“Help, I hate my metamour!” This subject crops up in the polyamory groups and forums I frequent multiple times a week, so I thought it was time I wrote about it.
Throughout the 15 years I’ve been polyamorous, I’ve had a mixed bag when it comes to metamours. In recent years, I’ve mostly been very lucky. My partners are smart and discerning humans with excellent taste and judgement, so the people they date tend to be pretty damn cool.
In the past, though, I’ve had metamour I disliked, metamours who disliked me, metamours who (accidentally or intentionally) triggered some of my deepest insecurities and traumas, and even a couple of abusive or excessively controlling metamours.
One of the hardest things for many people to come to terms with, when they start being polyamorous, is the fact that they cannot control who their partner chooses to date, have sex with, fall in love with, or invite into their inner circle.
In some cases, metamours click beautifully and end up becoming close friends (or, more rarely, becoming partners themselves.) It’s wonderful when this happens. Often, metamours will coexist happily and healthily without drama but not feel the need to spend a tonne of time together. This, too, can be great. But what if your partner chooses someone who isn’t at all the type of person you’d have wanted for them? What if they’re dating someone you simply cannot stand for some reason?
In case you missed it, this post is part of a series inspired by Odder Being’s Polyamory Conversation Cards. Once a week or as often as I can, I’ll pull a card at random and write a piece of content based on it. There will likely be some essays, advice pieces, personal experiences, rants, and more! You can read the whole series at the dedicated tag. And if you want to support my work and get occasional bonus content, head on over to my Patreon.
This week’s card asks:
“To what extent and in what way would you prefer to be involved with your metamours or others in your polycule?”
First, let’s get clear on our terminology. A metamour (sometimes shortened to “meta”) is the partner of your partner, with whom you do not have a romantic or sexual relationship [*]. So if I’m dating Alice and Alice is married to Bob, Bob is my metamour. If Cleo is dating both Dave and Emily, but their partners are not dating one another, then Dave and Emily are metamours. The mutual partner connecting two metamours is often referred to as a “hinge.”
[*] There are nuances and grey areas here, of course. Some people do have sex with their metamours regularly or occasionally. Me and my former meta used to do this but weren’t romantically involved, and we called ourselves “metamours with benefits.” You’ll settle on the language to describe your relationships that works best for you.
With that understood, let’s talk about hating your metamour.
Metamour Relationships Are Unique to Polyamory… Except They’re Not
People think of the metamour relationship as a unique facet of polyamory that doesn’t apply anywhere else. And this is sort of true, in that polyamory is the only context in which your romantic partner is likely to have other romantic partners that you’re aware of.
However, even in a monogamous context, your partner will have other significant relationships outside of you. Friends, family, coworkers, and so on. These relationships may include people you don’t particularly care for, or even people you really cannot abide. In this way, I think “I hate my metamour” is just a variation on “my mother-in-law is the worst” or “I can’t stand my partner’s best friend.”
The fact that your partner has a romantic and possibly sexual relationship with your metamour doesn’t actually change the fundamentals of this type of situation all that much. Remembering this may help you to realise that this situation is, in most circumstances, entirely navigable.
Why Do You Dislike Your Metamour? Getting Specific
When someone says “I hate my metamour,” the first thing I want to ask them is “why?” Because the answer to this question will inform the advice I give next. The reasoning can also be hugely telling in itself. The reason think you hate your metamour might not be the actual reason when you really dig into it. So, obviously, the first thing we’re going to do is… really dig into it.
You’ll need to be really honest with yourself here. Observe your feelings without judgement or reactivity, and see what comes up for you. What is it about your metamour that rubs you the wrong way? Where do you think those thoughts and feelings are coming from?
Sometimes, two people simply do not get along. Neither of them have done anything wrong, but they are too different and cannot find a way to gel. For all the often-true jokes about polyamorous people who date three different versions of the same person, it’s equally likely that your partners will be very different from one another… and that your metamours will be very different from you. This is really, really normal. Unfortunately, these situations can sometimes lead to personality clashes.
