Torn in a triad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crushing on a monogamous friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Addressing sexual incompatibility

CW: This question contains explicit sexual discussion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are a few things here to go through:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

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

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Slutshaming and polyamory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck.

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When your partner isn’t satisfied

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I separate sex and our relationship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Consent and cuckolding

I am a widower of 2 years, I was married for 31 years and the last 10 years I was a cuckold to my wife. In the last two years I have been listening to podcasts and reading blogs on the subject of cuckolding (sometime called “Hotwifing”) and one question I always ask when given the opportunity is, “If your partner asked, would you quit?”. Keeping in mind these are not swingers and these are “one sided” relationships where the wife is playing and the husband is not.

The question is posed to both husband and wife. In every case (20 or 30 I have asked) the husband always says yes. In many cases the wife says no. I have had wives interviewed in separate venues and they sometimes gave contradictory answers. The most recent being a wife who on “Keys and Anklets” said she would honor her husbands wish to quit if he asked then on another blog (I think it was called Cuckold Consultant) said that if she didn’t have her husband’s consent she would cheat.

My question to you is, if consent is not needed can this be called in any way, shape or form “ethical non-monogamy”? If consent is not needed is this just a form of psychological abuse akin to the old tradition of men “sleeping around” on their wives where the wife knows, but due to family and financial considerations is forced to tolerate it?

Are some men trapped in a bind where considerations of financial well being, staying in their homes, having access to their children or even having any form of companionship outweigh the involuntary tolerance of their wife’s sexual activities and as a result they put on a brave face and “play the game”?

Consent is always needed. For everything.

There are always nuances to 24/7 style relationships. People who expand concepts of domination and submission outside of the bedroom may want someone who will basically be able to tell them what to do or “force” them to do some things. I have heard of 24/7 relationships where a Dom/me/x has control over the life of a submissive to the point of being able to encourage them to take care of themselves better.

And, not gonna lie, I’ve seen the appeal in having an authority figure who you have to be accountable to. Some people even incorporate aspects of punishment into this where punishment isn’t something that the person wants. So you can, in effect, have someone punishing you without you wanting that to happen at all.

However, I still believe there is a basic level of consent here that still applies. No one actually owns anyone and any Dom/me/x who believes they do and any relationship where a submissive (or a cuckold in this case) cannot say “Nope. I’m done with this. This ends now.” does not have a relationship. It’s effectively abuse.

And this applies for any kind of relationship which doesn’t include kink elements. Obviously, breaking up with a partner is never an easy thing for anyone to do and it is easier said than done in many, many types of relationships. But if you truly, truly do not have a choice or feel like you could not leave without being physically or psychologically attacked — that is a problem.

In my opinion, there is nothing ethical about cheating. It’s not for me to tell someone in a cuckold relationship whether or not they should continue to stay with someone who has effectively admitted they would cheat on you. I know I wouldn’t. But I feel quite confident in saying that consent is always needed.

And anyone, regardless of the type of relationship they’re in, who cheats or who does something against the consent of their partner — that is cheating. I don’t know if I would stretch so far to call every incident of cheating “psychological abuse”. People who may be psychologically abusive may also cheat, but they aren’t necessarily one in the same.

Additionally, I would say that one does not necessarily have to be a cuckold to feel like you must tolerate behaviour from your partner that you object to because you either do not have the financial means to go out on your own or you worry about the effect a split might have on children and whether or not you’d be able to see them as well as a fear of losing a companionship. That’s a very common concern for a lot of people.

And in all cases, kink based or not, I would always advise any adults to not put their eggs in one basket so to speak, to always have some level of their own independence or a way out and to not tolerate someone’s behaviour, if they find it truly objectionable or against their consent, merely because a current relationship is more comfortable or at times preferable to being alone.

