Episode 50: What is Love?

What happens when your partner keeps hinting that they want monogamy but you’re not even sure if you’ve ever felt love at all?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: If you were to get a job offer in another country, how would your relationships change?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 50 – What Is Love?

Your partner expects you to commit to monogamy eventually but you’re not sure if you’ve ever been in love. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – If you were to get a job offer in another country, how would your relationships change?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I think I am polyamorous, but it is hard to say due to several complicated factors. I have been dating my boyfriend since college, and I met him when I was at a pretty low point in my life, and I had very low self-esteem. He was my first… almost everything. But I met him on a break, and when I went back to school pretty far away, we decided to keep dating long-distance.

However, pretty soon I started regretting it when my really good friend/crush admitted he had liked me for some time. My boyfriend said I could kiss him if I wanted, but I felt nervous and confused about it, and when we got a little too physical at some parties (holding hands/cuddling), he got really upset and jealous, and we had a big fight.

Since then, we have been opening and closing the relationship at different times. There have been three major phases of non-monogamy. The first was when I studied abroad and dated someone so seriously that I considered him my boyfriend. My first boyfriend was very upset by this, and I was upset at how he was talking to me… We ended up in couples counselling, and it felt better.

The second time was right before I graduated, when I said I wanted to try casual dating/sex, and he said I should. I hooked up with so many people in a short time that he got upset, like I tried to get in as many men as possible as soon as I could. It hurt that he said he wanted me to explore, but got mad at the way I did. It ended up not really being for me, anyway. I came out of it with 1 more person that I felt pretty serious about, and we still talk sometimes, but rarely see each other.

The third is when I moved abroad soon after graduating, and we negotiated a new agreement where I could do whatever I wanted with whoever. He was going to trust me and our relationship more. I met up with a few of my established people a few times, and he was fine with it. But the main problem is when I don’t see him for a long time, I stop being interested in physical stuff with him for a while until I have warmed up to being around him again.

This isn’t really the case with others… more chemistry? Shorter relationship, so it feels more exciting? I am not sure. But it causes my boyfriend to get really paranoid that I am going to leave him for someone else, especially with the distance between us right now. We have had brief stints of living together though, and I enjoyed them and felt happy with the relationship.

Currently I am seeing a new person. It is complicated because he is in my friend group here abroad, and I have to keep lots of secrets from almost everyone I know, as most people know about my boyfriend. And my boyfriend keeps talking about marriage and kids with me, which stresses me out. I want marriage and kids, but I don’t want to lose these other relationships either, and I am very confused about who I want to be that committed to and how it would work.

And I know my boyfriend probably sees it as we are the primary relationship and everyone else is just a temporary thing for fun, but I don’t really like the hierarchy to be so … stiff. These other people are people I want to keep in my life, and they all bring different aspects that I enjoy.

Sometimes my boyfriend gets sad about the distance and tells me things like how he is excited for when we can just be together, the two of us, and it makes me think that he is expecting monogamy, like if we get married and have kids, and it just feels… really scary. That he thinks he can just say the word and expect all this to stop. Or that what I am doing isn’t good in the context of raising children. Or that if I like other people as much as I like him, that I am doing something wrong.

I have encouraged him to date other people as well, because I think he is a person who needs lots of physical comfort and someone to get him out of ruts, but he hasn’t, either because he is not good at finding people (especially since his coworkers know he has a girlfriend) or because he is not actually interested. Of course I wouldn’t force him to be polyamorous, but given my situation I think it would make things a lot better and take off the burden from me to make him feel happy and loved all the time. I have asked him if he even gets anything out of the relationship being the way that it is, or if he just puts up with it for my sake. He has assured me that parts of it excite him, but it is usually hard to predict whether something will excite him or upset him.

Also, sort of related, is I don’t really understand what love is supposed to feel like? My boyfriend says he loves me, and I grew up quite a romantic, so I always thought love meant you only wanted that person and you felt ready to spend the rest of your life with them and have kids. I guess I sort of am looking for that feeling, but have never felt it, so I don’t know if I am doing something wrong.

Something my boyfriend often says when checking in on how my relationships are going is, “sounds great! just don’t fall in love with him” — I always want to say, I don’t know what love even is, and if I did, why would you not want me to feel it? He knows I don’t really feel those lovey feelings the same way he does, so I am not sure what this warning is supposed to mean.

So basically I am just wondering, am I doing something wrong? Should I be doing something differently? Is there a way to keep my long-distance relationship steady and healthy given that it I sometimes feel drained, like I have to prop it up emotionally/sexually? How can I feel better about wanting to get married and have kids in my current situation? ~Is love just a social construct?~ Thanks so much in advance for any advice.

Response:

So, the big thing here is, again, I’m gonna… I said this in Episode 48. I’m gonna say it again. Polyamory is not about finding multiple relationships that are partially suited to you.

I think that a lot of people get into polyamory because they don’t want to break up with somebody and they just sort of collect semi sustaining semi fulfilling relationships with people, until they reach a kind of permissible stasis with people. It just feels like your boyfriend doesn’t actually want polyamory. Like you’re kind of saying, what is— seems like the truth. Like it seems like he thinks this is just a temporary thing. And it’s not a temporary thing for you. Clearly, you have some fundamental disagreements about the way you want to live your lives.

And if it makes you feel any better, this happens all the time with monogamous people. It’s not just a thing with— okay one person’s polyamorous, one person’s monogamous. Two polyamorous people can have this kind of incompatibility as well in terms of just not wanting to live their lives the same way. Monogamous people can have this incompatibility. So for you it’s like, okay, yeah you want to have kids and get married and stuff but you want to be in a polyamorous relationship. You want to have multiple partners. You want to have this freedom.

And there are so many signs that this is not what he wants. He thinks that this is temporary and the whole, like “just don’t fall in love with him”… Eh. I just feel like that’s a very clear sign that someone—  it’s okay— Some people do have an open style relationship where they are primarily in love with one person and that they do have just like flings, and things like that. And if that’s something you both agree on than that’s absolutely fine. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what you want. So you’re stuck in this sort of situation where he has a very different idea of what’s going on than you do. And I think that you’ve been hesitant to get rid of the relationship that you have with him.

Because, you know, it’s kind of a bit what’s called a sunk cost fallacy. I keep saying “sunken cost fallacy” but I think it’s actually just sunk cost fallacy. But it’s basically where because you’ve put so much effort in, you’re really hesitant to actually get rid of it because you’re like “well I put so much in, I have to keep putting into it”. But actually you’re not really doing anything but digging a deeper hole. So, I think that you need to really both sit down and be really clear with each other about what it is that you actually want.

And I honestly like don’t really blame you because if you’ve been dating him… If you’ve been dating him since you were in college, that does mean you are quite young. Everyone’s different. Some people are ready to settle down, more or less like “settle down” when they are 22. Some people are not really ready for that until they’re 32. And if you’re not ready for that, then you’re not ready for that and I just feel like, you know, moving to long distance… it’s funny that we had that discussion question today because it was really apt for this whole entire question you have — but you move to long distance to sort of try and keep the relationship alive.

And understandably you did that because he was your first everything. It’s quite hard to just break up. Sometimes you want to give that a try and that’s okay to give that a try. But that— nothing is going to solve such an inherent incompatibility. Like there are things that can be worked around. There are things that you can negotiate and compromise with and I do think that, you know, especially if you have a relationship where you live together or you plan on living together, there is going to be some compromise.

Because there’s always compromise with any adult that you live with, to a certain extent. But there are some things that you can’t really compromise on and like having kids, for example— If you had no interest in having children, there’s no real way to compromise on that. And trying to have children when you don’t know that you’re sure that you want to… It’s… Yeah. So there’s lots of situations here where, you know… I think there are obviously situations where maybe he felt uncomfortable. Like being uncomfortable with, you know— saying okay “go ahead and sleep with whomever you want” and then be uncomfortable.

He might feel uncomfortable when he tries polyamory. When you’re with other people, sometimes when you’re trying stuff out. You have to be comfortable with your partner being uncomfortable and you have to go “Okay, my partner’s uncomfortable”, and instead of stopping what you’re doing, you have to work with him to address that. And I think sometimes when people try out polyamory they go “okay— oh my partner feels uncomfortable stop stop stop everything stop everything go back”. And that doesn’t actually fix the problem. The problem is that they feel uncomfortable and how do they cope with it?

So, there were some situations where, you know, there could have been a little bit more done to see if he really is interested in polyamory. If it would have just been that situation I would have said, okay, you should let him feel that discomfort and work through that, but the fact that he’s saying stuff like “don’t fall in love with him” … I think that your intuition is right that it’s not— it’s not that he is at all interested in polyamory. It just doesn’t sound like he wants… He doesn’t even—  it sounds like he could potentially do a situation where you did have just flings, but that isn’t what you want.

You do want multiple relationships and you don’t want to abandon that for any kind of situation. So I do think that you’re incompatible. I don’t think that you should worry so much about what love is and whether or not you feel it. Having bigger chemistry with newer people or different people isn’t surprising. It might be what’s called new relationship energy which is where you have kind of like you know someone sparkly and new and that’s exciting and you know you have that when you start off in a relationship.

But then when you have a kind of a longer term relationship, it’s not like the spark completely dulls and if you put effort in the spark doesn’t completely dull, but someone who is new and shiny is different and new and shiny. And so you feel like, “ooh”. So you might have more chemistry and you can be in a situation where you have more chemistry with some partners than with others and that isn’t a terrible thing. But you would be— I think you would be less concerned about it if there wasn’t all this pressure on your shoulders to kind of go back to a monogamous way of being, which is kind of what he wants. All of the signs are kind of pointing to that.

All of the signs are pointing to him basically, expecting you go “okay well I’m done”. And I just think that’s a… I mean you could. I mean, maybe one day just like you did when you mentioned how you, you know, had a lot of sex in a short period of time and then you were like “no, it’s not for me”. Maybe you will one day go “no it’s not for me” but he shouldn’t expect that to happen. And he shouldn’t equally pressure you for that to happen. And I don’t really blame him because I think he cares about you. I think he doesn’t want to break up, and I think he’s trying to adjust to the situation, so that you know he can stay with you because he cares about you.

But sometimes honestly when people— Some people can try polyamory and see if it’s for them and know it’s not for them. I think that sometimes when people are so afraid of breaking up, they end up in a situation that ends up being more painful than the breakup would have been. And I think that this situation is probably going— like he’s clearly not going to break up with you. He’s going to try in the hopes that you’re going to switch back to being monogamous. And I mean you could keep putting— could keep digging this hole, but I just don’t think that it’s it’s a good idea.

You feel burdened in this relationship. He’s kind of giving you all the signs that he’s not into opening it for the long term. So you gotta just sit down and have a real honest discussion about what it is that you both want because I just don’t think that this is actually what he wants, unfortunately. And I think he’s maybe just lying to himself a tiny tiny bit, so that he can stay with you. Because, I mean all people do that. I don’t blame anyone who does that, because that’s a very human thing to not want to break up with somebody. But sometimes two people can care very very very very very much about each other.

Two people can be almost compatible in tons of other ways. They can improve each other’s lives and be really really great for each other but they’re just not compatible past that and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s not your fault for being you. It’s not his fault for being him. It’s just, yeah, sometimes it’s just inherently not compatible. You just want different things out of life. It happens. Like if you think about it, it can happen to a monogamous couple if say one of the people in the couple is a doctor or a lawyer or has a very time intensive career and the other person just can’t handle that. That could happen if one person is, you know, has a type of career that pulls them away and makes them travel all the time you know. Maybe one person can’t handle that.

So, that can happen in a lot of different situations. But it’s not really anybody’s fault in this situation. I think probably what’s best to do… I mean you could just kind of break up but I do think, like— I think that it’ll it’ll make more sense to come to that agreement mutually if you actually sit down and talk about what it is that you want out of life, what it is that you— what your ideal situation looks like.

And then you can say, you know— he’ll maybe sit there and say “I want us to be together and be monogamous and wife and kids picket fence”.  And then you say “well I would like to have kids but I want to have multiple partners” and then there’s not many places you can go once you have that discussion. So it’s worth having that discussion and actually getting that out, rather than just prolonging it because dragging it on is… I think it’ll just make it painful for you both. I wish that I had something better to say. I really hate— I hate it when my advice is, you’re not compatible.

If he had said something else, if he had given some indication that he saw polyamory as a little bit beneficial to him— He doesn’t have to date tons of people. Like it’s fine if he doesn’t want to date. I don’t date a lot. I hate dating. So, it’s fine if he doesn’t want to date. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t do polyamory. But it’s all the other stuff around that like saying, “don’t fall in love” and “I can’t wait to work together alone”. Like all that other stuff is just a really massive indication that he’s probably not in it for the polyamory long haul, unfortunately.

So have that discussion and it might take you to— Unfortunately, where you might need to be which is not together. Yeah, I’m sorry. I wish I had something better to advise but I do think that that is the best in the long term for you both. I hope that helps and good luck.

Torn in a triad

My primary significant other(Girl A) and I have been together for nearly six years now. Two years ago we decided to open up a little bit, and that developed into a triad (Boy A), and he even ended up moving in with us.

Roughly one year ago an old friend from my teen years admitted she has had interests in me for..well, it’s been almost fifteen years since we first met, so quite a long time, so she became part of the group..now at four(Girl B).

So then this happened: Girl B told me that she didn’t really feel anything when kissing either me or Girl A, but did when kissing Boy A, and genuinely feels terrible about it. I, of course, am heartbroken.. I’m crazy about her. But I’m more concerned with Girl A, since she is also crazy about her, and can also be very possessive and jealous.

I’m at a point where I don’t know what the heck to do. Girl B has been a wonderful addition to our group..or so we thought. Girl A would never allow Boy A and Girl B to date separate from us, and I fear that she’d force a choice between her and Girl B. I’m honestly scared. I love all of my mates dearly..even if one of them doesn’t exactly return the sentiment…and I want to know how I can help this, without destroying myself in the process.

This is the inherent problem that comes with forming a relationship that makes it seem like all of the people involved have to have the same level of attraction to one another.

We would never expect this with a friend group. If we hung out with three or four people, we wouldn’t be holding a microscope over how much more we felt friendship with one person over the other. But because this involves romance and there is a paranoia around everyone being included, it becomes almost like a competition between everyone else.

