Honest from the beginning

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I recently tracked down a guy who was an almost boyfriend in college. I had already met my future husband, even though we weren’t dating yet, and that held me back. Even though we never got together, this guy and I really clicked as friends & he even came to our wedding.

I’ve thought about him on and off over the years. This desire started getting more intense recently, so I really put effort into the search & found him (he has almost zero internet presence.) So once we got in touch, I was already infatuated. Total giddy NRE. We haven’t hung out yet, but we’ve been texting & emailing a fair amount and I really do get the feeling that there could be something there. We picked up right where we left off. I know that I was idealizing and fantasizing and still am a bit, but it also doesn’t seem that I’m wrong about who I thought he would be 20 years later.

But he doesn’t know that my husband and I are polyamorous. As far as I know, he thinks I’m his long and happily married old friend, which I am. But I’m feeling flirty vibes from him. I didn’t want to tell him we’re non-monogamous for a while because I didn’t want to scare him, but now I’m wondering if I should so that he doesn’t feel shitty about himself if he does feel something and doesn’t think that I’m cheating.

I really want this. I don’t want to come off as predatory or like I’m giving him the bait & switch: he thought he was having a good time with an old friend, but I want to jump him. But I really do think there’s something there.

When it comes to these types of situations, I think that the best policy is honesty immediately. If someone isn’t interested in polyamory or doesn’t want to consider it, I don’t think that there is a way to introduce it that would make it more likely that someone is going to be interested in it. People can have experiences of polyamory that turn them off of the suggestion for a while, but ultimately they are going to be interested in it or not.

I would have probably advised you to be honest from the beginning just because there isn’t anything inherently predatory about being polyamorous and being interested in someone else and not being sure if they are polyamorous or not. Polyamory may be intimidating to him, but it’s not something you can necessarily change by introducing the topic to him. It might be that you were enjoying the attention and the opportunity that this brought with it and you didn’t want that to end.

The thing that concerns me is that there’s somewhat of a flirty energy going on and he doesn’t know you’re polyamorous. Most of what you’re focusing on is your perspective and not scaring him off, but it might be worth considering it from this guy’s perspective. He definitely for sure knows that you’re married or doesn’t have any reason to believe you’ve gotten divorced. Without seeing exactly what your texts to each other say, it’s hard to say if it’s crossing a line and he’s okay with allowing that to be nebulous. That… doesn’t make for the best recipe. If part of the draw for him is the forbidden aspect of it, then it might end abruptly.

At this point, it’s just best to have a straightforward conversation about everything. Let him know that you’re interested but you are fine remaining friends and that you’re polyamorous. It might end some of the fun experiences that you’re having, but at least it would be clear to both of you, especially if you are feeling like you want something more from this experience than just flirting and you want things to be honest and in the open.

That’s the best way to go about it if what you want from the situation is to have an honest open partnership with him. You could prepare some information for him to read if he wants to learn more about it. Give him some time to have a think about it and respect the fact that he may have wished you had been honest before, though if he never came forward to make things clearer, it is hard to know when exactly to introduce the subject. It might not be something he’s interested in, but at least you’ll know for sure.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Being thrown away

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I had until recently a relationship with a partner, we were together for 1,5 years. He was wonderful, fun, loving. He lives in a different city but would come to visit me every other month. He has another partner who he has been with for a little more than two years. Last fall she moved to the same city as him.

We have regular check in meetings when we see each other usually just to bring up anything that we might need to talk about.

When he was here the last time he told me about a situation with is other partner.

Both of them had been dating other people as usual. But she had now told him that it didn’t feel right to her. She asked him why he needed to date other people, that she thought that they had a primary relationship (although he said to me that there was no hierarchy), and basically asked him to choose between her and I. He had said that he couldn’t do that because it wasn’t fair to me, and she then said that she was out. He was devastated about this, and when he told me I could hear on his voice that he was deeply hurt and crushed by the thought of having lost her.

He told me that he didn’t know what to do, that perhaps he needed to take some time from all his relationships to think about why he was polyamorous, why he seemed to be attracted to a certain kind of person, that he didn’t know. I said that I wanted him in my life always no matter in what form.

Then he left to go home. When we called each other about two days later he told me that he wanted to deescalate our relationship to a friendship, he said that “he had to do it”, that he couldn’t loose her, that she needed him. And that was it.

I feel thrown away. I feel like even though he said he loved me and that I was important that I was actually disposable to him all along. I feel like he never saw me as a person. Even now. He got what he wanted and I am sad and alone. I think he isn’t even sad that he hurt me – why would he be? He has the person he loves. I feel like he sacrificed me and out relationship like it was nothing.

How can I move on and find some closure?

Firstly, I want to say that I’m really sorry this has happened to you. It’s absolutely shitty and it’s not a situation that you really should have been put in.

I wish that I could tell you that if you found more “seasoned” polyamorous people you would somehow be safer from this sort of outcome — and that might be what a lot of other people would tell you. But in this case, you seemed to have done all you could do. You had regular check ins, you had a partner who claimed he didn’t do hierarchy (and that may have been his full intention — until it was put to the test) and there wasn’t really anything you could have done differently to address that.

Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t know they have a boundary until it’s been crossed. For some people, polyamory isn’t an orientation and it isn’t something they necessarily feel they have much loyalty too — and there isn’t anything inherently bad about that. I don’t think your partner is necessarily a bad person and I don’t think that his partner is either. If I had given him advice, I probably would have told him to wait a bit longer before deciding to “de-escalate” your relationship. Breakups are usually painful and difficult and most people are going to want to find a quick way to stop the pain. Making a decision that rash doesn’t seem like it’s helpful but I wouldn’t assume that he’s necessarily fine and dandy. If he is prone to deciding things so suddenly, he could wind up feeling the same way about losing you.

The important thing to remember here is that incompatibilities are not necessarily your fault. It may help, even if you do want him in your life, to have a period of separation from him where you can work out your feelings and process them. There’s a lot of understandable frustration and anger you can feel — and rightly so. Even if he doesn’t want to think of it in these terms, he has more or less sacrificed you to save his other relationship and done so in a very sudden way. While he was given this ultimatum quickly from his partner, he didn’t necessarily have to act as quickly.

Allow yourself to feel and let some of this anger and frustration out of your system. Consider working with a polyamory friendly therapist if you feel like you need a more professional look in on the situation. Think about what types of conversations you want to have with future partners about this situation. I don’t think you’d truly be able to completely prevent this type of situation from happening again, but getting a gauge on whether or not future partners have really thought introspectively about polyamory might help feel more secure with them as I’d expect this situation to cause you to feel a lot of worry in the future about your place in your partners’ lives.

Also remember that a lot of people are in monogamous relationships for a very long time when their partners decide that they didn’t actually want to live the life they are living. Sometimes people choose the wrong path in life or they end up growing and changing in a way that the path they’ve chosen no longer works for them. It’s not something that anyone can fully prevent or predict. Sometimes when we stop trying to find a way to prevent things like this from happening we can also relieve ourselves of the burden of believing it happened because we did something wrong.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Betraying yourself for others

Reading Time: 3 minutes

My ex and I were together for a year and nine months. He was my first relationship and first sexual encounter. He is fifteen years my senior, and we met when I was eighteen. I didn’t know about his actual age, or the fact he had a girlfriend on the other side of the country (we were both new to the area at the time) until a few months into dating each other. I was vocal about wanting a non-monogamous relationship from the beginning, and continued to be until the end. However, he wanted more. When a dirty message (albeit unprovoked) came up on my phone several months after we met, he angrily told me that he didn’t want to be with me if I wouldn’t be exclusive. I was scared of losing him, and know that he knew he was pressuring me into commitment.

I justified my sleeping with other men on two separate occasions, as well as sending explicit photos to others because I gave him a multitude of chances to see things my way (or to leave, which he ultimately did and should have a long time ago, as much as I hate to admit it) and didn’t enthusiastically consent to monogamy. I knew he wouldn’t be okay with what I was doing, but at the time, I thought I was justified in my actions. I realize now that I in no way was and seriously betrayed him, even though I was never caught. I think it may be for the better for both of us now that it is over, although that is no excuse for what I did.