Lastly, I’d like to address the fact that I feel like there’s a comparison here that, on a macro-level social scale, doesn’t really match up. Historically, women have been overwhelmingly subject to not only being sold as property to men, but also being treated like property. In the US, marital rape wasn’t even considered a crime until 1987. There is a very, very long history of women being forced to marry men (outside of considerations of married love) and not because they actively chose to enter into that kind of a relationship.

They had no agency. They had no options other than being cast out of their communities or potentially killed. The history of the way women have been used as essentially breeding stock and the way women are still used that way today is extensive. And I feel like it’s not really adequate to make that comparison because in the situations you have proposed, these men have willingly and with the full rights and privileges as men, agreed to be in cuckold relationships from the start whereas many, many women throughout history did not have the same privileges.

But, to summarise, cheating is not ethical. Consent is needed in all relationships. You can only willingly give your power to someone if you have it in the first place.

And, on a personal level, I think any individual who is interested in a relationship where they do not have to care about the consent, wishes and needs of their partner is an asshole and not worth anyone’s time.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Polyamory as a last chance

My marriage of 13 years is about to end due to my wife’s infidelity. She cheated in 2010 and this past summer in the wake of my brother’s suicide she dove into an emotional affair with a long-time friend of both of us. This experience has fractured numerous friendships and relationships. It was almost like she detonated a well-placed bomb right in the middle of everything in my life that I cared about.

Now I am watching every relationship shift. From my relationship with my 3 children, to the security in my marriage, to family and friends. My wife’s first affair was with a person who lives a life of polyamory. She has definitely been interested in this sort of thing and it is something that I have known about. I have not had any interest in this sort of thing.

My parents have been together forever and that is the history that has generated my perspective of these sorts of things.

Her parents went through a 7-year divorce when she was young. She watched her dad have multiple affairs and experienced things like receiving gifts that were given by her father’s affair partners. This has constructed her perspective on some of these things.

My question is this, is opening up my marriage going to be a good thing regarding some of our deep-rooted differences. My biggest problem right now is her blatant betrayal and inability to give me the respect that a partner deserves. After reading your article I certainly have my doubts.

We got married very young and have been together since we were 15. I definitely love her and I believe that she loves me. My biggest concerns about opening our marriage are:

A) I am not sure how I will react to it. Having been betrayed by her multiple times (and honestly, there are probably things I don’t even know about), I don’t know how I will be able to do something that I am not strictly comfortable with while at the same time dealing with some of the emotions such as jealousy when it comes to an open marriage.

B) Her history of betrayal. It concerns me that I would be doing this in order to let her really express herself in the hope that she could really be honest with me about herself. I want the intimacy that I signed up for and just have not been able to achieve with her.

A big part of me wants to just end the marriage but at the same time, why wouldn’t I try this as a last ditch effort at finally achieving the level of intimacy that I have always wanted. Ending the marriage would be life-changing in a lot of really big ways for everyone. I just want to know if exhausting this option is even worth the time and emotional effort that I would have to put forth given her track record of being unable to treat me with open honesty and respect.

Sometimes when infidelity happens, people can try polyamory or non-monogamy as a last ditch effort because they want to save their relationship — and sometimes that can work. Even if one of the people doesn’t have any interest in dating or sleeping with anyone else. But I think that, regardless of interests or the history involved, the biggest key to success in this working is that there has to be some interest or some benefit you get — other than keeping someone in your life — from non-monogamy or polyamory.

Fundamentally, agreeing to a polyamorous or non-monogamous relationship at it’s core means that your partner will not be spending the vast majority of their available time solely with you. As I’ve said in other columns, this can also be true for monogamous relationships where you marry someone who has a time intensive career, hobby or is someone who needs a lot of alone time. It’s not unique to non-monogamy.

That has to be something you’re fundamentally okay with and for a lot of people, that’s not something they want. They want to have a sole partner who they spend most of their time with and it doesn’t have to be that they feel jealous of any other partners, just that they want more time with their partner.

