The past few weeks have seen my social calendar go rapidly from nigh empty to bursting, with very little in between. Making friends seems to be an exponential experience, autocatalytic. After a few months lamenting my lack of a social circle I am embarrassed by my riches.

So, of course, having just evolved legs, I decided that running was my best move.

S is a friend I’ve known for about three weeks now, introduced by another mutual friend at a coffee shop show. She is funny and interesting, and we get along very well. We were spending at least a couple of evenings a week together, and I, being “open” in more than one way, had talked quite a bit about my relationship, its status, and other people I might maybe possibly but probably not date in the future. I’m not sure if being as gabby about this stuff as I am is the best move in a new friendship, but I don’t really know another way to be.

S sent me an e-mail one day to let me know that, while she was fine with my discussing Carrie, talking about other maybe-possibly dates was uncomfortable for her, in part because she found me “mentally stimulating and physically attractive”. I responded to let her know that I found her the same, and that if I a) knew how to ask people out and b) thought she’d be interested in an open relationship, I would ask her out. I assumed that, like everyone else I’ve met, she wouldn’t be copacetic with the idea of dating me under the circumstances, and so didn’t think that would go anywhere.

A few days later, while driving her home from a show, S asked me what the next step would be, if she said that she was okay with Carrie. I, as my blog readers might know, don’t have the faintest idea what the next step would be, and let her know that, but I said that we should talk more the next day. I wasn’t comfortable with making any sort of move right then and there, partly because I didn’t want to spring it on Carrie as a fait accompli, and partly because I’ve never dated more than one person at a time and I just wanted to be careful not to make the wrong move and lose the friendship. I dropped her at her place after awkwardly kissing her on the cheek, and went home to ponder.

S and I went out to dinner the next night, and I explained my nervousness. I let her know that my relationship is more open in theory, at least on my end, than in practice, which I had apparently not yet brought up in our conversations. I explained that I think I’m a bad choice for someone’s first open-dating experience, which is also true. S took this as rejection, and I could not convey the nuance of wanting to date but also wanting to let her know that I think her dating me is a bad idea, so ultimately I conceded that a rejection is the clearest thing one could take from that. Dating me right now is necessarily murky.

We had an uncomfortable dessert, and then I took her home. She said that she’d be all right, and that the friendship wasn’t ruined. I went home upset that I still don’t know how to date, but congratulating myself for not getting into a relationship wherein we’d both be nervous and uncomfortable. I mean, I want to date other people, and I wanted to date S, but what I need right now are friendships. I need to establish myself here. So as much as I’m uncomfortable with being Carrie’s involuntarily monogamous partner, I felt like I’d done well.

A few days later, S’s brunch club got together, and I had a +1 invite. Naturally, I took Carrie. This was the first time that S had really seen Carrie and I interact, having only met her briefly, and also the first real chance that the two of them had had to talk. Carrie and I did our couply, flirty thing the way that we usually do, and while I felt like S was getting uncomfortable toward the end of the brunch that was something expected and something S’d warned me about. I just thought of it as a step on the return to normalcy.

The next morning, I received an e-mail from her telling me that the friendship was ruined. She said that seeing Carrie and me together had shown her that I didn’t really want to date anyone else, that she didn’t need this kind of drama, and that she felt like she’d been roped into some little game that Carrie and I were playing.

I was devastated. This played precisely to my fears and anxieties about this relationship style; that other people can’t grasp that I can still be madly devoted to Carrie and want to date other people. I was sickened that I’d ruined a friendship, and convinced that I’d lost that whole social group that I felt had been such a long time coming. I felt lost, and spent much of that morning crying, which did not have the best effect on the weekend trip that Carrie and I had gone on, although that turned out to be mostly salvageable.

After a day or so, I was less sad than angry at someone who barely knew me presumed to understand what I wanted more than I did. I also thought, from her angry tone and assumption that we were playing games, that she must have believed I was not as devoted to Carrie as I am. I wrote back, saying in no uncertain terms that she was entirely mistaken with her assessment of my motives and that I was more than upset at her presumption, and that it was a shame that we couldn’t be friends but that I’d go ahead and avoid the social groups we were both in so as to minimize contact.