I am seeing a therapist now to work through both the end of the relationship, and how I contributed to the unhealthy environment. I still love and care about him so much. He was my best friend. All of this information makes everything even worse, because I wonder how could I have ever done that to someone I know means so much to me.

Do you have any advice for me on how to work on forgiving myself and move forward?

I feel like you’re holding yourself here to an account that your partner doesn’t seem to be holding himself to. This relationship began with him cheating on you, whether you were vocal about non-monogamy or not. A hidden relationship is, to most people’s definition, cheating. He not only lied about his actual age but he also lied about another relationship.

While I do think you should have been the one to cut things off when he told you that he didn’t want to do non-monogamy or even before when you realised he had been cheating on you and lying about his age, you are 15 years younger than he is and in a way, I don’t see why he couldn’t have done that either and I very much wonder if his anger at seeing the text was because he thought that, due to your age gap, he could somehow convince you easier to be monogamous.

Whether or not you were justified in your actions, I really don’t see this as some kind of long intense and intended deception. If anything, you were honest from the outset on what you intended to do. Even if you knowingly did things you knew he wouldn’t like, it’s not like you overtly lied about it either.

On the contrary, there’s a lot of excuses for what you did. He was pressuring you to commit in a way you didn’t want to commit. You gave him the chance to leave on a consistent basis. While I absolutely do think you should have ended things when he said he didn’t want to be with you if you wouldn’t be exclusive, I don’t think it’s worth this level of self flagellation.

What you might want to consider working through your therapist with is what you define as a ‘best friend’ and how do you go forward recognising that the level of treatment you expect yourself to have for others is clearly not equal to the level of treatment you expect others to have of you. You’re asking yourself how you could have done this to someone who means so much to you but… he cheated and lied from the beginning — how could he have done that to you?

Go easier on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Being afraid of losing a relationship you can sometimes enjoy outside of the rough patches is a very human thing. Wanting to avoid a breakup is a very human thing. Be aware of the choices you made that ended up making this breakup more difficult, but don’t beat yourself up for it.

Pay more attention to when you’re also seriously betraying yourself or allowing others to do so and accepting it as deserved.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Hierarchies causing paranoia

Reading Time: 7 minutes

When I met the person (A) I’m seeing now, 5+ years ago, he was seeing other people. At the time I wasn’t particularly interested in anything more than casual anyways so seeing him occasionally suited me.

A few months in he told me that he was now in an open relationship with someone. The open relationship ‘rules’ he and his girlfriend had included no sleepovers, (which we never had anyways) and also that she wanted to know each time he met up with someone (presumably I wasn’t the only other person he was seeing).

Ultimately this didn’t make much difference to our situation, so we continued to see each other sporadically as before. We had several conversations about it, since I was curious about the idea of polyamory, having never really experienced it before. (I’ve had casual relationships with several people at the same time, but always stopped seeing the other people once it started to get serious with one)

Around 6 months in I started also seeing someone else (B) and it progressed rapidly. I considered how to keep both relationships going as I enjoyed them both for different reasons. B was very romantic, very much about us as a couple, very supportive, and very vocal about building a future for us together. A and I have a lot of interests in common, and we have a playful banter that I find irresistable. I asked A for advice on how to broach the subject of open relationship, which he gave me – be upfront and honest from the beginning.

I had one conversation with B where I asked him abstractly how he felt about an open relationship, and he said that while he wasn’t interested in pursuing it and wanted to only see me, but he was ok with the idea if I wanted to see other people. After some thought, I decided that it didn’t seem fair for someone to put all their energy into me and for me not to reciprocate the same in return, so I stopped seeing A, who wished me the best and we agreed to still be friends (although we had minimal contact for those years other than the very occasional friendly message).

Over 3 years later, B turned out to be one of the worst relationship experiences I’d ever had. He had lied, cheated on me with several people, and worst of all- gaslighted me. After a few months of discovering this, and some therapy, I managed to extricate myself from the whole unsavory situation and break it off for good. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since.

Around this time, I contacted A. He was happy to hear from me and we immediately picked up where we left off (he was still in an open relationship with the same woman). We saw each other occasionally.. and texted a bit in between. It was just what I needed after months of feeling unwanted in my previous relationship. Then COVID happened. We were all in lockdown, and I barely left my apt for months. A and I continued to chat via text, and about 1.5 months later I felt safe enough to venture out to visit him. He said he had been seeing someone else sporadically who also hadn’t really left her apt much too.

Things had shifted slightly during this time. He had split up with his girlfriend and invited me to stay the night. Over time we started to spend even more time together, 2-3 times a week. We were in contact almost everyday. He sometimes hung out with me and my friends, went away with me for a weekend in the summer, spent thanksgiving together with my friends. We continued to enjoy each other’s company (all this while I knew he was seeing someone else but I guess I never cared to ask for much detail). It has been just over a year since we started seeing each other, and about 8 months we have been hanging out since he split with his ex girlfriend.

Recently I’ve realized that I’ve developed feelings for him, when I felt jealous about hearing that he had made plans with someone else on a night that I had suggested to meet. Having not been a particularly possessive or jealous person in previous (monogamous) relationships I struggled with it quietly at first, trying to understand my feelings and why it bothered me (especially since I’ve known about his seeing other people all along). I realized that we had slowly developed a romantic relationship even though it had been undefined and hadn’t really been discussed. So eventually we talked about it all… how we both felt that this was much more than just a casual relationship, all the insecure feelings I was having, how he had approached his previous non-monogamous relationships.

He said he understood how it felt, having been through the same jealousy and confusion before when he first began an open relationship, of which he’s had 2. He patiently assured me that it was normal to have these feelings at first, and said that it was good to talk about it openly and honestly, asked how he could put me at ease, what ground rules would help me feel ok with it. It has been a few ongoing conversations that happen generally when I feel a little rattled about finding out that he has made plans with her. Not always, but sometimes, usually when Its a time I’ve suggested to meet, less so if it isn’t. I asked to know in advance when he was seeing her, so it wouldn’t be a surprise. He readily agreed to this. Then I said that like his previous girlfriend I prefer to be the only one that sleeps over. This he said was more difficult to walk back since the other woman and him had already been doing this, but that he would not sleepover with any other people he started seeing in the future.

I also asked about the nature of that relationship – he said they saw each other about once a week, and had no plans to increase the frequency. He told me a little about their connection, and tried to reassure me that it wasn’t as special as ours was to him. He has been seeing her for 5 months. She sees other people other than him sporadically too. There is also one other woman that he sees once every few months, that clearly isn’t emotional. No worries about that, in fact I think it’s pretty hot and like hearing about their sexcapades.

Anyways, I’m in a bit of a pickle. I think I am open to being in an open relationship, I’m in to the idea having other sexual partners, and am curious about meeting other sexual partners myself. I do however now feel the need to be the primary relationship, and that the surrounding relationships are casual, not emotional. But since his other relationship happened before we discussed any of it, it’s like a grandfathered situation. He insists it’s not the same and that I shouldn’t feel replaceable but somehow I still have a niggling feeling that comes back every so often.

I don’t want to ask him to end or some how de-escalate the relationship with her- to me it seems way too controlling and unfair(esp to her, even if I don’t know her) I’d never dream of demanding that. I think anyone asking someone to do that would probably end up being resented anyways, even if they did agree/acquiesce to it. I also believe that by asking someone NOT to do something they’d likely want it more, so that’s counter productive ultimately.

So, it’s a bit of a conundrum.. How do I deal with these feelings I have? Is it reasonable to desire to be a primary person in an open relationship and for others involved to be secondary in this particular instance? I can’t help feel a little like I’m changing the goal posts/rules mid game. While I believe him when he says I’m the special relationship, I also can’t help feel like that could change at any moment should they spend more time together, and it makes me uneasy. Is it a case of learning to get over the jealousy and just trusting in him or am I not cut out for this and should I just leave?