Secondly, you have to see some type of benefit in non-monogamy for yourself. This could be getting to date others, getting to sleep with others or just getting more time for yourself. Even people who are monogamous to partners who are polyamorous see some type of benefit out of it. I think for a lot of people they assume the benefit is keeping their partner around — and this may be a good benefit — but if the first issue means that your partner isn’t *actually* around in the amount you want, you may find that this isn’t actually a benefit you get. If you become non-monogamous, your relationship will fundamentally differ from the way it is currently set up. So you can’t go into a non-monogamous agreement based on the benefit to you that your partner will stay with you if that hope is based on the idea your relationship will somehow remain the same — it just won’t.

Thirdly, contrary to what you might have read about polyamory, people do have reactions to their partner sleeping with other people regardless of how seasoned they are. A lot of the literature around polyamory makes it seem like the ideal is to have a positive emotional reaction to your partner sleeping with someone else — and some people do experience it. But some people can and do have negative reactions every single time or only have negative reactions to start out when they are rebuilding trust with their partner or starting a new relationship and find these negative reactions cool as time goes on and trust gets built up. But then, something really bad could happen in your life that makes it harder to cope with this.

It’s during times like this that I recommend people go back to the benefit they get out of polyamory as a sort of anchor that reminds them of why it is they’re coping with temporary negative feelings. Similar to having children — it’s not always a joy all of the time but the benefits for some can outweigh some of the negatives. And this is where, if your only benefit is just keeping this relationship, is going to fall through.

Because the relationship you want to keep and the structure you held onto is fundamentally different. I would be worried less about whether or not you will experience negative feelings because it’s incredibly likely that you will, especially given the betrayal you’ve been through, and more worried about if you have the anchor you need to get you through the negative feelings that will inevitably come.

Lastly, as I’ve said in my other columns, non-monogamy can and sometimes often does come through infidelity and betrayal. It’s very possible your wife is naturally non-monogamous but never knew these were options. What makes the difference in survival of the relationship after has a lot to do with the core reason why the person cheated and their behaviour afterwards. Is your wife apologetic about the infidelities she’s committed? Has she committed them because they were “forbidden” and that was the draw for her? Or is it because she feels like she wants more experiences in her life? Does she actually want polyamory or has her experiences growing up made her feel fearful you will eventually cheat on her so she is feeling driven to do it before it happens to her?

It’s hard for me to answer these questions for you because these are things she needs to explore and talk to you about these reasons and fundamentally you need to come to an understanding together of what it is you both want, how far you’re both willing to compromise on this, and what solutions are available to you both before she either cheats again or you decide to call it quits.

In summary

Fundamentally in this instance, there’s a lot for you both to explore. For you, you need to really think about your wants and that might be hard for you if you’ve only ever been in this relationship and don’t have any other relationships to compare this to. But try and dig deep and ask yourself if you have any curiosities about pursuing relationships or sex with others or if you like to have more alone time and can find another reason, other than trying to save this ship, for having an interest in non-monogamy that can ground you.

For her, she needs to explore more of why she’s cheated. If she’s only done it because it’s a thrill because it’s a secret, even non-monogamy isn’t going to help out in that instance. Can she figure out what kind of relationships she wants? Does she want multiple romantic relationships or is she looking for just other sexual experiences. Once she has a better idea of her motivations and why she’s done things, you’ll know exactly what kind of non-monogamy you’re looking at, how that might differ from the current life you have together and whether or not you want to make that compromise.

I don’t think you should immediately call it quits but there’s a lot to work out here before you really know if it’s worth it to try non-monogamy. Equally, don’t be sucked into a sunk cost fallacy. Just because you’ve spent a long time together doesn’t mean you should always be together. But it’s hard for me to tell you whether or not it’s going to be worth it if you haven’t worked through some of these core issues together. I’d definitely suggest seeking the help of a non-monogamy friendly relationship therapist who would be able to help you both explore these issues and work out whether there is an inherent incompatibility or if there are compromises you both can make that will help.