If you determine that the cause of your “ick, I hate my metamour” feelings are just a personality clash, that’s pretty easy to handle. In a nutshell: don’t hang out with them! We’ll talk more about how to achieve this in practice a bit later on.
In some cases, your metamour might remind you of someone else you don’t care for. Perhaps they look, sound, smell, or behave like somebody who hurt you or your partner at some point in your life? This might mean that you’re projecting past experiences onto them due to baggage or trauma. This is also surprisingly common, especially if your partner has a “type” and your new metamour reminds you of a previous, problematic meta.
Of course, it’s possible you dislike your metamour for a really valid reason. You might have seen serious red flags in their behaviour or heard damning things about them in the community. Perhaps you don’t like the way they treat your mutual partner (or their other partners, or someone else in their life.) This gets more tricky to navigate and we’ll get into it in more detail below.
It’s also possible that your issue with your metamour is actually about something that’s going on within you. This is what we’ll talk about in the next section.
Is It About Them, or About You?
Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, metamours can inadvertently trigger insecurities, traumas, deep-seated fears, or other complicated and painful feelings. This is actually pretty normal and doesn’t necessarily mean anyone has done anything wrong. Realising that’s what is going on can even be pretty empowering. After all, if the issue is about your stuff, you have the power to work on and fix it.
Seeing your partner fall in love or lust or both with a new person can be challenging. This might be particularly true if you’re new to polyamory, if your relationship with your partner is having problems, or if you have particular traumas or insecurities that are getting triggered by the new relationship for some reason.
If you determine that your dislike of your metamour is more to do with your own stuff than with them, then you have several options. But before you do anything, take a breath. Don’t panic. You’re not broken or bad at polyamory or any of the things you’re probably telling yourself right now.
So what can you do next?
First, you can take a break from the metamour in question. We’re going to talk more about parallel polyamory a bit later on, but just know that it’s okay to minimise or pause social interactions with your metamour – even temporarily – if you need the space to get a handle on your difficult emotional response to them.
If you do this in a time-limited way with the intention of re-establishing contact and building some sort of positive relationship later, it can actually be hugely beneficial in the long run. There are also instances where staying parallel permanently (or at least indefinitely) is the right choice. You can decide what’s best for you with the help of your support network.
Alternatively, you can decide to consciously give your metamour a chance and try to build a positive relationship with them. We’ll look at how to do this more in the next section.
This is also the time to shore up your relationship with your mutual partner and ask for what you need. Do you need some reassurance, more quality time, a dedicated date night? You might have identified unhealthy patterns, unmet needs, or problematic behaviours from one or both of you that are being highlighted by the new relationship and need your partner to work on resolving these issues with you. Perhaps you just need them to hold space for you to talk through your feelings and difficulties in a non-judgemental, loving environment.
Finally, this is the time to work on yourself. Examine the things that the new relationship has triggered within you, and call upon your coping and healing strategies. If you’re not already, this is a great time to get yourself into therapy. Journal, find and consume relevant resources (Polysecure and Polywise, both by Jessica Fern, are two I highly recommend.) Reach out to your extended support network. Aim to build your self-esteem, confidence, and inner sense of security.
Can You Give Them a Chance?
The answer to this might be “no”, but I invite you to consider the possibility that you’re being overly harsh in your judgement of your metamour. Would you conceivably feel differently if you gave them a real chance? This is often a particularly beneficial option if you’ve determined that your issues with your metamour stem from your own trauma, baggage, or internal “stuff.”
Many people find that humanising their metamour by getting to know them is challenging initially but hugely beneficial in the long run. You’ll see that they’re neither a monster nor the embodiment of perfection. They’re just a person with their own quirks, flaws, wonderful qualities, and personality traits.
I’m going to write a whole piece on meeting your metamours successfully soon. In the meantime, though, here are some quick tips that might help you.
