“It’s in the room…” a phrase coined by Miss K and I when I was getting divorced some years back. It refers to the idea that once your relationship begins to seriously falter, the possibility that you two might break up becomes like this unacknowledged third entity that lives in the house with you. Like a ghost that hovers over you while you lie in bed with your backs to each other, or blows a cold breeze around you as you eat a tense dinner, but which you both pretend you don’t see or feel. If someone says, “Do you think Chris and Pat are going to break up?” And I reply, “Yeah, I think it’s in the room,” then I mean, “Unless some fast and dramatic steps are taken, the relationship is going to end.”
“Propping up the corpse…” This is the next phase, which happens after the, “it’s in the room” stage. The relationship is now past saving, and the ghost in the house has turned into a smelly rotting mess that no one really believes will ever live again, but which the couple is not quite prepared to bury. Propping up the corpse refers specifically to the too-little, too-late efforts someone might make to save what's already dead. “Chris and Pat are going to therapy, but after everything that’s happened, they’re just propping up the corpse.”
(Yes, I know that corpses usually then become ghosts, and not vice versa. These are just expressions, people.)
What made me think of these expressions is a letter I got from a reader asking for my advice…
“My girlfriend and I decided to open our relationship, a decision into which we put a lot of thought and effort....There seemed to be no real downside to it, especially given the fact that I knew my own mind pretty well, and even though I'd never been in an open relationship, I was sure that our understanding of how it would work would be OK for me. She actually HAD been, previously, and thus I was sure no problems would arise from her quarter.”
When she found a prospective 'secondary' boyfriend, I was sort of happy for her. He seemed a bit bent on the idea of making her 'his' from what she told me of him, but she didn't see that in him, so I was OK with it. She wanted to go visit him for the weekend, all the way across the state....Prior to this, she'd said "I'll feel bad if you don't get laid while I'm there. You should fuck [my friend]!" Over the course of the weekend, speaking to her on the phone (twice!), I said that I was going to attempt that, to which her response was, "Have fun!"
At this point, I have no doubt that you can forsee something horrible occurring.
Indeed, I had sex with her friend, simply for lack of anything better to do… Nothing emotional, just something to do while we were waiting to watch a movie that was taking a long time downloading....
Upon arriving home, she got upset about this. She's completely alienated her former friend, and by her own admission subconsciously/accidentally sabotaged our relationship, potentially fatally. She says that she wants to get past it, but now she's unilaterally changed the rules that we established to govern the 'openness' of our relationship to suit her new desire to interact with this fellow whenever possible - to the complete detriment of our own currently faltering one....
I'm at a loss for what to do. We have plenty of polyamorous friends, and I've suggested that she speak to ANY of them for advice on the current dilemma, rather than talking to him about it. She acknowledges that it's a good idea, then completely fails to do it....
...She's acknowledged that her current feelings are due to infatuation, but that she's also willing to entertain thoughts of ending our relationship if she feels that she's being forced to choose. I told her in reply to that that she needs to learn to control her emotions - that infatuation is like a drug, and if it becomes that unhealthy, she needs to cut it off and maybe try again when she can handle it. She nodded, but I really think the point went in one ear and out the other….”
My answer: it’s in the room with you two, and I hate to say it, but I think you are very close to propping up the corpse.
You both made some rookie errors here - she’s dating someone not supportive of her existing relationship, and changing the rules to get her New Person Fix.
And you slept with someone because you had nothing better to do? Good lord. I would not repeat that explanation if I were you, because it does not reflect well on you as a gentleman. Nor does it make you sound very thoughtful or examined about what exactly you're doing here. “I have a slow internet connection, so let’s fuck," does not equal polyamory, in my book.
But none of this would be unrecoverable if you both wanted to fix it. However, one person cannot save a relationship, and it sounds like she’s about halfway out the door. My guess is she just wants you to say, “Pick him or me”, to which she’ll promptly say, “Okay, him.” It’s an exit strategy I have seen before.
So if she remains unwilling to do any work to salvage this, then you can either feed her the parting line she obviously wants, or you can just leave yourself. I suppose she might come after you if you leave first, although I wouldn’t count on it.
That downside you two didn’t foresee? This would be it. Lots of monogamous relationships end in breakups, too, so it isn’t like polyamory was necessarily the cause. In this case it looks more like the method. It reminds me of the grim phrase “suicide by cop”. I wonder what would the phrase be in this case… (relationship) “murder by poly” ?