Fundamentally, I don’t have a problem with triads, quads or any other different formation of relationships where people all date each other. But, seeing it as a triad or a quad instead of individual relationships among three, four or more people creates this inherent problem where everyone has to have a relationship with each other or it all falls apart — and it doesn’t have to be that way.

(For the sake of this discussion, I’m using Woman instead of Girl and Man instead of Boy since you’re all adults. :P)

The issue with this as well is that you just added people into this dynamic without addressing an inherent power balance of you and your primary. If this were truly an equal quad, your primary, Woman A, would not get to decide who dates who. And it’s likely because this quad was “started” by you and Woman A, she feels she has the power to dictate whom dates who. With all due respect, she doesn’t.

You’re going to have to decide if having someone who dictates who you can or can’t date is something you want to put up with. It’s understandable for your significant other to want everyone to date each other and feel scared if basically she loses a relationship and might be afraid of being replaced — but she can’t address these fears by controlling people and actually her attempt to control the relationships to protect herself from harm is only further damaging things.

I’m not sure what Man A thinks about this, but it’s very possible that he would also not appreciate being told by your partner who he can date, especially if you never explicitly said this triad was a closed one. If she demands that no one date Woman B, she is going to alienate herself from all of you, even if you begrudgingly go with it. It’s worth considering working with a polyamory friendly therapist who may be able to help her address her fears and concerns.

You can only encourage your significant other to seek help for her fears, but you can’t fix them for her if she’s unwilling to work on them. So eventually you may have to decide whether or not you want to tolerate being told who is or isn’t allowed in your life and understand that your other partner may also decide that he’s not willing to be told by your partner who he can date and may go with the person who isn’t forcing him to do something, which is Woman B.

Lastly, unless there is some big aspect of the quad you have left out that might have contributed towards your significant other’s feelings on this, understand that there’s not really much you can do if your partner has decided to do this and won’t listen to anything you have to say about it.

Unfortunately, when people force other people to dump someone or not see someone, the situation doesn’t usually end well. There are always other ways to deal with that feeling of wanting to veto something and that’s either by addressing those fears or any inadequacies or realising there’s incompatibility that can’t be changed.

Either way, I hope it works out for you and good luck.

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Episode 49: Wanting Monogamy

A partner comes to you asking if you’d consider monogamy and then changes their mind later on, but you’re still stuck on wanting it. What do you do?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: What is one behaviour that you never tolerate?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 49 – Wanting Monogamy

A partner comes to you asking if you’d consider monogamy and then changes their mind later on, but you’re still stuck on wanting it. What do you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

When I met my current primary partner, they weren’t available for an emotional relationship as they had a primary partner (and that was a boundary of the relationship). A month or two into us starting to date, the relationship with their primary partner ended. And as that relationship ended ours became more connected and intense.

From the start we had irresistible chemistry, they would text me daily (almost excessively), the sex was amazing, and the energy was there. Once their other relationship came to an end, there was no longer a boundary to stop us from spending more time together, becoming more emotionally attached, and ultimately becoming primary partners.

During this time, there were red flags. I was concerned that they were not doing the work to let go of their ex, release the anger, and trauma they had from the end of the relationship. We started to spend almost every night together. I didn’t understand how they could have the (literal) time to process the end of a huge relationship while spending all their time with me, working, and keeping 2-3 other relationships going (while love can be infinite time is finite). I was not shy about bringing my concerns up to them, they continued to reassure me, and I trusted them.

We had big conversations about how our relationship was changing, what the future could bring and how excited we were. My partner brought up monogamy as a possible desire of theirs, and at first, I was concerned about this (was this a trauma response due their most recent brake up/ was this something I wanted). My past few relationships had been poly[am] or open, and while this relationship was so exciting and intense it was also very new. After thinking about it I expressed interest in exploring monogamy with them but asked that we come back to this further down the line.

Months passed and my partner brought up monogamy a few more times (more casually) and I took these as confirmation that their mind was still on monogamy. I started to watch and analyse my relationships with monogamy in mind and concluded that this is something I’d want to try with my primary partner. This is when things got complicated.

I wanted to let my partner know how I was feeling about monogamy and brought this up to them (this was about 6-9 months after our initial conversation about it). I let them know how I was feeling and asked for them to do the same. What I heard from them was a huge surprise and I’m struggling to adjust to it. They basically let me know that they could never identify as monogamous and weren’t interested in practicing it either. While they did have some conflict about it, and we’ve talked plenty about it I still feel a bit shocked.

I now understand that when they mentioned monogamy, they were not thinking about what they wanted or what kind of relationship they wanted with me. They were thinking about their ex. While I’m available to help my partners hash out what they want, work with them so all of us can get past relationship trauma, I feel as though my partner (maybe not deliberately) gave me a false representation of what this relationship was, could be, and is.

This is what I was concerned about in the beginning and I trusted their response and now I feel as though I shouldn’t have. I feel as though they came to me with a desire (that had to do with me and our relationship) and then changed their mind without telling me about it while I carried on with only the information I knew.

Now I feel lost. I feel like trust has been broken with my partner and I’m not sure how to get it back.

I now have this desire to explore consensual monogamy and my partner doesn’t want that. This brings on a whole other onslaught of questions for myself; will I want consensual monogamy with other people? Could I even find someone that is interested in monogamy (almost every queer I know isn’t)? Why do I feel shame about wanting consensual monogamy? Why am I now feeling extra sensitive to my primary’s other partner? Would this relationship have become so serious if they never brought it up or told me when they were no longer interested? Would I still be wanting this if they never brought it up?

I know [your column] is all about non-monogamy and as I’m in a non-monogamous relationship I think this can belong here. But I’m hoping you could also help be shed some light on the desire to be monogamous, and not in a that’s just what society expects kind of way. But consensual monogamous, in the “I’ve thought about this and want this” kind of way?

Response:

So, the first thing here is that like your sense of kind of like feeling that your trust has been violated is really understandable. I mean, you don’t say that your partner came to just with the general subject of monogamy and wanting to discuss it. You literally say— and maybe you didn’t mean it so literal or maybe you didn’t realise what you typed — but you literally say that your partner came to you with a want or desire to become monogamous and mentioned it enough that you actually literally said to them, “I’ll think about it. Maybe in a few months”. Like they came to you with the thought that this was their desire. Like it wasn’t just

a random discussion topic, it was something they put forth as something they wanted.

And now they’re saying they don’t want it at all and that is incredibly confusing. And, like, I don’t know if they’ve really addressed that with you. Have they really talked about that with you? Because I’ve at least found with myself like when the subject kind of starts with monogamy or the thought of monogamy comes up, I will start to see it as a competition in a way, and that is really— it triggers all sorts of horrible anxieties within me.

And, you know, I don’t like the idea that there’s like this one space for this, you know, there’s one spot and you have to basically compete with others to get to that spot and it’s… Yeah, it’s just it doesn’t bring up very good feelings for me. So I can imagine that it makes a lot of sense that you would all of a sudden now start to have problems with, you know, and start to have feelings about their other partners because basically they brought up this idea that they may want monogamy or they may want to try monogamy, and they’ve chosen you for that.

And then now all of a sudden they’re saying that they’re not but then you always have this fear in the back of your head. You’re like well, maybe it’s because I’ve done something wrong and now they don’t want to try it with me but they’re talking to other people and saying the same thing they said to me, which is that they want to try monogamy, and maybe they’re just not going to choose me. So, yeah, of course, you’re gonna feel anxious and scared and all of these feelings. Like that makes 100% total sense. So, yeah, of course you’re going to feel that.

I think that what you need to have are more conversations with your partner about how you discuss things because you kind of hit it right on the nose where you’re like I’m okay to like help people hash out stuff but you need to be told that that’s what the conversation is. And it may not be that they did it intentionally but to present this as like this is what I want when that is not the case is just is lying. It’s dishonesty.

And your partner really needs to figure out why they did that and why it is that they didn’t communicate, if they did feel that way why didn’t they communicate? That’s a really big change. You know, I mean it’s sort of in a way to kind of comparison that I always make is that like people wanting kids. Like wanting kids is a very big life changing… If you suddenly decide that you want kids it’s kind of really important and you’ve always agreed with your partner that you’re not going to have kids — if you suddenly decide that you want them. That’s kind of something you should discuss with your partner and not just wait one day to spring it on them.

Or equally if you decided you don’t want them. That’s also something that you need to discuss and you can’t just avoid that, because you don’t want to have that conversation so you need to, like, maybe work with a couple polyamory friendly therapist

to work through like— pick apart kind of why that happened and how you can prevent something like that from happening in the future. Maybe some boundaries around conversations?

I think if your partner had said and acknowledged like “Hey yeah I said that back then, but I don’t really feel that way and I changed”. You know if they had given you a little bit more explanation maybe you wouldn’t feel so anxious about it? I just feel like there’s more conversations to have. I think that all of these conversations about you wanting monogamy like… I mean I can’t tell you that if this conversation never came up that you would feel differently. Like no one’s ever going to be able to tell you that, and then it doesn’t really matter anyways because it’s happened you know. It’s happened. It’s there.

You can’t magically make it unhappen so you shouldn’t sit and sort of ponder on “well what if this was never introduced?”. It has been so it is what it is. When it comes to you yourself wondering about monogamy I think that, you know… I always say in my columns and my podcasts like no one can tell someone else if polyamory or monogamy are more right for them. Like that’s something that you kind of have to glean for yourself, but I do think there are some basic things to— like thought exercises to go through in deciding whether or not polyamory is even or non-monogamy is even an option for you to consider.

The first thing that I usually say to people is, you know, agreeing to a non-monogamous or polyamorous situation means agreeing to a situation where your partner doesn’t spend 100% of their time focused on you. And there are some monogamous situations where that does happen, where someone has a time intensive career. Then they may— or a partner who has like a really intensive hobby. Just anything like that where there aren’t going to be situations where monogamous people agree to a relationship with somebody who can’t devote their time 100% to them. And there are another plenty of people who can’t do that sort of thing.

Like there are people who can’t do long distance. There are people who maybe could not date a lawyer or doctor anyone with like a really intense long hours style career. And that’s legit. So I think that’s the first thing to think about like… are you actually fine with a partner who doesn’t spend their time with you? I think that you sound like you are, because you have had other open and  polyam relationships but it’s kind of up to you to really think about.

Because the other thing that I’ve said and I actually I think I just said this in the discussion question but I can’t remember. My memories terrible, but polyamory is about, and I say this a lot — polyamory should be about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about finding a bunch of halfway fulfilling relationships that kind of makes you okay. I think that’s easier said than done because like, when we’re with somebody we don’t want to just break it off. You don’t want to just throw away a partnership that you’ve just put together so it makes a lot of sense to not want to throw that away.

But if a, I don’t think— like we say “Relationship broke, add people” doesn’t work. Opening up your relationship to solve problems in your first relationship, adding another person to that equation isn’t necessarily going to fix anything so that is something for you to think about. Is this relationship fulfilling? That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t do polyamory. It just means that relationship isn’t fulfilling. So anyway, yeah. The first thing is about time. I think the second thing is about, is there a benefit to polyamory that you see, just for yourself?

So when I kind of talk to people and usually like nine times out of 10, people don’t arrive at polyamory when they’re not with somebody. Usually they’re with somebody. Usually someone suggested it. Most of the time I’m answering questions for people who aren’t the ones that suggested it. And all of a sudden they have to like decide if this what they want to do. And so that’s pretty normal. Generally speaking in those situations I always kind of tell people to think about if they can see a benefit to non-monogamy that is purely selfish, because so many people I think try non-monogamy because they don’t want to break up with their partner and the problem with that is that basically they’re trying to save a relationship that doesn’t really exist anymore.

They’re trying to save the monogamous relationship they had with their partner, when they don’t have that anymore. Like that, that ship has sailed. So they can’t really save that because they have to realise that their partner isn’t gonna spend the same amount of time with them, isn’t going to remain focused on them all sorts of things. So like, can you find what I call an anchor, which is something where you see a benefit to it that is completely your benefit and isn’t just keeping this relationship? And I think that it sounds to me quite honestly that you have been kind of pushed into really considering monogamy because this relationship has been so intense and has been really great and you don’t want to lose that.

And so you’ve been faced with this real threat that you may have to, you know, consider the benefits of monogamy in order to save this relationship so naturally you’re considering the benefits of it. Almost in the opposite way that people— you’re kind of like doing the opposite and the way that people will consider and try polyamory so that they can keep their partner. And there isn’t really a benefit in it for them but that’s their benefit. I think that in a way that you’re doing a little bit with monogamy.

Like you’re sort of seeing the benefit of monogamy as it applies to this relationship. And I think that maybe you should just think a little bit more about that, like, what are the only selfish benefits that, not keeping any relationship— You know, if you were single what would you choose? I think that will help you get to a realisation of what it is that you want to choose. But essentially it’s something that you know it’s honestly something that you have to tell yourself. I won’t be able to tell you that. I won’t be able to tell you what works best for you. I think that there are totally people who can do both monogamy and polyamory. I certainly felt like I could do both for a long time.

I feel less and less like I could do both, as time has gone on, but for a short time I didn’t feel like — you know there are some people who feel like polyamory is their orientation in terms of how they want to do relationships or is unchangeable. I don’t personally feel like it’s always unchangeable for everyone. I think that for some people they can do both. So you could be one of those people who do both. And you just have to decide what it is that you want to do. I would really really really really hesitate to do any kind of relationship with someone who presents to you like a want that they have and then changes their mind about it.

Like I just feel like that’s really— or even, like, the thing is is that, no matter which way you cut the situation that’s bad. Like, whether they— whether it was never something that they wanted and they just told you they did — not great, or if it was something that they wanted, and then they changed their mind and are now going “I never wanted that” — that’s also not great. So you kind of, no matter which way you cut that, it’s kind of not great. So you kind of just have to think about, okay, you know, is that— that really needs to be worked through.

Because I just think that there needs to be— there’s more to that story, and you need to find out what more there is to that story and why they decided to— if they didn’t lie intentionally like what’s going on there? Because that is definitely a red flag for any kind of relationship, monogamous or polyamorous. Somebody who communicates in that way… it’s not great. So, yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

 

Crushing on a monogamous friend

I am a polyamorous non-binary man in a very happy three-year relationship with a another polyamorous man. This question isn’t about my partner, but rather about a monogamous friend I have named James.