Lastly, I’d definitely suggest checking out the index of my articles as I’ve got a whole section on infidelity and you might find some other scenarios which are more similar to yours, some options such as sex work and swinging that could address sexual incompatibility that don’t go as a far as polyamory, and some other ways to address this.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Gender roles and non-monogamy

I’m in a monogamous relationship and I’ve been in this relationship for 4+ years. We’ve talked about non-monogamy but my partner is quite against it. What makes things worse is I cheated on her last year with a man. We slept together twice before I told her and broke it off with him.

I’ve had a hard time in monogamous relationships in the past because I feel like I get put into a gender role box. If I’m dating a woman, im put into the role of the man, and vise versa.

In my ideal world, I would be either in a triad with a woman and a man, or I would be in a primary relationship with a partner of one sex open to other relations.

My partner doesn’t really understand the gender stuff, even though she tries to. She is really good about treating me how I want to be treated, but a big part of it too is how I’ve been raised. I feel like when I’m with her, I /want/ to do the “manly things” because it makes me feel like a good partner. But it makes me sad that nobody does those “manly things” with me.

And, sex has been… sparse. We have sex maybe once a month if everything aligns. (Double periods makes things a bit tricker plus my partner is super delicate and only wants sex when everything is perfect.) For me, this can be quite hard because physical touch is really important for me to feel bonded with someone and feel happy in general. She does like things like hugging, hand holding, and small kisses (like a peck on the lips.) But sometimes it makes me feel undesired when someone doesn’t want more than that from me.

Anyway, I don’t really know what my question or issue is. Right now I’ve pushed aside any thoughts of the relationship opening up because I definitely shot that possibility in the foot when I cheated on my partner, and I’m fully aware of that. And, I haven’t been able to do much to increase our sexy times. These last few months I’ve decided to focus more on solo sessions and not think about sex with my partner and it’s been helping my mood a lot. But I’m still not fully satisfied.

Maybe my main question is, how long should I wait before mentioning non-monogamy again? It’s been about 6–8 months and she’s still quite hurt about it. I wont ever make the mistake of doing something behind her back again, but I also can’t stop fantasizing about having a man in the house. I also enjoy the thought of watching my partner with a guy. It sounds super fun and sexy.

There are a few key issues to address here but first and foremost, I wouldn’t necessarily say that infidelity means a non-monogamous relationship is completely off the table. I assume you live in a culture monogamy is really the only option is given to people and given that, a lot of people find their way towards feeling like non-monogamy is either part of their identity or works better for them through infidelity. It hurts and it’s unfortunate, but it happens.

Therapy to address infidelity

Any trauma or event in our lives that have had a very negative impact us can continue to impact us for years, decades, or even until the day we die. Some things we don’t “get over” and some healing experiences aren’t linear. What’s critical when it comes to being able to cope or move on from something like infidelity is being able to resolve the issue together. You don’t necessarily have to work with a therapist, but I do think that it is advisable if you can access it because there are some other issues here that need to be explored and sometimes a third party can help with that.

There isn’t a perfect amount of time to wait before mentioning non-monogamy. It’s really about whether or not your partner has had the space in her life and with you to work through these feelings. I think that mentioning non-monogamy may come up again if you’re talking with her about the reasons for infidelity.

Sometimes this does kind of feel like an ultimatum because… it can sometimes be and there isn’t anything you can do about it. If your partner has a naturally low sex drive, prefers to perform gender within a couple in a specific way and has zero interest in any form of non-monogamy that could be a compromise you are at an impasse.

However, before we assume that I think there are a few other things that need to be worked out together before non-monogamy becomes your only option — outside of her working on the pain that the infidelity may have caused her.

Therapy to address gender roles

As a non-binary person, I can understand feeling as though you’re being dictated in a relationship to a specific gender role. For me, this can add a layer of misgendering to a relationship. When I feel as though I’m being shoved in to specific activities that are generally associated with a woman’s role in a cisgender heterosexual relationship and I haven’t specifically chosen it… I do get tetchy about it.

