Societal norms in non-standard relationships: Why do they hurt?

accidentaltriad

New member
[NOTE: I posted this in the "Life stories and blogs" subforum, but I'm thinking it probably belongs here instead. I can't find the delete button on the original. Sorry for the double post.]

Seeking insight from those who may have experienced a similar situation.

I'm part of a MFF triad, and though we try to keep all the branches of our little poly family equal (and non hierarchical), I am in actuality the addition to an established relationship of about five years. I did, however, date the M in our triad first, about 7 years ago. The relationship just wasn't ready to grow into commitment then and we both moved on - he to the other F, and me to other relationships that never stuck. I've been friendly with both of them all these years. Now, we've all fallen rather unexpectedly into this relationship. None of us went looking for a poly situation, but here we are. We are very happy and in love on the surface. But I am having problems reconciling some resentment that is, as far as I can tell, programmed into me by societal standards of marriage and family.

I'm feeling hurt over the fact that I will never have the "package deal" as it were, because I have known from the beginning that they are lifetime committed and there will be marriage somewhere down the line. I went into this already knowing that, and accepting it. But now, it's starting to hurt. I know they aren't itching to get hitched any time soon, since they pretty much function as married anyway and all it is would be paper and a party. But the idea of being left out of that really does cut my heart strings.

I've talked about this with both of them. They understand where my hurt is coming from and are being supportive. They have their own set of insecurities. We try to communicate about them as much as possible. She feels like she's the "bitch who stole him" so many years ago. I never thought of her as that at all, because it was me who pulled away from him. She didn't steal him, I gave him up before they started seeing eachother. He, on the other hand, has a lot of guilt for not growing up sooner and realizing what he was losing by not pursuing me. That's not to say that he isn't happy with her, just that it was too little too late when it came to me for many years and that our chemistry deserved a better shot. I don't look at it like that at all, though. It just wasn't the right time. I'm relatively sure if we had pursued a relationship then, we wouldn't have lasted. We were different people.

But the people we are now still have that amazing chemistry, and it has only been even more wonderful with the THREE of us sharing our lives. What started out as friendship turned, somewhere, into the most fulfilling love I've ever known. At first, I think it may have stemmed from all of us wanting some sort of second chance. I didn't think it'd turn into what it is now. I never went looking for a poly relationship. I fell into it. I don't regret it, but I'm having trouble navigating this particular rocky road of the relationship.

I have this gnawing feeling, as we start talking about the future and coming out to their families (mine knows and is extremely supportive) that I will always feel secondary to what they already have committed to. I'm just trying to rationalize it as part of what we know as "normal" not being able to be applied to a nonstandard relationship - like fitting a square peg in a round hole. It's causing me a lot of grief for no reason. Add in to this mix the fact that she had never been too keen on having babies (though she loves children) and he wants them (eventually, when the time is right) I thought I had something big to offer in that department. Now it seems her clock might be winding up after all, and that put a bullet in my heart. As stupid as it is to feel like that somehow lowers my worth, that's my gut reaction. It doesn't help that I too wasn't exactly planning on kids until an unplanned pregnancy a few years before this relationship started changed my entire view. That ended in a miscarriage, and having children has been on my mind ever since. I will be 30 this year, and I don't want to wait too much longer.

So there are a lot of factors here. I'm sorry this got so long-winded. If you're still with me, I appreciate it. I guess what I'm looking for is any kind of insight on ways to deal with that "square peg, round hole" feeling of how things are "supposed" to be and how they really are.

Thanks for listening.
 

SchrodingersCat

Active member
Is it out of the question to have a child now, with him as the father and her as a co-parent?

The beauty of polyamory is that no matter how much you love them, you can also find someone to have "the packaged deal" with and continue your relationship with the triad.

Rather than trying (in vain) to make "everything equal," it may be more productive to acknowledge the situation for what it is, and focus on accepting your role in their lives. That they're more committed to one another than they are to you (i.e. wanting to sign the paper) in no way diminishes your worth and value as a person.
 

