Significant others

I love my other and my lover. He loves his wife and me. Can this all work out?

Published October 30, 2002 5:34PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Four years ago, I joined a consulting firm and in the new-employee training I met a man with whom I connected instantly. He'd just been married two months earlier, and I was in a relationship, so the romantic thing never really crossed our minds.

Over the next year or so, he became my confidant and professional mentor. We had long discussions about literature, film, philosophy, society. I fell in love with him, but since he was married, I never said anything. This went on for about three years.

This summer, after a few beers, we confessed our feelings to one another: We are deeply and wholly in love. At the same time, he's in love with his wife, and I'm in love with my significant other. We really have no desire to leave our relationships and be with each other in that capacity.

Hunter Thompson said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." We've decided to legitimize our relationship. We've both gone to our significant others and informed them of the recent developments. Tentatively, they've decided to go along with it for now. We've all decided to see where this whole thing goes.

Before now, it's never even crossed my mind to engage in this kind of "alternative lifestyle," but this seems good and right and like it could work out. Am I insane to think this could work?

Feeling Polyamorous

Dear Feeling Polyamorous,

'Swonderful. You've made his life so glamorous, he can't blame you for feeling polyamorous, now can he? I know it's four-leaf clover time and your heart is working overtime, but let's all four get down on all fours for a little Clintonian hair-splitting and say: It depends on what "work" means.

What will probably happen is that his wife and your other will also find love outside the dyad, which will serve to make a more equitable distribution of the jealousy and fear. Then you've got a swingin' little sextet:

Your other
Your other's other
Your new other
Your new other's other
Your new other's other's new other

My opinion of such crystalline formations is that they are inherently unstable, given the way stresses multiply in the interstices, and how the supports are not reinforced by the structure but, on the contrary, tend to be weakened and stretched even thinner. There will be crucial moments of stress, such as that moment when your other needs you urgently and paradoxically because at that very moment you are out with your other other, and his other other is out as well, with yet another other, and maybe, besides that, his new other just isn't the other other that you are and he's realizing that the grass isn't always greener on the other other's side of the street, and tears appear in the fabric of the face.

The thing just tends to crumble. The dyad works because it combines the greatest strength with the fewest stresses. When you reverse that, adding stress and weakening the supports, you aren't designing for stability, you're designing for the excitement of a dramatic Las Vegas-style implosion. So it depends on what you mean by "work." If you mean will everybody be able to hobble away from the pile of rubble still breathing, sure, it can work. But if you mean will it provide stable, fulfilling lives for those involved, you've got to be kidding.

Far be it from me to tell you how to build your building or pilot your ship. I'm only the engineer. Just please don't have any innocent passengers along, like children and pets.

By Cary Tennis

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