Q: I’m a thirtysomething straight woman married for 16 years. Eighteen months ago, I met a man and there was an immediate attraction. For the first 15 months of our relationship, I was his primary sexual and intimate partner, as both sex and intimacy were lacking in his marriage. (My husband knew of the relationship from the start and is accepting for the most part.) After my lover’s wife found out about me, she suddenly became very responsive to my lover’s sexual and emotional needs. My lover has told his wife that he will not let me go. He has also told me that he is not willing to let his wife go. She isn’t happy about being in a triad relationship, but she allows him to continue seeing me with limitations. I am no longer his primary sex partner, and I have been relegated to the back seat. He claims to love us both, yet his wife and I both struggle knowing the other exists. Recently while out shopping, my lover asked me to help him pick out a Christmas gift for his wife. I got upset because I am in love with him, and I have made him my priority (over my husband), but I am not his priority. I love this man, and we feel we are soul mates. My lover has said that if we fall apart, he will have to find a new secondary partner because his wife can never give him the soulful fulfillment he needs. Should I continue in this relationship?
—Soul Mate Avoids Choice Knowingly
A: You complain about being relegated to the back seat, SMACK, but it’s your husband whose existence only comes up in parenthetical asides. You also describe this relationship as a triad when there are four people involved (you, your lover, your lover’s wife, and your husband), which technically makes this a quad. And from the sound of things, only one member of this messy quad seems happy—your lover, the guy who refuses to make you a “priority” over his wife.
And while you’ve convinced yourself that your lover feels as strongly for you as you do for him—“we feel we are soul mates”—it kindasorta sounds to me like you may be projecting, SMACK. Because in addition to asking you to pick out Christmas gifts for his wife, your lover and alleged soul mate regards you as expendable and replaceable. And he’s told you as much: He intends to “find a new secondary partner” if you two part because his wife doesn’t “give him the soulful fulfillment he needs.” That’s not how people talk about their soul mates, and it’s certainly not something a guy says to someone he regards as his soul mate. Soul mates are typically told they’re special and irreplaceable, but your guy sees you as one of many potential seconds out there, and therefore utterly replaceable.
Here’s what you ought to do: You aren’t interested in being your lover’s secondary partner (nor are you much interested in being your husband’s wife), so you’ll have to call your lover’s bluff. And the only card you have to play—and it’s a weak hand (all hands with just one card are)—is to dump your lover unless he leaves his wife for you. Success rests on the outside chance your lover was bluffing when he said he’d replace you, but I suppose it’s possible he regards you as the irreplaceable one and only said those hurtful things to make you think he wouldn’t choose you when you are the one he would’ve chosen all along. If it turns out that this was the case, SMACK, you’ll wind up with your soul mate… who happens to be kindasorta cruel and manipulative.
Calling your lover’s bluff—ending a relationship that, in its current form, brings you no joy—is your only hope of having this guy to yourself. But the likelier outcome is that you’ll be left alone (with, um, your husband).
Q: My boyfriend and I met at a bondage party a year ago. He’s not into bondage (he tagged along with a kinky friend). We hit it off in the chill-out room and started seeing each other. He told me it was okay for me to keep going to bondage parties and seeing some guys I play with one-on-one. Then right after we moved in together, he said he doesn’t want me playing with anyone else because we are in love. Which means I can’t get tied up at all anymore because he has zero interest in bondage. He can’t see why I’m upset, and I’m not sure what to do.
—Boy In New Drama
A: So now that you’re in love, and now that you’ve signed a lease, and now that you’re trapped, BIND, now—NOW—your vanilla boyfriend yanks back the accommodation that convinced you to date him in the first place? There’s only one thing you can do: DTMFA.
Q: I am 30 and male, and I have been with my girlfriend for five years. For a slew of reasons (we have almost no interests/hobbies in common, our personalities are completely different, we aren’t sexually compatible), I have decided to end it. She’s a good, smart, well-educated person for whom I wish only the best. I’m thinking of breaking up with her sometime this week or halfway through next year. I know you believe someone should tell a partner about these sorts of feelings ASAP to avoid robbing them of time they could have spent fixing the situation or moving on. Something inside me tells me that my case is different. My girlfriend is a graduate student in a non-tech/STEM field (read: hard to find jobs) and has a decent amount of school debt. We also have a dog. We live in a city where the rents are high and it’s harder to find a place that will allow dogs. (She will definitely be taking the dog.) The thing is, she would almost certainly want to move out immediately if we broke up. I’m worried that if she tried to absorb the financial hit of a breakup, it might torpedo her education and life plans. I am at a loss for what to do. She’s leaving in a week to visit her family for a month—should I dump her before then so she can lean on them? Should I wait until she graduates but dodge questions about where I’m willing to move if she gets a job offer somewhere else?
—Deciding Ultimately Means Pain
A: As a general rule, one should never drag out an inevitable breakup. We should break up with people promptly to spare our exes the humiliation of thinking back over the last few months or (God forbid!) the last few years and recalling every painfully ambiguous or deceitfully upbeat conversation about Our Shared Future. Another good reason to break up with someone promptly: A person (not the person) your ex could spend the rest of their life with might cross their path two months from now—and if they’re still with you then or still reeling from a very recent breakup, they won’t say yes (old-fashioned) or swipe right (newfangled).
But there are exceptions to every rule, DUMP, and I think your case qualifies. And as with many exceptions to many rules, your exception honors the spirit of the rule itself. Both reasons I cite for breaking up with someone promptly—to spare your soon-to-be ex’s feelings, to get out of the way of your soon-to-be ex’s future—are about being considerate of your soon-to-be ex. And that’s just what you’re doing: You want to end this relationship now, but you’re going to wait six months because you don’t want to derail your soon-to-be-ex girlfriend’s education or career prospects. So out of consideration for her, DUMP, you should coast for a bit longer.