Jeannie recently posted “Emotional Rollercoasters and Shame Spirals: When Compersion Isn’t Enough” – It’s a very important part of our story and currently very raw and challenging. Yet, somehow, I’ve never felt closer to her; never more sure of our commitment and our bond. She’s struggling right now, having feelings or being discarded and used, and all I want to do is help alleviate those feelings. While I can provide a lot of emotional support, only Jeannie can process her emotions. Thankfully, because of our trust and communication, she hasn’t held back and has been asking me difficult questions. I may not want to hear them at first, but answering them has been so incredible helpful.
Before diving into the “love/in love” matter, I want to point out that there are at least two distinct things sending Jeannie down this shame spiral:
- Disappointment in the lack of commitment from her partners (feeling used and discarded)
- Dealing with my new found love for my girlfriend, Justina (jealousy and the painful potential that I might discard her)
I feel strongly that Jeannie was already concerned about the first point, but in reality it’s the second one that triggered the deep, dark, negative feelings she’s processing right now. And I get it, I’m sure I’d feel the same if she came home tomorrow and told me she’s in love with another. For this post, though, I’m separating the two and discussing only the topic within my control – my feelings toward Justina.
Several weeks ago Jeannie expressed that she really wants to find a boyfriend and to have one meaningful partner either in place of or in addition to her more casual partners. While discussing this, she asked me if I thought I could fall in love with someone else. I wasn’t sure, but I said YES in the context that I know I have the capacity to love more than one person. In the time that has passed since that discussion, Jeannie has not found the boyfriend she’s looking for, several of her other partners have pretty much disappeared, and I, while not looking, have found a girlfriend.
Not only have a found a girlfriend, but we’ve grown very close. Knowing my history, this shouldn’t be a surprise. But that history dates back 20+ years and I thought I was looking for fun, but superficial, play partners. (Frankly, I still am, but that’s a story for another day.)
You can read about how Justina and I came to be and the important thing is that we didn’t meet and hook up – our origins are focused around a friendly and intellectual connection. While it was not my plan, connecting this way, and being on a “slow burn” with her where we were building up to more… well, that creates a bond of sorts. So we were pretty crazy about each other before we’d even seen or touched any naked bodies. And while we’ve recently had sex, I’m just as excited about flirty texts and dance parties, and other time with her. Not that I don’t want to have sex with her again, I most certainly do!
Jeannie, I’m falling in love with Justina
As Justina and I grew closer, I was pondering Jeannie’s question about my capacity to fall in love. So about two weeks ago (before Justina and I had sex) I told Jeannie that I was falling in love with Justina. It didn’t land well. Jeannie wasn’t prepared for this. Neither of us were expecting this. Yet I also thought this was OK and precisely what Jeannie would want in a boyfriend, so why was this so difficult?
Well, there are a few reasons and I’m going to focus on one of semantics.
What’s the difference between LOVE and IN LOVE?
After a challenging weekend, Jeannie and I have landed in a good place primarily because she knows that she’s always my primary and our marriage is not at all threatened by us loving others. I’m certain of that (and can write a whole post on why) so I’m not concerned. Jeannie trusts me and my commitment, too. This doesn’t simply erase her emotions, but gives us a solid footing to move forward.
Now, with trust re-established and commitment re-affirmed, we can address the matter of LOVE. While seeking guidance from female poly friends, Jeannie got some feedback from one of them that falling in love is an all encompassing emotion leaving no room for another. Therefore, for them, this is out of the question and, if this happens, the girlfriend must go. Jeannie shared this and I was honestly confused. I’d never once considered that loving another, or being in love with another, is definable as an exclusive thing.
I went down the internet rabbit hole and read a bunch of articles. It became clear to me that LOVE and IN LOVE aren’t well defined; and this makes sense since they are emotions, not calculations, and people simply react differently to these feelings. Much of what I read equated falling IN LOVE with NRE (New Relationship Energy) and often used the term infatuation. This is precisely how I was seeing this.
Does this mean that falling in love is a fleeting feeling, doomed to expire?
If falling IN LOVE equates to NRE and infatuation, by definition, that feeling will fade over time. Jeannie and I are married 23 years and we love each other dearly. By these definitions, we’re no longer IN LOVE, although we (her especially) have most definitely taken actions to “fall in love all over again” and this is one of the myriad reasons I am sure of my commitment to her.
The point is that I couldn’t find any evidence to support that simply by falling in love with Justina, I’ve reduced my capacity to love and share and provide for Jeannie. NO DOUBT this isn’t the case for everyone, and I wouldn’t give this guidance to other polt couples. But I am absolutely sure that I have the capacity to love, and be in love, with multiple partners. There’s the practical issue of how to share time with partners, but that’s different from emotion.
So, everything is OK?
We’re in a good place right now, processing all this new data, and all these new feelings. As is absolutely needed in these relationships, Jeannie, Justina, and I are being exceptionally honest with each other as we navigate this. In fact, Jeannie and Justina have a lunch date so they can connect without me. They are both such intensely honest and loving people so it makes sense that they should have their own connection, whatever that may be. And while I’m confident their meeting will help us all on this journey, there’s also a risk that it blows up in our faces. Yet if that happens, then I guess that’s what’s meant to happen and we’ll all move on from there.
I’m exploring a truth that I am sure of (my capacity to love more than one) while Jeannie needs to be sure that this is true, and that she won’t lose out on any of what she needs from me. I’m confident in this, but time will tell. Also, while I’m sure that she and I can have relationships like this, I most definitely would not say that this is an acceptable poly lifestyle for everyone. That’s the beauty (and complexity) of being poly, there is no “one size fits all” so everyone can create their own guidelines and boundaries. For her friend that sees falling in love as “all encompassing” this isn’t an option. And that’s not only OK, but an important boundary that she and her partner have set.
I’m excited about the days and weeks ahead. While the last week(ish) has been challenging, no matter where we go next, I know it’s going to be interesting and fun and exciting! And perhaps a little complicated and scary, too. Which seems appropriate as Halloween approaches.