"Ask Dr. Tracy"

1/30/2000 Advice Column

"We're not Swingers, but..."
Bothered by His Past
In Love with a Hooker

Dear Dr. Tracy,

My husband and I are polyamorous (NOT swingers, that is something very different), but only recently started practicing. We both met and fell in love with another man this Spring, who brought us both much joy and happiness, and who was extremely receptive to the idea of polyamory. We held off on the sex for many months, even though it was something we all wanted to do, we wanted to wait it out and make sure nobody was going to be hurt. We have talked about moving in together sometime next year, when he returns from working in the U.S. and perhaps getting some land and building our dream home. That's how serious we are about each other.

The problem arises in that this man has a long-time girlfriend, who lives some distance from him, and so they rarely see one another. I was reluctant to continue the romance with him because of this fact, as I firmly believe that for any kind of relationship to work (polyamorous or monogamous) it must be based on complete honesty. He told us that she would be very receptive to the idea of polyamory as well, once she got through a crisis of body image she was currently going through. He would tell her when she got her self-confidence back, because he didn't want to crush her.

Time went on, and he stayed with us every weekend for a month. It was truly wonderful. But I kept asking him about his girlfriend, and he kept giving me the same answer: Now was not the time to tell her. I began to suspect that perhaps things with this other woman were not going that well, anyway, and he was just trying to keep the inevitable break-up from happening. I couldn't imagine why he wanted to stay in a relationship that was so rife with deceit. He also repeatedly told us that he was the only one with an obligation to her; that we had no reason to feel guilty about what was happening, but I have trouble believing that.

Now, he is away on a long business trip, and his girlfriend wants to 'hang out' with us, and nurture a friendship in his absence. He encouraged this idea in all of us, but I feel I am not able to do so without coming clean to her, which could mean my husband and I lose both of them in our lives. On top of that, this man has not contacted us since he left,(even though he promised he would be in touch as soon as he could be) but has sent numerous letters and emails to his girlfriend. I can't help but feel confused by all of this. I want to know what is going on in his mind. I also wonder if he is as completely honest with US as he claims to be, when he is obviously so false with the other woman in his life.

I always prided myself on being competent in the matter of my love life, but this situation seems to have gotten out of control for me. What say you, good doctor?

With all fondness,

Perplexed Polyamorist

Dear Perplexed Polyamorous,

Swingers do it for sex, and you are different. Your idea, with a third partner, is to have a close, committed, extended relationship that involves love and everyday life, not just sex. Okay. Couples who want to expand their whole love and life relationship to include others should be serious about the people they bring home. Actually, swingers sometimes are too, but for the most part, their agreement is to just have sex with others without bringing them into their families or lives.

Since you want your relationship with this man to go beyond sex, you have to have open communication as well as an open marriage. Like the early days of Sandstone in Topanga Canyon, when everyone had a group marriage, or in The Harrad Experiment, Rimmer's book, you expect more out of your expanded marriage than just sex. So you're right to be worried about this guy.

Even swingers have ethics, and most of those are based on full disclosure. The same should hold true for someone entering into a polyamorous relationship. If you and your husband and this other man have fallen in love, that's great, but there is a matter of his being totally out of integrity by not telling his mate what's going on. His girlfriend is out of the loop, and your instincts are right that that's just not fair.

If you participate in a relationship with him under these circumstances and also involve her too without telling her what's really going on, you are all living a lie. Your polyamorous behavior is simply enabling him to cheat on her, and if you allow her into your home as a "friend" without her knowing the truth, then you too are taking part in the lie. How can you respect a man who wants you and your husband to live a lie for him? That's no way to have a relationship. Tell him in no uncertain words that you will not participate in this deception.

It's better to have loved and lost than to continue to deceive this poor woman on his behalf. Besides, his promises to stay in contact haven't been kept. So why should you keep your promise to keep her in the dark? If he was so interested in this relationship with you and your husband, he'd be more open, more honest and a better communicator.

It's hard enough to find two people who can love and live together. Add a third or a fourth and things really get complicated. You may have to look further to find the perfect polyamorous third partner.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I have never written to ask for advice before but something is really troubling me. I have been happily married for just over eight years to my university boyfriend. Peter was my first and only love. I was a virgin when we started dating. I had no real past to speak of, just two minor boyfriends.