You started as his “non-primary” relationship and that changed and shifted. Despite the rules his girlfriend instituted, their relationship didn’t necessarily last. I think deep down you know this, which is why you feel anxious. Although his reassurance should technically help, it doesn’t. I don’t think that’s what he meant, but this is what ends up happening when people give the kind of reassurance that your partner gave.

When one person holds the position of “primary”, inevitably this means that this is a position you can either be in and or not be in. Obviously, you’re going to want to be in this position and now that you have more to lose, you’re a lot more afraid of losing this position. You’re not necessarily jealous, you’re worried that what happened to his girlfriend could easily happen to you. Someone else could grow stronger and closer to him and if there is only one place for a “special” relationship, then you’ll always have to be vigilant that you can be replaced.

It’s normal to feel when starting in an open relationship, especially when you start having more feelings, scared to lose your partner and to want to have more stability. I think people get scared in monogamous relationships too, they just have more cultural scripts to tie them down and soothe their anxiety. You don’t have that, so you’re reaching for something to grab ahold of. And even though your partner is willing to provide it, the unfortunate side effect of being put on a pedestal is that you can be kicked off.

Having nervousness around this doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for it. Negative feelings and jealousy is really typical especially since a lot has changed. Even if you dated previously but your relationship was different, it’s changed now so it makes sense that you would be nervous. I would suggest you and your partner not lean into your feelings. I wrote previously on this in a column called “When reassurance means denial” which might help.

I also wrote an introductory article which might help you and your partner find your anchors and figure out what you want out of non-monogamy and that might allow you to find something to cling to that isn’t a hierarchical position and also help you face some of these fears.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Regret after opening

Reading Time: 5 minutes

My wife and I have been together for 17 years and very happily married for 13 years.
For the majority of our marriage she has been unhappy in her own skin triggered by being over weight.  This lead to not wanting to engage in sexual activity.

In the past 12 months she has lost an incredible amount of weigh with bariatric surgery.  She now feels much happier in her skin and is loving life and looking to explore her new found sexuality.

Over the last 2 years my health has started to decline, I am on testosterone and thyroid replacements along with, at times, severe tiredness and my sex drive has also taken a nose dive.
This has put strain on our marriage and she floated the idea opening our marriage.

I am unsure of the idea with us going to couples therapy to explore our marriage strength and the path forward, we agreed to wait until after therapy to make a decision; however an opportunity had arisen with a group of people, I do not know them or included into any messages.  During the discussions on if she would go she said “can we agree that fo us to determine if this right for us an event should happen”.
I disagreed and said that is not a good idea however eventually relented and she went.

She went to the event alone, and had sex with 3 other people, the next day she briefly recounted the event with me.

I am suffering from regret and remorse on the decision, she does not and said it was one of the best decisions she had ever made just felt right.

Later on I requested we close the marriage, she got upset and angry.

There are a variety of reasons people choose to open their relationships. In some cases, it can be due to sexual incompatibility which can be caused by things like illness or age — or just be part of the way people are. I think that sometimes this can work but it has to be done with caution. Even when there isn’t an incompatibility that causes someone to open their relationship, they can already feel like they are “not enough”. It takes a lot to try and reframe your perspective from that concept but if literally the reason your partner is opening the relationship is because others can provide something you can’t… it’s going to be much harder to cope with that.

What worries me about this situation is that you have a partner who has spent over 13 years with a difficult relationship with her own body. While I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of her feelings or the level of fatphobia she faced from others, you can absolutely be “overweight” or be fat and enjoy life, have an active sex life, and be happy in your skin. I worry that her approach has reinforced her thinking that she has to be thinner to enjoy life and society probably is also reinforcing that. People who would have rejected her body before are likely not rejecting her now and I don’t blame her for enjoying the attention and the experience.

Perhaps that is the reason why she didn’t want to wait until after therapy and put more pressure on you to be okay with her going to what sounds like a group sex or swinging event. However difficult it might have been for you to consider opening the marriage while also dealing with your own health issues, it’s that much more difficult if you don’t feel like you’re going to have a choice or you’re relenting in places where you should stay strong and committed to your principles. When people do open their relationships due to an incompatibility, there needs to be reassurance and emotional support in the relationship. Trust has to essentially be rebuilt and re-learned.

While I want to be sympathetic with her in her desire to explore parts of romance and sex which may have felt previously off limits to her, I can’t help but notice that you never completely rejected the concept of an open marriage, you just felt a reasonable and understandable discomfort with it. You suggested couples therapy and asked for patience and understanding and at every point she instead pressured you. I do just have your words to go on, but it doesn’t seem like she’s offering you any kindness or understanding. Even if she was happy to have gone to that event, she could have been more understanding of your feelings.

You’ve done your best to try and be accommodating and it doesn’t seem like she’s putting in the same effort. It would be one thing if you were neglecting her, but you’re dealing with your own health issues that she doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for. Before you even agreed to open your marriage, she essentially made plans with others that you weren’t a part of and made it seem like you had to go along with it to really prove if you could do non-monogamy. While I absolutely do think that there is a point where you have to see if it actually works for you, it’s not too much to ask to want to go to couples therapy to talk it out first.

It is understandable she would be upset when you requested to close the marriage, but I felt like you probably wouldn’t have asked for that if you had actually discussed more about what opening your relationship would mean before it happened. She might be overcome with the opportunities that seem to be in front of her that weren’t there before, but she has to, if she wants to continue being married to you, be willing to understand your feelings and work with you.

Reapproach her and ask for you, before anyone does anything sexual with anyone else, to actually be able to sit down with a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk about what opening your relationship could look like and how you can stay together while dealing with this incompatibility. It would be also helpful for you and your wife to see therapists individually to address some of the issues you’re going through with your health and she with her self-esteem.

While she may have experienced a shift in treatment by others after having surgery, the only thing constant is change. All of our bodies change and shift in different ways and no body type is an obstacle for having a healthy, fulfilling life where you love your skin. Sexuality and exploration is not reserved for people who meet societal ideals.

If she refuses to go to couples therapy and does not honour your request to wait to have any outside activity until you’ve been able to talk with a therapist (which you can find online if there isn’t one near to you you can see) then I would seriously consider whether or not this is worth preserving. If she cannot respect that this is difficult and give you the emotional support you need, then it might be better to find someone who is more willing to give you that support.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Be your own game changer

Reading Time: 19 minutes

I’m a 38 year old White British cis pansexual woman. I met my partner B in January 2020. We are currently in a closed V dynamic. B has a long term, live in partner called J. We have had periods where we have both dated other people but that’s not on the cards in the near future. B and I started out having an affair. I ended my relationship with a long term partner shortly after meeting him (this was a planned break up – B was not the cause). B subsequently moved from cheating to opening up his relationship with J, provided he agreed to her two conditions -he is out of the house at least two nights a week to give her time to herself (ideally fixed nights, she likes routine) and she wants a strict ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ rule where he is not permitted to discuss any other partners with her. (I am sure you can spot the red flag here!!)

For fast forward to the present day… B and I have established an extremely close, loving, intimate relationship. I am very much in love with him and I think he feels the same way about me. He stays at my home 2-4 nights a week. He is contributing to my household financially. We are in the process of meeting each other’s friends and hope next year to meet our respective families. He refers to me as his girlfriend (although I prefer partner!) He is kind, patient, generous, thoughtful, loving, funny, outgoing, empathic, emotionally intelligent, supportive, an exceptional communicator, extremely flexible and open-minded (unlike me, who tends to be fairly rigid!). He allows me as much time and space as I need to talk about ‘issues’ (I need a lot of both!) He always tries to offer me reassurance when I am struggling. He is extremely honest and never shies away from saying hard things when they need saying, even when he knows I don’t want to hear them. He calls me out when I’m being a dick.

