How not to behave when you meet your husband’s girlfriend

Meeting your husband’s new girlfriend is hard. I don’t care how open minded or liberated or positive you are, it’s going to make you anxious and nervous and worried. What if we don’t get along? What if she isn’t really ready to meet the wife? What if she seems nice but actually is going to try to break up our marriage or something? What if I am a failure as a poly person because I even have these thoughts and worries?

Yeah. I had all of these thoughts and many more like them before I first met my husbands’ first post-marriage girlfriend, a few years ago.

I made a lot of mistakes when I met her. Now, though, my totally botched experience will (I hope) help someone else before they mishandle this situation like I did.

I was inexperienced, it was new, and I was, to be honest, feeling really insecure and afraid. Husband had been hit hard with NRE, and I didn’t feel great about it at the time. I was trying to stay positive, trying to remind myself that everything would be ok and that he should be allowed to feel what he felt and celebrate it. I wanted to be able to celebrate it as well, but I was having a really rough time doing that while on the roller coaster of new-poly-experiences-insecurity.

I also knew that I had suggested we meet and all hang out several times and there was always some reason why not. In other words, I was feeling weirdly…avoided. I worried that she was avoiding meeting me because she didn’t care about forming a respectful relationship with him – with us – but rather that she was hiding something, had some bad motives, and would not bat an eye at hurting him or causing collateral damage to me or our marriage. I was also fiercely protective of him, worried about him being hurt by someone else, because I knew, from his side anyway, there were genuine and deep feelings forming already.

So. These things happen, and until I met her, I wasn’t going to feel comfortable about her place in our lives, whatever it would be. Things felt fragile.

Oh, and I was freaked out because I thought we looked kind of alike and that seemed weird and hit some of my insecurity buttons. Weird, maybe. (Is it?)

Nowhere is it written that if you’re dating a person who is already in a committed relationship, you HAVE to engage with or even meet your metamours (aka, your partners’ partners). However, I think it’s a best practice. It shows openness, interest, respect for the life they have beyond you, and hey, you can meet great new friends. It just seems like the logical and respectful thing to do. You don’t all need to become lovers or best friends or even good friends, but being friendly will make everything way more pleasant. Your mileage may vary but I think it’s good for all the individuals involved and good for the health of the various relationships.

When Husband finally was able to set up a time when we could all get together after work for a drink, I was quite nervous. The occasion has been strangely built up in my mind and I didn’t know what to expect. I am a pretty shy person, and I also sort of unconsciously took the attitude that she ought to be trying to impress me. As a non-poly friend (quite unhelpfully) told me, “She should be trying to prove that she is good enough and belongs there.”

Now, I recognize this attitude for what it is: Sensible in the context that it was coming from a monogamous person who views poly as a problem or something to “deal with” rather than a conscious choice and opportunity to make new connections. And worse: Poisonous to the fostering of those hoped-for new connections.

So what did I do?

I walked in to the bar and saw the two of them there, sitting side by side. They looked nice together. I had a difficult physical reaction – nervous tightness in my chest and throat, pounding heart. She and I hugged hello and looked at each other. We ordered drinks and I realized that I had not prepared anything to say or any questions to ask or anything at all, because I had assumed that they were running the show – that this meeting was about her being presented for my inspection. Again, pretty poisonous attitude, created mostly subconsciously by years of training by a monogamy-centric world.

There were some awkward silences amid the small talk about who we were and what we did. In retrospect, her attitude was a bit standoffish and condescending, which I picked up on and felt quite hurt by. In a less vulnerable state I may have seen it for what it probably was – uncertainty, insecurity perhaps, something I could relate to and empathize with. But, I was not in a place yet for empathy. I was absorbed with my own emotional self-preservation. At one point I even said: “This is not about me, this is about you two.”

How’s that for a passive-aggressive emotional distancing strategy.

I was wrong, of course. It was about all of us, together. It was not about the new girlfriend being “presented for approval” to the wife. It was not about the new couple seeking approval in any way from me. It was also not, as I irrationally felt in the moment, about me being presented for inspection by the new girlfriend, either.

What I wish it was and what it ideally should have been was an honest and open minded meeting of people with good intentions in common. While years have now passed, and I feel in retrospect that she and I would not have ever really been good friends or seen eye to eye on many things, I know I did not really allow for that from the beginning. I began the meeting with so much doubt in my heart, I did not really leave enough room for friendship to grow.

I felt so lost and vulnerable at the time that all I could do was try to avoid the situation when I should have faced it and asked myself what good intentions everyone might have, and how I would behave differently if I believed in everyone’s best intentions.

What would I have done differently?

I would have been welcoming and inquisitive. I would have come prepared with some actual things to ask her about herself and her life. I would have been more forthcoming about myself and not sat back waiting to be asked and approached. I would have made more of an effort instead of reasoning that she should be the one to make the effort since she was the one entering “my” relationship. And if she was still less than kind or unresponsive to me, I would not have locked myself away in a huff – I would have asked Husband sooner and with more vulnerability, less anger, to support me, show me care, and give me some more time, which is all I needed, and which I am sure he would have gladly given me.

How should you behave with you meet your partners’ new partner?