PolyinPractice

New member
Firstly, marriage does not equal more commitment. It may have been easier for me, with a partner already married, and no chance of that ever a possibility for me (they got married when I was...cough...a little too young.)

Secondly, as has been mentioned, you can have the package deal with someone else. My polyship is fully aware that I do want to get find someone and get married one day (not to replace, but to add to the relationship). I feel incredibly lucky that I get to have this awesome relationship PLUS a "normal" girlfriend to wife relationship.
 

accidentaltriad

New member
Is it out of the question to have a child now, with him as the father and her as a co-parent?

It is. Which is why I struggle with feeling like an idiot for even having this be an issue. I'm not legitimately ready for a child. None of us are, actually. It's just one of those things digging at me in the back of my brain. He and I have talked about it more than she and I have, and he of course said it doesn't matter who biologically births a child, that it would most certainly be a co-parenting situation. My clock is starting to tick seriously now though, so it's on my mind. But definitely not within the next year, as I'm finishing up my degree and will be throwing myself full force into the fray of finding a job so that we can even afford said children.

The beauty of polyamory is that no matter how much you love them, you can also find someone to have "the packaged deal" with and continue your relationship with the triad.

See, this is where I become a little confused on what we are truly practicing. I have no intentions, and neither do either of them, to add on to our 3 person relationship, even by singular extension. None of us are seeking other outside relationships. I'm not saying that couldn't change in the future, but it's not an inherent desire. Does quintessential polyamory mean you are open to continually adding more partners? Is there another word for what we're doing? Just...loving more than one at a time but not seeking to expand outward?

Rather than trying (in vain) to make "everything equal," it may be more productive to acknowledge the situation for what it is, and focus on accepting your role in their lives. That they're more committed to one another than they are to you (i.e. wanting to sign the paper) in no way diminishes your worth and value as a person.

That's what I'm trying to achieve. It's hard to retrain your brain to think that way when you've been inundated with what popular societal norms say makes you "worthy" (marriage, babies, money, etc.) - and whenever I have brought this up, I am always 100% assured that the commitment level is just as high to me, and that if it were possible by law for all three of us to marry, we would. In fact, he said if they ever did get married, even if she's the only one on paper with him, it would be the three of us in the ceremony. So I'm not sure why that's not enough for me to not feel this hurt. The only thing I can boil it down to is expectation that has been fried into my poor little brain my whole life.

It honestly sounds ridiculous and extremely selfish that I'm even feeling the way I am, I know.
 
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SchrodingersCat

Active member
See, this is where I become a little confused on what we are truly practicing. I have no intentions, and neither do either of them, to add on to our 3 person relationship, even by singular extension. None of us are seeking other outside relationships. I'm not saying that couldn't change in the future, but it's not an inherent desire.

Nor did you have any intention of getting into a triad. It just goes to show that the good things in life usually "just happen."

Does quintessential polyamory mean you are open to continually adding more partners? Is there another word for what we're doing? Just...loving more than one at a time but not seeking to expand outward?

Bah, there's no "quintessential polyamory." I didn't mean to imply that what you're doing isn't polyamory or anything like that. You're in love with two people, of course it's polyamory. I simply meant that, as a bonus to being polyamorous, this "packaged deal" that you covet need not be off the table.

That's what I'm trying to achieve. It's hard to retrain your brain to think that way when you've been inundated with what popular societal norms say makes you "worthy" (marriage, babies, money, etc.)

Sure it is. It would be easy for me to sit here in my living room of the house my husband and I bought together, texting my girlfriend while she's home with her husband, and tell you how irrelevant marriage is. But I'm not going to lie. I love being married. I think we have a completely different relationship dynamic than we would if we were simply common-law. I'm not saying this to make you feel even worse, and apologies if it does... I'm just saying, those feelings and desires aren't irrational at all, and you're certainly not an idiot for having them.