Whenever I present a problem or a barrier (which I do a lot being an anxiety -ridden overthinker!) he works with me to find a solution and compromise. Pretty much everything I ask of him, he will find a way to do. We have a lot of in common and we laugh so hard together. We talk about everything from feminist critiques of Disney to TERFS to art to pegging. My friends think he is wonderful. I honestly couldn’t ask for a more amazing man to share my life with. I absolutely adore him. In many ways, this relationship is working really well for me. I feel like my fundamental needs are being met. I am seeing him the perfect amount and we spend quality time together. Our sex life is amazing. I don’t have much interest in the relationship escalator, although I would like to cohabit again one day I think. So, what’s the problem I hear you ask?!?

The problem is that I am finding it nearly impossible to cope with the ‘V’ dynamic and it is seriously making me question whether poly[am] is right for me at this point in my life. I feel anxious, hurt, jealous, insecure, angry, resentful, worthless, expendable, vulnerable. I am acting out a lot – having emotional outbursts etc. And it is having a huge impact on my mental health and the happiness of the relationship. While he is extremely patient, I can see he is starting to find it draining to have the same cyclical conversation over and over again. Surely if poly[am] was right for me, it wouldn’t be this hard?! What I want, in my heart of hearts, is for him to leave her and be with me in a monogamous relationship (well, monogamish – I am interested in some degree of openness). We have spoken about it at length, including a very upsetting conversation where I asked him if he had to choose to keep only one of us, who would he choose.

And he said her- because of the longevity of their relationship and their bond. That has haunted me every single moment since he said it. That if it came to it, he wouldn’t choose me. He was furious that I asked him that and said the only reason that would happen is if I gave him an ultimatum and forced his hand. Wherever I turn there are reminders of their relationship and bond. He talks about her constantly and even when he doesn’t mention her directly, he says, “we” and “us”. I know there is no point asking him not to – it is second nature to him because they have been a unit for 14 years. Even if he doesn’t mention her name, she is still there, in everything. He does it without thinking. They have been together so long, how could he not. But this is exactly what I am jealous of and feel threatened by.

I feel like I am on the outside looking in with my nose pressed against the glass. His everyday language is bound up with the bond they share. And that bond is the reason he would choose her over me. They are literally two halves of a whole. Their lives and identities are so enmeshed – it feels like she is omnipresent in our relationship. And even this everyday language just reminds me that he would always put that bond first, including if it meant losing me. I can’t compete with this shared history. I feel like he is more invested in preserving that shared history and bond over investing in a future with me. It just plays on all my insecurities that I am not good enough, that I am easy to leave.

It hurts me that he would choose her over me – despite the unhappiness and loneliness I know he has felt with her, the lack of physical touch, sex and emotional intimacy between them, the fact she doesn’t want him in the house, her coldness and the horrible things she says to him. He would still choose her. While she is constantly in our relationship, he gets to compartmentalise me. He pretends I don’t exist when he is with her. They get to preserve the illusion of monogamy and retain their couple status.

I am so far away from compersion. I am seeing poly[am] as a problem and her as an issue to be managed and I am struggling to see their relationship as a source of joy or something positive. I know that monogamous structures don’t leave much room for compassion and empathy for a metamour but I am being barred from the benefit poly[am] offers in this area too. I feel so jealous and resentful of her. I am finding it hard not to see her as a problem to be overcome, as the enemy. I know I need to try to shift the negative feelings I have for her if I have any chance of accepting this situation. I have suggested to him that a way to help address my issues would be to re-negotiate DADT with her so she is at least aware of me.

He has refused to do this and became very defensive when I asked him whether he thought she was really ok with being poly[am] or just agreed so she didn’t lose him. I strongly suspect that if she was aware of the depth of our relationship, she would not be OK with it. He said he would revisit my request next year, and will consider telling her about me around June time, which I suspect is his way of making sure he has a safety net of an established relationship with me to fall back on if they break up. He has also said that at some point in the future, our bond may be strong enough that the ‘choice’ question will have a different answer. He has basically said that I need to be patient and consistent, keep focusing on building a strong, happy relationship and that will give me the best chance of having what I want.

But it is a chicken/egg situation – in order to have a chance of getting what I want, I have accept being second choice now (and possibly forever) and that makes me feel deeply insecure. In order to continue with the relationship, I need to feel secure. I know I have a commitment from him that he is invested in us and wants to build our bond, that he will find a way to meet my needs as much as possible, that he will support me and help me – none of it feels like enough for me to feel secure. Because ultimately, the fact remains that he will put her first.

I do think B is involved in poly[am] because he wants us both and this is a way to do that, not necessarily because he is totally wedded to the structure or even really gets it (not that I do either!) He told me he sought out an outside relationship to a) preserve his relationship with J and b) address an unmet need (rather than because poly[am] itself is enriching). And my concern is that should I stop meeting that need (e.g. for excitement and passion) or if I continue to pose a threat to their relationship, I will become redundant. I believe that had J not stopped having sex with him, he would not have sought out another relationship. He did so because something was missing, not because he really wanted to be poly[am].

I think this set up is a way of having his cake and eating it too. So when I try to negate the voices in my head that say I am not enough and that’s why he won’t leave her and I try to frame it as not being about me, but about his poly[am] identity, this falls down. I can’t see it as part of his identity, I see it as a convenient way to have what he wants. I am still left feeling like I am being used to help mend / preserve his relationship with J. I feel like he uses our relationship to escape the problems in theirs and to address unmet need. I worry that by bringing brought into an existing relationship that has problems, it will make things worse.

I feel like my position is unstable. And I run the risk of bearing the brunt of those problems if things go wrong between them. Although it is possible that this situation will expose the problems between them, they may become insurmountable and they will end. Even though he has told me he does not see me as being a ‘prop’ for his relationship with J, I struggle to see myself as anything but when he tells me he would seek to preserve what he has with her over me. And I think it is really clear that if I was exerting a direct threat to the relationship – e.g. if I told him to choose, he would choose to protect what he has with her.

He feels that I am unhealthily fixated on this ‘choice’ thing and it is sabotaging the relationship. Every time I highlight my lack of certainty that I can cope and dredge up the choice issue, I undermine our relationship and I move us further away from what I want us to be. I am making him feel less secure and safe and like he can trust me. And I think I am also making it easier for him to choose her because I am ruining the quality time we have with these cyclical discussions and probably annoying him. He is right to say that the only reason he would have to choose would be if I made him. So unless I decide that is really what I want, I know need to stop – I need to stop bringing it up and I need to stop obsessing about it.

Right now, he is choosing me – he chooses to come here every week, he chooses to spend time with me, he chooses to think about me and contact me, he chooses to buy me thoughtful gifts, he chooses to eat with me, he chooses to have sex with me, he chooses to introduce me to his friends. He keeps showing up and he keeps trying to show me that he loves me. Maybe all I need to do is let him and do the same. I can see this has become a vicious cycle – I fixate on it, that stops me seeing the positives in our relationship, I am less happy, I talk to him about it, it reaffirms the current situation, I am even less happy, he feels less secure as he is worried I can’t cope, our relationship can’t grow because we both feel insecure, the inequality persists. I have the power to break that cycle. I can choose to focus on what we do have between us.

I can choose to ensure the quality time we spend together is focused on doing things that increase our bond and intimacy. I can choose to accept the love he is offering and the tangible things he does to show me how he feels. I can choose to integrate him into my life and allow him to integrate me into his (without pushing him for more than he is able to offer). I can choose to continue to be open hearted and honest; share my worries and anxieties without continually re-visiting the ‘choice’ issue. I can let him do what he does best – flex around problems and knock down barriers. I can choose to ask for reassurance about what I mean to him and comfort when I am feeling hurt rather than talk about his relationship with J.

I can choose to stop comparing myself to J and stop comparing what we have built in a year with their 14 year relationship. It is like comparing an apple with a pineapple – they are both fruit but have completely different flavours, textures etc. One is not ‘better’ than the other – they are just different. I can choose to focus on the unique things that make our bond special and precious to him. I know that the only chance I have of being a ‘we’ and an ‘us’ is to persevere with the relationship and show him he can build a life with me. And to trust that over time, things will shift in my favour. To allow things to take shape naturally and to stop pushing and trying to control I have the power to do all these things. I have no power in their relationship. I can’t change the past and their shared history. I can’t change what they have now. I can’t change his feelings for her. I can’t push him into changing his relationship with her.

