The fragrance hit me as I lay snuggled in close to Flick's bare chest. I'd had a hard couple days feeling exceptionally lonely and isolated and I was recharging in my happy place–cuddled up in bed with my sweetie. Except that happy place wasn't comforting the way it normally was. It didn't smell like him. It smelled like her.
And it felt really bad.
It's not like I hadn't known they were together. Flick & Iris have a weekly date night and I have no problem with it. In fact, I'm really happy about it. Their relationship is a source of really good feels for me almost all of the time. They have a lovely connection and give each other a lot of pleasure and joy, and that gives me a lot of pleasure and joy.
But somehow him coming to bed smelling so strongly of another person hit me hard in the bad feels place. It's partly because I'm so sensitive to scents. Almost every perfume or scented product of any kind is a giant allergy bomb to me. Scented candles, perfume, creams, laundry sprays, and dryer sheets are a source of much misery and congestion even if the smell itself is ‘nice'. So I think the fact that she'd come over smelling so strongly of something that it would transfer so intensely also felt really terrible because it felt like an attack on me (even though I absolutely knew in my sensible brain it wasn't. Unfortunately, sensible brain wasn't driving the bus).
It shouldn't have been a big deal. She happened to have shown up that evening wearing something more heavily scented than usual. People try different products. If I was feeling more secure in my other relationships at the time, it probably would have been an inconvenient pang and nothing more. Unfortunately, I've had a lot of instability in my relationships recently and having my safest space feel tippy shook me way more than it should have.
When I commented about how strong the scent was, Flick offered to shower. That seemed excessive, though in hindsight, that would have been the right call. I declined since I was stuck in trying to wrestle my brain into submission because I thought it shouldn't bother me so much. It's not like it was even a bad smell, it just didn't smell like him. It was like there was another person in the bed, creating distance between us.
He stroked my head gently for a while as I expressed my distress and agitation, and that felt wonderful and calmed me way down, until I realized that I now smelled like the scent too since it transferred from his hand to my face and hair. Everything was awful.
As usual, it was my attempt to be okay when I wasn't that caused most of my stress.
Since I feel good about their relationship–I love their love and love her myself–I didn't think that I should feel as bad as I did that my person didn't feel like my person at that point. He seemed like he was now marked as hers and I twisted myself into knots trying to not feel possessive and hierarchical about it. I was trying to be perfect Poly Barbie(™) again–primacy is wrong, equality for all–and as with every other attempt, I was failing miserably.
I knew I needed to sleep on it so let it go for the night and the next morning, after a lot more pondering and a bit of a shower cry, I realized I'm simply not capable of the kind of egalitarian polyamory that is held up as the ideal by the writers of polyamory books. Books aren't real and people aren't ideals. While I agree that any other relationships we have are with autonomous people who have rights and are allowed to have their own needs and feelings, Flick is my nesting partner and I his, we've been together two decades, and with that comes some possessiveness. And that's okay, even if the books tell me it isn't.
Flick and I talked about it, and about the anguish I was feeling around the feelings I was having. He reaffirmed that I'm the person he's chosen to share his life and this zany adventure with and that he will always care about my needs, even the silly ones. I asked him to shower right away after dates, as that seemed a pragmatic solution to part of the issue, and he agreed easily. I will also chat with Iris and ask her to be extra aware of any scented products she might be using, and if it comes down to it, perhaps showering at our place before the two of them get physical.
I know I've got a ways to go in figuring some of this stuff out and I'm okay with falling flat on my face here and there as I learn what my limits are. I want to say that I'll stop trying to be perfect at this thing I've never done before, but instead, I'll say that I'll stop being as hard on myself when I'm not. Failing upwards ever on.
1. You are talking about YOUR girlfriend too.
2. You don’t have any sort of right to ask her to shower before intimacy with him or to not wear anything scented if she is not directly in your presence. You can ask him to shower before he comes into your personal space.
3. You have basically told everyone that your girlfriend will never ever be held in the same esteem as your nesting partner.
I appreciate the fact that you realize that your thoughts about being under attack by your girlfriend are not rational.
Mitigating couple’s privilige and the harm that heirarchal poly (I am aware of the differences in prescriptive vs. descriptive heirarchy) can cause our loved ones is super important.
I don’t know if your girlfriend also has other partners, but what if Flick is her “safe space” too? What if that intimacy, snuggling, and reassurance is something she needs to feel loved and validated by him?
If my partner wrote this about me, I would certainly revisit where my relationship stands, as being “secondary” (ugh @referring to people as ordinals), is not something I accept in my relationships.
I know that there are many many dynamics of polydom and plenty of people practice heirarchy, but asking your girlfriend to shower before being with HER BOYFRIEND TOO crosses a line.
Gah, it’s so hard when Sensible Brain takes a backseat! Good job on you recognizing so clearly that your bad feels in that situation were different from your thoughts and other feels (underlying love for both of them, compersion, knowing that nobody was trying to attack you, understanding you were on edge due to your other relationships).
To a certain degree I agree with the first commenter here, that a person don’t have a right to *force* their metamour to do anything when it comes to interaction with your paramour… but you do certainly have a right to ASK. You can ask for anything that helps you feel safer. It’s up to that person to decide whether or not they want to change what they’re doing to suit you. However it sounds like you’re talking about an actual scent allergy/sensitivity, so I think it’s even more understandable that you bring it up as something that affects you. (In this case it sounds like it affected you more emotionally than physically, but still.)
The fact is that as much as we try to balance people’s needs in our relationships, a certain amount of prioritization is going to happen. I can’t do everything I want to do with my new partner because his longtime girlfriend has a compromised immune system, and he wants to minimize her exposure to risk. I limit my behavior with him because I respect how deeply he cares about her wellbeing, health, and safety – and I care about it too. So we have different boundaries than we would if the two of them were not together. Does that feel good to me? Well, it wouldn’t be my preference, if I were only thinking of myself. But I didn’t get involved with just one human being. I got involved with a human being with intimate connections with other humans. He doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither do I. Our actions have impact on other people. If he (or she) had placed a boundary on our interactions without telling me why, I would probably be more upset. But I understand why, and I can see why they would make that decision – regardless of whether I agree with it, I can respect it.
Relationshipping can be hard. Even harder when we try to bottle up our feelings and say we are okay when we’re not. Feelings are feelings, and need addressing, always. No matter what our heads say we “should” be feeling. Thanks for continuing to show that truth.