I met James about four months ago at a school event and, maybe blame NRE, but it felt like love at first sight and I (maybe foolishly) believe he was attracted to me when we first met since I caught him looking at me across the room and because he was also strangely nervous during our first time hanging out together.

The second time we hung out, he told me he had a long-distance partner of one year. Since then, James and I have become super close friends, and I realized I love him in a strong emotional “soul” way, which is stunning to me because the last person I felt this kind of instant attraction to was my current partner. Also, the day I met him was the day my crush on him started and what actually made me realize I was polyamorous.

I originally thought of my crush as “queerplatonic” or emotional in that I absolutely admire and adore him, want to be emotionally close, and want to share myself with him in an emotionally intimate way. It was also sensual because I wanted to cuddle with him (and I still do).

After a month-long period this December where I sort of went crazy because he couldn’t talk or hang since he was traveling (I took this very personally and realized I was in over my head), I realized that this connection was more than queerplatonic and was definitely romantic, and that I also have a codependent anxious reaction to him not getting back to me.

I know I would never cross someone’s relationship boundaries if they are monogamous, but I feel like my crush on James has gotten me stressed out to the point where I’m nervous about myself around him no matter how much I try to play it cool. I even tried to hook up with other people as an attempt at claiming my own agency outside of this crush. This did help, but I know it was unhealthy because I know I subconsciously did it to “assert” myself and make it known to him that I, in a way, was not attracted to him (a form of denial).

I’m nervous around James because I feel like whenever we talk about relationships, I don’t want him to think I’m coming on to him because I don’t want to scare him away or potentially offend his partner, and I never would try to flirt with him because I truly value him as a friend and I don’t want to cross his boundaries since I know for certain we have the potential to be lifelong best friends and companions.

However, I’m just heartbroken because I think we can never be romantically together since he’s told me, casually, that he doesn’t think he could ever be in an open relationship. This is sad because when I first saw him it was like love at first sight and my intuition, which is rarely wrong, tells me that he has feelings for me. I want to tell him that I’m nervous around him because of my emotional/queerplatonic crush, but I feel like it’s lying to him in a way because I’m not letting him in that it’s more romantic than I want to describe.

At the same time, I don’t want to tell him about my romantic feelings because I don’t want to infringe on his monogamous relationship or scare him away. However, I would totally tell him about my romantic feelings eventually if he were single (I would also ask him if he were down to have cuddle moments), but the situation just makes me scared, and it’s sad because I feel like it’s a barrier to our relationship.

What do you think I should do, and how should I approach this or confess to him? What are the politics of admitting an emotional or romantic crush on your monogamous best friend?

The two biggest things I think you need right now are: self-examination and self-reflection.

Unless you grew up in a completely different culture (and apologies if that’s the case), you’ve likely been raised in a society that has not only endorsed monogamy but put forward that monogamy is your only choice. Even though you know now that’s not the case, the remnants of this exist in a lot of different ways and one of those, in my opinion, is the assumption that crushes or romantic feelings need to be… for lack of a better word, consummated.

We’re encouraged to either act on our crushes or hope our crushes act on us because we’re supposed to find “the one” and not let them get away and very often we’re presented with the idea that unrequited love or not acting on feelings is sad or pathetic. Specifically, society tells the people it describes as men that they must absolutely act on these feelings and pursue people they find attractive and the alternative is either mockery or sadness. Not to mention, men who hold onto the crushes they have while pretending to be friends with people, usually women, just waiting for their day… well, that doesn’t sound really healthy or good either.

Aside from societal influences, it also makes logical sense to want to reach out when you have deep feelings to see if that person also has them for you. However, there is another option that just really isn’t considered. You can be someone who has romantic feelings for another person and enjoy those feelings without it necessarily being something that you have to act on — especially if you feel like those feelings won’t be reciprocated or they can’t be actioned on. I believe that it’s partially because society encourages us to see a failure in a missed sexual or romantic encounter that we put such a pressure on ourselves to act and therefore, it comes in between some of the more positive emotions that having a crush can bring in our lives.

If you were biding your time or lying outright to James if he asked you if you were attracted to him and you were pining for the untimely death of his long distance partner (or, perhaps, less dramatically, a breakup), then I would say that maybe this is unhealthy. But it sounds like you have a good friendship together. You have a good friendship which gives you a lot of positive feelings. And sometimes you have these deeper feelings — is it possible to just enjoy what you have?

This is where the self-reflection comes in. Some polyamorous people can be monogamous and some can’t — no matter how wonderful a monogamous person they’re dating is. They’ve had to ask themselves if they could go throughout the rest of their life monogamous and never feel like they’ve missed out… so you’ll have to have a similar type of reflection about James. Are the level of your feelings so high that you would somehow feel cheated if you were never able to act on them? This is where creepier people who pretend to be friends with people but are just waiting for them to become available should draw the line. If you feel like you will not be happy if you can never ever date James then, for his benefit, you should probably part ways as friends.

However, that doesn’t seem like what’s happening here. You’re more afraid of admitting to having romantic feelings about James, especially whilst these feelings are bubbling so high. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s lying to him to not admit your romantic feelings. We don’t always have to divulge the feelings that we have to everyone.

If you had sexual feelings about a colleague at work, would you feel like you had to divulge that if you were working on a big project together? Probably not. You’re aware that James is not able to date you and worried that, especially in a culture where crushes must always be acted on, admitting to having one on him might be more of a Big Deal than it is.

What might work in this situation, rather than confessing your romantic attraction to them, is being aware of your feelings and start trying to create some boundaries so that you aren’t stretching into territory that might make you or James feel uncomfortable. James may very well have feelings for you, but at present he is currently in a monogamous relationship and, not to say anything ill of James, I feel like situations like this where the lines get a little blurry create an environment where cheating can happen. And if you think you feel awkward now… imagine how awkward you’d be if James wanted you to cheat?

Initially, I would suggest considering putting a bit more space between the two of you and, not just ghosting him or anything, but having a conversation about it beforehand. I feel like you can acknowledge your discomfort without confessing everything. You can say something like, “I notice that I feel closer to you and, while this isn’t such a problem for me because I’m not monogamous, I respect the relationship that you have with your partner and I’m worried that I may be crossing some boundaries there.

I’d absolutely love for us to have a close friendship and I do have close friendships with other people where we cuddle and all that kind of thing, but I feel like I have to be more careful in this case. I’m worried that I could accidentally cross a line without meaning to and I’m not interested at all in cheating or helping someone cheat and it’s very important to me that I behave ethically.”

This might be a really good way of being able to talk about your discomfort while also addressing the big monogamous elephant in the room. Monogamous people can have different boundaries in different types of relationships. Some monogamous people may not mind their partner cuddling with others — but what would make you feel better here ultimately is if things were a little clearer. If he responds to this well he can tell you what lines not to cross or you can work on a check in system that will feel more natural and you can sit with and still enjoy your romantic feelings without it having to end up in a relationship.

Consider still not diving head first into being intimate friends, especially since you are noticing that you’re having trouble when you don’t have access to him. Definitely work on addressing that and setting more realistic expectations for yourself. And it may be that realising you don’t have to be in a relationship with someone to enjoy romantic feelings about them that helps that. It may be that after the initial couple of months of new relationship energy, things do get a little calmer. If he was priming you for a cheating conspirator, he may pull back from a lot of things all together — but don’t blame yourself for that. That’s absolutely not your fault.

To summarise, it might be worth examining some of the messages you’ve got from society about crushes and what has to be done with them. Have a conversation with him about your nerves and boundaries — but you don’t need to spill your heart out about your romantic feelings. And lastly, create a little bit of space between the two of you so you can feel a little less intense about it.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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Episode 48: Too Much NRE

Is 18 months long enough to wait for someone to decide if polyamory is for them?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: What is your love language?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 48 – Too Much NRE

Is 18 months enough time to give someone to decide if they want polyamory?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What’s your love language?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I have been in a relationship with my husband A for about 12 years.  Initially we started off in an open, polyamorous relationship (back when we didn’t know the term).  At the time, he was polyamorous and seeing two other women in addition to myself.  Even though I was allowed to see others, I felt myself only wanting him, and therefore assumed I was monogamous.

At one point, I told him kindly that I would likely need to leave the relationship because it was hurting me too much that we were not exclusive (not blaming him at all, because he was completely honest about who he was).  At that point, he told me he didn’t want to lose me, and that he would try monogamy.

We were then monogamous together for a few more years, after which time I developed an intense crush on someone (B) at work, who I almost ended my relationship over.  Now I know that was NRE.  My crush on (B) was mostly an emotional relationship, with some physical involvement with (As) subsequent permission.  Too many details, but A and I briefly decided to open up our relationship, at which point A immediately found a part-time girlfriend.

At the time, I convinced myself I had a crush on B because A wasn’t ready to marry me, and I therefore didn’t “feel loved enough.”  A gave me a choice to either stay in the relationship or leave to be with (B).  I chose to stay with (A) and work on distancing myself from (B) to try and get over my feelings.

Also (B), though also having intense feelings for me, was not looking to settle into anything serious in that moment.  And was also confused about what he wanted.  B also had a lot of other emotional issues he was going through at the time, and it would have been a very unstable relationship.  And I knew I still loved (A).

After deciding to stay together with A, things went well.  We remained in a good relationship together, decided to get married, at least on my end felt generally happy.

We had some issues.  One that kept on repeating itself is that my love language is through words.  And for as long as we’ve been together, it’s hard for me to feel emotionally reassured or supported by A when I’m dealing with something stressful or upsetting..  Although I find he is really trying, it is difficult for A to comfort me without getting defensive, or telling me he feels “attacked,” because my voice sounds angry or upset, even though I’m upset about something that has nothing to do with him.

After a lot of thinking, I realized though B was not an emotionally stable man, that comforting me when I felt upset was something he had kind of been able to do.

Moving forward about 3 years after A and I got married, we settled down for another traveling gig in a new town.  And several months into my new job, I found myself developing a crush on my coworker (C).  This time it was different.  I was shocked with myself.  I couldn’t understand it.  This time there was no excuse.  A had given me everything I had asked for.  He was committed, monogamous, he had married me, he was so good to my family.  I still loved him.  I knew that.

And yet, I found myself falling deeply in love with C.  He returned my feelings.  He was married.  We both worked very hard on trying to remain just friends, no matter what our feelings were.  I even tried to coordinate couples dates with me and A and C and his wife.  A was very agreeable, but C’s wife kept on giving excuses for why they couldn’t hang out with us.  So it never happened.

After a year and a half of holding back, I felt I didn’t want to hold back anymore.  I was so in love with C, and I didn’t want to lose the chance.  I kissed him at work (and some physical involvement as well).  So yes, I cheated. I was planning on eventually telling A.  A few months into the affair, A asks me and I tell him the truth.

In all fairness, I should’ve spoken to A.  And I do take full responsibility for the cheating.  It was wrong.  And at the time, I was so scared he’d tell me I’d have to choose, like what happened the last time.  And my NRE was so strong, I felt I wouldn’t be able to bear it and would have to leave A.

Well, A was understandably hurt.  But, literally about less than 48 hours later, he tells me he has a realisation that we should go back to being polyamorous.  After all, he was polyamorous already, had known that about himself for years, and I was obviously not doing well with monogamy.  I still feel A should’ve yelled at me, punished me.  Been upset with me for longer.  I deserved it.  I admit I am still having a hard time forgiving myself for my affair, even as I write this.

Well, A restructured into polyamory quite quickly.  Within several months, he had a few new girlfriends (these were serious relationships with women he deeply cared for – not casual encounters).  This is who he is.  (Later A explained to me he had been very unhappy for the last few years, and had felt himself becoming more emotionally distant as a result;

A does admit he believes some of what drew me to C is that C was a strong emotionally supportive friend who was there for me for over a year, when A had been emotionally distant. A is still so thankful I met C and that C was there for me during that time).

So after A found out about the affair, I spoke to C, who was adamantly opposed to polyamory, not because he judges it, but because he doesn’t believe it’s for him.  Initially he attempted to leave his wife, telling her he wanted to be with me, but later went back to her when he found out I had no intention of leaving my husband.

He tried to bring up polyamory with his wife, who declined it, and gave him an ultimatum that he had to choose between her or me.  (C admitted to me later that he had initially left his wife because he was hoping I might choose him and leave my husband).

To be clear, C didn’t want to pull me away from A, but was hoping that maybe I’d realise he was a better choice for me, and that maybe A and I were growing apart.  C never gave me an ultimatum.  He has a kind heart, and told me he would’ve worked on being happy for me if I chose A and was happy with A.  But he had difficulty with the concept of polyamory.

After discussing the option of polyamory, C asked me to wait, because he wanted to try and learn more and consider whether he could open himself up to this idea.  Initially he dived in, began reading books, going on poly[am] blogs, and talking of a potential poly[am] future with me.  But a few months in, he stopped, not really explaining why, other than to say he was busy with all this other stuff in his life, and didn’t have the time, and that he still was processing things.

During this time, we have been seeing each other secretly (his wife doesn’t know, although I have repeatedly told him he should tell her).  My husband A knows everything.  Actually, A and C have met and like each other.  Though they aren’t friends, they get along.  A is comfortable.  C has never quite felt comfortable, and always worries he’s in the way of my marriage with A.

It has been about 18 months total of me waiting (basically putting my life on hold) for C to process what he wants.  It’s not that C told me I couldn’t date anyone else.  But he did say that if I began seeing someone new, he would have an emotionally difficult time starting a new relationship with me, and may have to really leave.  He’s obviously ok with me continuing to see A.

So I’ve been seeing A.  And I’m seeing C in secret (because he hasn’t told his wife).  And because of this dynamic, I barely get to see him.  Just briefly for a few hours once or twice a week when his wife is at work.  And it’s so hard, that I’ve given myself a deadline that I’ve told him about where I will eventually need to leave.  Because it hurts too much, coming second to his wife all the time.  Not getting to really even date, no overnights, limited phone time, mostly texting.

I won’t go into this part in detail, but C’s wife (per C’s description) is controlling in many ways, does not treat him respectfully, and keeps him away from his kids from his previous marriage, forcing him to choose.

During this time, my husband A has developed several significant relationships with 3 other women, and also developing some relationships with a few others that are yet undetermined status.  Our relationship has shifted.  We are no longer a couple in a primary relationship, with secondary relationships.