However, I do think there’s a wider discussion to be had with a therapist about how you see yourself within a relationship and how to address your want to do “manly things” in a relationship and how you might be a good partner in other ways.

In some ways, I do think this is something we’re socially encouraged to do because we’re used to those tasks, but I do think this is something that can be addressed. If your partner is used to heterosexual relationships with people who are cisgender, it may be that she’s also doing what she’s used to do and things can change.

It might be worth exploring some of that because it seems like it’s not just an issue with regards to sexual incompatibility, but there’s also an issue with roles in the relationship and ways that you can be fulfilled in this relationship that may involve addressing some of your own specific issues and working those out.

Sexual incompatibility

Aside from working through some of your internal inclinations towards roles in relationships and working through your feelings together on the infidelity and resolving those problems, there is a wider issue of sexual incompatibility which is quite frequent in monogamous relationships. There are a few ways to address this.

First and foremost, seeing if your partner recognises that your differing libidos can create some stress and how they feel about it. Just as much as it is difficult to feel neglected or ignored, it can also not help in terms of having sex if you feel a constant pressure to do so. Is the current frequency something she’s happy with? Is it typical in the relationships she’s been in? Is the pressure of you wanting more sex something that makes it harder for her to want it?

If this is about physical touch and intimacy, is there a way she can be involved with your solo sessions where she doesn’t have to do anything but it still meets that need for you? Is that something she’s willing to do to kind of meet that need? You don’t mention what types of sex you’re doing or wanting and it may be repetitive to remind you that penetrative sex isn’t the only type of sex that can be had and many folks with vaginas may struggle to even get satisfaction from that type of sex — so maybe trying different types or focusing less on penetration and more on other things might make things work between you.

If you’ve tried to mix things up that way and it still doesn’t work because there are specific types of sex that you prefer to have that she doesn’t, then you may need to talk about compromises. Depending on the frequency you feel you need, you may not need to have another entire romantic relationship with another person or even a friends with benefits type of arrangement. You could potentially see a sex worker a few times a year, if that was something you found would help satisfy you.

Although a lot of people are whorephobic or anti-sex work because many societies are and believe a lot of incorrect information about sex workers, this situation could be something that might provide a better compromise than you having another romantic relationship or a friends with benefits situation that could get complicated or seem more threatening to your partner. A sex worker is there in a professional capacity and while I obviously can’t guarantee feelings will never develop on either side in this situation, I feel like that’s probably less likely if you hire a sex worker. And in terms of STI safety, a sex worker is actually far more likely to get checked frequently than other people and know how to use protection well.

If you require something a bit more frequent or a sex worker is out of the question, then you might look into getting involved in swinger communities — however, I generally would advise that, unless you live in an area where it’s an exception, most swinger communities are very cishet focused. From what I’ve seen and read, they don’t necessarily feel like welcoming spaces for non-binary people and specifically I have heard that single bisexual men struggle to find couples or people to swap with.

It’s worth a shot in case you find a couple that has an interest and in a way a swinger community might feel safer for your girlfriend because you will be likely getting involved with people who are already in committed relationships who aren’t looking for other romantic connections and are just looking for sexual hookups.

If all of those options don’t work for you and what you actually want — given you’ve mentioned gender roles are part of a reason why you cheated — is a romantic relationship or the ideal scenario you’ve put out then you may just be at an impasse in terms of your compatibility with your partner.

In summary

I think it’s worth you finding a therapist who is non-monogamy positive and sex work positive and going through the issues of healing from the infidelity, addressing gender roles within your relationship (possibly seeing a therapist individually to discuss your inclination towards taking on a specific role and how to fight against that a bit better), as well as establishing how your partner feels about your sexual incompatibility. Once you’ve kind of addressed these three issues, you can begin working through some compromises in each field.

