“A little over three months ago I started dating a really wonderful person. They’re funny, cute, sweet, and extremely loving. It’s fairly serious inasmuch as we talk every day and have already traveled together. They have two other partners: a live-in partner they’ve been with since college and a girlfriend who has been in the picture for two years. Those partners have other partners, and the polycule expands into a web of people who all interact fairly often, at house parties and game nights.
This is my first direct experience with polyamory. I’ve observed friends do non-monogamy over the years, with varying outcomes. I know that this kind of relationship dynamic is more complicated but I’m not sure what is reasonable and what is unnecessary drama.
Specifically, my partner’s girlfriend is a lightning rod and there always seems to be conflict swirling around her. She takes offense super easily and then describes every clash as someone “crossing her boundaries” or “demanding her labor.” There are other people in the network of partners that are visibly annoyed by this, some who appear to enjoy the drama, and others who just ignore it. I don’t want to have any part of it. She’s not a person I would be friends with otherwise, but we’re sort of forced to deal with each other because we share a partner. What should I be asking of my partner, in terms of helping me navigate this? Can I ask them to be a buffer for me or do I just have to cope, like I would with a bad coworker?”
Awww, nothing like finding a new relationship to be excited about, basking in the fun of getting to know each other– and then stupid fucking reality steps in the way. There’s always SOMETHING complicated about dating anyone, whether it’s difficult family, logistics of distance and time, weird baggage from the past, whatever. Humans are not easy.
In truth, non-monogamous relationships grapple with the same issue as monogamous ones, it’s more a matter of scale. Jealousy, limited resources, insecurities, poor communication, unstated expectations, petty grievances, and broken trust are not the exclusive providence of any single dating style.
What you’re describing is the problem of an apparently incompatible metamour (a metamour is your partner’s partner). While metamours (and the others in an expanded network of a polycule) usually have a lot in common, sometimes even becoming friends and lovers themselves, it doesn’t mean you’ll vibe with everyone in their social circle. Just because you both like the same person doesn’t mean you two will get along. It sounds like people in your polycule have a variety of reactions to her, rather than a united opinion that she’s inherently toxic or abusive.
After author Page Turner wrote a blog post on dealing with difficult metamours, she took the ideas (and her incredibly on-the-nose nom de plume) and expanded into an entire book. Most of the work focuses on questions to ask yourself, so you can figure out why you find this person so vexing, whether she reminds you of someone from the past or even parts of yourself that you don’t like. There can be questions about whether this metamour is genuinely treating other people badly or just fucking annoying. From there, you can consider a variety of approaches, based on what works best for you.
One option is to just not deal with her at all. You don’t have to be friends with your partner’s partners or engage with them on any level. As I’ve written about previously, one of the most brilliant parts of non-monogamy is that you don’t have to do things just because its expected or normal. In polyamory you are choosing exactly how you will design your connections, based on what you need and want. In what is often called kitchen table poly, networks of partners can all hang out and have close relationships. If you don’t want to be close to your metamours but would be polite at an event, maybe a style like garden party poly would be more comfortable. In other versions, like parallel polyamory or if there’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ agreement, you don’t interact with your partner’s partners at all.
Another option is to involve your new partner, like you mentioned. It’s completely reasonable to be open with them about your feelings. They might be able to give context that helps you navigate this person or simply not create as many situations where you have to interact. There is a big difference though, between sharing your concerns that someone is engaging in controlling, co-dependent, manipulative behavior, and starting drama yourself by talking shit.
Since this relationship is so new, my suggestion is to be honest with your partner about your feelings and concerns but give it time. It’s possible this person is going through something that makes them uniquely irksome right now and she will calm down eventually. It’s also possible she’s frustrating to your partner too and they just need to have their concerns confirmed. Maybe over time you’ll settle into a place of distanced respect, maybe you two will never be in sync. All things are possible. Just enjoy the new relationship energy and try to focus on that.