He considers himself egalitarian poly[am], and solo poly[am], and I am now one of several partners he loves.  I only see him about 1-2 days a week (so we have maybe a day date together, and one evening).  Occasionally we have a bit more time when one of his girlfriends is out of town.  He even had his own apartment he is subletting, where he goes occasionally.  And he has moved into the spare room in our apartment, so that our relationship is no longer like a couple, and more suited to dating.  Though we are dating about once a week, our situation at  home in our apartment is more like roommates.

This has been very difficult for me, because I was used to seeing A all the time, every day.  I know I still love him, and that he still loves me.  Even though I’ve been having the affair with C, the concepts of polyamory are still very new to me, and I struggle a lot with insecurity, and things I’m working on with myself.

I do have emotional outbursts intermittently, and am still processing through multiple monogamous concepts I am trying to restructure in my mind.  I am learning as I go, and do believe I am slowly making progress, identifying where my insecurities lie.  I do believe seeing an individual poly[am]-friendly therapist would be good for me.

As I explained before, A has always had a difficult time emotionally supporting me when I’m upset – so this has caused a large strain on our relationship over the last 6 months, especially if I’m upset because of something he is doing.  And I am still working on creating a poly[am]-friendly support group.  For a while, A was one of my only emotional supports, and that’s a large burden to place on A.

It got so bad that we separated for a couple of weeks, and I was almost ready to leave him.  But then I realized I still love A so much, and don’t want to give up on our relationship yet.  But 1-2 days a week is not enough for me.  I enjoy being in a couple.  It’s what I would want.  I think I’m polyamorous (still not quite sure), but not a solo poly[am].  It’s important for me to have quality time in my relationship to develop the intimacy I need.  I need more time in a relationship than 1-2 days a week.  But this is all A can give me at this point.

And I do have to add that with everything that’s going on with C, he is able (more than any man I’ve been with) to emotionally comfort me and reassure me when I’m upset.  It is a need I never really had met until I met C.  And it’s a need that is very important to me. .

So my dilemma is this:

I love A and C.  They both love me.  Ideally, I’d love to be with both of them.  C has similar values and life goals to mine/  Ideally I’d love for him to be a primary partner with me – in terms of living together, time spent together, etc – and for A to be my secondary partner.  A is cool with that.  C is not.  After 18 months of processing, C is still not sure he can handle polyamory.  The idea of me possibly meeting future men upsets him.  He is still not even sure he can share me with A.

Though A and I have gone in very different directions since we became poly[am], I still love him, and don’t want to leave him right now.  I feel I may regret it, and possibly end up resenting C for it later on.

Ideally I’d want a fully polyamorous relationship that is non-exclusive, but I am willing to compromise on a closed triad (well, A will be fully polyamorous, but I will be exclusive with A and C only, and C will be exclusive with me; and his wife if she wants to continue seeing him – I have never asked C to choose between me and his wife).

Part of me still wonders whether I’m truly polyamorous, or whether my need for emotional support and comfort/reassurance was just not met in my relationship with A.  Would I be happy with C alone?  Or am I poly[am]?

At this point, I’m planning on ending my affair with C, because I can’t go on barely getting to be with someone I deeply care about, and I don’t feel good that his wife doesn’t know.  I feel both she and I deserve more respect in our relationships.  Not that he is intentionally disrespecting us.  He just knows if he tells her he’ll have to lose her; and he loves us both.  Though he says he’s pretty unhappy with her.  And prefers to be with me.

At the same time, I am not sure if I should just give C what he wants – monogamy.  24/7 exclusive relationship.  I don’t want to lose him.  And he is willing to offer me things that A is not.

If I stay with A, and lose C, I end up with a relationship where I only get to date A only 1-2 days a week.  Is that kind of relationship worth giving C up over?  And at this point I’m still really high on NRE with C.  I feel so in love with him, and the idea of letting him go overwhelms me.  I know I can do it, but it will hurt so much.

But I love A, and I don’t want to leave him.  He’s been such a good man to me over the past 12 years, and I still think we have potential.

Any advice on what I should do?

Response:

The first thing that I would say with this is that— one thing that I’ve kind of repeated a lot in the columns and in the podcasts occasionally, is that polyamory isn’t about having multiple unfulfilling relationships. It’s supposed to be about having multiple fulfilling relationships, and I sometimes feel like people choose polyamory, not because they’re actually interested in polyamory but because they don’t want to break up with someone, and I don’t really think that that’s the same thing.

Like, you shouldn’t use polyamory as an excuse to stay with people who aren’t really meeting your needs. And that’s kind of what I feel like you’ve done with A for a very, very long time. A clearly is not really capable of giving you the emotional support you need. And I think you can deal with that if you don’t have to rely on A. But I still think that the fact that A reacts so badly to you being emotional about things that do involve him

is a little worrying.

Because even if you only have a “secondary” relationship, you still may have issues and you still may have things that you need to discuss, and it’s going to be really hard for you to actually discuss them if, you know, A reacts or has this kind of reaction to you being emotional. And that might be worth working on with each other. I don’t know, like, far be it for me to say when someone else has too many partners, but the fact that he has like so many people that he has to focus on. It just makes me wonder like what the deal is with that.

And people can have multiple partners and lots of different partners and that doesn’t reflect anything, but sometimes I do think that sometimes people choose polyamory because it means that they don’t have to emotionally support anybody. Do you know what I mean? Like if they’re just a “secondary”  to everybody and they don’t have to live with anyone, and they don’t have to be a primary or any kind of an emotional support to anyone then they can get away with not being able to emotionally support anyone. And I think that that’s okay but I do think that that merits some kind of communication and I just, I worry that there hasn’t really been a situation where A has sat you down and said “Look, you need this, and I can’t provide this”.

And that’s a little worrying, because even if you are to date A as a secondary he still… you can’t even tell him right now that one to two days is not enough for you because he reacts so poorly and feels attacked every time you bring something up. So it’s like you have to be, regardless of how often you see somebody, you have to be able to tell them if they’re not meeting your needs. You have to be able to have difficult discussions. It’s really really funny because I actually spoke to my therapist, about, you know, with the— If you’re listening to this right now. Right now I’m recording this, we’re in a pandemic so we’re in lockdown. And with my partners— like my with my domestic partner that I live with— obviously we are around each other 24/7, and that causes a lot of friction in a lot of ways.

And because we’ve been bickering so much that has sort of signalled in my head a panic kind of thing and has made me go, “Oh my god we’re bickering we’re gonna—“. You know because I’m used to big family arguments ending up in something huge and dramatic happening. I’m used to a family argument ending with someone getting kicked out. So, for us to bicker, I’m not really used to that and it really really throws me off. And so— but my therapist actually said like, “Look, if you go in a whole relationship without ever arguing— You know, sometimes arguing get your feelings out and it helps you work through things and you become stronger together because you argue. It doesn’t weaken things”. And it makes me wonder like if you can’t argue with A, if you can’t bring things up, if you can’t have a disagreement because every time you bring something up, he’s like, “Oh you’re attacking me”.

That doesn’t bode well for any kind of relationship with him, and that’s that’s kind of a worry and I do kind of wonder if this is what you’re actually, you know— this is what’s happening to you. You are basically you know in this relationship— and keeping it open because and seeking other partners because you feel lonely and because you’re not getting the things that you need, emotionally . So that is something that you really need to think about, because, I mean, you are incompatible in a lot of ways.

A second thing though is that you’re making C out to be a lot nicer than he is. You say he’s not intentionally doing this. He is intentionally doing this. Like he is intentionally choosing to cheat on his wife with you. He is. And he doesn’t have the sort of ability to state his needs with his wife, either. He is not able to accept the fact that two people, even if they’re married and even if they love each other and care for each other can be incompatible, and is totally is like— I’m almost annoyed— heavily annoyed with C because he’s such a massive hypocrite.

He doesn’t want you to be polyamorous. Basically he is dictating to you, you know whether or not— you say “well he doesn’t—“. People don’t have to specifically say you’re not allowed to date other people. If they create a situation where you feel unsafe or you feel like you can’t like that. That’s the thing like he is basically making a situation where you can’t pursue anybody else. He’s fine to cheat on his wife, but he has a problem with consensual ethical open relationships, and like, I’m not saying he has to be polyamorous and I’m not saying he has to be okay with it, but it is very hypocritical for him to be in a situation where basically he’s allowed to cheat but you can’t have another ethical relationship because he will have a problem with that.

It’s… yeah, he’s not as great as you’re making him out to be like he may be great at emotionally comforting you. And to be honest, like that’s— that isn’t… that’s not a high bar. Like all due respect to you. All due respect to A. All due respect to the situation. Someone being able to comfort you when you are upset is not like a… There’s another podcast that I recorded earlier about gold medals. Go listen to that. It’s not like— so many people are in situations, and I’m gonna be honest with you, it’s usually women who are in situations with men or in relationships with men where the man does something very very basic, that should be expected in a romantic relationship, and the woman is like, “Oh my god, he’s just so amazing he does such a—“. No.

He’s doing what he fucking should when he’s in a relationship which is being there for his partner. That’s not a gold star. That is the lowest frickin bar in the world. So, yeah. Stop. It’s probably your new relationship energy, even though you’ve been in this situation for 18 months. It is definitely— You’ve got some rose tinted glasses on when it comes to C. Probably because he comforts you so well. But he’s not all you think he is because if he was really an emotionally responsible person, he would go, “Huh”.

And this whole— this whole bullshit about like his wife is really mean to him or whatever. Anytime a man slags off his ex think about that situation. Okay. I’m not denying that maybe his wife isn’t that great and that may be the situation. Then why is he there? So, no, like, like come on. Think about this for a minute, like. You cannot have someone who is emotionally responsible and is going to be there for you and you’re giving him all these excuses and saying, “oh he’s— but he’s lovely, he has a kind heart, and he just doesn’t want to leave his wife because he loves her but he, but he does want to be with me, but she’s really bad and he does really want—“ This such a lie.

If it’s not a lie, it’s such a fucking cop out like, come on. If he if their relationship is that bad and if he really doesn’t want to be with his wife, then why is he fucking there? Why is he there? What is his frickin excuse. 18 months?! Come on. No, no, no, no, and like you’re basically— here’s the thing. If you are monogamous and you—  let’s just put aside the polyamory for a situation. If you are  monogamous, and you were dating— and I know that people cheat for a lot of different reasons and it can be complicated and I get it. Generally speaking, though, if you’re monogamous and you are cheating on someone with someone. What that tells you about that person who you are cheating with, even though A knows that you’re that you’re with C and is fine with it. But C’s wife doesn’t know. He is okay with cheating.

He is okay with non-ethical behaviour. He is okay lying to his wife and it stands to reason that if he’s okay lying to his wife, he’s okay lying to you. Like, and it means that if your relationship goes sour, or for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, then he’s fine lying to you. Like you’re not special and he might say that, but you really really really really need to not to believe that because… Yeah, it’s just not a good situation. He’s not as great as you’re making him out to be. He may be great at emotionally validating you but once again that is not an extreme relationship skill. That’s just a basic thing, and he probably knows that and he’s using that a bit to his advantage. So that’s one thing.

The other thing that really concerns me about A that I need to mention is that your relationship changed. He decided he’s ethical solo polyam, and now you only see him one day, two days a week. Where’s the fucking conversation about that? Like, I totally get that people can explore polyamory and come to find out that different situations suit them better. And oh actually I don’t really want to be in a primary relationship. I actually want to have more freedom, and that’s fine. That is absolutely fine. But a discussion needs to be had. And why hasn’t A sat you down and said “Hey look, I’m not feeling this primary situation.”

Like it just seems like all this sort of just slowly happened to you. And there was just no discussion and now you only see A one to two days a week, and it’s just… I mean that’s not to say that like. It’s not to say that you necessarily would then go “well I don’t want this” and A would go “okay let’s stay primary then”, but at least

if he had some kind of discussion with you, then you would be able to go, “Hmm, I’m not cool with that. Like one to two days a week isn’t great for me”. And maybe you could have, like, I don’t know, slowly, you could have gone from six days a week to five days a week to four day— like you could have, it could have been a little easier on you, especially since A doesn’t even emotionally support you very well in general anyway.

But instead he’s just sort of— and I don’t know how fast this happened like if it was just like, one day he was like, “Oh, I’m gonna move into the second room and blah blah blah”. But I mean you gotta have a kind of discussion about it. He’s not had any kind of like… how was that ethical? How is it ethical to just slowly completely pull away from your partner without really addressing it or talking about it? That’s… that’s not great, like for any kind of relationship. So, yeah, I think you are in a bit of a situation but. And I wish that I had some something better to advise because I feel like even if you sit down and have a conversation with A and say, “one or two days a week isn’t cutting it for me”. I don’t think A is wanting to give you anymore. I don’t think that’s going to fix that situation.

You can absolutely leave C, but you know— you’re just going to leave C. He’s not going to dump his wife for you. And even if he does, you are in a situation where he does have a problem with you being with A. Like he does— even though he’s okay with it right now, he does have a problem with it and he’s going to want you to dump A. He is going to want that. And then he’s going to bring up the fact that he dumped his wife for you. So like, don’t pull the frickin wool over your eyes and realise that he is—  that’s what’s gonna happen if he did dump his wife.

He would then immediately expect you to dump A. I doubt— heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily doubt that he will be okay with you being with A in any context, even if you only saw A one to  two days a week, he’d never be okay with it. So, and you say “oh well, maybe I could go 24/7 do monogamy with C”, but the thing is, you’d be doing monogamy with somebody who cheated. And is that really what you want? Like, I’m not saying that like people— like “once a cheater always a cheater” or anything like that. Like people cheat for all sorts of different reasons. It can be really complicated but at the same time, if he’s not even acknowledging the fact that what he’s doing is wrong…

You know I just, I don’t think that that would be a good situation for you to be in, especially because, if you just happen to fall in love with another co-worker, there ain’t no way C is ever going to hear of it. You know, if you do find out that you are more polyamorous than you think you are, you’re kind of screwed in that regard. So, yeah, I think that the thing that you need to do is be comfortable being alone. Unfortunately I think that you need to dump C immediately, like it’s— Cheating is not polyamory. What you’re doing isn’t polyamory, I’m sorry. Cheating is not polyamory. You’re helping C cheat, which isn’t polyamory. It’s unethical. It’s wrong. You shouldn’t do it, even if you love C so much, I get that. But it’s wrong. So you need to dump him. Like, you need to make him choose.