You can figure out what she needs from you to heal from the infidelity, you can work out compromises you can make together to make you feel like you’re not taking on a specific gender role and work through some ways you can have different forms of sex together in a way where she feels less pressured, if she does feel pressured, and you both are satisfied. If those don’t work out, you could address sexual compromises by looking at options like sex work or swinging and then consider non-monogamy or polyamory as a kind of last resort of none of these situations really help you.

I think you also need to do some introspection. You’ve been with this person for four years and that is quite a long time, but it’s not as if you’re discovering this about yourself after being together for 25 years with a lot of children and a house together. You don’t really state whether or not you have any immediate ties together.

So it’s worth you really thinking it’s worth compromising so much to ensure that this relationship stays alive. Because you could work through all of these issues and find out you’re just not compatible. So it’s worth you thinking about whether or not multiple romantic relationships are the thing you actually want and need out of relationship and whether you want to compromise not having that for the rest of your life.

And again, I don’t think infidelity means non-monogamy is out of the question. A lot of people can and do start from that point — but it is important that you’ve taken the steps together to address the infidelity in a way that allows for healing as much as possible.

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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Do gay men have to be non-monogamous?

I’m a gay man (24) and I’ve never been in a serious relationship, and right away I can anticipate that the advice might be I don’t know what I want yet. But I feel really strongly that I do.

I’ve thought about this since I started dating. I’m certain I’m naturally monogamous. I’ve intellectualized it in every way that I can and now I’m just happy to say I’m naturally monogamous. I find the prospect of an open relationship pretty unbearable. I don’t even feel jealousy just waves of intense sadness. I would be comfortable potentially playing with my partner after a few years together, but I couldn’t handle the dynamic of being with others alone. What really sucks is it feels like the men with whom I have the most chemistry are only interested in non monogamy.

Why does gay dating feel like a never ending parade of casual sex and surface level connections with a next day expiration date that won’t even stop when I’m in a committed relationship? Is pursuing romantic love even worth it? Am I being immature? Is this a hurdle I have to get over in order to be happy? Typing that last question out made me tear up.

Whoever told you that you don’t know exactly what you want until you’ve been in a serious relationship is wrong. You can feel inclined towards specific relationship styles and it seems like monogamy is what you want. You can want monogamy without being incredibly jealous of your partner dating someone else. However, there are some discrepancies with what you’re talking about.

You say that you couldn’t handle the dynamic of being with others alone which sounds to me like you wouldn’t be interested in dating others, but don’t really have much interest in dating others yourself. That is, unless you require a good deal of your partner’s energy, not actually an untenable solution.

Being in a non-monogamous relationship doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to date others. In fact, there are people who are monogamous with a partner who is non-monogamous themselves. It’s more about accepting that your partner may not spend a majority of their time and energy with you than it is about you being forced to date other people. You don’t have to do that.

However, in your next paragraph you talk about the dating scene you’re in where it seems more focused on casual sex and surface level connections that don’t last past a day. I hate to say it but this is something that plenty of monogamous people do.

Having one night stands or flings isn’t necessarily a “non-monogamous” behaviour. Plenty of people who eventually pick a life partner do this before they do ‘settle down’. Polyamorous and non-monogamous people are not a majority and yet… cuffing season exists. And I’m not interested in one night stands, but still am non-monogamous.

I do feel like in the LGBTQ/queer community there is more of an acceptance or norm of non-monogamy but this has more to do with the fact that many of us didn’t have the privilege to choose a life partner and settle down in what is seen as a traditional monogamous marriage. While I think this is probably less true for your and my generations, LGBTQ/queer people do, in my opinion, experience a sort of delay in our relationship maturity/experience.

Unlike straight people who can begin to experiment with relationships that are platonic or just semi romantic from an early age, many of us have to go through a very long process of coming to terms with ourselves, accepting who we are and some of us, even after we’ve done that, do not have the freedom to just date around and experience what our straight peers have experienced. So, once we get away from negative environments or accept ourselves, we get to do in our early 20s what straight people were free to do in their late teens.