If there are going to be changes, they will happen naturally. I cannot push him to change their relationship. All I can do is work on ours. All I can do is love him the best way I know how. The only thing I need to do is fight for the relationship – but it is a gentle and quiet fight. It doesn’t require massive gestures or huge changes. All I need to do is keep showing up, keep loving him, keep opening my life up for him, keep building our foundations. I need to practice patience. I need to sit with the uncomfortable feelings. I also need to recognise that while being poly[am] throws up complications that wouldn’t be present in monogamy, the reality is that we are in a new relationship. And the things I want literally just take time. If J wasn’t a factor, I am unsure if I would be pushing for them. I am pushing for them because I feel jealous and insecure and I am pushing for ‘parity’ to help me manage those feelings.

But parity is impossible because I literally can’t have 14 years of a relationship in a year. I do think it is possible for me to become enmeshed in his life but this will take time. And it won’t happen as a result of me trying to pull him away from her or push him into actions he doesn’t want to take. It will happen because I am pulling him towards me and our love. It will happen as a result of me being consistent and patient and loving. And I need to remember – 6 months ago he made a massive change in their relationship, primarily for me. Although I did push that change, if he really hadn’t wanted to he wouldn’t have. He would have let me walk and he didn’t. So there is nothing to say that he won’t make other changes in the future. But I know that choice to make change has to come from him. I can plant seeds but ultimately, I cannot compel him into acting.

By continuing to push him and hurt him by focusing on the ‘choice’ issue, I am actively moving us away from having the relationship I want. I am actively making it less likely that our relationship will grow. I am focusing my energy on the wrong things and actually diminishing our relationship rather than allowing it to flourish. And I am hurting myself and the person I love in the process. All I need to do is let go of the things I cannot change and focus on the things I can. I know all these intellectually and logically but I cannot do it. I keep trying and trying and it is getting harder as my feelings for him grow. He asks me regularly – if I am so unhappy do I want to end things? Again this just highlights the crux of the issue for me – rather than agree to the actions that would make me happy, he would choose to let me walk away.

What I want, deep down is to feel like his priority and ‘first choice’. I want him to put me above her. I want to be his anchor and his everything. I want to be ‘his person’ – the person he calls first when he has amazing or awful news. The person he would call if he had ten minutes before he died in a plane crash. And I don’t feel I am his person because she is. But I also appreciate that this is part of the monogamous framework we are conditioned to believe in and uphold. And we are also conditioned to believe that unless we have the ties of commitment, you can’t be that person’s priority. In books I have read on poly[am], there is this concept of ‘game changers’ – people who come into your life and have such a profound impact on you, they force you to reassess your life and relationships. Often with the outcome being a major change takes place.

I want to be the person that shows him he can be happier, he can have a loving, sexual intimate relationship. I want to be the person who helps him see the world in a new light. I want to be his game changer. I know that in part, he sees me as that. He thinks that had I not introduced poly[am] to him that he would have been stuck repeating old patterns or got to the point of ending it with her. I know that one outcome for meeting a game changer is that they can make an existing relationship happier, which is what I think has happened here. Because of this arrangement, he has been able to preserve his relationship with J, while getting other needs met by me. And I know he is happier in many ways.

But I want my influence to go beyond that – I want him to realise that what we have, what I offer, our love and connection, are so amazing that it is untenable to stay in the relationship with her. And that has not happened and I don’t know that it ever will. I recognise that part of my desire for that is ego / pride and the want to be ‘the winner’. I think it comes from a place of inadequacy and low self esteem. And I don’t want my relationships or life to be determined by those things. Within all this is another thing I am torturing myself with. If I love him, why would I want him to end a relationship that makes him happy to serve my ego? If ending would make his life less positive? And would break his heart? I feel like a terrible, selfish human who has no business loving anyone.

So I feel I am left in an awful position – stay and compromise on what I want, tolerate feeling second best, invest in the relationship in the hope he will eventually see the light and choose me. Or walk away from this amazing man that I love deeply. Do you think that someone who is struggling so much with the basics of being poly[am][am] ever stands a chance of being happy in this dynamic? Is it worth the work and the pain? Or should I just cut my losses and leave him so I can find someone who is more aligned with the kind of relationship I want? Do you think it is the nature of the dynamic (the DADT, the fact we started out having an affair) is the issue rather than poly[am] itself? As this is my first real poly[am] experience and I have no close poly[am] friends, I am really struggling to find a way through this. I do plan to start attending a poly[am] support group (virtually for now!) and once my NHS psychotherapy has finished next year, I can pay for some poly[am] focused therapy.. I am just not sure its worth it….

In short, your boyfriend is right in some regards but he’s also very, very wrong on others. Here are some of the things I’m going to address about this situation.

  • Cheating and choosing
  • Being truly secondary
  • Focusing on the good
  • Changing your own game

Cheating and choosing

First let me say that it speaks volumes that you think the biggest red flag about this situation, or the one worth mentioning, is his wife wanting a DADT relationship and not him cheating on her to get his needs met. I do not blame her for wanting to not know what he’s getting up to or not want to know about you. If I were giving J advice, I would have told her to leave him and not stay in a DADT relationship because he’s not worth the struggle and pain she’s probably going through right now. She’s trying her best to insulate herself probably because, if there is a lack of sex in their relationship, she feels guilty about it. But she shouldn’t have to stay in a relationship she doesn’t want out of guilt.

If you start a relationship out of cheating, even if you as the “mistress”, for lack of a better term, get everything you want, you will have to deal with the reality of the situation which is that, not to repeat a cliche, you can lose them how you got them. He is someone, however wonderful you think he is, who, instead of facing the difficult consequences in life and facing a breakup, would rather cheat and be dishonest to a person he loves instead of telling them the truth. And that does not bode well for you. Because if he’s willing to lie to someone he’s been with for 14 years… then yeah. He’ll lie to you too.

The other issue here is you did sort of open Pandora’s box when you asked him to choose. And this is another opportunity he could have taken to realise that polyamory or at the very least a setup where you are secondary, and I’m not putting it in quotes because he’s literally told you that you’re there to fill the needs his main partner can’t, it’s not something you want. If someone asked me to choose, even hypothetically, between them and my partner, I would seriously consider ending the relationship because asking me to choose represents a fundamental problem in the relationship.

Being truly secondary

You are fixated on his answer to the question of who he would choose no doubt, but you only asked him that question because of the position he fully admits you have in his life. For some people, the titles of “primary” and “secondary” represent how much time a person can devote to certain people or how much expectation is involved in that relationship and these titles should be jointly agreed on. You have not and do not want to agree to being a secondary. And he willingly admits to you more than once that he has no plans to make you anything other than someone he can escape to.

You know far too much about his other relationship, especially given the DADT status of it. I’m pretty sure his wife, as you’ve mentioned, knows nothing about you. But you get to bear all of the emotional processing from his relationship while you will never get what he must know you want, which is being a primary partner. When he refused to leave his wife despite them not being compatible anymore he made the same choice as he’s making now. He will not leave you even if he knows that you are unhappy and aren’t going to get what you want because he’s getting exactly what he wants.

For some people, this arrangement wouldn’t be a problem, but for you it clearly is. And you’re giving him all of these kudos and back pats for being patient with your emotional outbursts when… he’s contributing to them by giving you way too much detail about his wife. You spent several paragraphs detailing how wonderful everything is, but the vast majority of your letter directly contradicts that. I have no doubt you have feelings for him, but sometimes we give people a little bit too much credit for what they should do in a relationship anyway, especially, and what I notice the most, when it’s a man.

Unless his wife dies in a freak accident, you’re not going to be his primary. He’s done everything but bite the bullet and break up with you since that’s not what you want. He has told you outright. You only asked the question about his choice because of his willingness to admit that he isn’t that interested in polyamory as a dynamic, he just didn’t want to break up with his wife. Polyamory isn’t about collecting a series of unfulfilling relationships until you reach a level of permissible stasis and that’s what he’s doing. You’re going to have to face that reality in order to make a choice.

