My relationship with David started off with a stacked deck: we lived 1,000 miles apart from each other, he is a generation older than me, and he is polyamorous, while I had only ever been monogamous.
Despite these challenges, we had a loving and stable relationship. He met my family, I met his wife and girlfriend. We communicated almost every day, saw each other as often as we could and after a year and a half together, I made a solid plan to move to his city. Our relationship was low on rules and high on freedom.
The only set boundaries were: 1) tell the other person if you start a new relationship and 2) keep our private life off of social media.
These were easy for me to follow, and my acclimation to polyamory was smoother than I’d imagined. One of the most appealing aspects was the low chance of cheating and lies. He didn’t need to tell me about his occasional hook ups, and if he was getting involved with someone, he could just fill me in. As a sexual violence survivor, trust is a huge hurdle for me, but he assured me that he’d be the best man I’d ever had. That polyamory made it easy to be honest.
Around the time of his birthday this year, his wife had occasion to be out of town for two weeks and we were able to use the time for a longer visit. It was the first time I had been allowed to sleep at his house, and their firm “no other partners in the bed” rule was lifted to accommodate my stay, which was an indicator of how serious he was about us.
After six great days together, I went back to my city feeling more committed, solid and happy than ever. That’s when I made my plan to move. There was just one nagging problem in the back of my mind: Rose.
I’d met Rose the year before at an event, and had heard of her in conversation so I knew she was a casual friend of David and his girlfriend, as well as an employee of David’s small sex toy business. About a month before my last visit to his city, she started responding to my Tweets rather aggressively.
At first I wasn’t even really sure who this hyper-Tweeter was, but after glancing at her profile I quickly figured it out. Assuming she was just trying to be friendly to the boss’s partner, I followed her back. As time went on, I noticed that she wrote a lot about him and someone who seemed to be a boyfriend, who she referred to by a nickname. She also had an explicit Tumblr blog with sex entries about the boyfriend, which she linked to her Twitter feed. It was clear from her entries that she and this man had been involved for quite a while, and she considered them to be in a romantic relationship.
I’ll admit it: Her blog was pretty hot. I started reading it for the material, but then I started to piece together some details and realized that she was writing about David. I was confused for a while, as I thought he would have told me about their relationship. The combination of her constant pulling of my sleeve electronically plus the barrage of daily sex Tweets/Tumblr posts about the man I thought was him led me to finally bring it up.
A few weeks after I returned from my trip, I asked him in casual conversation if he was the guy she called by that name. I told him I wasn’t upset, but I was confused and worried I had been doing polyamory wrong and had done something to complicate our communication.
He said it was him. They had been lovers years ago, but now they were just friends, and she worked for him and pet sit for him when he traveled. He said she had a lot of emotional troubles, so he provided her with support. But that was it. They were not “dating or anything.” I filled him in on the Tumblr and he said he hadn’t seen it, that it was all fiction, that he felt his privacy had been compromised and he had to go lay down. I was baffled that he hadn’t seen any of it, as he, his friends, his partners and his employees all follow her, but believed him and let it drop.
The next few weeks were a blur of her constant posts about him and their relationship, and Tweeting at me in an increasingly hostile way. When I saw a picture she posted of expensive chocolate I had given him with the caption “How do you know he cares? He gives you this,” I called him with the intention of breaking up. There did not seem to be any way that he wasn’t needlessly hiding a relationship from me.
He told me that she had been having a bad day, so he gave it to her to calm her down and she misinterpreted it. I requested that he talk with her about her online behavior as it was making it very hard to believe him and I felt like I was going Ophelia-level mad. His response was that she is very broken (and from her Tweets about her hoarding, anxiety, daily vomiting, agoraphobia, and pictures of her crying in her bed, I agree) and that hard conversations make her fold in on herself.
David is a “celebrity” in the BDSM community, and he reminded me that a price of dating him is that people would always be talking about him. His advice: ignore, ignore, ignore. He said she is delusional and an “obsessed fan,” and he thought the writing was harmless but acknowledged it was hurting me. He said he would make a plan. He couldn’t give me a date of when he’d do it, but he’d figure something out.
I felt relieved after that conversation, and proud that I had a partner who was that compassionate and generous to his friends. That he would let an “obsessed fan” work for him and be in his home when he traveled was challenging for me, but he always said he was loyal to a fault. The days following that talk, she shared with the world that he was doing favors for her, and that she couldn’t wait to get home from a trip because she missed him and was longing for sex with him.
The night I saw him Tweet about what a good person she was, I snapped. It felt like a betrayal to publicly say that someone who was causing us this much strife was “good people,” knowing that I would see it. I wrote an email telling him I thought he was lying all along, and included links to things I saw. Things like, “As much as I hunger for and love to play and f#%k, I’d be more devastated if I never got to kiss [David] again. I’d give it all up to keep the kisses.” The photos were of her bruise covered-breasts, taken the same week she was helping him around his house.
His response? A brief email. He said that I could believe him or what is said about him. He’s sorry this is what killed a great relationship. I still don’t even know what “this” is. I just wanted the truth, which was impossible to ascertain with the constant tweets about their relationship followed by his denials of the relationship.
I was even more confused a few days later, when he followed up with a phone call, during which he called me a “monster” and a “crazy psychotic bitch.” Rose was just a “poor broken [31 year-old] kid” who needed him, but I was mean and manipulative. I had no empathy or compassion for her, and I had abandoned him. He threw my rape in my face as an argument tactic. He screamed at me asking if I still thought he was a liar, and I squeaked out a no.
The weeks following that phone call had me going over everything in my head all day, every day. Maybe he wasn’t lying. Maybe everything she wrote really was a delusion, and everyone else was just knew about it and ignored it because she’s sick. Maybe I really am crazy and a monster. I sent an apology text begging for forgiveness. He didn’t respond.
Two days later, a friend who lives in their city and knew the story came across her OkCupid profile. He emailed me, “Is this her?” with a link. One click told me all I needed to know: She is one of his “core partners,” that Friday nights are their date night, that they are in a “sexual/romantic” relationship. That same day she made four posts about how that day was their third anniversary. He had been hiding his partnership with her for the entirety of our relationship.
I went nuclear and emailed him, and got this response: “Believe what you want to believe.”
I had tried for a month to believe him. I am no stranger to the BDSM community, and weirder things have happened, even to me. But even if she is delusional, even if it was all fantasy and not rooted in reality, it didn’t really matter. He knew she was writing about him, that it contradicted what he was saying and that it was hurting me, someone he loved and was committed to. And, as much as I wanted to go with my heart, I had to go with my head because something wasn’t right. It’s still all so confusing, and I’ll never really know what was the truth and if I walked away from something great.
Of course the fallout has all been documented on social media, too. He writes about people needing to be right vs. being happy and folks jumping to conclusions, she’s fascinated by the assumptions people make about others and delights in planning dates for them. The great irony is that her “brokenness” has mellowed, while I’ve been mired in self-doubt, self-hate and feeling like I’ve been put out with the trash, struggling with destructive behavior that I kicked years ago. He is still celebrated as a great man in our community.
I don’t understand lying and infidelity in polyamory. It feels pointless; like lying for sport. Aren’t we non-monogamous partly to avoid cheating and lies? I also took away that cheating is nearly impossible in the age of social media. Had she never started Tweeting at me, I would have never sniffed this out and we’d be the same sweet, loving couple we always were. For better or for worse, Twitter, Tumblr, and OkCupid are the new lipstick on the collar.