So it’s unsurprising to me that many of the people your age within your gay circles are going to be interested in not settling down or committing, having one night stands or flings. That probably also wouldn’t surprise me if you were straight either, to be fair. But, there are also a lot of trepidations many LGBTQ folks may have with forming long term relationships and there is less of an expectation of us to do so with the people we want to be in relationships with.

Being a ‘couple’ can make you more visible in some instances. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people avoided committing to one person or having any long term relationships because of the trauma that can come with not being widely accepted by their family or society — even today.

This isn’t about non-monogamy really. People of all relationship styles can experience a period where they prefer one night stands to long commitments, especially in their early 20s. This might be more about the social circles you’re in, where you’re looking for partners and sometimes just being a bit at odds with the community that surrounds you. As a little non-binary queer person who is also on the asexual spectrum, whoo can I relate to that. It can be hard to feel like everyone else has different values than you do, but I don’t think it’s hopeless.

There are absolutely gay men out there who are interested in serious relationships — it might just be a bit harder to find them right now. Try looking in different places. Maybe go to LGBTQ themed events that are not circled around partying and alcohol (if they exist around you) and see if you can find a like minded guy there.

Be up front in your dating profiles about what you want, that you’re not interested in NSA sex and want a long term monogamous relationship. You may get less responses, but you’ll at least waste your time less.

And last but not least, it’s frustrating, yes, but don’t compromise on what you know your needs are just because the society around you doesn’t seem to make it easy for you. Sure, maybe you could be a monogamous partner to someone non-monogamous, but that’s not what you seem to want. Sometimes in not being truthful to ourselves about our own boundaries, we end up inadvertently doing harm to both ourselves and others. So stay true to yourself and don’t worry. You’re not being immature and you don’t have to be non-monogamous to find a happy relationship with another gay man.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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How to define cheating

Here is my situation. I’ve been with my partner for four months, we started our relationship as another one of mine was ending. I definitely jumped in full force to the relationship, partly because of my heartbreak over the previous one. It turned out to work out really well, however, as I feel so cared for and valued by my partner. At the time we started dating, they were casually dating a couple of people, and I was still dating a person casually (outside of my more serious relationship that was ending).

My partner and I discussed what would be cheating in our relationship: breaking agreements, lying, not updating relationship statuses with someone. Not long after this discussion, my partner broke an agreement by sleeping with a mutual friend while intoxicated. We had previously spoken (as in very very recently) about not having anything happen with that person more then a fun drunken party make out, as that would be really messy within the friend group and too much to navigate.

My partner assured me that they do not have romantic feelings towards this person, but that they are just friends, however I know the person has feelings for my partner. Before the hookup, I had an understanding that they were just friends but now I find myself not fully trusting that that’s been always the case (on my partners side). My partner is adamant that that is their feeling towards that person despite the person being attractive.

Anyway, my question is: how do you rebuild trust when an agreement has been broken? If there was never an agreement I still would have been uncomfortable as this is a mutual friend in our circle, however I don’t think I would have felt betrayed. Since the cheating my partner has done mostly a good job of taking ownership, setting boundaries with the person, and explaining to me what happened (which I accept and have understanding for). All this aside, how do I work through my feelings of betrayal? Are their tools for people for when cheating happens and you’re not monogamous?

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves if the rules we’ve put in place really serve us. ‘Cheating’ can be defined in all sorts of different ways. It’s not up to me to tell you how to define ‘cheating’ for you, but I can say that for me, the biggest part — and really the only part — of what makes something cheating is deception and lying or aiding someone else in their deception and lying knowingly.

You’ve chosen to define cheating among each other as ‘breaking agreements’, not just lying, as well as ‘not updating relationship statuses with someone’ (which also seems like lying to me). My problem with this is that one can break an agreement in a variety of circumstances without necessarily participating in an willing deception and this is such a case. No doubt, an agreement you made was broken, but it doesn’t seem like your partner did it with their full sober mind nor did they hide it or lie to you about it once it happened.

