I love my boyfriend to the ends of the earth and the idea of breaking up absolutely shatters my heart, but I genuinely don't know how long I can keep this up. My boyfriend, Harbell, lives 2000 miles away with his wife, Bonavra. Her boyfriend also lives out of state. Me and Harbell have been together over a year and never met in person because Bonavra isn't comfortable with it. We both knew we were poly when we got together so it wasn't a big deal when I started looking for physical affection with a closer partner. I realized very quickly that Harbell took care of my emotional needs completely in a way that made me feel like I didn't need/want another partner and stopped pursuing them. Now with no physical affection I'm getting very impatient with Bonavra, and it makes me feel bad because I do want to respect her boundaries but this is starting to feel more draining than freeing. I really really do not want to end things with Harbell.
You say that you do not want to end things with Harbell, but then explain that the relationship feels “more draining than freeing” and that you “don’t know how long [you] can keep this up.” That doesn’t sound like a relationship worth holding onto. It isn’t making you happy. What you don’t want to lose is something you don’t actually have - a healthy, happy, fulfilling relationship with Harbell. You don’t want to lose the possibility of it, but it’s not smart to stay in a bad situation out of hope that it might get better someday.
You’ve never met him in person. You don’t like the terms of the relationship. He isn’t willing to take risks or do work in his marriage to move toward the possibility of seeing you in person. I think you ought to cut your losses and start pursuing relationships with people who can actually be present for you in all the ways you want them to be. Your heart will not, in fact, be shattered if you end things with Harbell. You will feel hurt and upset, but your heart will continue to pump blood and you will live. I know you really don’t want to end things, but sometimes, we have to do things we don’t want to do. Sometimes, things are hard and unfair and miserable. You can’t just refuse to endure unhappiness. That’s not an option.
You are already in an unhappy situation - the difference is that this one is just going to be unpleasant indefinitely. If you break up, things will hurt, but you’ll start the clock on the healing process. You’ll be giving yourself a head start on feeling better. If you stay in this relationship, you’ll just keep feeling like this until you eventually have to end things, and then you’ll have to make it through the sadness of a breakup anyway, but also after the sadness of an unfulfilling relationship. But if you’re really not ready to end things, consider moving at least some of your eggs into a different basket. Start seeing other people and really see for yourself whether anyone else is capable of being fun and affectionate and present in a way that makes you happy. Take Harbell off that pedestal and open yourself up to letting someone else be there for you emotionally as well as physically.
Let Harbell know that you’re feeling this way and ask if he’s able or willing to stand up to his wife and prioritize your relationship a bit more. Someone laying down a “boundary” does not automatically obligate everyone else to completely obey. This may be worth risking an uncomfortable conversation or a difficult argument or a point of contention between Harbell and Bonavra. But ultimately, if this is just how things are going to be indefinitely, I don’t think this is a relationship worth staying in much longer.