Focusing on the good

Throughout my columns, I’ve talked a lot about sitting with discomfort because for a lot of people, polyamory will cause a lot of discomfort. A lot of people will have to work through basic fears and anxieties and rebuild the foundation of trust with their partners. But how can you tell the difference between you having discomfort because you’re doing something new or because polyamory isn’t what you want. Ultimately I think it comes down to your anchor.

I talk about anchors in my intro to polyamory article and I think it’s one of the crucial steps that are necessary in figuring things out when you’re starting out. Your anchor is the reason that you are invested in polyamory or interested in it and it cannot be to save a pre-existing relationship. Had your boyfriend worked out his anchor or been encouraged to, he would have realised that polyamory wasn’t for him. And throughout your letter it’s hard to spot whether or not you’re invested in the structure or if a good deal of your insecurity is being caused by a combination of the fact that your relationship was born from cheating and you literally have a partner who is telling you that your purpose is to keep him from having to leave his wife.

You choosing to focus on all of the good aspects of this person isn’t you finding an anchor, it’s you trying to blow air into a life raft with a massive hole in it. There’s always going to be upsides to a relationship. There’s always going to be positives you can focus on. Very few relationships are 100% terrible and if this one was, you wouldn’t be struggling so hard to stay in it. Focusing on the positives is the opposite of finding your anchor because it’s entire purpose is to preserve the relationship you have with him and the end result could mean sacrificing a positive relationship you have with yourself and your own mental health.

Be your own game changer

I won’t comment on Franklin Veaux other to say that I suggest you google his name and see what people who have been in relationships with him, even the people he wrote that book about, have to say about him.

All of your focus is on bettering his life with absolutely little attention paid to benefitting your own. I feel like you’ve been affected by some of the dominant polyamory advice in that you think that wanting to be his primary or his special person is somehow a vestige of insecurity or mono-centric culture you need to shed. Wanting monogamy does not make someone insecure. Monogamy is a valid life choice for a lot of people. Wanting exclusivity or to be special to one person and for them to be special to you is not a sign of insecurity or even a problem. It’s a perfectly valid want in the same way that wanting a child because you want part of your legacy to carry on doesn’t necessarily mean you’re terrified to an unhealthy level of death and dying.

It’s okay to want something for yourself. Your letter almost makes it sound like in order to be the perfect partner you should just be happy with everything, have no needs and give your partner no problems and… as someone with anxiety who feels constantly guilty about the way my anxiety impacts others… I can relate. The problem is not wanting to be this guy’s primary or to be special to this guy… it’s the fact that it’s extremely unlikely you’re not going to get it and your “emotional outburst” are your brain telling you that you’re on a path to destruction.

I can’t tell you if polyamory is ultimately right for you. It’s possible that you could thrive easily in another V style relationship where your partner chose you not because their relationship was going south but because they value you. It’s possible you could cohabitate with 3 other partners who have other partners themselves and spend nights out and feel comfortable and safe being alone because you’ve been able to work on the part of you that felt scared when they weren’t around.

But I can tell you one thing — you’re unlikely to figure out what works for you while you are waiting for a future that is unlikely to come. And furthermore, even if it DID come, you would still be in a relationship with someone who will lie to your face rather than break up with you even if your relationship is failing. Perhaps a part of you finds some security in that. I remember hearing a song that said “If you don’t love me, lie to me” and my mother telling me that she hoped that if her partner ever fell out of love with her, they’d lie to her and just stay with her. I can’t say that’s something I want personally but I can see why that would be safe for a lot of people.

Stop trying to change his game and be your own game changer. Accept the scarier parts of any relationship whether it be monogamy or polyamory which is recognising that, outside of being an asshole, you cannot force someone to love you or stay with you and that you’re capable of taking care of yourself even if you lose someone. Someone once told me that our anxieties quite often aren’t actually about the things we think they are. So if you’re afraid of losing your partner, what you’re afraid of isn’t actually losing your partner, but that you’d be unable to cope if it did happen.

You need to shift the focus from this guy onto yourself. Focus on making yourself happy. Focus on building your own resilience. Focus on trusting yourself and your gut and loving yourself and you will find it much easier to walk away from situations where you are not being as valued as you want to be. Put as much energy and effort into you and you are into this relationship and I think you’ll know then what you should do.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Becoming a third

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Up until 2 months ago, I had no previous experience with poly[am] dating or poly[am] relationships. What draws me to solo poly[am] is I have very deep needs around emotional connection and physical intimacy, but I don’t want kids or to raise a family, I enjoy living alone, and I love a lot of alone time. I’m also not a very jealous or possessive person and believe that love is not a zero sum game. If I give love to one person, it doesn’t mean I have less to give to another.

In June, I stumbled into possibly becoming the third in a heterosexual relationship that’s exploring opening up, as the man leans poly[am] and the woman more oriented towards monogamy. When the two of them met (we’ll call the man C and the woman B), C was dating another woman. C + B continued to date each other while C was with a third for about 10 months. For the past 9 months, it’s been just them with each other. Around March of this year, they decided to slowly explore opening things up as a couple.

The first photo in their profile was just the man and we matched, before I realized they were looking for couple’s play and threesomes, neither of which appeal to me. C suggested the 3 of us all meet up anyway for a picnic. We did and had a really nice time. They immediately asked me out on another date, which was lovely too. We had a productive conversation at the end of the night and B shared she was fine with C and me having a solo date, since I’m heterosexual and not interested in bisexual exploration or threesomes.

C and I both love developing emotional intimacy through texting and stayed in touch throughout the day, which then developed into daily sexting as well (more sharing of erotic desires and what we wanted to experience with each other than overt sexting.) I think the quick intensity of our feelings caught B off-guard, especially after learning about the length of our first date and an act of physical intimacy we shared (a cock massage, no orgasm or ejaculation). It was an act that was permitted while he was dating the third previously, but they hadn’t talked extensively through boundaries and violations related to him and me and the woman felt very hurt.

She was triggered and upset and asked for C not to be in touch with me for 2 weeks while she sorts out her feelings and needs, which she’s not clear on. She seems to also not be clearly attuned to her boundaries, so she lets things go, and then feels violated and activated. I have a deep need for communication in a relationship, especially during conflict— her 2-week request felt more about regaining control than equilibrating and processing her emotions. And C’s inability to show care and attention towards both of our needs and set his own boundaries versus taking on B’s were both red flags. What it communicated to me was:

1. C is not able to be/chooses not to be emotionally available to me when B is triggered
2. C is not able to be/chooses not to establish his own boundaries while holding space for B’s emotions- instead, he takes on hers (enmeshment)
3. Because they lack clarity on the shared boundaries of their openness, I’m receiving mixed messages and also fearful/distrusting energy, as if I’m a threat.

One more major concern: Because B has a lot of fears about opening up, she asks for reporting from C on our interactions and dates, which C provides, sometimes without asking me first. I addressed the privacy consent breaches with him and he was very apologetic but B’s need to know makes me feel like I have no privacy.

C also runs every activity by B for approval (“Is it OK that I rub her body during our date?”) I know some poly[am] couples place rules on what a specific partner can do with a third, but the notion that someone else can determine what I do with my body or what types of pleasure I can experience feels very wrong and out of alignment with my values and beliefs.

We’re regrouping after the 2 week pause next week. I really like C on his own, in a way that I feel just a few times a decade. But his partnership with B seems enmeshed, co-dependent, and hierarchical (I practice egalitarian poly). They did just start seeing a couple’s therapist with experience in polyamorous relationships, and they see individual therapists. I’m leaning two different directions re: our regroup conversation:

1. Share how much I enjoyed our time and suggest I’d be open to exploring reconnecting in a year, to give them time to align on their relationship vision and cultivate healthier relational skills

2. Go in with zero expectations and share what I would need to be different to continue exploring it:

That my privacy is protected (I’m fine with sexual activity at a high level being shared. I’m not comfortable with reading texts that I send verbatim or sharing any specific details of a sexual act without first asking for my permission)

That we operate from a place of mutual trust and respect; there aren’t restrictions placed on my sexual or pleasure experiences, our communication, or our emotional connection. And C does not run each relational act by C for approval.