Sometimes making someone choose isn’t a bad thing. It’s not always controlling and bad. Sometimes when you say, “Actually you need to choose because if you don’t, it’s unethical. And I’m not going to participate in that”. So giving him an ultimatum isn’t a terrible thing. It doesn’t make you a terrible person. It just makes you a person with self respect and dignity. So, do that. Get rid of C. I don’t even think you should continue dating him. I think even if he dumped his wife for you. I mean, ask him say— I guarantee you… I guarantee you anything if you say, “oh, if you dump your wife…”, he’s gonna go “well then you dump A”. Like that’s gonna be— that is going to be what it is. Like, honestly, so I just think you should just get rid of C.

I get that he’s emotionally supportive but you need— what you need out of the situation is to learn how to be alone. Because, especially if you’re going to be polyamorous. You can’t always have, you know, it’s not Pokemon. It’s not Polymon. It’s not picking as many people, and avoiding being alone by having as many partners as possible. Sometimes you are alone. Sometimes you have to be comfortable being by yourself and being alone and being fine with that. You need to be more comfortable being alone.

You need to let go of the expectation that A is going to give you the emotional support that you want. That’s just not going to happen. And I think if you focus more on yourself, maybe see a therapist, if it’s accessible to you for yourself, find ways to gain emotional support through yourself, through therapy, through your friendship network, because that’s the thing. Polyamory is not just about, usually —it’s not just about multiple romantic relationships, it’s also— many people feel like polyamory opens them up to seeing all relationships as equally valid, so your friendships are also important relationships that should also be valued and that should also, you know— romantic relationships don’t necessarily mean so much more than friendships.

So your friends can emotionally validate you. Can you accept and receive emotional validation and help through your friends? Does it always have to be somebody that you’re sleeping with, or that you’re romantic with? So that’s what I think… that’s what you need to focus on. Get rid of C. Get rid of C completely. And you could keep A, but you need to let go of the expectation that A is going to be like C. There are other stuff to work on with A. Like whether or not you keep A around like, I don’t know… I do kind of feel like if you are in a relationship with someone who is unwilling to listen to you or if you can’t actually talk to him about anything— like even a friend should somewhat be able to emotionally validate you and that’s why I feel like if you had better friends, you would actually be like, “Oh, actually. Fuck A.”

Because sometimes and I’ve had that situation before where I have been in a partnership that I thought was fulfilling. And then I had friendships and I was like actually my friends are being more supportive than my partner is. So why am I with this person? And I think that if you, you know you could keep A around for a little bit. But I do think that once you realise that you can provide your emotional validation and you can get that from your friends, your community from people around you like… have more friends. Like it doesn’t always have to be someone you’re dating and I think once you do that you will then look at the relationship with A and you’ll be like, “Actually, you aren’t even that good of a friend. So maybe not. “

That’s kind of like my best advice to sum up really quickly. Get rid of C. No, no, no with C. Seek multiple fulfilling relationships, rather than collecting multiple unfulfilling relationships until you reach some sort of stasis. It’s not what I think, personally, what I think polyamory should be about. Focus on yourself. Be okay with being alone. Be okay with finding emotional support in people that aren’t immediately romantically connected to you. Value your friendships more.

And, yeah, seek polyamory friendly therapy if you have access to that. Be okay with being alone, because I do think that unless you have flexible schedules with five to seven partners on the go or your life is set up in a completely different way, you’re going to have to sometimes be okay with being alone and I think more people— monogamous people even in general, need to be okay with being alone. Because when you’re not okay with being alone then you stay in relationships that you shouldn’t. Yeah. I hope that helps and good luck.

Addressing sexual incompatibility

CW: This question contains explicit sexual discussion.

I love my husband, we met almost 20 years ago now. We met online on an Alternative Lifestyle website. He was listed as a submissive and I a switch.

We are the best of friends and I love him dearly. We were engaged after only 5 weeks but it took us 11 years to actually tie the knot.

The truth is our sex life has never been brilliant and it tapered away to nothing, we went for years with no sex for one reason or another. Now he has had cancer for the past 4 years and he is now totally impotent. Even with 200mg of Viagra there is nothing happening.

I have stayed faithful, with only 2 encounters with other people, one female one male with the full knowledge of my husband. He was in the same room.

I did not have full sex ie penetration with the guy. I am a very sexual and sensual person and I crave intimacy and ultimately a hard cock!

My husband and I have discussed me getting sexual gratification elsewhere but he does not want me to leave him and quite honestly, I cannot imagine my life without him in it.

I guess what I’m asking for is advice about how we move forward into a non monogamous relationship?

I have had sex once in the last 7 years and I feel like I’m dying inside!

There are a few things here to go through:

  • Opening to solve incompatibility
  • Reframing and defining sex
  • Trust and opening relationships

Usually when people encourage opening a relationship to solve an incompatibility within a relationship, I advise caution because, depending on what the incompatibility is, it can be a recipe for serious and intense jealousy.

In this case, it seems your husband is open to the concept of you seeing other people. It’s possible that, with the stress of coping with cancer, he has little interest in sex overall. But I am wondering, especially if he’s open to taking Viagra, if that is fully the case. If he’s willing to take that, he’s willing to try and it’s going to be hard for him to realise that he is not capable of meeting your needs and it’ll be hard for him because part of that, especially, you know, having cancer — is not his fault.

I worry that sometimes people are too quick to jump to opening a relationship to solve the problems in one relationship.Polyamory is about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about collecting a bunch of semi-fufilling ones until you reach a level of stasis. As much as we don’t enjoy breaking up with people, if you’re opening up because your relationship on it’s own can’t stand, then it’s likely that the stress of opening up is going to break what little foundations you have.

If you do open to address an incompatibility, then I think that it will only work if that individual is okay with reconciling that incompatibility and if you can focus on what makes your relationship work and have that work wonderfully.

What concerns me is that you’re craving intimacy and sensuality… which you don’t need, as you put it, a “hard cock” to have. So I’m wondering why those things aren’t happening in your own relationship with the partner you have and whether you’re both putting the work in to solve this instead of trying to find others to solve the problem.

Following on that point on building intimacy in your relationship, I’m wondering if you are a little focused on penetrative sex in a way that is disempowering your partner, especially if he is a submissive. While I totally get and understanding preferring or liking penetrative sex, he doesn’t always have to use his own body for that. There are loads of options available where he could satisfy that without everything relying solely on his body.

It’s possible that, if you’re heavily focused on him maintaining an erection, he’s going to really struggle to perform and that will likely take the interest away from him, especially if he’s recovering from cancer. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but you seem really caviler about that — that’s a huge deal and a massively scary and stressful thing. It’s unsurprising that your partner isn’t exactly feeling in the mood. And if you’re adding pressure to that, it’s unsurprising that it’s only the situation that’s getting harder.

I am assuming he is interested in continuing to try to provide things for you because he’s taken Viagra but if he’s completely uninterested in this type of interaction and feels more asexual now than anything, then that’s totally understandable in terms of you wanting to seek outside stimulation — but asexual people are plenty capable of providing sensual experiences and intimacy. If he’s uninterested in intimacy all together with you then there is a wider issue that should be addressed with therapy.

Another issue that’s cropping up here is a common thing a lot of people do in their first forays in open relationships — thinking their partner has to be in the room when they have sex with other people. I don’t, unless you have a partner who is a voyeur, you do this. Mostly because it’s just not necessary.

You have to work together to trust one another and he has to be able to trust that you are going to stay with him even if you are getting a penetrative sex need met somewhere else. This is why I think it’s so important to not just find another person when another relationship isn’t working because it’s rekindling what you have together and building intimacy together that will help secure what you have together and make him feel less anxious and grounded.

If you start from a foundation of distrust, then it doesn’t tend to lead to great places. Even if he does trust you not to cheat, he has to also trust that you care enough about your relationship together to build on it and work with it. And if that work is not put in on either side, you’ll both struggle to communicate in the future.

I think that you could pursue non-monogamy, but I am worried in this instance you’re only delaying an inevitable breakup if you and your partner aren’t willing to put the work in toward building intimacy and sensuality with each other. There are so many things he can do and things you can try together that could meet your needs and I’m wondering if that has actually happened.

Opening up a relationship to solve an incompatibility can work — but there has to be other aspects of that relationship that fulfill you. And you shouldn’t keep a relationship that’s unfulfilling just because you don’t want it to end. But also, you need to apply a little less pressure to your partner to perform in that specific way and open up to other ways of him being able to build a connection with you that aren’t dependent upon him having an erection — asexual people have intimate and sensual relationships without having sex at all, so it is possible.

Last but not least, if you do open your relationship, you don’t have to do things in front of him to prove you’re faithful. He needs to trust you but you also need to demonstrate that you are willing to bond with him and build intimacy together in other ways, even if you desire penetrative sex with a person with a penis rather than toys. Because there’s not really a reason that can’t happen.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

I am wondering if their difficulty with intimacy is in some ways impacted by lingering or unprocessed emotions related to going through cancer together. That illness has a HUGE impact: anticipatory grief, helplessness, powerlessness, anger, caretaking dynamics, new functional limitations, etc. If they haven’t unpacked and digested all that — separately and together, then it could really stop fulfilling intimacy from happening.

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Episode 47: Harem Boy

If a man says that all men want a harem of submissive, subservient women, should you be concerned?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: If you could create your ideal pornography, what would it feature?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 47 – Harem Boy

Should you judge a guy who says that all men want a harem of submissive women? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – If you could create your ideal p*rn, what would it look like?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m new to non-monogamy and kink. I’ve been exploring non-monogamy for about 1.5 years and kink for 6 months. They’re related because I want to explore different things sexually with different partners and different things romantically with different partners.

There’s one person I’ve had an on and off thing for about a year, P. P and I work together. So, I see him everyday and work with him everyday and have lunch with him most days (usually in a group). Every time one of us has a breakup or is in a vulnerable [space], we know that the other person will be there in a crisis, so we end up getting emotionally (and physically, usually) entangled. Last year, in the fall, I finally realized the reason we are on and off is because P wasn’t providing the assurance and support that I needed to know that I was an important person in his life.

I asked for this and he was unable to provide it in a way that felt right to me. P has partners, who he calls partners, and friends, who he calls friends. He always called me a friend, but said our relationship was “messy.” I realized he could never give me what I wanted- saying that he cared about me and that I was important in his life. (Relatedly, I could never get a clear answer on his polyam theory. Is he a relationship anarchist, solo, etc? So, I couldn’t tell if I was not accommodating his relationship style or what.)

So, in the fall, I broke up with P. For me, it felt like a breakup. (He still says “how is it a breakup if we weren’t dating?”) I went through stages of grief and found a therapist and felt totally over it. I reduced the amount of time I saw him, texted him outside of work, and ate lunch with him as much as I could. But then, after trying a monogamous relationship for 6 months – putting my kink and polyam explorations on hold, I broke up with that person.

And I fell hard into P’s arms. And he was there for me. P held me while I cried and reminded me how special I am and told me that even though this other guy was a good person, that I said I needed more and I had the right to ask for more from him and if we couldn’t meet up more or this other guy didn’t allow me to have other sexual partners, then I was allowed to make the decision that was best for me.

The issue I have with P is what I feel is a fundamental incompatibility in our values. I deeply believe that society is structured to privilege some and punish others for things that are out of their control (gender, race, ability). And he agrees that things are unequal but doesn’t agree that we should try to change anything. We are both over-thinkers and a bunch of our conversations end up discussing politics or consciousness or what equality and equity should/shouldn’t look like.

This comes into our personal lives and our relationship to each other. He has, in the past, and continues to seek partnerships where he holds a lot of power. He has dated women who have just moved to the country and don’t speak English so he can show them around. He prefers dating smaller women. To me, this all relates to his beliefs about the binary gender system being unequal for a reason and he tolerates (and seeks) inequality in his relationships because of that belief.

He has joked about wanting a harem and his preferred structure to be submissive/subservient women answering to and providing for him and how he loves girls with “daddy issues.” And the worst part is he repeatedly says that “all men” would want that if they just “thought about it long enough.” I know that isn’t true. And it reminds me of why I shouldn’t want to date this person, because I’m afraid I would end up like the women he does date.

Unfortunately, I’m in love with him. I told him so about a month ago now, but we also agree that we shouldn’t date because we work together and because we have this incompatibility in how we see the world (gender specifically but also other areas of privilege).

I guess I’m wondering if this second incompatibility is one that makes sense to you. I keep hearing in your podcast that I can’t judge or control the other person’s relationships with others, and since our relationship is just “messy” but I’m not in a submissive or subservient role, is it ok to break up with him over his beliefs and subsequently his other relationship‘s power imbalances?

The other part of my question is How do I get over this person who I see every day?

Response:

So. Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve ever said that you can’t judge other people’s relationships with others. I think that you’re more than welcome to have opinions about how people run their relationships, and sometimes it just so happens in polyamory that we witness people treating other people like crap, and that changes how we feel about the person that we fall in love with. And polyamory is really funny thing in that you know you do get to see your partner in other relationships, and even though you shouldn’t necessarily make comparisons with you and other partners, you can kind of look at the way that they’re treating other partners and think about how that plays into the context of your relationships.

And then the other thing that you kind of say is, that I do say you can’t control another person’s relationship with others. I mean you can attempt to. The point that I make with that is that when people attempt to control other people’s relationships, it doesn’t tend to work out well. What they’re trying to do and generally speaking, they’re trying to control others relationships because they feel insecure about the partnership that they have with that person. So they want to end the other partnerships or control those, so that they can feel better about the partnership they have with that person.

My point is that you can’t— you can’t fix what’s broken in your relationship by restraining someone else’s relationships. That’s not how it works. That has absolutely nothing to do with this wider point, which is… You do not have to— and if no one ever gets anything else from any of my columns except this one line. This is a very very important line— wanting to break up with somebody is a good enough reason to break up with them. I see this like all the time and not even in polyamory but also in monogamy.

It’s just people thinking that they don’t have a good enough reason to break up with somebody. And I actually tweeted this relatively recently. It’s not going to be recently when this comes out because it’s, you know, going to be in December, but I tweeted through the Non-Monogamy help account that polyamory isn’t about— It’s about finding multiple fulfilling relationships. It’s not about collecting a series of unfulfilling relationships that together form some kind of reasonable stasis for you as a human being,

That’s not what it’s about. But a lot of people just want to use it as a reason to not break up with somebody because it’s like, “oh, we can just sort of downgrade our relationship or we can change it” because they don’t want to break up with somebody. If

you are not feeling it. Then you’re not feeling it and it can be hard to suss that out when you have a lot of emotions in play. You know you like this guy. You care about him. But if it’s not actually serving you, and if you know— there’s a lot of other reasons to not want to be in a relationship with this person so you don’t really have to have a good reason.