Remember that you have the opportunity to be the welcoming committee. You’re in an open relationship and one of the benefits is fun new people. Here’s one now!

Assume the best intentions until proven otherwise. Your partner (who you love and trust, right?) thinks this new person is great. Maybe they are!

Treat the new person as though they might be the nervous one and you wish to put them at ease. You do, right?

You know – behave the same way you’d behave with any new friend coming in to your world…rather than the way you’d approach an invading army. I wish I had.

Husband, and the relationship escalator

When I met Husband, I fell in love with him rather quickly. He was so patient, kind, caring, thoughtful and brilliant! He was unlike many of the other people I had dated, and I really didn’t have any desire to date other people during the beginning of that relationship. I think we were both consumed with NRE to the point where our friends wanted to all barf whenever we showed up together. I can’t really remember a lot about that year, other than we went everywhere, did everything together, and it wasn’t suffocating – it was wonderful. We spent all that time together because we chose to and we enjoyed it. We positioned ourselves as being up for anything, and open to anything. Nothing was forbidden between us. But, like many in the beginnings of an intense young relationship, we found ourselves on the Relationship Escalator.

For those unfamiliar with this term: The relationship escalator refers to the socially acceptable, expected escalation of a relationship, through ordered stages such as: meet-cute, casual dating, have sex, “going steady” and monogamous commitment (usually the point where you “claim” and label each other and start using terms like “boyfriend” and doing annoying stuff like assuming you should bring them with you wherever you go), moving in together and marriage, being a lifelong commitment. Some people consider buying a home and having children the end “goal” of the relationship, the end of the escalator, at which point you devote your lives to your kids, brainwash and indoctrinate them into whatever values you were raised with, and forget what fun sex was like.

If you do these steps out of order, you are officially “off the escalator” and there are usually real social consequences. If there aren’t, you will still be questioned about your choices. This social conditioning is deep. It covers everything from whether it’s ok to have sex on the first date (or whether it’s ok to wait a year before having sex!) to when you “should” move in with a partner, to whether you should freak out because you’ve been dating someone for a couple years and he/she hasn’t proposed yet.

I am sad to say that I found myself caught on the relationship escalator. I got really existential about what it “meant” if we moved in together before we got engaged. I got bent out of shape because we hadn’t decided whether to get married within a certain number of years together. I wondered if I had done something wrong, if I had somehow been the wrong kind of woman and broken too many rules and therefore would never get married and never have a family and and and


I want to cry when I think about how much pain and confusion I could have saved myself if I had been more familiar with the concept of the escalator – and had accepted that it is completely voluntary and needn’t apply to me. My marriage isn’t doomed because it took us several years to decide to do it, just as it isn’t doomed because we had sex on the first date!

All these rules are there because we’re afraid, I guess. And the escalator I’ve outlined above works really really well, for lots of people. Many happy marriages, happy homes and happy kids are produced. But I could never stand the idea that all these things, in this order, must be destiny, and I would be a failure of a human being if I didn’t hit all the steps at the right time.

I could also never stand the idea that any relationship that doesn’t end in marriage, kids and mortgage is a failure. Say I spent 6 months dating an awesome, interesting person, and it turned out we didn’t want the same things, so we hugged and said goodbye, but they taught me a lot about human nature and I had tons of fun with them – this is a failure? I don’t buy it. I’m just too logical. It all depends on what your goals are in any given interaction.

Back to Husband. We were on that escalator, without really questioning it. We married and lived together and were mostly happy. Somewhere, though, I felt like I had given up a lot of things about myself and my life that I missed. I missed dating a lot. I missed meeting new people and the excitement of that. I missed the romance that brings with it. And at some point I realized, I was kind of letting myself go. I wasn’t trying so hard. I wasn’t dressing as nice, I wasn’t going out of my way to be romantic myself, even as I grumped that he wasn’t as thoughtful or romantic for me anymore. Typical complaints of a marriage, or any LTR, maybe, but they felt huge to me. I had been pondering if I wanted children, but something inside me rebelled, said, you aren’t done here yet, you haven’t really explored everything yet.

I was reading a little about polyamory back then. This was several years ago. As I read I recognized a lot about these other relationship styles that reminded me of my own philosophies to dating in the past. I realized there was another way to be married and be happy. And I realized that there was this relationship escalator thing, and I had a choice. I was on it, but I could get back off. I could step back and think about what direction to take. I wouldn’t be the first or last to do it. And to my relief, I realized it didn’t mean I had to break up a wonderful marriage or destroy anything I loved – I could build new things right beside what I already had.

Studying the concept of the escalator and really thinking about it, examining my own steps along the way – this really saved me. It saved my marriage, saved me from making big choices for the wrong reasons.

There is more written now, more blogs, more books, that there was a few years ago when I was seeking answers, and I am so truly happy about that. And very much enjoying our loving, meandering path away from the escalator.

A big part of curbing the tyranny of the escalator is simply to acknowledge that it exists, that it is a matter of choice, and that there are other valid choices. Ultimately substance, not structure, should be what determines the success or value of any intimate relationship.

— solopoly, “Riding the relationship escalator (or not)”