“Dear Prudence,Three years ago I met a man who was wonderful, smart, kind, funny—and he loved me. He was the first person I’d been seriously involved with since I left an abusive relationship, and I pushed him away, which hurt him badly. Over the past few years I’ve seen him around occasionally, and I’d think about how much I missed him. A few months ago I saw his profile on a dating app, and we talked a little. I asked if he wanted to go for a walk. He said yes, to my amazement. We started spending time together again, and I realized, more than ever, what I had given up. He said he wanted to take things slowly, and I agreed.Then he started bailing on me…. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2017/07/dear_prudence_i_m_a_military_officer_and_i_m_sick_of_being_thanked_for_my.html
I didn’t break up with him, but in 2010, we hit a real low point. He was struggling with professional school and exams, and I was in a very stressful job. In addition to being severely overextended, he had unresolved health problems. Specifically, untreated sleep apnea that made him a zombie 24/7. He had taken to sleeping during the day, and at night, and was pretty well checked out whenever he wasn’t sleeping. Any time I tried to get him to spend some time with me was met with angry protests that he was too busy to do anything.
I went to a weekend event without him, because he was too busy to go. I met up with some people who I played with and really enjoyed. I wanted to do more, but it was not an open relationship at the time and didn’t have permission for that.
After I got home, I felt incredibly frustrated. I really wanted to pursue more contact with the people I met, but he remained unwilling to give permission for that.
As the excited and elated feelings of that weekend wore off, they were replaced by sheer panic. I felt like I was falling out of love with my partner. I was terrified at the thought of losing him. I didn’t want to feel that way. After feeling terrible for a few days, I told him I had to go somewhere else for a little while. I stayed with friends for a few weeks. This was right before his exam, and the last thing I wanted to do was add more stress to his life. I felt that just getting some space would be the only reasonable solution.
After the exam was over, I came home, and I began to feel better. The intense feelings subsided and I was able to think more clearly. I really didn’t want to leave him. What I wanted was for him to get through his struggles and feel better, so we could have a healthy relationship again. I also wanted a different job, but things were still pretty rough in that department.
Things got a bit better. He got tested and treated for sleep apnea. He didn’t pass the first exam, though, so he had to do that again.
That’s when he told me he was going to move back to his home town so that he could work for the family business. I knew it was a safe option for him, definitely not his ideal, but I understood why he had to do it. It would allow him to make some income while still having the flexibility to continue the exam process.
We wouldn’t have enough resources to get our own place until I found work, so I had to stay behind. Soon thereafter, the panic set in again. I felt abandoned. This time it didn’t subside so easily, and I checked myself into the hospital. I got a med change and began to feel better. I got a little time off for work on temporary disability.
Eventually I found a job that would allow me to move, and we were together again. But the past year had been very difficult, and in some ways, I feel like we never really recovered. At one point he said that he felt like he didn’t get all of me back. There was still some distance, emotionally, but I didn’t know how to fix it myself. On some level, I feel like he still felt hurt by my leaving the first time. I think he never really let that go or figured out how to get past it.
I still wanted more variety, and our sex life was not great. He refused to put even the smallest effort into our play. I told him that just saying we would have play time on Saturday and then spending all day Saturday in front of a computer screen not interacting with me did not work. I felt like he was distant and unhappy. He told me that he was having difficulty at work. I tried to be supportive, but he generally disliked being helped. His way of dealing with problems was to withdraw and isolate. There was little I could do.
It wasn’t long after that that we opened the relationship. I still feel like his motivation for doing that was more guilt than anything. He knew that I was frustrated, and he felt bad about that. But his efforts to change that were minimal. Any time I said I didn’t like something or asked for something different, he seemed to take it personally, as a criticism. And then he would continue doing the same things. I really feel like he wanted some way to punish me, to express his hurt and anger. He wanted to feel powerful, but he didn’t want to do the relational work of understanding and respecting limits. I often felt very isolated during our playtime, because he would be detached. He wouldn’t touch me with his hands, or talk to me, or do anything to increase the intimacy. At one point he said that thinking about those things took him out of his headspace. He wanted the power, but not the responsibility.
I guess it was inevitable, but I still can’t help but feel that if he had only been willing to talk to me. If he had only opened up to me about his feelings. But there’s nothing I can do about that.
Well, maybe it happened once. One time, when we were having anal, he said he felt like maybe, possibly, he had an orgasm.
But in nine years, that was the only time I can remember that he actually had an orgasm with me, physically. The only times he had an orgasm during play with me were when he did it with his own hand.
There were always reasons, of course. His health issues. I was patient and understanding about that. And being kinky, intercourse doesn’t have to be the main course. We had plenty of other things to do.