I consider myself child-free. I'm on the pill and my husband's had a vasectomy. A couple months ago, my nipples got tender and it made me think I could be pregnant. Since the chances were so low, I didn't really think I was, but it got me thinking about the "what-ifs." I came to the conclusion that if his sperm and my egg could manage to hook-up against those odds, then that baby was meant to be. It would have completely turned my life upside-down, I'd have quit school (personal choice not to put a kid in daycare while I'm in the lab for long, irregular periods), Gralson would have had to start working near home which would mean a huge pay cut... and despite all that, I was mildly disappointed when the test results came back negative.

I don't think it's just society, although it certainly gets a big share of the blame. But the biological urge to reproduce is pretty strong.

whenever I have brought this up, I am always 100% assured that the commitment level is just as high to me, and that if it were possible by law for all three of us to marry, we would. In fact, he said if they ever did get married, even if she's the only one on paper with him, it would be the three of us in the ceremony. So I'm not sure why that's not enough for me to not feel this hurt. The only thing I can boil it down to is expectation that has been fried into my poor little brain my whole life.

I think it's perfectly understandable to feel as though you're getting the short end of the stick. If they're really sincere about this equality thing, then why is this piece of paper more important to them than your feelings? If it really truly is nothing but a piece of paper to them, then why can't they give it up and just have a commitment ceremony with the three of you, where you really are treated as an equal partner? In other words, they can put their money where their mouth is.
 

accidentaltriad

New member
I think it's perfectly understandable to feel as though you're getting the short end of the stick. If they're really sincere about this equality thing, then why is this piece of paper more important to them than your feelings? If it really truly is nothing but a piece of paper to them, then why can't they give it up and just have a commitment ceremony with the three of you, where you really are treated as an equal partner? In other words, they can put their money where their mouth is.

That's just it. They don't even seem to CARE about getting married other than it's expected of them in some stupid implied timeline that has their families and friends wondering why the hell they aren't even engaged yet.

Also, and this is a whole 'nother subject, really - their families don't know, minus his sister. I know he WANTS to tell his immediate family, but we're still discussing how to best approach it so that we're all comfortable in how it's presented. And our girlfriend's family is rather closed-minded, so she'd really rather not tell them at all. I will never demand being "out", even though it can sometimes suck to not be. I was with them at his parents' house for the Super Bowl (they know me from when we dated previously, and now just as a close friend - though his mom has danced around the subject and asked his sister about it in an offhand manner, so we suspect she knows) and he said afterward how much it sucked not being able to show even just the smallest bits of affection to me in front of his family, because it felt so natural and he kept having to stop himself. A hand hold, a squeeze, what have you. Luckily, my whole family and all of my closest friends know, and not only do they accept it, but they have welcomed and loved both of them unconditionally. I'm extremely blessed in that regard. But you can see how the other sides could pose a problem as far as a triple commitment ceremony. Maybe some day, when things are different.

All of this is really rather untimely to even be worrying about, but I promised from day one to not keep feelings under wraps. I have discussed it all with them both, but just needed to get the story out somewhere else to people who may understand where I'm coming from. I know it's understandable to still feel the way I feel, and I'm supported in those feelings by my partners and reassured that it's okay to feel that way even if it's not practical or based in rationality...but it still hurts. Bleh.
 

SchrodingersCat

Active member
That's just it. They don't even seem to CARE about getting married other than it's expected of them in some stupid implied timeline that has their families and friends wondering why the hell they aren't even engaged yet.

Also, and this is a whole 'nother subject, really - their families don't know, minus his sister. I know he WANTS to tell his immediate family, but we're still discussing how to best approach it so that we're all comfortable in how it's presented.

Well, that's a whole big catch-22.

1. Our families expect us to get married, so
2. We're planning to get married (on paper) to satisfy our families, but
3. We're going to include you in our ceremony, except
4. Our families don't know we're poly, and
5. We don't even really want to tell them.

Oh wait, it's not a catch-22, it's really just one problem: telling their families. Once they come out of the closet, they'll have a perfectly good reason to give their families why they're choosing not to get married. And until they tell their families, there's no way for them to have you involved in the commitment ceremony as a second sorta-bride.

