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I have been in a relationship for 4 years, and it has been an amazing relationship. Throughout, we have been open and not defined our relationship. Which I was ok with because of my feelings for him, and sensitive to the fact that something was sensitive and hard for him to express and share with me.

Having no defined title or relationship has been a struggle for me, for a long time I didn’t want to seem like I needed more, too much, or to infringe on his life too much, so I haven’t.

In the past year and a half, he has been a very big part of my life. Opening himself up emotionally and letting me into his life, family, friends. To me this has been great and I have done the same for him. My struggle is that he hasn’t really told me what he wanted in life and in this relationship, or in general.

I have recently told him I love him, which was no easy feat for me. Because I know I want him in my life and I want even more than that to express my feelings when I have them; it’s been painful to not express my love out loud in the past.

He has another person in his life that he has known for 2 years. He has told me that recently, I don’t know any more about her or the extent of their relationship. It was his first time telling me that he is non monogamous which for me was a big win that he started to Talk to me about his feelings and needs. (I have gathered this over the 4 years, if I hadn’t been ok with it, I wouldn’t have stayed)

What wasn’t a win for me was he assumed where I was feeling, because I told him I love him. Which makes me think that to him non-monogamy means you can’t love someone and express it. he started the conversation saying I want something different than he does. he assumed I wouldn’t be ok with non monogamy. And he assumed that my reaction would be to tell him to leave. That is not who I am, and especially not with who I am in love with. when I have something great I fight for it. But is he not going to fight for me? Does he not have the capacity to love and express this in words?

Is he ready to have a non-monogamous relationship with me as one of his loves if he hasn’t been honest and open about defining the relationship before? is this pivotal time a time to move on because he’s not ready? or Is it something we should work through?

If he hasn’t been open and communicative with me will he be able to start so that this can work?

I really, really sympathise with you in this situation, but I’ve got to tell you… you 100% absolutely deserve so much better than this.

Labels can be constricting in some cases, but they can also provide the structure people need. Sometimes I think people dislike defining a relationship because, in some cases, the definition of that relationships comes with a lot of other baggage and bullshit they don’t want to deal with. Then there are others who resist defining their relationships because defining a relationship also means defining an expectation of the work they will have to put into it — and they’d rather just not have to put in any work into any relationship. This is why I say time and time again that non-monogamy is not inherently more egalitarian because I think a lot of people see it less as a way to commit to multiple people and more as a way of never having to commit to anyone.

What makes me feel so incredibly sad for you in this situation is that you are describing the bare minimum of what should be expected of a human being in an adult relationship as if your partner has just completed some Olympic triathlon. Him talking about his emotions and feelings with you is absolutely not a “big win” — it is the bare freaking minimum a human being should be able to do with someone else. And I honestly feel like this is incredibly common for people who are dating men.

While I totally understand and acknowledge that men are constantly taught to suppress their emotions and their feelings (except for incoherent rage that is) and to not talk about them, every time we consider the basic human expectation of emotionally letting someone into your life something that’s above the bar and not the lowest bar of engaging in a relationship, we’re basically allowing this type of standard to continue.

You have sequestered your own feelings and needs for this guy for four years. You have, in your own words, done your best to not ‘infringe on his life too much’, despite the fact that he is a big part of your life. Yet he can’t even bother to tell you what you mean to him? You have to restrain yourself from being able to express your love for him because you are convinced that you need him too much but you need to really ask yourself if that’s true or if that’s just a lie that this society has told you time and time again. Your needs are your needs. And some people do need more than others and you know what? So what?

If he cannot meet your needs then he cannot meet your needs, period. You should then find someone who is willing to step up, tell you what you need to know, let you into their life, and not force you to play some type of tip-toe waiting game. A relationship is an equal exchange. Why should you have to compromise so much to make him feel comfortable when he is clearly not doing the same?

To add insult to injury, he’s basically been hiding a relationship for you for two years and his excuse is that he hid it because you said you loved him (which… you’ve only done recently so what’s this excuse for hiding it before then?) and he assumed you wouldn’t be okay with non-monogamy and assumed you would leave him… how is this even remotely an acceptable excuse for you?

And maybe this dude is new to open relationships and he started seeing this new person and didn’t know how to communicate this to you or explain it to you and was just afraid so he somehow thought pretending the problem didn’t exist would solve it but… is this really someone who you want to spend the rest of your life with — or even a portion of your life with? Someone who can’t even tell you they’re dating another person actively? Someone, whom you have to drag every single bit of communication out of like drawing blood from a stone? Do you really have something that great? Because honestly… you can do better.

You do not have to accept this standard of communication. He is an adult and he needs to act like it. There is no excuse for him being unable to take responsibility for himself. You are being walked over completely like a doormat and it isn’t acceptable. And maybe I’m interpreting something more sinister here, but the way he basically makes his own lying somehow your fault because he thought you would be uncomfortable with it makes me feel even more convinced that this is not a guy who is going to be there for you when you need it.

You talk about how hesitant he was to have you be involved with his family and friends — and maybe that’s because this other person has been involved and he couldn’t figure out how to explain what’s going on and doesn’t want his family and friends asking you too many questions. That’s not to say this other person is necessarily “more important” than you are to him (she may have had to push to be involved just as much as you have) but it doesn’t bode very well in either case. It doesn’t really sound like he’s as confused as he’s pretending to be.

He can’t even tell you his feelings. And if he needs help with that, he needs to get a therapist. You are not his therapist.

Not only is he not ready, but you deserve better. Please, please do not waste years of your life on somebody who cannot do the bare minimum of communication with you. Expect more for yourself and demand more. Never, ever push yourself into hiding your feelings or pushing down your legitimate needs because you are afraid it will be ‘too much’ for someone. You are not “too much”. You are enough. And good enough. And someone who is worthy of you and your time will have no problem communicating with you, no problem having you be apart of their life, and no problem with being honest with you and loving you just as much as you love them.

Be your authentic self and never allow someone to force you to be anything less. It might be difficult because there are so many men in this world who have been encouraged by this society to not express their emotions, force the women in their life to do all of the emotional labour, not pull their weight — but there are men who are not like this, who will and can behave like adults in a relationship and not pull this kind of nonsense.

Watch this conversation with Eartha Kitt and keep telling yourself that you deserve to fall in love with yourself as passionately as you’ve fallen in love with other people. You deserve someone who proves to you that they have earned the right to be your partner. And don’t ever accept anything less.

Best of luck to you and I hope this helps.

Note: I wrote this column in 2018, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.

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