It’s not like I didn’t try. I tried giving him oral. I tried jerking him off. It never worked. And I grew to dislike doing those things because I felt like there must be something wrong with what I was doing. He must not have been pleased with me.
I knew that he wasn’t totally happy, because D/s really didn’t work for us. He was perpetually vague about what he wanted from it, and for me, submitting to someone who doesn’t say what they want felt frustrating. I felt emotionally and mentally neglected, and that doesn’t help me feel submissive at all.
But he said that he still wanted me. He said that D/s was only five percent of what he wanted, and that 95 percent was still good.
And yet, he never had an orgasm.
As much as it might seem obvious to say he wasn’t turned on, or he had physical problems, I think the real reason was emotional. He didn’t want to let go. He didn’t want to be vulnerable. He wanted to feel in control.
And in a lot of ways, I think he didn’t feel in control. Not just because of our failed D/s experiment, but in many areas of his life. He didn’t feel in control of himself, his body, his work, or his life.
Sometimes, I felt like his approach to Domination was punitive, or compensatory. He would do things that I had asked him not to, and I couldn’t help but feel that this was his way of trying to establish control. He said that being sensitive to my feelings during play took him out of Dominant head space. I don’t want to give the impression that he was a bad Dom. I just think he struggled with feeling in control.
And that’s also, I feel, why he didn’t want to ask for what he wanted, or ask for help. Asking for help tends to make us feel powerless, and he already felt powerless for a lot of reasons. So I kept asking, and he kept saying, “I don’t know.” He grew resentful of me, for reasons I found baffling. I was going through my own struggles, and he responded by pulling away more and more. He claimed to still love me, but acted like he wanted nothing to do with me. I think our relationship just made him feel even less in control, and telling me how he felt wouldn’t help that.
At the end of the day, I can’t change what another person feels. I doubt that proactively serving him would have made him feel more powerful in his own life. That kind of security and confidence has to come from within, and whatever issues were making him feel that way, only he can know and address it.
I want to say that I hope he does figure it out, and that he does become happier as a result. But it cost me dearly, both while we were together and now that we’re not. I’m not ready to be that magnanimous. I can’t wish him ill, but I have a hard time wishing him well if it doesn’t bring him back.
I know full well that I don’t want more of what our relationship had become. I want intimacy, and without a willingness on both parties to be vulnerable, intimacy is impossible. It takes genuine strength to open up to another person. Why exactly he closed himself off, I will probably never know. If anything, I just wish I could hear him say that he knows how much it hurt me.
Today I will accept responsibility for myself, my feelings and my actions.
Today I will accept that others are who they are.
Today I will offer love and support in proportion to my ability to give, their abiity to accept, and their ability to respond in kind.
Today I will not accept responsibility for the feelings of others.
Today I will not seek connections at the expense of my well being, safety or values.
Today I will not make change in another person a condiiton of my happiness.
Today I will move towards my visions and goals.
Today I will do at least one thing that represents my deeply held values.
Today I will do at least one thing simply because it brings me joy.
Today I will ask for what I want and accept the answer.
Today I will make what I cannot find elsewhere.
Today I will love myself unconditionally.
Was I born anxious?
According to my mother, I was an easy baby to raise. I was good-natured and well behaved.
But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t anxious. Some research has indicated that babies learn to smile as a way to encourage their caregivers to pay attention to them, and that well behaved children are often afraid of being punished or abandoned.
My mother and my grandmother have both had anxiety and depression, as well, and it has sometimes manifested in eerily similar ways. All three of us have experienced anxiety around highway driving, for instance, and discomfort with crowds to varying degrees.
My symptoms started making themselves known when I was very young. Like most young children, I was easily frightened by certain sights and sounds. But unlike most children, mine persisted as a I grew older, and some have remained phobias to this day. I still feel afraid whenever I see the alien from E.T., for example. I remember seeing the film as a kid, and I don’t remember being afraid in that moment, but later, a family friend had an E.T. Halloween mask, and I know that that frightened me.
Other things that frightened me were Skeletor of the He-Man Universe, nutcrackers, and the band, Kiss. Now, a lot of people say they can really understand about Kiss, but this isn’t just a momentary startle or a feeling of general dislike. My mother took me with her to her bowling league on one occasion, and there was a Kiss themed pinball machine. The sight of that pinball machine was so terrifying for me that I would instantly scream and burst into tears. And unfortunately, the bathroom was on the other side of it. So when I had to go, my mother buried my face in her shoulder so that we could safely get past it without causing a scene.
I reacted similarly in places like toy stores. My grandmother even remarked that I was the only child she knew that refused to go to the toy store, because some of the toys frightened me so much.
Eventually, most of this behavior subsided, but then, the anxiety came out in other ways.