Girlfriend can only keep her promise in (3) if she solves (4) first. But nixing (5) effectively nullifies (1), which saves you all from (2). So one way or another, she has to choose between pleasing the woman she loves, who lives with her, who will be by her side for the rest of her life... or pleasing her parents on some basis that she doesn't actually agree in. Parents will forgive. They'll get over it. Especially because they know you, and they know you're not just "some whore my daughter's boyfriend is sleeping with."

BTW, it's illegal to be married to two people, and usually that includes having a non-legal commitment ceremony when you're already married. Any legal officiant could lose their license for conducting such an affair, to say nothing of the scandal in MonoLand.
 
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Orangesmartie

New member
I hope you don't mind my jumping in, but I am in somewhat of a similar situation (MFF triad, in which none of us currently have any desire to date outside it, the other two people are married to each other, I dated girlfriend some years ago and we've been friends collectively for about 10 years and we fell into this relationship).

I can understand where you're coming from with regard to society's expectations. You might watch baking shows (like Cake Boss) and see wedding cakes and think it looks nice, or start talking about what flavour cake you'd have, and then your sentence trails off when you remember you won't have a wedding.

Take small challenges as you go along. Break the big stuff (telling family) up into smaller chunks. If you spend a lot of time around family then, start with the small displays of affection. Let them get used to seeing you function as a unit - I don't mean smash being all smoochy in their face, but those small hand brushes. People are a lot more perceptive than we realise. Start with telling one family member, who you feel is open minded or accepting.

Consider why its important for them to know - do you spend a lot of time with them? I take the view that if we don't see them a lot, they don't need to know the details.

If you want to have a triple commitment ceremony, do you need to invite family? Do you want to invite family? Society says yes they do, a wedding is all about the audience. Or is it the commitment between the three of you that is important? The promises you make to each other? Do the family need to be present for that?

You're feeling hurt that you won't have the package deal. Consider re-wrapping the package. Everyone else's package is one man, one woman (or two of each), standing up in front of family, friends and acquaintances, telling each other they love them, then spending a lot of money to feed the audience. Then children come along.

Your package can be bigger, even better. You have a man and a woman who love you and want to commit to you, and whom you love and want to commit to. You can stand in front of them and tell them that. An if you want to introduce children to your package, then by all means. You can make choices as a unit. There are three of you to share the burden and the workload and three of you to give love and support.

Make your package any way you like. Don't try to make yourself fit in society's hole. Carve your own. Make your own stamp on your part of society. The people who love you will support you and go with you on your journey. The ones that won't, don't matter.

If your partners don't want to get married, they don't have to. Just because its expected is not a good reason for doing something. If they want to get married, because its the right thing to do for them, then they should.

Try and look behind the society milestones and see what is important to each of you and why. Then look to see how you can achieve that in a way that includes and suits all three of you.
 

bookbug

New member
I was part of a MFF triad for nearly 3 decades. It ended when M died - although she and are still very close. Early on I struggled with some of the same things that you did. I wasn't looking for this configuartion, I the addition, and like your situation, my couple was non-hierarchical and very supportive.

Over time, I decided that the source of my struggles was the desire for external validation from society. We all have the need to belong. In traditional relationships, we becomes part of our family unit and still fit in just fine with society. However, being in a non-traditional relationship, means you no longer quite fit in with society at large, you no longer receive that societal seal of approval.

What it came down to for me was this: was I willing to forego the most loving relationships I have ever experienced in order to achieve that external validation, in order to fit in - especially when there was no guarantee of being able to replicate that deep love with someone else? For me, the answer was no.

The three of us went on to buy wedding rings and have our own ceremony. We validated ourselves.

I won't say that it was easy, but I made a conscious effort to push back against the pull of societal validation. Eventually, its importance faded.
 
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Magdlyn

Well-known member
I didnt know it was illegal to have a "hand-fasting" ceremony while legally married to someone else. First time I heard that!