You can just be like “you know what actually your politics are kind of shit, and I don’t want to be a subservient submissive woman who’s part of your harem”. And, I mean, just even just like, just think about what he saying. He agrees that society is unequal but doesn’t think we should try to change it. Well of course he fucking doesn’t because he likes it that way. And you have to think about, “okay, do I really want to be with someone who” — it is what you say a fundamental in compatibility, to the point where I don’t even know how you end up in conversations with this person.

Because the second that somebody basically says to me, “yeah I think society is equal but that’s okay”. I would really struggle because that… you have to understand that, you know, people have differences of opinion. You know not liking pineapple on pizza is a difference of opinion. And it’s good I guess that he’s not— I guess it’s good he’s acknowledging that society is unequal, but it comes down to humanity, and people should be treated well and not be taken advantage of and you kind of have to think about that when you’re actually, you know, talking to him about this stuff. Like he fundamentally disagrees. You know he acknowledges that society does privilege some and punish others based on things people can’t control, like gender, like race like ability, and he doesn’t think you should try to change anything.      

I mean, yeah, I just, I mean, sit with that for a little bit, and I know it’s really hard because like you do have all these feelings, but that is— that in and of itself forget like all this other horrible stuff that you said that in and of itself is a good reason not to date him. Other good reasons not to date him he won’t— I, you know— it’s really really funny because you’re sitting here and you’re saying you’re afraid you’re going to end up like the women he does date, and you specifically say that he intentionally or maybe not knowingly, but it seems like he always dates people he has a power over, so like you said he will find somebody who’s new to the country and who doesn’t speak English that well and he’ll show them around.

He’ll date women with “daddy issues” which… Yikes. With a capital Yikes. You are in a less power position and he’s not telling you where you stand in his life to have power over you. And it’s working. So you think you’re not stuck in this but you are. He’s continually holding power over you. He’s gaslighting you. You know you’re saying, “this feels like a breakup” and he’s going “well it’s not a breakup”. Well you feel like it is. So even if he doesn’t feel strongly about you, he knows that you feel strongly about him.

And every time that you have these like situations in your life, you go back to him. So are you not subservient to him in some way? Are you not in some way kind of reliant on him in a way that he probably enjoys? And he knows that the second that he defines this for you, and gives you a clarity, then you can go “okay or nah”. And maybe that’s why he’s not giving you clarity, because the second he gives you clarity, you will go “Yes or no”. So he keeps you in this limbo. Maybe intentionally for a reason.

So, I mean that in and of itself— all of these reasons are fantastic reasons on their own to break up with somebody: someone will not give you a clear idea of where you stand in their life and continuously denies your reality when you are— you try to break up with them and I’m really really confused because you said, “I broke up with him.” And you went through stages of grief you

reduced the amount of talk— the amount of time you saw him. I assume you also reduced how much you texted him or ate lunch with him.

But you know, He’s— you still kind of fall back into him which I’m not blaming you for like that’s totally understandable. But

this is kind of where your power lies and I have no doubt— like I’m not sitting there watching your debates with him on these fundamental societal issues. But, you know, some of these issues are going to be things where you can have a debate because they won’t affect you. I mean i don’t know if gender, race and ability as things that you can’t control affects you on all three accounts. It could. And that’s even worse.

If it does affect you on all accounts and maybe it doesn’t affect him on all accounts, so this is another way that he’s kind of probably playing devil’s advocate, and I just— it makes my skin crawl. Someone who has all the power in society in a lot of ways, and knows it, and is going to sit here and discuss politics and consciousness and equity and equality with you when you in the ways that you’ve experienced marginalisation, you are the one who should be saying, “Yeah, this is what that is”.

This is what, you know, if you experience, you know, discrimination based on these things then you get to say, ah this is sexism. This is heterosexism. This is, you know, transphobia. If you experienced those things you get to talk about things which affect you and you get to define them and he shouldn’t be debating with you about that. He can be asking questions. He can be learning. But where he experiences the privilege and you experience the marginalisation, he should be listening to you but he’s not.

And that’s kind of another way that he’s kind of playing this kind of power game. So, yeah. And then everything else you mentioned in this massive paragraph about how he basically just wants tons of subservient women— like I would barely call this person polyamorous. I don’t know if he defines him— I mean he doesn’t define himself. So, *shrugs*. There isn’t anything great about anything that he mentions here. Like dating women who he knows he has some kind of power over, and to some extent consciously doing this, seeking those relationships, and the ”daddy issue” thing like… That’s so creepy. Triple creepy, like, ugh.

So you know and then thinking that this is the way all men are. So clearly all of your debates in your politicking and your higher consciousness discussions about equity and equality are not doing anything. They’re not convincing him. He’s wasting your time. So yeah, I know that you’re in love with him. And that really sucks, but you need to break up with him again.

This is really hard because like, the best thing that I can recommend for you is like get another job. And I know that that’s like a shitty thing to say because, you know, I don’t know what your life circumstances are. I don’t know what kind of job you have. I don’t know how easy it is. But whatever you can do to distance yourself from him and really, really put that boundary down, you need to do that, you know. You really really really need to do that.

And, ugh, it’s really hard but you need to make— if he’s not going to define the relationship, then you can define it, and you can say, “We are just friends. And we are co-working friends”. And you need to not have one on one lunches with him. If there’s a group lunch, then you know maybe eat lunch by yourself or find someone else each lunch with. I know like office politics and shit are really horrible. So maybe you’ll be like the odd one out but you know what? How feasible is it for you to stay in this job? Like even if you don’t still love him? Even when you do break through all of that, it’s going to be really hard to just stay there with, you know, I mean once all this— I feel like once all the love haze fades and you actually start realising what a horrible person this guy is this, it’s going to be hard for you to want to be around him in general.

So I really would kind of be looking on the horizon for a different career option or somewhere else to work, so that you can stay away from him. Do not answer his phone calls. Do not respond to his text. Basically treat him like— you know, and make that clear to him. Be like “Look, this isn’t going anywhere. I need it to go somewhere. We don’t agree politically on things. We need to shut this down. We’re acquaintances now, and I would appreciate it if you would treat me like an acquaintance.” And he might not. I would bet anything that the second you start trying to put some boundaries down, he’s going to test them and don’t think he’s going to respect them at all.

Because he’s trying to assert power in the way that you know that he wants to. And if you need to get HR involved— well, I would if you have a union, I would get your union involved first, or at least speak to a union. If you’re not a member of the union, look at Industrial Workers of the World is a union you could check out that as global, and as in lots of different places or if you have a specific career type there might be a specific type of union that has a lot of members. Ask, you know— do a google I’m not quite sure what to recommend. IWW is good for all different kinds of work. It doesn’t have to be just industrial work.

So speak to a union and have them work with you to talk to HR, if you need to and say, “We’ve had a bit of a kind of not really but kind of relationship and I want to end it and I want to remain professional”. And if he— you know make that really clear and then when he violates those boundaries, make sure you have documentation of your response saying “please don’t do this” but you know— and document everything. Because you know he’s also given— I hope he never said all this to you in a work environment. Like I really hope it wasn’t— I know that— Ugh, gosh, and even just like thinking about it’s horrible, like all of these things he said like… Ughh. Just ugh. Ugh. Triple yikes, like quadruple— I don’t know any higher multiples of yikes. It’s a big yikes. It’s a very big yikes.

But you know, having that documentation on your side if he does decide to be more assertive in his assumption that he is entitled to more power than you are, then you can have that in your back pocket but— I really hate this advice in terms of telling you to switch jobs because that’s, you know, I’ve been in career situations where that is just not a friggin option for me. And I don’t know what your options are. But yeah, that is probably the best thing I think for you is to physically get yourself away from the situation. If you can’t or if it’s going to take a while then like I said, I’ll reiterate— redefine your relationship clearly. It’s not messy anymore. It’s very clean. It’s an acquaintance relationship. You’re not even close friends. We’re acquaintances. The end.

And treat him as you would any other random co-worker you have no history with. And if you have to get a friend or someone else involved in your life to check you. Every time you feel like texting him. Every time you know— Find some other friends. like distract yourself. If you’re new to a town or you’re new to a place, you probably maybe hopefully have other friends you can send an online chat to and explain to them. You don’t have to talk to them about all of polyamory stuff or anything but you can say like, Look. Or you can just go into on a polyamory community and just be like “I need someone to talk to, to tell me that not text

this person”. That’s what friends are for. They’re supposed to be there for you to say “Don’t. Don’t you dare. Don’t text him. Don’t talk to him”. Pretend that he is a zombie.

And if you go anywhere near him he’ll bite you and you will be a zombie for for the rest of your life. That’s it every time— like do like… This isn’t real advice. I’m just gonna say like you know do some associations where like every time you see him picture a zombie and, you know, hopefully that that message will go through. I know it’s gonna suck because you are feeling the feels for him. And you’ve got probably goo goo eyes that are distracting you from these truly truly horrible things that this man has said, and I’m hoping that by telling you that you are in a submissive role in this situation, that might snap you out of it a little bit.

But it’ll be shitty. It’ll be sucky. It’ll hurt, but you have to just step away from this dude. They’re like, even if you just— Even if all you told me was that he wants a harem and thinks that all men want harems— that was enough. Like I would have said no no no no no no. Stay away from this dude like so… the fact that all of this other background… ai yay yay. Just… that’s my best advice. You know, it’s okay— it’s always okay to break up with someone if you want to break up with them. You know, generally speaking, I think that it’s always worth, if you’re in a long, long term relationship where there are lots of bonds, thinking about the reasons behind them. You know, I don’t always advocate people break up right away but that hasn’t anything to do with judging other relationships.

That has to do with you know how attached you are. You know whether or not the person involved has shown a commitment to recognising where they’ve hurt you, things like that, like, yeah, it’s tricky. But I’m just saying that like, yes, it is okay for you in this situation to break up with him over his horrible, truly disgusting beliefs and the power imbalances that he seeks and has in your relationship with him as well. Yes, that is okay, and in the future if you were just not feeling it, if somebody isn’t meeting your needs, if it’s just not working out, and they have no desire, not only to fix the problems in life, but to fix the problems in your relationships to the point where they deny your reality, then yes, you can absolutely break up with them. Absolutely, yes.

My secondary advice I know that it’s… I know— If you can find on the job, please try, because it’s going to be really really hard and I honestly like— if he believes all of this horrible, horrible stuff. I just don’t think he’s going to be respectful of your boundaries. I don’t think he’s going to make this easy for you. And I bet if we continue talking, and you told me more about him and about these situations where you’ve fallen into his arms, I’m betting that there was something he did.

I think there’s more to that story so. So yeah please if you can try to get out of that situation. Find a union, talk to them about the situation. Make boundaries very clear with him and absolutely firm, and then document the hell out of when he doesn’t respect them as much as you can. Always try to get witnesses. Never be alone with him in any situation. And if you need your union to talk to your HR department and say there was a previous situation with him. You have some history, and you don’t feel comfortable being alone with him, then do that.

If you have the union behind you. Don’t trust HR. They’re there to protect the company. They’re not there to protect you. And if he is in a higher position than you, than more likely than not, they’re going to get rid of you than actually trying to fix the situation. So be wary of HR but if you have a union on your side then they will protect you and advise you of what your rights are and what you can ask for and argue for.

So yeah, I’m so sorry you’re in this situation because it really really sucks but I’m just hoping that the clarity that I’ve been able to provide for this situation have helped you realise that you deserve a lot better than this. And you don’t deserve to be this ridiculous push pull tug of war crap for this guy. And as much as he might— I mean, honestly like— such a low bar. P walked into a bar because it was so low. Like telling you have the right to, you know, ask for more sexual partners if that’s what you want, telling you that you are special… Anyone can do that. That’s being a friend, and maybe you haven’t had very good friends in your life and I can relate.

But he’s not doing, you know— there’s another episode I did ages ago about gold medals. Please go look that one up, because you’re giving him gold medals for shit that basic friends should do. Friends should be able to tell you all this stuff, he’s not doing anything amazing by doing that he’s just, you know, doing what he should do as a friend. So yeah, I’m gonna stop— I just feel really bad for your situation. I really really hope that you’re able to do all these things because you definitely definitely don’t deserve to be this weird second fiddle in this guy’s bizarre harem. Okay. I hope that helps. Good luck.

Do you have a question?

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Slutshaming and polyamory

I identify as non monogamous, all my partners know that about me, and I feel very sure about this lifestyle for me.

I’m currently closely dating a man who also claims that he is non monogamous, the last month we have been living with each other and I haven’t actively been pursuing other partners or dates out of my own volition. But in a few weeks im going to Europe with one of my best friends, she and I are bother hyper sexual and can sometimes encourage each other to get rowdy sexually (with other people, not each other) so in preparation for this trip I wanted to check in with my partner and re talk about boundaries and clarity.

It turned into a disaster, he got very insecure and started questioning why I have the desire to sleep with randos, why I’m even non monogamous, and giving me shit about past experiences of random frivolous sex I’ve had…( I consensually had sex with an Uber driver, and in confidence I told my partner, who later threw it back at me with such lines as “I don’t get why you wanna just fuck every taxi driver you see…”) I don’t know if that’s necessary information, it just got elevated and unnecessary.

Anyhow, I feel confused by this, he also has had other partners and I support him in that, though currently none of them are pursuing him because I’m in the picture, not my choice , theirs. And he knew that random hookups were of interest to me before we started dating.

I feel like his aggressive behavior is unnecessary, and it’s putting a strain on our relationship. This is where I stand, I do not want monogamy, I want autonomy to participate in safe random hook ups if I so desire, and I don’t know how to explain to him why that is a desire of mine.

How do I add clarity for him? How do I Help him with his insecurities so I can keep on as a non monogamous autonomous person? And am I valid in being upset that he’s upset?

The bigger issue underlying all of this is that you have a partner who has absolutely no problem with shaming and guilting you for your choices. The intent of this is to make you feel ashamed and it is, fundamentally, emotional abuse.