At 11, which happens to be the most typical age for anxiety disorders to manifest, I started pulling out my facial hair – my eyebrows and eyelashes. It got to the point that I was missing half an eyebrow, and my grandmother would use her makeup to disguise it so I wouldn’t get teased at school, at least not for that.
Even at this point, nobody thought that I needed help. Instead, they lectured me, and told me that I was distressing my mother, and that I just needed to stop doing it.
I developed other coping mechanisms. Overachievement. Food. Escapism. And eventually, sex. I still feel resentful that my caregivers’ approach to my mental health problems was to tell me to “stop doing that.”
I’ve been in treatment since college, almost 20 years now. And I’m pretty sure that my anxiety has been the result of both biological inheritance and upbringing. It makes me wonder how it got so bad, when I was still so very little. What was my underlying fear? It does seem like I was fixated on faces that seemed angry, or at least not pleasant to me. And children are very interested in facial expressions, since the mood of their caregivers is so closely tied to the childrens’ survival. Someone was harsh to me, and while some children get angry and lash out when they are treated this way, others, like me, internalize the stress until it erupts in strange and unsettling behaviors.
It wasn’t, and still isn’t, my fault. It’s easy to say, but harder to believe.
We didn’t start out poly. We were monogamous, at first. Then monogamish.
We’d been together for five years before I had intercourse with someone else. My primary was present, and gave his consent. I also brought home potential partners that we played with together. Then they became partners that we played with separately.
But he still didn’t like the label “poly.” We could be open, he said, but he didn’t like poly.
When I invited one of our partners to stay with us for a while so that she could go back to school, I said, well, it’s kind of hard to escape now. You’re poly.
I had partners, here and there. But very few who I saw more than once, let alone carried on an actual relationship with. My main focus was on finding submissive partners, since he wasn’t at all submissive, and I wanted to explore my Dominant side. I still liked bottoming with him.
When he found another partner of his own, though, things changed. She didn’t want to meet me. She was too scared, apparently.
The relationship grew more and more distant. Everything I tried to reconnect with him failed, so eventually I stopped trying. I still loved him, though. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew he was no longer invested in the relationship.
Eventually, I began to feel that he wasn’t cut out for poly. I got the feeling he was more attached to his new partner than to me.
I suppose that’s always a possibility in a poly relationship. I mean, it’s a possibility in any relationship. People who aren’t happy seek out others who can make them feel better. It’s not a sustainable strategy, but that’s something I’ve learned myself through painful experience. It’s easy to feel angry and resentful that I apparently didn’t make him feel happy. However, it’s a fallacy from its core to think that any of us can make anyone else happy. Relationships are not effective treatment for depression.
But aside from that, I wonder, for all the other poly relationships out there, when a primary relationship breaks up, what happens to the other ones?
I still enjoy being with my submissive very much and have every intention of keeping him as long as possible. But it can be hard to enjoy affection with anyone when your heart is breaking.
That seems to be the way my heart works. When I feel good with one person, I feel good with everyone. A rising tide lifts all boats. When I feel bad with one person, well, it’s harder to feel good with everyone else.
It doesn’t seem to work that way with my now former primary. His heart is more of a zero-sum game, where one person can easily displace another.
So it would seem poly isn’t for him after all.
I don’t regret opening the relationship. I do regret that we didn’t communicate about it better. I regret that I didn’t ask for what I wanted more and complain less. But nothing I did could have changed him or his feelings. If the open relationship bothered him, he didn’t communicate it very well. And whatever it was he wanted with me, he sure didn’t communicate that. I asked him many times, and only became more and more frustrated.
My heart is hurt, but I’m sure it will recover. And when it does, I’ll be sure that everyone wants poly before we start.
Nearly a decade of my life. And now it’s over.
I haven’t been posting much lately, and this is why. Because 10 days ago, my primary significant other came to the conclusion that he no longer wished to be in a relationship with me.
I can’t say it was entirely unexpected. I mean, I did tell him that if he didn’t want to be with me, he should leave. I got the feeling that he didn’t want to be with me from the fact that over the past two years or so, he had grown increasingly distant. Our physical relationship was absent. Getting him to make plans to spend time with me was like pulling teeth.
I felt rejected and unwanted. So why didn’t I leave him? I didn’t want to. I wanted the relationship to get better. I wanted him to get better.
His stress level kept going up and up. He kept coming home from work and dumping all of his negative feelings onto me. No explanation about what was bothering him, no “sorry for venting”, no affection. The affection got fewer and farther between.
I believe that he is depressed. After suffering through professional school and licensing exams, he has found the transition into working in his profession more difficult than he expected. He has also had physical health problems. Long before we met, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. Just recently, new drugs came on the market that effectively cured him. And while this was an immense relief to him and everyone who loves him, his feelings about it were complicated. There was anger and resentment, mostly directed at the people who never really understood how the virus had made him feel. He was angry that it had slowed him down and made him feel sick, something he didn’t fully understand himself until it was gone.