I think it is up to an individual when to come out to conservative family and friends and ... bosses. No one has the right to demand that. Whether you are gay, poly, kinky, it's up to you and only you when to come out. Your bf is sad he can't show PDAs with you in front of her family? Hm. Tough cookies, I'd say. Gay people have dealt with that for thousands of years. Many still do. Poly is now more discriminated against than being gay, society has a way to go on this.

I am not out as bi and poly to everyone I know. I doubt I ever will be. Some people don't want to know about nasty things like sex. Some neighbors here where I live with my gf might think she is my daughter (22 year age difference) and my bf Ginger (who visits several times a week) is my bf or husband and/or her dad. Some may know miss pixi and I are lovers/partners, and think or hope Ginger is just a family friend or my brother. Who knows what they think? I am not about to spell it out to all and sundry.
 

LoveBunny

Member
I sympathize. I had a similar relationship in my early twenties, a MFF started organically but evolved into them as a couple and me as the "third." I tried to date others, to find my own "primary," but the truth was, I was not emotionally available to those others outside our threesome. I eventually left the relationship, and they got married.

There is no model in our society for how to do what you're doing, not even a proper name for what you are to them, and that can make it all seem impossible. Back when I was in my triad, early 1990's, we didn't even know what polyamory was, didn't have any resources or message boards, we were just winging it, and we were very young, and we made a mess of it. In later years, I went the monogamous route, got married, and that didn't turn out to be what the whole fantasy implies either....and now I'm here trying to make a semi-open marriage work...

I'd say try to take a good hard look at what IS apart from the whole fantasy of what you're "supposed" to have, then decide if what IS is good enough, or if in your heart you'll always want something more.
 

AUcpl43

New member
spot on

Orangesmartie is insightful to consider "re-wrapping" that package. And bookbug is spot-on about not being willing to give up the best thing you've ever had just to fit into societal norms. We all struggle with this from time to time, as it's just not possible for most of us to be out to everyone we know. You're not alone.

I'm on the opposite side of the triangle - the wife in an 18 year marriage that opened up later. Five years ago we met a woman who was in your role. While we invited her into our lives, she was programmed by society to think she had to have that white picket fence dream. We've since moved on to others in different configurations, but still keep a door open for when she walks back in, as she inevitably does from time to time.

If you do close your triad, that is considered polyfidelitious, meaning closed to other partners. However, I do agree that just as your triad "happened," sometimes love finds you when and where you least expect it. If it's meant to be, it will hit you over the head, even if you're not keeping your eyes open for it.

Best wishes for navigating this love with no field guide. Talk, trust, and talk some more.
 

scarletzinnia

New member
There is nothing wrong with wanting to get married. But your triad partners are not available for marriage, so you will need to find someone else for that. The beauty of polyamory is, you can. You can date single people who are available for marriage even if your triad partners don't want to date others themselves.

Anyone new you date does not need to be a part of your triad too, although it is possible that your triad partners may want to meet them and attempt to form a friendly connection with them.

There are a fair number of single poly people on OKCupid, or you could try going to poly meetups and events.
 

GreenAcres

New member
I totally sympathize. And, while some do manage to work around it with "repackaging," or by dating others outside their triad, it can be difficult (for one thing, while love is not an infinite resource, time is). The reality is that, in a triad, if two of the partners are married, there are some practical issues that are difficult (and, depending where you live, almost impossible) to get around because of our societal model of marriage. It can leave the "third" in a fairly vulnerable position, even with everyone having the best intentions.

That isn't to say it can't work, of course. Just that there is a lot to consider, and you are not wrong for feeling like social conventions can make a difference. There are a lot of built-in protections in marriage (at least here in the US and in most European countries) that are a large part of why many people get married, that aren't generally available to a third party in a relationship (and, depending on the state in the US, very little can be done about some of that, even with a slew of contracts, etc., if two of the three are married).

It's worth weighing, for practical and emotional and time reasons, what is right for you, given your long-term desires. You could decide to date others in hopes of finding a marriageable partner, you could decide to request that you be one of the two partners in the marriage (if you're in the right place, you could marry her, even), you could decide you are okay with the idea that you will not have the societal protections but the other two will, you could discuss with them the idea that none of you marry and instead look at other options for financial and practical issues.