Timing is crucial here. I do not recommend meeting or instituting hangouts when you’re deep in the “I hate my metamour” rage-spiral. This will backfire spectacularly. Take the time to calm your nervous system, do some of your own internal work, and get to the place where you can genuinely meet them with an open mind and a generous spirit.
Whether you meet by yourselves or with your mutual partner is something you’ll have to negotiate. There are pros and cons to each approach. If your mutual partner will be in attendance, negotiate what levels of PDA you’re all comfortable with seeing and engaging in. Meet in a neutral space such as a bar, restaurant, or coffee shop rather than at someone’s house. It can also be helpful to bookend your time together with a built-in limit (e.g. “I’ve got two hours because I need to pick the kids up at 4.”)
Try to go in without too many expectations. The goal isn’t to become best friends. Remember that you’re just two humans who happen to love the same person. You’re both doing your best and, hopefully, want a good outcome for everyone involved. After that, just be yourself! Be polite and friendly, look for common ground, and treat them like you would any new person you’re trying to get to know.
This all assumes, of course, that your metamour is up for meeting you or hanging out. It’s never okay to force a meeting if one party really doesn’t want it or isn’t ready. But if things go well, you might very well find that this leap of faith does great things for your metamour relationship.
If they go badly, or if you really can’t bring yourself to give this metamour a chance? It’s time to consider going parallel.
Parallel Polyamory is Valid
Like many polyamorous people, I love kitchen table polyamory – the close, family-style structure where the various partners and metamours in a network are totally comfortable in each other’s presence and may even actively choose to hang out.
There are tonnes of potential benefits to kitchen table polyamory (KTP.) Your metamours can become dear friends and members of your chosen family. There’s more support for everyone when things are hard. There are more people to celebrate with when good things happen. If children are involved, there are more adults to love and care for those kids. There’s the potential for group outings, polycule trips and adventures, and even group sex if you’re all into that. However, practicing KTP is a personal preference and it won’t work for everyone.
Parallel polyamory is where you know about your metamours, but don’t spend time with them or have any involvement with them beyond essential information. Like parallel lines, the relationships do not meet or intersect. Despite having a bad reputation in some parts of the community, parallel polyamory is an equally valid choice. And in situations of dislike or animosity between metamours, it’s often the best one.
Some people even prefer parallel polyamory right from the beginning! It doesn’t have to come out of metamours disliking each other. Some just prefer to keep things very separate for all kinds of reasons.
Parallel polyamory can look a few different ways. The common thread, though, is that the metamours have little or no direct interaction. They may also prefer not to hear much or any information about the other person, or to have their own information shared. There’s also Garden Party Polyamory, a middle ground where metamours can be polite and friendly to one another in occasional social situations, but otherwise have little interaction and do not hang out independently of their mutual partner.
It’s possible to shift between structures over time as necessary or dictated by circumstances, too. You don’t have to pick one and stick to it forever! Like so many things in polyamory, it’s an ongoing journey and may require renegotiation over time.
Personally, as I’ve said, parallel polyamory isn’t my preference. But if there was ever a time when I had two partners who couldn’t get along with one another, or a metamour I really couldn’t stand (or vice versa,) I would accept it as the healthiest option for everyone in that situation. It’s not a lesser form of polyamory. It’s just different.
“I Hate My Metamour, But Our Partner Wants Us All to Live Together!”
I hear this (and its less extreme cousin, “I hate my metamour but my partner is desperate for us all to hang out”) so, so, so often.
It’s far too common for hinge partners to try to force closeness between metamours who don’t get along. This might look like trying to arrange group hangouts or social interactions despite the metamours’ wishes. At its most extreme, it can look like trying to force metamours to date (see: unicorn hunting), have sex, or live together.
If you’re one of the metamours in this situation: stand firm with your boundaries. You do not have to hang out with anyone you don’t want to hang out with. You certainly don’t have to date, have sex with, or live with anyone you don’t want to.
The fact that your partner wants it – even really, really wants it – is ultimately irrelevant here. You can hear and sympathise with their desires, of course. But you cannot and must not compromise your boundaries and needs for the sake of their desired structure. Doing so will just breed resentment and mistrust, ultimately destroying your relationships. At its most extreme, you may end up feeling coerced, violated, or abused.