That C is able to be both emotionally available to me and B, even when B’s triggered, and can simultaneously show care to our different needs around conflict resolution and communication.

That I am treated as an equal, positive, and a valued part of their lives.

Note: I can’t see them agreeing to these but I think it’s important to voice our truth 🙂 I’d value your perspective and how you would opt to proceed with a regroup conversation, if this situation was yours.

I wrote about this phenomenon previously in my article about why couples tend to want triads. I don’t think triads are necessarily bad or even doomed to failure, but generally speaking couples who seek to have a triad, especially a closed one, are doing so because they think it’s safer. And it demonstrates they haven’t done the work necessarily to address their fears or don’t have good communication and… this is the natural result.

That’s not to say here that B is wrong for her feelings, but C does not know how to deal with what’s going on between them without letting it affect your relationship in multiple ways including allowing her to dictate the terms of your relationship and also in the privacy violations.

It’s not really clear from your letter if they had a couple’s profile and said specifically what they were looking for, but I think that it was probably best for you to step out of that situation then — because what they want is something that you can’t provide. And furthermore, if you come across any other “poly[am] couples” who place rules on what their partners should do with others, and call people “thirds”, you should run for the hills. You’re not a “third”. You’re an equal partner to B and he’s not treating you that way.

You can give him an ultimatum and ask that he practice a more egalitarian form of polyamory, but ultimately that doesn’t seem to be what they were looking for from the start and, unless both of them want it, it’s not something you’re going to get.

I would hesitate to say his partnership is enmeshed or codependent — after all, it’s quite understandable to struggle with polyamory and to believe prioritising “the couple” or making these kinds of rules will fix what they can’t fix. They sound like they’re making mistakes to save their relationship and don’t have some great communication going. That can be addressed and fixed… just not by you.

Honestly the best thing you can do is separate yourself from this situation and wait until he contacts you and is able to have an actual separate relationship. Make the needs you’ve written down known and make it clear that a relationship cannot happen until these happen and make sure, if you try it again, you are real about backing away if you aren’t getting what you need.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Preventing hurt feelings

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I am fairly new to the world of non-monogamy, having only been introduced to it in May 2020. Through learning about the different constructs that can be applied to a designer relationship I have discovered that this lifestyle could suit me well. Mostly as it encourages me to address the multitude of insecurities and other personal issues that make non-monogamy difficult. For the first time ever I am able to be compassionate towards myself and not just others, I am cultivating feelings of self-worth and getting closer to being able to allow myself to be present with my emotions instead of running away or numbing with substance abuse.

I care about the person that introduced me to non-monogamy deeply on many different levels and have communicated that we above all wish to safeguard our platonic friendship. We have also talked about their reservations with continuing the partnership on an intimate level as they are scared of hurting other people’s feelings. However, When I told them that I am a big boy and can handle change in circumstances they seemed to agree. The issue was then raised about if they were to flirt with someone in front of me how would that make me feel?

And upon reflecting on this dynamic I would personally like to get to the point where I could be in the same place as my partner and be fully comfortable with them flirting and then going off to explore an intimate connection with someone else. I feel compersion for friends and ex-partners in those circumstances and feel like it is possible to reach that level with a current partner but only if I have come to terms with my insecurities and know that I am enough to make myself happy.

To answer your question short and sweet: you can’t. You can’t completely assure someone of how you may feel in any given situation. You can, if you have experienced that situation before, give an estimation of what you think you would feel based on previous experience, but you can’t assure someone that you won’t feel anything about them being intimate with someone in your immediate presence.

But that’s not what necessarily concerns me about your letter and there a couple of things here that need to be addressed.

Polyamory will lead you to security

The first worry I have about the way you’ve expressed your letter and wants is that you feel that non-monogamy is going to lead you to a better place as a person than monogamy will. While I don’t doubt that non-monogamy brings with it different types of challenges, I really really discourage people whenever I can to view polyamory as some type of bootcamp for their emotions.

Why? Because the given assumption is that polyamory leads one to a Vulcan-like state of detachment from their emotions. There is a strand of beginner polyamory advice that is almost cult-like in it’s insistence that while there is supposedly “no wrong way to do polyamory” all of it’s suggestions point to the only and ideal way being detached, balanced and guru-like, giving off the impression that having or feeling emotions makes one “bad at polyamory”. And this, without a doubt, is not only an impossible expectation, but not fair.

Far be it from me to leap to complete assumptions about you, but I do wonder, if numbing your feelings with substance abuse was an issue for you in the past, if you are not just looking for another way to numb your emotions. And the polyamory advice often given seems to endorse or encourage the idea and promise a sort of zen like tranquility. I don’t think that’s the case for more people, nor do I think it should be the aim.

If you are practicing or wanting polyamory because you think it will bring things into your life that you as an individual will enjoy — great. But if you are practicing polyamory because you think it will make you a more mature, emotionally responsible person… well… that’s sort of like someone having a child because they hope it will make them a better person. Adding more relationships to your life doesn’t make you any better at coping with emotions. And throwing yourself into the deep in will not help you swim better.

Emotions represent insecurity

The second issue I have with the assumptions your making is that, if you should have any feelings seeing your partner flirt or go off to sleep with someone in front of you, that this is an immediate sign of insecurity — which is pretty much what a good deal of polyamory blogs will tell you. But this is not the case.

People have feelings about seeing their partners with other people for all sorts of reasons that are not as simple as just “being insecure”. For many people, they are afraid to lose the partner they have and this is a completely understandable reaction to have. Depending on the context of your relationship, if you have a brand new attachment with someone or you have a history of trauma where people have abandoned you or betrayed you, you may be reacting emotionally based on that lack of foundation or your personal history. These in turn may make you feel you aren’t good enough — but it’s not necessarily just a matter of personal insecurity.

I think, for the vast majority of people raised within a monogamous society, they are not going to be able to see their partner flirting with someone else without feeling at the very least some of the intrinsic fear they’ve learned by being in a society that’s told them that love only means something if their partner is sexually exclusive to them. Not only would I tell you that you are going to feel that way but I would tell you to expect to feel that way and, instead of trying to prevent feeling something, try and learn how to sit in discomfort, figure out what it is your afraid of, challenge some of the assumptions those fears are making or… avoid all of that together and, if at all possible, don’t be there to witness it.

Unless you both have the same social circles or go to the same parties, there’s no reason to purposefully put yourself in that position if you don’t want to. While you shouldn’t avoid doing things you want to do because you fear having a reaction, you also shouldn’t put yourself into a situation you know may be uncomfortable if you don’t have to. There are no awards to be won here for emotional endurance, I’m afraid. So why do that?

Don’t assume that having a reaction to your partner going off with someone else is about your personal insecurity. If you pursue polyamory, you’re going to be trying something without the same cultural scripts as friendships or monogamy and that in and of itself is enough to make one anxious on top of establishing a new bond of trust with someone and trying to counteract all of the social conditioning you’ve had that’s told you that sexual interest is something meant exclusively for someone you are interested in and only them.

Not to mention, the idea here is that there is some type of linear achievement you can have where you may in the past have feelings when you see your partner go off with someone else and then you progress to a level where you do not — and this is a false expectation. You may have no problems with one person but problems with another. You may have no problems and then suddenly experience a traumatic event and then have loads of anxieties you didn’t before. Life isn’t a linear progression in terms of our mental health. We go all over the place depending on what’s on our plates at any given time. Expecting to reach this “level” in a way isn’t fair on yourself or realistic.

Compersion is the ideal

Last but not least, you mention a topic that’s drawn much contention from me — compersion. I get why people use it. I’ve actually felt it now! You hear that readers? The compersion curmudgeon has felt compersion for the first time. Wild.