That’s not to say you don’t have the right to feel upset, but ask yourself if putting the label of ‘cheating’ on this is further inflaming those feelings by making you feel like there is more of a betrayal than there actually was. Is this more of a mistake, especially if your partner is taking ownership, settling the boundaries and didn’t at all hide it from you? Why is it that you are defining ‘breaking agreements’ specifically as cheating and is that really going to help you out in the long run? In this case, I think slapping the label of ‘cheating’ onto this situation is reinforcing what you’ve probably learned and understood about cheating through the monogamous lens that society has given you.

As someone who has a lot of strong feelings about cheating, I can understand this. Some people don’t consider cheating a big deal and have no problems participating in it, even if they don’t try to do it. I consider cheating, and by that I mean lying and deceiving a partner about anything (doesn’t have to be sex) to be one of the worst things someone can do and helping someone do that is equally as bad. But then there are some people who consider their partner watching porn as ‘cheating’ and I don’t.

It’s not as if those people who consider their partner watching porn as ‘cheating’ are wrong in their feeling of betrayal if that happens, but what I would encourage them to do is think about the assumptions they are making in this situation (e.g. being sexually attracted to someone other than your partner is something one can completely prevent in all situations and watching porn means that you’re less attracted to your partner or it affects the integrity of the attraction to your partner) and hope that through breaking that down, they can come to understand the source of the betrayal. Because often when we expand the net of ‘cheating’ to encompass more and more things, it can say a lot about our assumptions.

Likewise, in this situation, I think you need to take a good hard look at this rule and understand why you’ve put it there. What are you assuming when it comes to breaking agreements? Maybe you have a relationship with cheating in the past that you haven’t mentioned. Maybe this is part of your inherent fear that non-monogamy is unsustainable and your brain is creating rules to try and prevent something from happening. Accidents can and do happen and they don’t have to be devastating and destructive if we take people off of their pedestals, understand that we’re all humans and make mistakes, and figure out how what we’ve learned about certain concepts influences our behaviours.

But in non-monogamy we may be less inclined to see a simple accident as just that if we have such a small cultural script to pull from to define what commitment to each other means if we’re not using sexual exclusivity. If you’re not defining what makes a non-monogamous special by sexual exclusivity you may be searching for another place to put the meaning society has told you is important in and you may be doing that with the idea that breaking an agreement is tantamount to ‘cheating’.

It’s natural, whether you define a breaking of an agreement as cheating or not, for you to feel nervous and untrusting after that violation. It’s also natural for the fact that, regardless of how your partner feels, you know that this person is interested in your partner for that to kick up a lot of anxiety for you. But at some point, you also need to realise that there is only so much that you can control. The fact that your partner is taking ownership of this will help you rebuild that trust over time but it can also be helpful for you to realise that trust is really all you’ve ever had to begin with.

Even before this breach happened, none of us can prevent our partners from falling in love with someone else. Even if this person your partner slept with moved away and you never saw them again, another equally challenging or ‘messy’ person could come along in two months time. You can only prevent so much from happening. And rules certainly can’t prevent mistakes from happening.

Allow yourself to feel anxious and scared, but come back to the truth that, what little can be controlled is being controlled. Your partner is taking ownership and setting boundaries. Don’t prevent or berate yourself for having feelings. It’s very understandable. But also think about the way you’re classifying this situation and its impact on your relationship and whether or not your current definitions are really serving you.

People can break agreements in relationships unintentionally and without hiding that from a partner. Rethinking the labelling you’re adding to this will also help ground you a bit in understanding that while you may very well and validly feel betrayed because an agreement has been broken, you also need to zoom out and see the bigger picture of everything else that is going on around you to help you not get trapped in the undertow anxiety will try to pull you into.

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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.