On top of this, while we were together he was diagnosed with both sleep apnea and asthma, so for most of our time together, in one way or another, he wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
And even with treatment for these problems, he still acted like a person with depression. So I urged him to get treatment for that, too, or at least look into it. But he always resisted.
Things between us had cooled. We had been through some difficult times when he was still in school, and hadn’t quite recovered from that. We morphed, very naturally, I felt, from having threesomes to having an open relationship. He told me, after leaving me, that he thought opening the relationship would make it better. At the time, he always told me that the decline in our physical relationship was due to him not feeling well, if he had any explanation at all.
We both knew that what we started out as – Dominant and submissive, with him as Dominant, was not going to work, not the way we had envisioned. I bristled at submitting, even though I loved him and loved the bedroom play. But the first time he reprimanded me, and said there would be a punishment, something inside me welled up and said, “NO”. Being raised by a volatile, sometimes borderline abusive mother probably had something to do with this. I also felt like he put very little into it.
Over time I came to the conclusion that I was a bottom, not a submissive, as well as being a switch. Gradually, my Dominant side came out more and more. But I still enjoyed playing with him, mostly. His interest seemed to wane. We would begin play, and I would end up calling an end to it because I could tell he wasn’t at all present, emotionally. Sometimes he would do things I had asked him not to do. Perhaps I was getting a little overly picky, but the energy between us wasn’t right.
I wanted some affection, physical and otherwise. And I developed a crush on the person who inaugurated the openness of our relationship. He was amazing in bed, but emotionally, completely unavailable. I put an end to the affair, and set about to getting over the crush. I did this partly by scanning the personals, looking for new partners.
He, apparently, was not happy about this. He got upset with me one evening, and made a snippy comment about me talking to every guy in the area, or something to that effect.
I felt like this was unfair. My response was, “if you want me, you know where to find me.”
He recalls that I told him he should make his own profile. And that this was very hurtful to him.
This was four years ago.
Why didn’t he tell me how he really felt? Every time I asked him what was wrong, why he was so distant, he couldn’t give me a clear answer. He felt bad, physically. He didn’t know what was wrong with him.
I didn’t know, either. But I knew that I felt neglected, and unwanted, and unloved. Even though he said he still loved me, he didn’t show it. I figured he was stressed, and probably suffering from depression. I tried to encourage him to get help, to find a different job. He wouldn’t do anything.
In the meantime, I lost both of my grandparents. Given how unreliable my mother was, they pretty much raised me. And then I flamed out of my job. For the last two years, I’ve been working from home, because the thought of returning to another job like the last one fills me with untold anxiety. My mental health has not been great.
And in that same time, he found someone else. Someone who lives several hours away, and who he apparently is very fond of.
And now he has decided he’d rather be with her.
I suspect that the thrill of a new relationship felt great to him, just as I’d had crushes that alleviated some of my bad feelings. But as someone who has been diagnosed and treated for depression for 20 years now, I can say with certainty that the thrill does wear off, and when it does, you are the same person you were before you started. I don’t want to be vindictive, but I feel betrayed, and I suspect that he will follow the same patterns as he did with me.
I know some people just aren’t cut out for non-monogamy. It seems likely that this is the case for him.
As for me, I won’t go back to monogamy. If I do find love again, it will be with the stipulation that they won’t be the only one. I don’t mind if it’s an asymmetrical arrangement. But I won’t get involved with someone who prefers monogamy when I require non-monogamy.
I feel like a part of me has been cut off. It hurts so much. My mind tumbles endlessly from anxiety, to despair, to anger, to sadness, to “if only” bargains. If only he’d gone for treatment. If only he’d told me what he was feeling. If only we had communicated better. If only. If only.
He understood me, better than just about anyone I have ever known. He knew me. We shared a sense of humor, and liked a lot of similar things. We hated a lot of the same things.
But as much as I want that missing piece back, the relationship just wasn’t healthy. I can sit and place blame for that all day, but it doesn’t change anything. At one time, he told me that I was 99 percent of what he wanted in a kink relationship. That the lifestyle D/s was only a small thing compared to what we had. Now, looking back, it feels like the compatibility issues ballooned well past that one percent.
I feel like I’ve been kicked when I’m down. I’m struggling in almost every area of my life. I feel alone and adrift, my anchor pulled out from under me. He was the secure, stable rock in my life. Even though it was far from perfect, he was there, and that made me feel better.
Except when it made me feel worse. Being in a relationship with someone who withholds their time, attention and affection can be very painful. Not as painful as the jarring, cutting wound of separation, but there were times when I wished I had the wherewithal to leave him.
But I didn’t want to. I loved him. I wanted him. And I wanted him to want me back.
We can’t always have everything we want.