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!

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An ex wants to make it right

I was at this relationship that ended badly last night.

I only had a few flings after deciding that monogamy wasn’t for me, but I studied a lot, and still do. So I met this guy through some friends in common, he was a non monogamist too, and a month after chatting online we started dating.

At first it was very nice, a few problems but everything seems overall ok, and I was pumped by the fact that he was everything my prior dates weren’t: Completely honest, eager to talk about his feelings, and apparently very emotionally responsible.

The “the talks” began. He simply couldn’t stop talking about his prior mono relationship, and how traumatizing it were. He alternated between being pissed with the relationship, talking about clinically and showering himself in self pity for not being able to make things alright. And by “making things alright” he meant, or at least he said he meant, that he just wanted to be friends with her again, despite the abuse, manipulation and that constant fighting he accused her of performing.

And then the situation escalated quickly when I got my job back in his town all of a sudden and didn’t have a place to live. At first I would stay there some other day, so I didn’t break myself financially with transport fees, but his family and the other people in the house really seem to like me and I ended up staying full time at his house.

“The talks” became more and more frequent, and I was feeling a bit drained. I wasn’t supposed to be his therapist, he kept saying that he could never be in a monogamous relationship anymore, that he didn’t want a relationship. So after some time I snapped. I told him “Look,as much as I respect this ‘no relationship at all, let’s just be together and whatever’ thing, that’s not what I’m looking for.

I need compromise, I need affection, I need to have my feelings at least at some degree reciprocated. I want to fell wanted and desired, and you are no giving me that, so it’s best if we break up this thing we’re having”. I moved my stuff to other room in the house and that didn’t held up not even 6 hours. He came to my door, not knowing what to say, wanting to talk, wanting to be “ok” with me. But I already had feelings for him, and we ended up just where we started.

And that was the first time I tried to “get away”, after that came over a dozen. It was completely crazy boomerang! I knew in my heart that was so wrong, especially after hearing for days about his prior relationship going the same way, but I couldn’t help it, not living in the same house. I told that I heard that he wasn’t ok with committed relationships, that it was ok if that was not for him, bit for me it was.

And he would say he wanted to try with me. I started telling him that if he was decided to stick with me, he would have to do some effort to change a few of his trauma behavior, going completely mad and pissed at anything that resembled romance (even holding hands had some mischievous meaning behind it), giving me attention, not treating me like I wasn’t there when he was with me, validate me, for God’s sake. I didn’t ask to be talked to everyday, or to cuddle all the time, or that he made public displays of affection.

And things would be good for a day or two and then everything turn back to point A.

I was becoming very overwhelmed by my job, apartment hunt, and then the moving process that went horrendously. I was having two other relationships, that was way superficial, and ended up terminating then for lack of time and emotional energy.

While I sorted my things out, he grew more and more distant, but still, everytime I mentioned we should split, he would state that he didn’t want that.

Everything was an excuse for my “neediness”. I was overwhelmed by work, or the problems at my new apartment were stressing me out, and he hoped that he could help. And I would say “I don’t need help sorting this things out, that I can do on my own! I just, please, need some comfort, some affection, some security!”

And he say that he would try, and still I never felt appreciated or loved. He said that he had a different way of expressing his feelings.

He would start talking about emotional responsibility, or insisted we go to non monogamy reading groups, I think in an attempt to make me less “committed”, or less demanding of affection.

He would try to say things in the most non compromising way when I asked where we were standing in the relationship, like “I care about you.”, “I have been loving you lately”. Never complete affirmatives, always on stealth mode.

And after I moved out, I really thought that he would be more relaxed, but NO! He got even more weird and distant, and we would spent more than two weeks without seeing each other, and he would tell sweet thing over text, that he missed me, and when we finally had the chance to be together, he wouldn’t even kiss me right, just a peck. The sex left me feeling like a doll. I became miserable, started to fight with him daily, and we alternated between long periods of fights and short periods of trying to mend things, until yesterday, after a week of silence between us, he basically told me he was not boyfriend material. While going to a birthday party at a club, with me sobbing furiously on the phone. He was unfazed.

I know that everything is pretty much resolved and that I simply should let him go and never come back, but I really do miss him, the person that was with me the first months…

I’m trying to move on and keep the no contact policy, but he is known for reaching out, like nothing never happened, and when that happens, what should I do?

And most of all, this whole thing left me hating non monogamy as I previously hated monogamy, so I’m sad about relationships in general, ’cause I don’t know how to be that uncommitted and loose about the people I like.

Thanks for reading…

Stop talking to him. No, seriously.

And in the future, in your relationships, if someone is more than willing to verbally trash an ex in front of you very, very quickly, be wary. I wonder if the real problem in his previous relationship was actually his ex, monogamy, or… really just him. Especially given he is so insistent on everything being “right” with her — in other words, he wants her to cosign his behaviour and she probably and rightly refuses to do so.

