *after* you've officially given up, and evaluating how to feel good about the relationship being over. Which sounds like you may already have made up your mind, which, if true, suggests a couple of possibilities to me:
A) You're fantasizing about your current relationship being over so you can get back together with your new girl, with whom things are all great and uncomplicated because it's new. You think that she's the one you should REALLY be with, and that you wouldn't have to compromise yourself or have these kinds of problems with her. You'd be madly in love, the sex would always be great, you'd go on impressing each other until you grew old together and you'd understand each other MUCH better than you and your fiancee currently do.

B)  You already know that the issues you have with your fiancee are intractable. You won't budge, she won't give an inch, both of you have good points, and you should really be with other people. You're not quite willing to admit this yet because you've spent time imagining your life with her and change is hard and painful and you don't want to hurt her, but it's a foregone conclusion.

 If A) is mainly what's going on, then it's going to be distracting until your excitement about the (now thrillingly forbidden) new girl fades, which is going to take a WHILE. That's gonna be hard and painful and sad for months before you can even deal with the actual issues in your committed relationship, because you're going to be grieving or pining after this new one. So you'll have to ride it out and only then get to the meat of what's really going on. If your fiancée is someone you have ever been convinced you wanted to marry, chances are good that it's worth it, but it will take patience. I recommend all the cheesy restore-the-romance stuff that all the checkout stand magazines champion--don't spend ALL your time hashing out the yucky stuff. Have some fun together.

Now, if B) is mainly what's going on, you should take whatever time is necessary to confirm it and get closure, and then end your relationship in as nice a way as is possible. But here's the deal. B) is completely contaminated by A). No matter how objective you think you're being, the lure of the new relationship is powerful and could trick you into thinking your current relationship is just broken when it isn't. So if you decide B) is what's going on, and you decide to end the relationship, it would be ideal if getting back together with this new girl was no longer an option. You heard me. You have to deal with ending your current relationship without the Christmas-morning lure of crying about it in your new lady's arms. Otherwise, you'll never convince me it wasn't A) all along.

So break up with your new girl. And in order to keep things clear, agree with yourself that you are dealing with your current engagement on its own terms, and you will not date the new woman, ever, if you leave the current relationship.

Does that suck for you? Yes. Yes it does. But that's what you signed up for when you asked this woman to marry you: a serious affirmation that you will be honest about doing what it takes to make it work, if it can. And you cannot do that with bait on a string somewhere else.

But anyway, yeah, call her.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Abusive dads, once we're all grown up.

Unnamed querent:     My father, who I'm beginning to realize is verbally abusive (given
his pattern of explode then apologize explode then apologize),
exploded at me and my family last week. We had been staying with them
for a couple of months trying to pitch in with as much cooking and
cleaning as we could. We had worried that our presence would be an
imposition, and we continually checked in to make sure that they were happy
with our being there and asked if there was anything else we could do.
A month and a half into our stay, my father retired and began to spend
a lot of time around the house. Then, one morning, he stomped into our
room, waking us up, and told us that we hadn't done the dishes last night
(which we had). When I told him we did, he told us, "This is my house
and you have one hour to get out and don't steal anything on your way
out." So, we packed up our car and decided to drive back home, as we
didn't really have anywhere else to go. Now my step-mother is mad at
us because we didn't "stay and talk" and my father still isn't
speaking to us. I hate this feeling of disconnection, but I'm also
beginning to think that my daughter might be better off without my
father in her life. I spent my childhood walking on eggshells around
my dad, I don't want her to go through the same thing.

    My question is this: should I reach out and try to make amends with my
father despite the fact that I actually want him in my life? Should I
wait for him to reach out to me? Should I ignore the whole thing and
say "good riddance" since it appears he is finally out of my life and
away from my daughter?

RPM: First: really impressive job escaping the abusive situation as soon as it escalated, and thereby protecting your daughter and yourself. It’s clear you’ve learned when to engage and when to step back, for the emotional safety of everyone. You rock.