However, the problem I still very much have with this concept is that, again, while we say “there is no one right way to do polyamory” or “no wrong way” — whatever — compersion creates an ideal and you are creating an ideal that you just not may be able to do either because you just don’t feel compersion or because you do have an emotional response to someone you like going off with someone else — whether it’s fear or FOMO — and you can’t stop yourself from feeling.

I worry that by desiring this state, you are basically setting yourself up for failure. Compersion is great to feel, as I now actually know, but if you don’t have it or you are scared to lose your partner, this does not represent a failure on your behalf. Don’t let this be your goal. Let it be a nice bonus if and when it happens.

You are enough but you aren’t an island

Lastly, I want to address the sentiment you have in terms of your insecurities. “I am enough” is a wonderful sentiment and I don’t want people to feel like they are dependent upon others so much that they stay in relationships that hurt them because they think they deserve the mistreatment or because they don’t believe anyone else would love them.

However, there is a problem within much polyamory writing that promotes the idea of a kind of bootstraps mentality where if you have a problem, it’s only your problem and yours to deal with. This type of self-sufficiency paves the way for people who behave abusively to take as much advantage of others as possible and then gaslight people for attempting to reach out for help.

Human beings are social creatures and our nervous systems regulate either by us learning our own ways to self regulate but also by co-regulation with others around us. We have survived as a species for this long not because of brute strength or some type of weird survivalist individualist Mad Max type of concept — but because we formed communities and helped each other. There is a “Western” concept of individualism that creates a lot of problems when people are so focused on individuals that they forget that our communities are also important.

Bottom line, if you feel you cannot reach out to your partners for help or talk to them, there’s a problem with that. While they can’t be your therapists, they should be there to love and support you. And being afraid of the loss of them in your life is reasonable and understandable. There isn’t anything about that that means you aren’t enough. It just means the obvious — however enough you are, it hurts to lose someone who was important to you in your life, whether they are friend, family, or lover.

In summary

To sum up, I think that, while I can understand what it is you want, I worry you’re setting yourself up for failure. I wrote an introductory article about some of the classic blunders I see people trying polyamory find themselves in and that might help you in your initial quest and also with some of the things you’re worried about here.

Allow yourself to feel. You’re a human being, not a Vulcan. Feeling isn’t failure.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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HSV 2 and polyamory

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve been in a wonderful V-triad for 3 years and I love my partner & metamour!

Recently, I tested positive for genital herpes and they’ve both been beyond supportive but they seem *too supportive* which I didn’t think could be possible. I suggested closing our triad indefinitely and even permanently to minimize risk and my metamour was okay with it but knew it would never work for our partner. I love my partner but I’m between a rock and hard place; I’m tired and terrified of being a risk and being at risk to a point I’m contemplating monogamy and/or abstinence while they wish for me to overlook the stigma and be a level of sex positive that one would normally dream of but I’m drifting away from. I’ve talked to my therapist but another source wouldn’t hurt at this point.

What might help you before you make any rash decisions is to fully immerse yourself in learning as much as you can about HSV 2, or genital herpes, and HSV in general especially it’s commonality. While I’ve not gone through this myself, I would expect that it is incredibly common to have to work through all of the shame and stigma attached to HSV in our culture and figure out what your risk level is.

There isn’t necessarily wrong with you having a period of abstinence while you reorient yourself and work on your feelings and your partners seem like they would understand that. From my perspective, it sounds like you’re taking responsibility for things that you have no control of and that’s likely not going to help. Rather than closing your triad, you could simply do only activities which don’t involve skin to skin contact for a period while you ground yourself again.

Being an immunocompromised person with lifelong disability and health issues, I’ve always been panicked by the prospect of having *another* health issue to manage. I can’t pretend the stigma itself wasn’t an issue for me, but because of the nature of my health condition, it affects my immune system for anything else, which causes me to be ultra cautious and also ultra paranoid. Combined with anxiety, I’m driven to want to try and control every aspect of everything to control my anxiety.

However, when I’ve had the prospect of partners who have HSV2 or metamours, I dug myself into research about HSV. When I realised how common it was, how it could be managed, how even wearing condoms can’t prevent you from catching it, and all of the other aspects about it I had to realise how little I could control things. Especially since, as far as I’m aware, you can’t really even test for HSV of either type until you have a symptom so it’s possible your partner and metamour already have HSV, they just haven’t had symptoms about it.

In the same way that I tell people that the cultural script of monogamy gives them reassurance and makes them feel like their relationship is “safer” than non-monogamy is, equally I think people also assume that STIs won’t happen to them when it’s really down to random chance in a lot of situations. Another good analogy that helped me was driving. We can wear seatbelts, drive safely and do everything we can, but that won’t prevent an accident and an accident can happen the first time you ever drive or the 500,000th time you drive. If you had an accident, it would make sense to be afraid of your partners driving, especially in a car you had an accident in but there is only so much you can control.

We accept culturally that the benefits of driving outweigh the risks — even though driving can kill you and HSV is not deadly. But we’ve historically put so much shame around STIs and around HSV in general that it’s hard for us to see that it’s just another risk and be as casual about it as we are about the potential of any other accident.

Give yourself some time and take a period of personal abstinence if you need to. Throw yourself into groups and learn about HSV2 and talk to other people about it. Find a doctor who will answer all of your questions and research as much as you can about risk. Maybe when you have a little bit more knowledge you will feel more grounded and be less likely to assume responsibility for your partner and metamour’s sexual health.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Hiding partners from each other

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I am monogamous, but I have been dating someone who identifies as poly for almost three years. We began our relationship while he had another girlfriend. That was a fairly traumatic time for me because I struggled with dealing with my emotions of jealousy, feeling less than and finding my place despite my desires for something more traditionally monogamous. Eventually he and his other girlfriend broke up, for reasons I did not know at the time.

We discussed that he would let me know when he became interested or sexually active with another woman again and things were smooth for a time.

It was over a year after his break up that I learned that he never stopped being sexually active but he never told me because he claims he did not want to hurt me. He said he felt like he was gut punching me every time he told me about his other partners, so he lied by omission.

I tried making this work, but I’m not sure what to do or if there are solutions. Is there a way for me to learn to be comfortable that he has other partners? Despite everything I know he loves me. I don’t question that. He just made a bad choice.

I don’t like knowing that if another partner wants more time, it would cut into my time. He also doesn’t want to live with anyone or have kids. Which are some things I want to experience. Am I trying to make something work that never will?

I’m sorry to tell you, you’re fundamentally incompatible and you’re both just delaying the inevitable.

The last bit of your letter seals the deal. You want to live with him and have kids and he does not. And you also do not like the idea that he would be spending time with other people, which inevitably will be the case if and when he finds other partners. Agreeing to non-monogamy fundamentally, even if you were to be monogamous yourself to him, means accepting a situation where your partner does not spend as much time with you as they would in most monogamous relationships. If that’s not something you want, then it’s not going to work for you.

And even if you were going to be monogamous, if you want different lives in a way that can’t be compromised — such as living together and having children — then there isn’t much either of you can do about it. You can’t really compromise on living together if he does not want that and you shouldn’t have children to make your partner happy if you do not want children.

It also doesn’t bode well that he’s basically cheated by lying by omission, probably because he knows that you do not want polyamory and he wants to try and keep things somehow and you’re being way more forgiving of him than you probably would be because you assume he made a “bad choice”. Cheating isn’t really just a bad choice. Just because you are lying to avoid hurting someone doesn’t make it better. He could have faced the music a year ago, ended it and given you a year to find a partner who can actually give you what you want and chose to lie instead — which, if he is honest with himself, knows that will and can not save you from hurt.

You’re unfortunately just not compatible — even if he were to give up polyamory. You don’t want the same lifestyles and it’s better for you to end things now and spend your time finding people who will actually meet your needs. As much as it may hurt to break up, it will hurt more down the line if you allow resentment and spite to build.

I wish I had something better to advise but unfortunately you are at an impasse. I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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