There are no right answers, except what is right for you, and for them, and for your relationship. But, you are not wrong at all for considering what societal norms may mean, or feeling potentially vulnerable and hurt at the idea of not having them.
 

YouAreHere

Active member
Not the same situation here, since I'm in a Vee and not a Triad, but would they be amenable to having another type of commitment ceremony that isn't a formal/legal marriage?

P and I are handfasted, as are P and M1. He and I repeat the ceremony each year, and he and M1 do the same. Although we choose to do ours privately, a handfasting ceremony can be just as public as a wedding, should you choose to go that route, and it can actually be tailored for the three of you.

(Obligatory "Check with your lawyer" here, since some states find commitment ceremonies akin to an informal "wedding" and can bag you with anti-polygamy laws... however some states can do the same when a third party cohabitates with a married couple. Something to think about and look into)


Outside of the social difficulties, though, there are other things to consider (and these are things that have made me determine that if P and M1 were to ever get married, I would reevaluate my own relationship with him - it'd be a game-changer).

Legally, if one couple gets married out of the three of you, an imbalance has just been introduced into the dynamic. Regardless of intent now, it would be extremely difficult for me to give M1 that much power over my relationship with P. As an example, we have discussed coming up with Durable Power of Attorney contracts and the like (we haven't actually done it yet), but if P ever married M1 and then ended up in the hospital, and M1 and I had a falling out, I'd bet dollars to donuts that the hospital would refuse me entry, regardless of what paperwork got signed. As the wife, she would have privilege and legal right that I would not have, and that would be an unacceptable imbalance for me.

Note that I'm only speaking for myself here. Others on this board are married and have other partners, and this works well for them, but I'm too damned stubborn and independent to not have this grate on me if I were to try to do the same. (And no, if P were to ask ME to marry him, I'd ask him if he were on crack and refuse, since I wouldn't want to tip the scales in either direction)

The best advice I have for you is to do some soul-searching and figure out what your big worries are if they were to get married, and address those. If you can accept and work with that, then good! If you all compromise and decide a marriage isn't necessary, but a handfasting would be great, then good! If you come to a head and realize you have conflicting goals? Then it's painful, but it's still good. Better to know these things now than ten years down the road. Talk, talk, talk, then talk some more... And see where you go from there. And don't forget to take a break from the heavy stuff and ENJOY your relationship... :)

Oh, and letting your family dictate when/if you'll get married just leads to them dictating when/if you'll have kids. Stop this madness out of the gate! ;) (My own mother was adamant that my kids needed a dog, to the point where she introduced the targeted dog to the kids one Christmas with the hopes they'd want to take him home... really? REALLY?!)
 

Oldpolyman

New member
As we aged, we found ourselves caring less and less what blood family, neighbors, and society think. Sure some people got bent out of shape and refused to talk to us, but the way I figure they were never really our friends anyway. Most ppl were and are caring, besides the more often we come out the easier it gets.
Hugs
:)
 

SchrodingersCat

Active member
I didnt know it was illegal to have a "hand-fasting" ceremony while legally married to someone else. First time I heard that!

It depends on the jurisdiction of course, but nearly all the states and provinces in N.America have bans on multiple marriages, and for this purpose define marriage as either living together in a conjugal-like relationship (i.e. living together while having sex and sharing bills and being in a romantic relationship), or having a wedding-like ceremony. As hand-fasting, along with Mormon church ceremonies etc, is a wedding-like ceremony, it's technically forbidden.

Then of course, there's "what's illegal" and then there's "what's technically illegal but no one really cares." Unless you live somewhere crazy, it's unlikely to attract enough attention to get you in trouble. However, if you're a secret mob boss and they're looking for something to get you with, you could face a $10,000 fine and/or time in prison.
 

accidentaltriad

New member
Thank you all so much for your insights. I have read all of your responses and they've given me many ways to rethink my situation in positive terms and break the mold, so to speak. I am really thankful to have found this community! Many thanks to you all.
 
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