We all have different ways of expressing our sexuality. I’m not the type of person who does random hookups, generally speaking. That in and of itself isn’t a judgement towards anyone who does. It’s just not something I’m interested in. When I had a nesting partner who did do random hookups, it was a difficult thing for me to work out and I can’t say I had the best reaction to it.

This wasn’t because I felt like they were being irresponsible or because I had any feelings about it but more because sex represented something different to me, it was hard for me to put myself in the mindset of someone who wanted to do hookups. I still don’t know if I can put myself into that mindset. And sometimes I still get scared I’m not “enough” when new hookups happen. But I cope with these feelings by talking it out with my partner and, even though I have said things that have made them feel judged about their choices, I have apologised for that and have never meant to make them feel like there’s something wrong with them for wanting to have hookups.

And I’ve certainly not taken one hookup and threw back at my partner not only that they hookup with *everyone*, but also encouraged further shame. I’ve never questioned why they are non-monogamous to begin with either. I have definitely expressed genuine confusion by their choice and it did take me awhile to understand that I didn’t *need* to understand this for us to work things out, but to go as far as what your partner has done throws up some serious red flags.

He’s allowed to feel insecure and scared, but he’s not allowed to encourage you to feel shameful for your own choices in the way you describe, especially aggressively. You’re never going to make him understand your want for random hookups if he doesn’t get it but he also doesn’t have to inherently understand it to be respectful of you. I don’t know why my partner likes pineapple on pizza but I certainly don’t go on about how disgusting it is in a way that’s supposed to stop them from doing it or make them feel bad about it.

Personally, I would find it hard to stay in a relationship with someone who did this kind of gaslighting (extrapolating that because you had sex with ne Uber driver that you have sex with every single one) and emotionally abusive behaviour towards me. Still, I can empathise with the fact that it’s possible he’s lashing out because he’s insecure and doesn’t know how to handle it. We’re all capable of acting in an abusive way when under duress, especially if we have experienced that from caregivers.

But, if this is going to work, then some things need to happen. First, he needs to acknowledge these instances where he has encouraged you to feel shame, apologise for them and commit to stopping that. Second, he needs to commit to, if it’s accessible, seeing a therapist to work out how to better regulate his emotions so that he doesn’t lash out at people when he is feeling insecure. Third, you need to explain, unequivocally that, regardless of the current state of partners, your relationship is and always has been non-monogamous and you can and will be having random hookups if you want. If he does not like that or does not want that to happen, he needs to break up with you instead of trying to shame you out of having them.

And last, while I am more than willing to understand that people say things they don’t mean in times of stress and trauma, you need to exercise your ability to walk away or immediately stop any conversation with him that leads back to these ways of basically abusing you over things you have done in the past. Do not entertain that type of discussion ever again. He’s absolutely allowed to be scared and insecure — that’s pretty much a given. But he needs to be able to discuss it without shaming you about your choices.

Finally, you’re valid in what you’re feeling. You like random hookups and that’s legit. Even if someone else doesn’t understand it, there is no good reason why, so long as you are doing it for fun and not as a form of self-harm, anyone needs to question your reasoning for doing it. Your partner could have valid concerns about why you’re interested in random hookups and maybe there is or could be some larger issue (or not) — but that’s for you to handle and explore on your own and it’s certainly not going to be solved through shame and abuse.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 46: STI Risk

How worried should you be about STI risk if you are immunocompromised?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: Why do you think your parents are the way they are? What were the pressures and difficulties they were under?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 45 – Sex Work and Polyamory

What resources are available for someone who asks about dating a sex worker? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What do you blame your parents for?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My partner and I have been together and have been mostly monogamous  for over a year – and fluid bonded for the majority of that.  Our deal is that we give a heads up before sleeping with someone else and that we use condoms.  After my partner had a slip up, I realized that despite talking about safer sex practices in the beginning of our relationship… he didn’t really retain much of that information, and we definitely needed to have a deeper conversation about STI risks, safe sex practices, condoms for toys/oral, etc.  I’m also immunocompromised so it’s a little bit of a bigger deal to me than it may be to others.

After bringing up some of my concerns, he told me that he doesn’t think he can do condoms for oral, but he can definitely ask about recent STI panels and condoms on toys. Welll… glad he’s being honest about it.  But… if he has partners who frequently have “oopsie, got drunk and had sex without a condom!” experiences, an STI panel from 3 months ago doesn’t really provide me with a whole lot of reassurance.

So… I feel like my options here are to go back to condoms all the time until he comes back with a clean(sic) STI test (and doesn’t have any other partners at the time) and not do oral… and I guess no kissing either?!?  Orrrr, just deal with the risk and if I end up with something because of his less-than-safe practices, hope that it is something that a quick course of antibiotics will take care of.

Both of us were already seeing other people when we first got together, but we became the only person the other was seeing within a couple of months.  There have only been two occasions when he has hooked up with someone else – the first time was a one-time thing, but this last one (where I didn’t get a heads up and he didn’t use a condom… but he did tell me about it the morning after) he plans to continue to keep seeing. So… that’s another issue I have.

I’m super hurt because I basically feel cheated on.  Our whole agreement was totally “forgotten” in the heat of the moment and now I have to figure out how to deal with him continuing to see a person that, from my emotional perspective, he cheated with.

I don’t feel like I have the right to tell him he can’t continue to see her.  It’s his choice.  I’ve told him how I feel about it.  He doesn’t see things the same way I do.  He just sees it as “got drunk, didn’t plan on having sex, so didn’t give heads up.  Whoops. As long as I give heads up in the future it’s all good.”

I’m really trying not to be too emotional and I’m trying to apply logic and rationality to the whole situation.  What’s your take?

Response:

So I can totally relate to your situation in so many ways. First of all, I’m more or less immunocompromised. I’m not really sure how immunocompromised I am, but I need to be careful about getting sick, and sometimes when I’m sick I can be sick for weeks on end for things that it would take normal people— or people who are not immunocompromised rather. Shouldn’t say “normal”. It takes them less time to get over some things. So I have always always always been very very paranoid about STIs.

And part of that comes from stigma, and I think that that’s something that you kind of have to realise. We are— unless you grew up in a different culture and apologies if you did— but I know that the culture I grew up in has basically terrified me with the idea that STIs are these horrible cursed things. And they do terrible things and they can cause— you know we’re very hyped on all of the horrible things that can happen if we get STIs.

And yes, there are permanent STIs like HPV and like HSV that can be permanent. But even those— and HIV as well— But even those are… First of all it’s different now than it was 20 to 30 years ago, when it comes to HIV, and even in the case of those like such in the case of herpes like a lot of people have it and most people will agree like yes there are drawbacks to it but much of the problem is stigma. So, what helped me kind of cope with this because I also had a partner that was very casual, and we tried to be fluid bonded and we tried to come up with agreements that made me feel better.

I still felt incredibly terrified every time they had a new partner because I was just afraid there was going to be some STI risk, but when you actually learn about— more about STIs and also about the different risks of different acts, and also that there’s some STIs that you won’t know if you have it unless you have a physical visible symptom. Like HPV, for example, a lot of— it’s very very common, but you can have it and it won’t show up on an STI panel unless you have a physical symptom like a wart or you, or HPV, you have a pap smear and it comes back with HPV on it like an abnormal pap, you could otherwise have it.

And it’s really hard not to learn about that kind of stuff and it not freak you out, because I have lifelong disabilities. I am really scared of having another condition to manage. It is a thought, which really stresses me the hell out. I mean even just today. I haven’t had my medication filled that I need to take. I put in my prescription order to the pharmacy 10 days ago. My GP still hasn’t approved it and I’m playing medium between, even in a country where I get free health care, I’m having to call my GP, “Why haven’t you sent me a prescription?”. It’s stressful the life admin of having chronic conditions is exhausting.

If you’re immunocompromised because you have a chronic condition, it’s okay to be like I just don’t want another thing that I have to manage. That is stressful and I get that, but all sex comes with risk. And the thing of it is, even with the rules that you have in place where he always use condoms even for oral. If he’s using condoms and having penis in vagina sex, then you’re still at risk for herpes. You’re still at risk for HPV. You’re still at risk for things that have a skin to skin contact, and sometimes dormant periods, like you say three months but actually some things can be dormant for six months.

Everything just comes with a risk and the thing of it is is, we’d like to think that it’s simple math that the more people you have sex with the higher risk that you have, and even the example that you give of him getting involved with someone who kind of gets drunk and have sex without a condom. The thing is, is— you could have tons of one night stands with someone and never get something you could also have sex for the first time, with someone else, and get something. It just isn’t that simple. STIs don’t care if you’ve had an STI panel or not.

They don’t care if someone’s drunk or not. And some STI that are transferred to skin to skin contact don’t care if you’re using a condom or not. I get that you want to have these barriers to protect yourself. But in my situation, being fluid bonded and having all this like we— We tried to come up with some rules about asking people if they had recent STI test, getting an idea of whether or not they were responsible about their own sexual health, but I still had to come to the conclusion— because originally, what I wanted to do is for my partner, not to sleep with someone the first time they met them or not to have casual sex. I only wanted them to have sex with people that they had known for a few months.

And my partner brought up the the sort of very valid point that whether they’ve known someone or not for a month doesn’t change their STI risk level. Knowing someone doesn’t necessarily change the STI risk level and that was really hard for me to contend with. But it’s really kind of the truth. Either someone takes charge of their sexual health and gets STI checks. And even if they do that doesn’t mean they’re never going to get an STI, or they don’t. People can lie about it. There’s nothing you can do about it/ There’s so much stuff you can’t control.

And in the end, like— you know, my partner didn’t necessarily want to have these overdrawn conversations with every single person. Their level of sexual health risk was different than my level of sexual health risk. And what I ended up doing instead, because fluid bonding doesn’t mean anything emotionally to me and I don’t need to be fluid bonded with anyone. That was just kind of a thing that we wanted to try. I decided, “Okay, how about this? Instead of you using super amount of barriers and protection with everyone else, you just use all the barriers, you can with me”.

And even though maybe that’s less fun, it actually makes me feel loads better. I know that I’m still— like even with all the barriers that I use, I know that I’m still not completely eliminating my risk because there’s just no way. You know, if I don’t want to ever ever get an STI than I just shouldn’t ever have sex, and even then there… I’m not going to go into those situations but there are— there’s still a risk. Like I… you know through sexual violence, I was put at risk of STIs before I had sex willingly so there’s just no way for me to, you know— it’s a risk. Especially if I actually want to engage in with in sexual relationships with people, it’s just a risk that I have to accept.

So I do think that what you might want to consider is thinking about the barriers that you can use on your end that make you feel better, because you’re never going to be able to completely control all the circumstances. People can lie about getting an STI panel. If you want to make sure that you’re as protected as you want to be, then have— use those barriers with your partner, and let them decide what their risk is what other people.

The other thing that’s happened here I can also relate to I’ve been in situations where I assumed that our discussion about sexual health was understood and actually this exact— almost this exact kind of thing happened, except the partner that I was with had oral sex with someone without a condom, and I was like “Uh, I said use condoms” and they were like, “Oh, but I thought that was just for penetrative sex”.

So people do— that’s the problem is that “safe sex” is— Well “safe sex”— completely “safe sex” doesn’t exist, and safer sex is you know— what is safer? It really depends on the person, and what they want to risk. So, you know, your partner doesn’t see condomless oral as a huge risk for that they feel is risky for them. And that’s valid and legit, but you kind of have to you know, you said it yourself. There needs to be a deeper discussion about what specific barriers should be used in specific situations.

So, I don’t— I think it’s hard not to feel as though you were— that you were cheated on because you did have these rules when they were broken. But I think that in this situation, you know his reasoning does kind of make sense. Like, he didn’t know he was going to sleep with someone, so he didn’t give you a heads up about it because he didn’t know it was going to happen. He did tell you the next morning, and he misunderstood the safer sex rules. So, as hard as it might be to like not feel betrayed— like you can feel betrayed but his reasoning kind of does check out, and I think that it’s worth…

You know, I think that the the previous suggestion about you know you deciding what barriers you want to use with your husband or, sorry boyfriend, and then you know that helping you address the level of your risk rather than you know kind of trying to control his behaviour as well and then trying to control the behaviour of everyone he sleeps with, which is going to be really really hard for you might actually solve this problem.

Another thing that I want to kind of point out, which isn’t part of your original question, but one of your rules is, is the heads up rule.  And I think that this is a good reason why that doesn’t that rule doesn’t always work out very well and I think what that rule is trying to do and the reason that you’ve put it in place is because what you want to have this discussion maybe about… maybe you want to know that you have more of an STI risk or maybe, I don’t know why is it that you think having a heads up before he sleeps with someone else changes something for you?

Because, I mean, what if it’s like three o’clock in the morning and he wants to sleep with someone  do you want him to text you? Do you want him to call you and wake you up? Like I feel like this heads up thing is… it’s designed to try and help you emotionally deal with a situation. I could be wrong, but when I had a kind of similar rule it was like, “Okay, I have a heads up so I know. So I can like batten down the hatches and prepare”. But actually, I don’t think that that helps always.

I think that, you know— what you want is you want a partner who talks to you about the new situations developing their life, who doesn’t hide things from you. And he didn’t hide things from you. He did tell you the next morning, but the rule is trying to prevent someone from being dishonest to you but a person who is dishonest to you, isn’t going to care about a rule. So I think you should kind of rethink this heads up rule, and think about okay what am I actually trying to prevent?

Because you could have a bad reaction, regardless of whether or not he gives you a heads up, like… And the thing about this is, as well as that the heads up thing kind of. It’s not an overt rule that says, “I have to give you permission to sleep with someone”, but it does kind of imply that. Because, basically, if he calls you and say “Oh I’m going to sleep with someone”, you can only kind of say yes or no to that situation or you can kind of have a reaction, which he would then interpret as a no.

So, in a way, it is kind of you giving him permission. And the thing about permission is that when you’re forced— when you’re in a position to give someone permission or not in a polyamorous type of setup, you’re going to want to say yes, even when you don’t feel that great about it because you don’t want to tell your part— I mean you don’t even feel like you have the right to tell him not to see a person who you don’t feel great about now. So, you’re always going to be— if you’re going to be given permission, you’re always going to feel pressured to say yes.

And then if you say no, it’s like, okay, then maybe he’ll have resentment? Like it just puts you in a weird situation. It puts him in a weird situation. It’s also, if it is an actual permission situation it’s not really fair for that other person as well. So like, yeah, kind of think about this rule, because if you want a partner who communicates to you and keeps you up to date with what’s going on with them and cares about your feelings, that’s legit and I understand that, but this rule in and of itself isn’t going to create that.  And actually what this rule has done is create more problems for you than it’s actually helped.