While it’s hard for me to say if I’d classify this man as abusive, it’s important to understand that abusive people have good and nice sides to them which is inevitably what keeps their victims coming back. Of course he’s nice at first. Of course he has periods of giving you roughly what you want. And then he pushes and pulls you back and forth. This isn’t non-monogamy. This is someone who either isn’t aware they treat people his way or knows fully and enjoys the power of jerking you around.

Regardless, he doesn’t give you what you want either because he doesn’t do emotions the way you want him to, or because he knows that he can play a better game by only giving you a little bit of what you want and then gaslighting you into thinking that you’re needy or that the problem is you.

You aren’t a problem. Nothing about your wants here is out of the ordinary, not conducive to non-monogamy, or even silly to expect or want. He intentionally pretends like nothing has happened because he hopes you will do the same. Don’t. Unfortunately, that means you become another story he can tell to another woman about how sad he is that he didn’t make things right with her. That’s not really your problem.

Get rid of this guy. He isn’t good for you, he’s tainting your life and experiences and he’s not worth this amount of drama and negativity. Even without his hot and cold behaviour, treating you like a doll during sex, or being completely unconcerned with you crying around him… he is not worth it.

Dump his ass.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Polyamory to save a marriage

My husband and I married July 2018 and had twin boys September 2018. Before that we were dating for 3 years. I recently learned that he has cheated on me while we dated and also behaved in ways that were not appropriate for a boyfriend.

I also learned that he cheated on me recently with a different woman and has done so on 3 separate occasions. All of which he never admitted it to me but I learned from his close friend. After confronting him about these incidents he confirmed that it was true. He proceeded to then say that he has reflected on his personality and feels that he would rather have an open relationship or we would have to go our separate ways.

I felt like I could try being monogamish (to save our marriage) we even talked about rules and he said that this is just sexual and non-emotional. However, I feel so betrayed by the lies and lack of respect for our relationship. How can I move forward? Should I give this a try?

Short answer? No.

Long answer? Sometimes cheating can be a precursory to polyamory. We don’t live in a society that encourages people who feel more naturally non-monogamous to ask for this so some people do end up cheating for that reason.

However, the thing that concerns me about this is that he never admitted to cheating on you — you had to find that out yourself. If he had come clean with you and been honest about it, I would try to give it a chance. The fact that he’s now basically forcing you to have an open marriage doesn’t bode well.

Having a polyamorous or even an open relationship isn’t just about people being able to have sex with whomever they want without consequence. It isn’t the same as a monogamous relationship except cheating is allowed. It’s a different type of commitment which requires a lot of honest communication. I would argue that monogamy should equally include a lot of honest communication as well, but I think cultural scripts discourage people from communicating honestly in monogamy. It also requires a lot of care and consideration, especially since within non-monogamy you are going against the script society has given you and that does tend to cause more anxiety.

This is someone who cheats on you while you’re pregnant with his children and is now placing his need to have sex with whomever he wants over not only his partner but his children. That is incredibly selfish. I’m not saying he should force himself into a marriage that he’s unhappy with, but I feel like if the stake of children, who have no control over what either of you do, doesn’t convince him to at least be honest with you… I’m really not sure what else would.

It doesn’t matter if he claims to only want to have sexual relationships with other people — his betrayal to you was emotional and he knew that. That’s why he didn’t tell you about it. Because he knew he violated your trust and hurt you in a very serious way. And now he’s basically demanding you give him permission to cheat.

Don’t. Find someone who is willing to respect you and your partnership. Giving him permission to cheat is not going to change or heal the emotional impact of what he has done to you. And the fact that he doesn’t seem to care about that isn’t a good sign. I wish I had better news and advice to give to you but unfortunately, I think that putting up with any further behaviour from him now will only end up meaning more pain for you.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Feeling left out and alone

I’m married to a man named Brice and have been for 5 years, together for 11. We have a 2.5 year old child together and we were planning on having more. He’s British and I’m American. I’ve always identified as bisexual and non-monogamous but my husband never entertained the idea until recently.

About 2 years ago, my best friend — let’s call him Brad — (also married with 1 kid and 1 on the way at that time) told me he loved me and I responded I felt the same. We all — his wife Ashley and he, my husband and I — started many months of ongoing conversations about what this all would look like. My husband and I got a therapist and it quickly became clear that we wanted to stay together but that I also wanted to explore the relationship with Brad. Ashley and I were also very close before and she and I were in constant communication at this point too.