If your partner continues to push for more of a relationship between you and your metamour than you want, and will not respect your boundaries when you state them clearly, then it might be time to consider leaving the relationship.
If you’re the hinge in this situation and trying to force a dynamic between your partners: stop it! I can’t overstate how damaging this is. Firstly, people tend to hate being coerced into things they don’t want. Secondly, let’s say they give in and do what you want. How do you think this is going to go? Does a social hangout with two people who don’t like each other sound fun to you? Does living with two people who don’t like each other sound fun!? Exactly.
I understand you have a dream for how you want your ideal polyamorous life to look. However, you’re dealing with actual people with actual personalities and feelings. When you try to force your partners to be friends, date, become lovers, or live together against their wills… chances are you’ll lose both or all of them.
If you want to be with these people, you’ll need to accept that (for now at least, possibly forever) they love you but care for each other much less. If anything other than kitchen table polyamory or nesting with all your partners is a dealbreaker for you, that might mean you need to end these relationships and find others that better meet your desires.
Friendship Isn’t Necessary, But Mutual Respect Probably Is
If you take nothing else away from this post, I hope you’ll take this: you don’t have to like your metamour! It’s perfectly fine to feel indifferent towards them. It’s also okay to actively dislike them, though I hope you’ll first follow the steps I’ve outlined to examine where that dislike is coming from and if it is truly warranted.
How you frame things, both in your mind and externally, really matters here. In the vast majority of circumstances, hanging on to intense dislike, disrespect, or contempt for another person isn’t going to do you or your relationships any good. Can you reframe “I hate my metamour” to “my metamour and I are very different people who don’t really get along, but our goal is to coexist peacefully because we both love our mutual partner”?
In the end, mutual respect for your metamour(s) – even if you are not friends or dislike one another – is both possible and desirable in most circumstances. Here’s what that can look like in practice:
- Accepting and fully internalising that they have just as much right to their place in your mutual partner’s life as you do.
- Giving your partner space to have their relationship with your metamour. For example, not trying to infringe on their dates or spoil their time together.
- Articulating and maintaining clear personal boundaries around things that you control: your time, your space, your energy, and your possessions.
- Hearing and respecting your metamour’s boundaries around the things that they control, even if those boundaries are different from your own.
- Respecting your metamours’ privacy and consent. This includes things like not expecting intimate details about their activities with your hinge partner, unless they enthusiastically consent to such sharing. It also means not trying to find or use personal information about them that they may not wish you to have.
- Ensuring that agreements you make with your hinge partner do not negatively impact your metamour or their relationship.
- Retaining a reasonable level of flexibility around things like scheduling and the use of shared spaces.
- Not trying to convince your partner to leave your metamour, change their relationship, or view them the way that you do.
- Not badmouthing your metamour (either to your partner or to others.)
- Resisting the temptation to compete or frame your metamour as an adversary.
- Wherever you can, assuming good will. Your metamour probably isn’t trying to piss you off, trigger your insecurities, or replace you.
Sometimes Metamours Really Are Terrible
In the vast majority of circumstances, your metamour probably isn’t actually a bad person. They might be perfectly lovely but simply not one of your people. They might have their heart in the right place but still exhibit some behaviours that rub you the wrong way. In these situations, mutual respect, a little courtesy and goodwill, good communication from your mutual partner, and minimising unnecessary interactions will probably be all you need to keep things harmonious within your polycule.
But what if you’re right? What if your metamour actually is kind of terrible? Perhaps they hold horrible, oppressive views or regularly do unethical things. At the worst end of the spectrum, perhaps they’re abusing someone – your mutual partner, another partner or partners, or even a child.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: this situation fucking sucks. It’s also probably largely out of your control. You cannot force your partner to leave someone, even for their own good. There are times when going parallel will sufficiently mitigate the issue. There are also times when it won’t. Firm boundaries, strengthening your relationship with your mutual partner, and calling on the rest of your support network can all help, too. Sometimes, though, even all of this won’t be enough.