We both cooled off, and exchanged a few more e-mails. I think the friendship is repaired. There’s no real chance of dating, or at least no real desire on my part to do so at this point, and we’re much more lukewarm than we were. Still, though, I have my friends and my social calendar.

In some ways, this is a learning experience: I won’t again let anyone know that I’m interested in them until I’m clear about not only my situation but also my lack of experience, and I won’t try to date friends until I’m very well established with them. In other respects, though, it’s exactly what I did not need: it makes me that much more skittish about dating (something I was already horrendously, awkwardly skittish about), makes me more convinced that I just won’t be able to date while Carrie and I are together, and makes me question that much more whether there really is anyone out there who’s interested in me without wanting to claim me as their own. My preexisting anxieties are magnified, and they were already rather large.


7 thoughts on “Adaptation

  1. I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong.

    It’s tough and confusing for someone who is used to monogamy to try dating someone who is in an open relationship. In my experience, it’s especially difficult for them when they see the couple together. And in general, meeting people who are not part of some community where non-monogamous relationships are common makes for difficult negotiation and navigation even for people with substantial experience.

    You’re doing well. Being up front, honest, and open about everything.

  2. Thanks, Ryan. It at least helps to know that someone doesn’t think I was wrong in the way I pursued this. I think the only real lesson I can take away from this is not to risk friendships this way, because I just don’t have enough friends in the area. It’s really hard for me to remember, though, that people see failed romantic experiments as a reason to end a friendship.

  3. I suspect this form of wankery will continue as my experience has been that the majority of the dating population is well entrenched in vanilla monogamy (through inherited dogma and various other vectors), and that a bond as strong and vivacious as you and Carrie appear to enjoy would be a direct challenge to a “meaningful” romantic relationship with them. I’m not sure she knew what she wanted. Anyway, I’m glad that the friendship was minimally salvageable and, perhaps with continued exposure to your paradigm, your new friend will come to embrace your openness and acknowledge your devotion to _all_ of those you love. That last bit was more of a wish on my part.

  4. The friendship seems to be basically repaired, which is good. I do like this person, but I really cannot imagine circumstances under which I would try to date her again. So whether or not she comes to “embrace [my] openness” is irrelevant, except in that it’ll make our weekly Scrabble sessions perhaps more civil.

  5. One of the biggest problems — and the fact that this particular incident has had greater social impact than it otherwise would have — is the fact that this person is connected to all of the people you really know socially in Providence. All of your eggs are in one basket, and if S chooses to dump the basket…. Perhaps the lesson lies more in exercising extreme caution with people who are the hingepin to your burgeoning social circle.

    Then again, few things are quite as risky socially as exercising extreme caution. You did nothing wrong; what you caught was a consequence of the fact that these things are always risky. Risky things are worth having, and sometimes they go bad because they’re, well, risky.

    You and I tend to share an arrogant optimism that running on air means that we won’t fall down, and we maintain it because it usually does. We get extra, extra spooked when we find out that sometimes it doesn’t work. I think now you’re reeling from something that has always been a perfectly reasonable risk.

  6. I don’t know that optimism here is actually at issue. I’m extraordinarily pessimistic about dating; it generally goes badly for me, and I don’t think the added complication of being in a relationship makes it *less* likely to go badly.

    Part of the problem here is that this sort of confirmed my fears about what was going to happen when I tried to date. I was not going to find anyone who was actually cool with seeing me while I was with someone else, and it was all going to blow up in my face, and I’d end up hurting people. I was dreading the experience of trying to date for precisely this reason, and what I was dreading came to pass almost immediately upon my first real attempt, and now I don’t want to touch the stove again.

    Except that I do, I’m just rock-solid convinced I’ll get burned again if I try, so I’m less inclined to do what I want.

  7. Pingback: Imperception « Newly Open

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