Recently I have begun to learn about some of his past relationships. I knew when I met him that he had been with other women before me but I didn't know to what extent. I can't believe how this upsets me. I know it shouldn't bother me but it does. When we make love I'm always wondering if this is what he did with the others. Does he think of them when he's making love to me? Is there anything special about me? Does he hold them close to his heart? I guess if I had had other experiences I would understand it better. I'm worried because when I look at him I see him with these other women (some of whom I know from university). I also found out that a print in our home was given to him by a former lover. I was bothered by this. Did he think of her everytime he looked at it? I have since taken it dowm.

I really want to move on but I feel so insecure now. I'm not sure what to do. Please give me some insight as to why I have these feelings. I want to get past this.

Thank you for your time,

insecure and overwhelmed

Dear Insecure and Overwhelmed,

I can't believe that you'd mess up eight years of happy marriage over something he did before you even met him. His past is long ago. He's yours now. You have a great marriage with your first and only love. Very few women are that lucky, certainly not the women he dated before.

Just because he had experiences before he married you doesn't mean that he's still thinking of those other women when he's with you. Sure, they might cross his mind from time to time, but so do memories of his childhood friends and dogs he loved. Old loves belong in his past and his memories. Not in yours.

If you can't be gracious and generous about his past, force it out of your mind. If you keep dwelling on it, all you'll wind up doing is ruining the present. You are suffering from extremely low self-esteem if you can be bothered by his relationships of long ago. See a therapist and get to work on why this bothers you, instead of troubling him with your unreasonable jealousy and insecurity.

This is your problem, not his. If you had more experience before you married, you'd realize that the man you love is the way he is because he had those other relationships and that they were learning experiences. Having those experiences allowed him to know you were the right one. If he hadn't had them, he'd be different, and maybe not the guy you married. So push those thoughts about his ex-girlfriends right out of your mind.

Make love like you're the only one, because right now you are. After all, he married you and he could have had them. Don't let his past get between the two of you.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am a 39 Y.O. male. 3 summers ago I was going through the end of a relationship. I frequented a coffee shop, met a pretty young lady, named Michelle there (she is 20 now), began talking, found out that I liked her and we became friends.

As time grew on. I got over my past love, and fell in love with Michelle, about 9 mos. into our friendship. I found out she made her living as a prostitute, (not the jewelry maker she told me she was). Keep in mind I have never had sex with her. As time has grown on I found that as my feelings grew for her. I was not OK with this.

I have noticed a progression in abillity for her to take illegal drugs increase. Finally I told her that as long as she continued to be abusive to herself and others, with drugs and prostitution. I could not be around her.

She tells me that because I am not getting what I want, IE: sex, is the reason I am not staying with her, while there might be a bit of truth to that statement, I know for me that as long as she continues her lifestyle, I cannot forsee a healty longterm relationship of any sort between us, having walked the druggy road for a while in my life. She tells me I am being a selfish person and not a friend for taking this stance. I have told her, my door is open. As long is there are no drugs or prostitution in her life, and I would help anyway I could to help adjust to these changes. School, rehab, just about anything.

I feel this is a very loving stance. but I feel like shit and that maybe there is something more I can do. I truly do want her in my life.

What are your thoughts?

Dear In Love,

You are wasting your time and your emotions. A twenty-year-old prostitute who is on drugs is never going to straighten out because some ancient guy of 39 wants her to. She thinks she's having fun, she's making money, and -- rightly or wrongly -- she probably likes her lifestyle just the way it is for now.

So if you have any sense at all, you'll move on. You're too old for her to begin with, even if she wasn't a druggie prostitute. The lifestyle that she has chosen is very seductive, more seductive than you are. I've known very few prostitutes who've managed to stop, and those who have are always tempted to start again by the easy money involved.

If she says you're selfish and not a good friend, that's fine. Don't try to be a good friend. Just be a smart guy and walk away. Find someone who's your own age, who isn't a prostitute and who doesn't take drugs.

Don't leave your door open to this young lady, or she'll come in and out, and in and out, and never give you what you want -- not sex, not sobriety, not a normal life. There is nothing you can do to save her. You'd be smart if you ran for your life and saved yourself from getting further entangled in hers.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

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