There’s not a hard and fast “should” here around reconciliation, and there’s certainly no time limit. You deserve as much time as you need in order to feel ready to speak to him again—and if that means you never do, that’s ok too. There’s no objective scale on which Life Is Better If you’re on speaking terms with your abusive dad.

If it’s bugging you that you’re not, and especially if you want to maintain a relationship with your stepmom, then at some point, when you’re ready, it’s reasonable to try and dive back into the fray. People who know more than me about abusive parental relationships say: clear boundaries are good. If the person you are talking to exhibits signs of blowing up or becoming aggressive, give them one clear, calm warning that you are not available to be spoken to in that way, and if the abuse continues, walk away calmly, as you’ve already done once before. Let some time pass until you feel up to it, and then try again if you wish.

Walking away is not a failure. It’s part of the process and it may take several (or an infinite number of) attempts to help your dad understand the effect of his behavior on you. If you try, then the fact that you’re trying is generous of you, and probably will be painful, and is awfully brave, and (let me reiterate) you rock. You have absolutely no responsibility to include anyone abusive in your life, but it’s also not stupid of you to try. This is utterly up to you and what you think will make you happy (or less unhappy, as the case may be.)

As far as your daughter goes: by all means, protect her from this influence while she’s too young to understand what’s going on. Your instincts are trustworthy. This isn’t to say it’s a terrible idea to ever let them see each other, but you always have the right to walk away with her when things get explosive again. Once she grows up enough to wonder why you never talk to Grandpa, or why Grandpa is sometimes really mad, or why you’re always so jumpy around him, she deserves as clear an explanation as she can comprehend about mental illness, irrational emotion, and abusive patterns, and at some point she’ll be old enough to make her own decision about how much exposure she wants to pursue or allow. By that point, of course, she’ll be the strong, self-confident young woman you raised, and much less vulnerable to believing negative things about herself or tolerating attacks on her character.

Hang in there! You’re dealing with a rough situation in a super brave, proactive way already, and you’re far away from him now, so take all the time and space you need to figure this out.


P.S. Readers, since this is the first real question I’ve answered in this forum, I welcome feedback in the comments or via email. How'd I do? What other thoughts didn't I say that would be useful to my first querent?

Thanks so much for reading and asking! As always, please email your questions to for the pubic musing for the benefit of others.

My first question!

...once I let a select few know that I was writing a brand new advice column, the first question back was:

     What name are you writing under?

Good question. When I was ordained as a Universal Life Church minister two years ago, the first couple who asked me to officiate at their wedding ordained me the Reverend Princess Morty, or RPM. In gratitude for that moniker, RPM is my tagline here.

Send questions to!


What if I did?

'Cause I think it would be fun to spend all day having opinions about other peoples' relationships. For reals. This is probably one of those things that only seem like a really great idea at 3:44am, which is to say, one of the only things worth doing. My predicted attention span for this is about a month, but it could be years! Maybe for the rest of my life! You never know when your true vocation is going to come dropping out of the sky at 3:46am.

This is just practice for me, y'all, 'cause I don't have any sort of qualifications except that I think people are crazy awesome and I could spend all day trying to figure them out. So if you send me a question, you're really being very nice to me and I'll try to be nice back and say something useful. And if I get shit wrong, you could TOTALLY correct me in the comments and we could have that thing the kids used to call a 'flame war' and I think that's supposed to be fun too.

This is for questions about all your relationships--not just the ones that have to do with sex. Ask here about dealing with parents, friends, bosses, coworkers, acquaintances, imaginary companions. I will answer all the questions I can. If I ever say something smart you should tweet about it to everyone you know. Otherwise, you know, keep it to yourself, 'kay? I didn't come here to be ridiculed.

unless I did. That part is sort of confusing at 3:49am.

Just...send questions to and we'll see what happens!

Thanks y'all.