My lover is moving to Windsor, Ontario this summer because his wife accepted a job there. We currently live six hours away from each other, but in Windsor, the drive would be twelve hours, which means I’d have to take a plane. I truly detest flying. I am always nauseous and in pain, unless I take drugs that knock me out. Now trips will be expensive, longer, less flexible, and highly unpleasant. Considering how close we have become since we started dating nine months ago, this feels like a step backwards for our relationship. It also feels highly unfair.
While I understand that the unfairness is not intentional, I cannot help but feel that were he not married with children, our relationship would be a bigger factor in where he moved. He is moving to Windsor to support his wife in her career, not for any intrinsic desire to be there himself. While he and his partner do their best to make me feel included, in this situation, I feel (and fully support) the strength of their commitment to each other and the fragility of ours. If they decided to move to Scotland or India (which they have considered) and be even farther from me, it would entirely be about what’s best for them, and what I want or what would be good for my relationship with him would be, well, secondary.
I know that in this age of advanced communication technology and air travel, long distance does not have to mean the end of a relationship. We can still talk regularly, and it may not be that different than what it is now, considering that we already have a long distance relationship. Moving to him is also a possibility, but it would not easy for me as I am not financially independent, I don’t have skills that are easily transferable, and they cannot support me to live with them.
This situation makes me keenly aware that while these maneuvers put considerable stress on our relationship, their relationship is essentially unchanged, and while my relationship with him is volatile, she is assured of his commitment and presence. Chances are it will always be this way. I had a dream that he died and she and I were left to mourn him. While everyone acknowledged her loss and tried to comfort her, I was left standing on the sidelines and making vegetarian chili for her. I also dreamed that she and I were drowning and he could only save one of us. He saved her, and while my tears mingled with the icy water, there was no uncertainty that he made the right choice. In another version of this dream, I eventually made my way back to shore, and as I was trying to relate my heartbreak, he said, “You knew going in that it was going to be this way.” As if that was supposed to make me feel better.
The truth is that while love may be unlimited, time and money are, and one cannot be in two places at the same time. Choices have to be made. It is at times like this that I question whether polyamory is worth it, where the demands are so much greater than they would be in a primary relationship, and where the rewards are so uncertain.
My lover would say that ultimately, nothing is under our control, and uncertainty is the only certainty, regardless of the type of relationship we are in. But whereas primary partners take for granted that they will do everything they can to reduce uncertainty in their relationship, secondaries are entirely at the whim of what the primary couple decides. They are essentially saying to me, “If you can arrange your life to fit with ours, then we’d be glad to have you. But we are not going to arrange our lives to accommodate yours, (for reasons you can understand, of course).”
The fact is, even if we were all equally committed to each other, the decisions would not have been made differently. They have to support their family and go where the job is. If they had lots of time and money they could look for employment where I am, but in their situation their opportunities are limited specifically to Ontario. But knowing that it has to be this way doesn’t make it easier for me. I talked about my sad feelings to my poly friend Sarah, who asked me if I felt heard by him. I acknowledged that even if my lover couldn’t do anything to change the situation, listening to my feelings would help me accept it. In addition, my friend added that my lover could make the effort to visit me in Pennsylvania more often, which would help ease the feeling that I was always making the bigger effort in our relationship because I was always the one traveling.
While moving wold be a big disruption to me, once we are all in the same house or city, it becomes possible to imagine a future where we have equal time together, share responsibilities, and have equal say in decisions that affect all of us. My friend advises that before committing to such an undertaking, the three of us establish beforehand our commitment to each other, so that if I moved, I would be assured that our relationship structure would change to something more favorable for me. This way I won’t be making a huge sacrifice without knowing the outcome.
It’s not pleasant to be reminded that regardless of the strength of our emotional attachment, marriage, children, and finances do come first. The only equalizer in this situation, perhaps, is death. And the thought is strangely comforting to me. In the end, even the strongest commitment cannot save us from separation by death. Someone is going to die first, leaving the other one behind. Since I am nineteen years younger than him, he is most likely going to die before me, and I would end up living 30+ years without him. If I can live with the certainty of our eventual separation by death, 421 miles or the fact that he has a primary, seem minor obstacles in comparison. Death separates us all from the ones we love, and if the lack of a guarantee that we will always be together determines whether we start or stay in a relationship, then none of us would be in any relationships. We will all die, and the only thing we can do is make the most of our time here. This means loving as much as possible, for as long as possible.
So considering that love is the best use of our time, and our time is short, it’s kind of useless to worry about who has to make more of an effort in the relationship, who benefits more, etc. What’s important is knowing whether the effort is worth it. In my case, I have found someone so exceptional that it’s hard to imagine our relationship can ever be exhausted. When we are together, my world is more alive, colorful, and in harmony. I feel at home with him as I have never felt with anyone else. When I look into his eyes, he makes me feel that all things are possible. To be a recipient of his love is to feel all faults forgiven and all wounds being healed. He inspires me to be my best self. Though it takes effort to get together, every time it is rewarding beyond measure.
When maintaining a relationship demands that one person give much more than the other, many such relationships fall to a lower level of commitment. Many secondaries do not have the energy to to give more, and they shouldn’t have to. But sometimes, if we believe that an unequal effort can lead to greater things, a change in circumstances, and is met with appreciation and intimacy, then love inspires us to keep climbing, so that when we get to the top, the view is grander because of how much it took to get there.