Sadly, problematic metamours can sometimes lead to the end of a relationship. I once ended a relationship because my metamour was so controlling – and my partner was so willing to capitulate to all their demands – that we couldn’t actually have a relationship. Leaving devastated me, but ultimately staying would have been worse.
What About Abuse?
This article is about what to do when you dislike your metamour. But what if you suspect (or know) that your metamour is abusing your mutual partner?
I’m going to write a whole article soon about handling abuse within your polycule. That subject deserves thousands of words of its own and there isn’t space to delve deeply into it here.
I just wanted to acknowledge that this can happen, and that it’s heartbreaking and painful on a whole other level when it does. The reason I’m not going into it in this piece is that I want to give it the attention and space it deserves, taking the time and doing the background research to make sure I get it right.
In the meantime, Eve Rickert has compiled this incredible list of resources on abuse in polyamorous relationships.
Do You Have a Metamour Relationship Problem, or Do You Have a Hinge Partner Problem?
In polyamorous spaces, you’ll often see people say things like “metamour problems are really partner problems.” This isn’t always true, but it’s often true.
Take, for example, the controlling metamour I mentioned above. Ultimately, the problem was that my partner chose to follow all the arbitrary rules and restrictions they laid down. My partner had a choice there, and they could have refused. They weren’t powerless. They could have advocated for me and for our relationship. The fact that they didn’t is actually what ended things between us.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to situations of abuse. In those situations, your partner may really be powerless in a very real way. But if your metamour is behaving unreasonably but not abusively, it is your partner’s job to manage the situation and ensure your metamour’s behaviour doesn’t spill over onto you and your relationship too much.
It’s almost impossible, in anything but the strictest form of parallel polyamory (and probably even then), to keep relationships from impacting each other entirely. After all, if I’ve had a fight with one of my partners and am then due to go on a date with another partner, that is likely to impact my mood and energy levels even if my partners have absolutely no interaction with one another.
The choices you make in one relationship can, and often do, affect your other relationships. This isn’t necessarily a bad or problematic thing in itself. It does, however, require intentionality and care to manage it well. That’s particularly true if the metamours do not get along.
In some cases, your partner’s choice of partners or behaviour in other relationships might directly impact how you view them. Let’s imagine, for a second, one of your partners knowingly brings home someone with extreme and violently right-wing politics. This problem isn’t going to be solved by going parallel. This problem is deeper, in that it says something pretty fundamental – and pretty damning – about your partner and their values.
One of the most important skills in polyamory is partner selection. This extends to being able to trust your partners’ judgement in their partner selection. Unfortunately, when “I hate my metamour” turns into “I hate that my partner chose this person and what that choice says about them”, there might be little you can do but leave the relationship.
Wow, even for me this has turned into a mammoth essay! Like so many relationship-related subjects, it’s nuanced and highly contextual. To sum up, though, my 10 key points are as follows:
- You do not have to be friends with your metamour, like them, or even ever meet them if you don’t want to.
- If you’re deep in the “I hate my metamour” space, start by asking yourself why and really interrogating it.
- Examine what your feelings about your metamour are telling you about what’s going on within you.
- Give them a real and fair chance if you can.
- It’s fine to be parallel polyamorous.
- You never have to interact with your metamour in a way that violates your boundaries or consent, and your partner should never pressure you to.
- Mutual respect, even in the face of indifference or dislike, will go a long way.
- Metamour issues are often, but not always, really hinge partner issues. Hinge partners have a lot of responsibility here.
- Relationships can and do impact one another, which is one of the reasons good partner selection is so vital.
- It’s okay to end a relationship over unresolvable metamour issues, especially if your mutual partner isn’t respecting your boundaries or advocating for you appropriately.
Have you ever found yourself saying “I hate my metamour”? How did you handle it? Any horrors, cautionary tales, or success stories to share?