Because now you’re in a situation where like well he didn’t give me a heads up but for him it’s like well I didn’t plan on having sex with someone. So now is he supposed to like text you in the middle of the night, if he wants to have sex with someone new? Do you really want to be woken up at three o’clock in the morning? I don’t know I’m saying three o’clock, but it could not be three— but you know what I mean like do you want to be woken up? Or maybe you’re having a really terrible night. Like, one time my partner, wanted to tell me about something, but it was just after the Orlando thing had happened.

And I was so upset and I was so not in a good place. And even though we have a rule of not hiding things from one another, my partner waited until, at least a day after that to tell me something, not because they wanted to hide something from me, but because I wasn’t in the right state at the time, and that would have just been more shit on top of the already shit sandwich, and I was already really upset. So stuff like this, like…

He absolutely should tell you about new developments especially where your STI risk is now more, but now that you’ve created this kind of immediate thing of “you have to tell me before”, it does create this kind of problem, and it doesn’t have to be kind of a problem. And because you’ve kind of set this expectation up, it’s now made you feel like shit because that expectation hasn’t been met when you don’t have to do that. One time my partner made a rule about something that I didn’t ask for. It was just like “I’m not going to do this” and then my partner ended up doing it.

And then I was actually upset, even though I didn’t care about it, and didn’t ask for the rule, but because they set that rule up and because they set up this expectation with me when they didn’t meet that expectation it freaked me out and I was like, “Well, if you’re not going to keep a promise that you set, are you’re not going to keep any promise?” Like, it made me freak out a lot so sometimes when you make these kind of really specific things, they can hurt you more than they help.

It’s not really helping the situation, because you know he didn’t hide it from you and that’s kind of what’s the important thing here you don’t want someone who hides things from you. So really kind of look at that. And then the last bit is in terms of this metamour, or person, I think that it’s understandable to have the feelings you have. Like, obviously this person was introduced to you in a not so great situation.

So obviously you’re going to still have some feelings about that and you may need to have a little bit of time and space away from this person for a little bit until you kind of rebuild that bond of trust with your partner and that’s totally legit and that’s fine, but also remember like you don’t necessarily know how much this person knew, and you don’t necessarily know if— I mean, I hope that he at least told this person that he was polyamorous.

But like, unless he specifically said to this new person like, “Hey, my partner says that I can’t use condoms for— or that I’m supposed to use condoms for oral but fuck it,” like… Unless that specifically happened I don’t think that it’s necessarily this other person’s fault and I think you know that, but it is okay for you feel a little bit of a way about it and you probably will until you kind of rebuild that trust with your partner, but, you know, try to remember that she can’t necessarily— she only goes by the information she knows.

Unfortunately, and, you know, she’s not going to know that that was a violation of your boundary. You know, and that’s not really her fault, in a way. I think sometimes when people that we care about and that we love do things that violate our boundaries or hurt us, and that involves another person that’s sometimes easier for our brain to say “okay we don’t want to be mad at the person that we love, so we’re going to redirect all of our anger at this person because it’s easier because we don’t know them”.

So you might want to be aware that like some of your feelings are kind of bleeding out of it, because you feel understandably frustrated, but you’re also kind of sympathetic to what your partner is saying to you and you don’t want to be mad at him but you’re still upset. So it’s a bit of a redirection in this case, but I do think you’ll feel better later on.

And it’s okay to be emotional is last thing that I want to say to you. Emotions are logical. I really hate— I can’t remember… there’s some philosopher, some terrible person who came up with the idea that emotions are one thing and logic is another and that they are two separate oil and water concepts and ne’er the twain shall meet. It’s not true. Emotions can be a very very logical and rational response to a situation. You had an expectation that something would happen. It didn’t happen the way you expected it to happen.

And now you’re feeling confused and upset and that is rational. That is logical. It is logical and rational to feel things. So give yourself a little bit of a break here. Allow yourself to be emotional, maybe see a therapist. If you have access to therapy, you can get all that emotion out in a safer place. And not kind of use your partner to vent the situation. Talk about it with your friends if you have friends you can talk to us about, But don’t stop yourself from feeling emotional. It’s okay to feel emotional, it doesn’t make you a bad person doesn’t make you unable to do polyamory.

It doesn’t make you… you know. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a character flaw. It’s just you being a human being. You have emotions. You’re not a Vulcan. It’s okay. Sorry for the siren in the background. So to sum up, first and foremost, learn a bit more about a STIs because it’s really really really hard to reduce your risk, completely. It just is. Like it’s just a hazard of the trade. There are lots, there’s— if you’re in America, there’s something called. I think it’s. Jesus. No, it’s not Jesus.

It’s San Francisco Sex Information. That’s what it is. And there’s a lot of information there. There’s Planned Parenthood. There’s a website for teenagers which is called Scarleteen, but it’s still quite good. And they’ll actually tell you kind of like what risks of what STIs you have with different sexual acts depending on what the genitalia configuration is. So you can learn more about like which acts are inherently more risky for which STIs, and there’s skin to skin contact sex with you, even with a condom doing penetrative sex, you’re still somewhat at risk for.

So understanding that might help you— I mean— it’s gonna freak you out. And it freaked me out, but it will help you realise just like that it’s just part of the risk. It’s just part of it. But we have overhype STI so just kind of remember that you’re working in an environment where you were likely terrified about this kind of stuff.  And that doesn’t really help you especially when you’re immunocompromised.

Also, maybe work on itself trying to control everything that your partner does with other people, control what you do with your partner in terms of boundaries. Maybe don’t be fluid bonded. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Like, I think actually being fluid bonded stressed me out more because I put too much emphasis on it. It had this meaning and then once the meaning was removed it honestly felt made me feel so much better.

So like use barriers with your partners. Have oral sex with condoms with your partners. You can have like penis in vagina sex, you can have through like boxer shorts, to lower your risk of skin to skin contact, like there’s other stuff. You can use, you know condoms with toys. Use as much barriers as possible with your partner. And then they can— he can do kind of whatever he wants to, assume his own risk with other people. And that way, you’re protected a little bit more than you know and he’s a little bit more freer to do what he wants in those situations and then you don’t have to worry as much. I think that— that’s honestly helped me loads and I’m in your position, and I feel so much better now.

Now that I— instead of trying to control what my partner does, I control what my risk with my partner is, and that is, it’s so much better, at least from my experience. Another thing to think about is this inform informing rule, and whether or not this actually suiting you or it’s creating more problems in your relationship than it needs to be. If your partner didn’t hide anything from you. And you know his explanation checks out, then maybe you need to think about changing that role up, because it seems like he’s willing to have conversations with you about stuff. It seems like he’s willing to keep you involved. It seems like he’s willing to— he’s not hiding anything from you.

So, just think about whether or not that rules, actually helping you and and what it actually means is a text at 3am “Hey, I’m going to shag this person”… A phone call at 2am, like… is that something you really want to want to do? Is that really going to help you? I think having a better understanding of, yes, you need to disclose find a good time to disclose this to me, you know, and especially like now that I have that rule in terms of, you know, I decide what protection I use with my partner and then that they don’t have to worry so much about what they do with other people, they can assume their own risk.

Now I’m not that worried about disclosure because it used to be that our rule was that if my STI risk changes because you slept with someone new, then you need to tell me right away. But now that we’re using like a lot of barriers between us I’m like okay, it’d be nice to know if there’s a change in STI risk in general but I’m good. I’m as protected as I can be and I still want them to get regular STI checkups and they do anyway.

But if they were the kind of person that didn’t care about their sexual health, me forcing them to do it isn’t going to change anything so like if your partner didn’t care about talking to you about stuff, then this rule isn’t gonna force them to. So, yeah, think about that rule. And then last but not least thing, again, like, oh yeah, there was two things. One thing. It’s not the metamour’s fault that that she didn’t know that that was your barrier and you’re kind of misdirecting the anger. It’s okay to be uncomfortable for a while.

Give yourself permission to be a little bit uncomfortable with her but again kind of realise that maybe you’re misdirecting some of that anger. And then last but not least allow yourself to be emotional. It’s not bad to be emotional, just know… try to understand how your emotions affect your actions, and sometimes when you feel really really anxious and really really scared, just like you know I’ve had obsessive compulsive disorder in the past. When I felt anxious I felt the desire to compiles, a desire to control the anxiety by acting in some way that I think will control it, but actually just feeds into the anxiety.

And I think a lot of times when people are in these kind of relationships, they get a compulsion when they feel all this anxiety to do something, to create a rule, create a boundary, to change things, to close things up or do whatever in order to try and stop all that emotion because they don’t give themselves permission to feel it. They blame themselves where they think that they’re bad or they’re irrational or controlling… Let yourself feel things just realise when you’re when your motivations for something or to stop those feelings or to get rid of them because that’s not helpful and find a healthier way to express your emotions.

Like don’t make your partner your therapist. Find a therapist, if it’s affordable to you. And, yeah allow yourself to have it  because you’re not going to be able to get rid of anxiety. The biggest obstacle in my personal experience with anxiety was punishing myself for having it. And so the thing that I try hard in my relationships to do is to just give myself permission to have the feelings. Don’t beat myself up for it, and experience it. Because sometimes you just have to go through it, come out the other end and “Okay, that was bad, but here I am, I survived 100% of my worst days, and I’m okay”.

Sometimes you just have to go through that, unfortunately. It sucks but it’s kind of a thing that sometimes has to happen. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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When your partner isn’t satisfied

CW: This week’s column discusses mentions of weight loss.

I’ve been with my boyfriend for nearly five years now and over the last year I’ve put on some weight, I’ve always been a little chunky but now it’s become a real issue for him. He says he no longer finds me attractive and describes our intimacy as ‘vanilla’.

He’s now brought to light that he’s curious about sleeping with other people but doesn’t want to leave me, he’s added that he has always been interested in this lifestyle change but because I’ve always been a jealous girlfriend he’s never shared that.

I can not pull myself away from this anxiety of the entire situation.

If he’s willing to sleep with other woman what’s stopping him from starting a new relationship with another woman?

Now knowing I’m vanilla, I feel far more inadequate. He’s asked if we could do things together with other people but I don’t think I would be able to control my jealousy.

How do I separate sex and our relationship?

How do I contain my jealousy and appreciate that he doesn’t want to have a relationship with anyone else(yet)?

I’m really struggling not to take this all to heart.

Any advice or experience would be hugely appreciated, thank you.

There is a huge difference in my mind between wanting to open your relationship because you as an individual do not feel satisfied with monogamy (regardless of who you would be partnered with) and wanting to open your relationship because you do not feel satisfied with the individual partner you are with.

In the case of the latter, I feel like, while I understand why people want to keep their partner around, especially if they are in love, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to not only tell your partner that you want to open up because they are, essentially, inadequate for you, but also it’s going to be that much harder for them to overcome a very valid feeling of jealousy and inadequacy because they’ve basically had that confirmed by their partner. That’s painful.

There are some situations where I see this kind of thing working if one partner is otherwise incapable of meeting their partners needs due to circumstances out of their control that could be acknowledged easily by them but… I have extreme doubts about this situation.

First and foremost, bodies change throughout time. While your boyfriend may have body preferences, generally speaking, people’s bodies will not always remain the same through a long term relationship and it is incredibly likely that most people will gain weight over their lifetime.

There’s so much here I could write about the incredibly problematic aspects of specifically a man telling his girlfriend that she’s basically too fat and he doesn’t find her attractive anymore that I just don’t have time to dive into it. I can’t honestly tell if your husband has a preference or if he’s fatphobic but… generally speaking given the society we live in conditions us to believe fatness is ugly and shameful… I find it hard to believe that he’s living in a vacuum outside of the culture he lives in.

And, to put it bluntly, it’s horrible as hell to ask your girlfriend for permission to have sex with others because you don’t find her attractive anymore — for any reason. Even if he’s losing his attraction to you, there are so many ways he could have had a better conversation — and, by the way, none of those conversations, for the record, include demanding you lose weight.

The second issue here is that it’s valid for him to want to have kinkier experiences but if he hasn’t even tried to do them with you, it’s hardly fair. It’s okay if you are more vanilla but we all are capable of at least giving a few things a try for our partner so long as they are inherently triggering to any issues that we’ve dealt with in our lives. So why not at least give that a chance before selecting to open the relationship?

There are deeper issues here that I’m worried for you about considering your boyfriend’s behavior. Someone who decides that a relationship is worth keeping around for their own benefit but not worth devoting any work to is not someone who is going to give you a good experience in monogamy OR polyamory.

If you had written me to say that your partner said he found his attractiveness waning and was honest about that but you had tried to do things that spice things up, including the kinkier things he wants, then I would have said that maybe it might be worth opening your relationship because he’s demonstrated a willingness to both respect you and valuing your partnership enough to make it work between the two of you.

But he’s not. To put it bluntly, he’s being incredibly hurtful and lazy to boot here. If he was always interested in polyamory or opening up, he could have said so from the beginning. Or maybe he could have kept making you feel inadequate out of the picture and just asked to have different experiences. I’m not encouraging people to lie about everything they feel, but also need to be understanding about the ways that our truths can impact others. There’s a guideline I’ve heard about whether or not to mention something to somebody about their physical appearance and it goes: if they can fix it in five minutes or less, let them know. If they can’t, keep your mouth shut.

There’s a way to handle situations like this that would be more respectful of your feelings. The fact that he seems to value his wants and needs over yours doesn’t spell good things for any type of relationship with this man. If he can’t value and appreciate you as an individual and put work into doing some things with you or improving your relationship, why on earth should you be a the third wheel in his threesomes?

Honestly, I think you need to reconsider this entire relationship. If he had been more considerate from the start of this exchange, I would tell you that feeling jealousy is inevitable and you have to learn to cope with things and part of that is reassurance from your partner. But something tells me that it’s not going to matter how well you can cope with the situation if you have a partner who clearly lacks a basic amount of consideration for your feelings.

I know you’ve been with him for five years, but it’s not worth your sanity and your self-esteem to basically sacrifice all of your feelings and needs just for the sake of letting him have some extra sexual experiences — especially if you personally don’t get anything out of this. All of your questions are about how you can change yourself for him when he is demonstrating so little willingness to change for you. Think about that.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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