Shortly after that all started, Brad and Ashley moved back home to the United States while I stayed in England with my husband until my PhD was finished. I visited a few times and one of those time, Ashley and my relationship got sexual (with everyone’s consent). Brad, Ashley, and I are now in a triad dynamic (with 3 kids) while my husband and I are also still committed. My husband also started experimenting with dating outside of our relationship which has gone well if not perfect for him.

Once my PhD was finished, I couldn’t find a job in London and, being in between jobs, we all felt it would be a good time for my to come and live with the triad to really see how this could all work on a longer term basis. I have been here for 3 months with a few visits from my husband while he finished a contract in the UK (he plans to move over with us as soon as he can).

My main dilemma is that I am incredibly lonely in the house. There are many times that I feel in ‘Limbo’, neither actually within the primary relationship of Brad and Ashley (even though it is never talked about as primary versus secondary or even ‘them and me’) but it exists that way in practice. I’ve moved into their house, they have kids together, I am here alone with my kid, I share a room with my kid and their oldest joins them in bed every night so I never sleep in the bed with them, I’m always on my own.

My kid is a morning kid so we’re up and awake at 6 and the rest of the house doesn’t wake until 8, I’m never the one called or texted when plans change, etc. It’s all of these little things that make me feel incredibly left out and lonely. Further, I have no friends or family here outside of this house (a big deal for me and something I’m working on as I left a huge community of really close people in London and live away from my tight family) and they’re home-bodies.

I really just miss the partnership and relationship that I have with my husband- the little things like talking about groceries or weekend plans. And I know that Brad and Ashley would be receptive to these discussions about changing their life but it’s exactly that problem- I am coming in asking to change the life they created for themselves, and I’m the only one who is constantly asked to problem solve and come up with solutions that work for me. It doesn’t always feel that they’re going out of their way to think through things from my perspective.

I guess I just need help knowing I’m not alone, that there is a way to fix this without feeling like I’m the third wheel constantly, and that there are things I can ask that may actually change the situation long term. I follow some triads on social media and I guess it’s hard to know if other triads deal with loneliness as social media is famous for being rose tinted.

Honestly, there isn’t a way to fix this without telling them explicitly what the problem is and hoping that they are willing to fix it. While I totally understand that it can and will be frustrating if they don’t want to give that any energy, it doesn’t really sound like you’ve even really addressed this with them fully.

They are behaving the way they’ve always behaved because, in all honesty, there is no script for them in how to behave in a “triad” way. I don’t think this is a sign that they don’t value you, they just may not be really aware of how unhappy you are. You said that the problem is that you are coming in and asking them to change the life they created for themselves as if the problem is you. It sounds like you don’t have the confidence to ask for what you want.

Some people are great at anticipating other people’s needs or reading non-verbal communication. Not everyone is. This sounds pretty blunt to say but… people can’t read your mind. It’s not necessarily a sign of selfishness that they haven’t gone out of their way to think about things from your perspective. If you’ve never verbalised that there is a problem, they may think you’re absolutely fine. You’re going to have to be willing to at least initiate the conversation that there is a problem if you want them to fix it. You can’t say they’re asking you to problem solve if they don’t even know if there is a problem.

When they agreed to form a relationship with you or when they understood that they were stepping out of the realms of typical monogamy, they agreed from that point to change the life that they created themselves. They have already agreed to behave differently, but because non-monogamy is not the norm, they may not really know how to behave differently. They may not know how little or much you want to be involved in their life.

This can be an incredibly difficult and tricky situation, but it’s impossible to fix. It has to begin with you asking for what you want and giving them a chance to respond to that. You also need to, as you recognised, build your own local networks and meet people on your own and reach out to your husband for more support so you don’t feel so lonely. I think though if you think really hard about what you want to be involved with and what they can do to help you feel less lonely, they’re likely going to respond positively.

They just need to know it because they may not be experienced enough to anticipate it.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Can you learn compersion?

I really enjoyed reading “Thirteen things I wish I’d learned before choosing non-monogamy.” I’ll start by saying I’ve started exploring my sexuality and what makes me happy just this June. So, I’m still learning. My original intent was not related to non-monogamous relationships at all. It just so happened that in my own explorations I met someone that is poly[am].

This person is amazing in so many ways. He communicates, he’s sensual, he’s understanding, he’s knowledgeable, he’s a giver and very open and not afraid to discuss anything. And there’s a great connection that was instantaneous when we first met, though I had no intentions of getting involved past our first meeting. But he’d mentioned he’d enjoyed our times together and would like to continue being intimate with me and getting to know each other, as long as it was ok with me. I couldn’t say no, it felt great to be with him, if only once a month for short periods. But from the beginning he’d said he doesn’t have the bandwidth for more than what he already was giving me.

That he already has partners and that when he partners with someone he invests time and much more emotional energy than what he can give currently. He works a lot too, so he wanted to be clear in any expectations as he doesn’t like to cause people pain. So, even with all this, I thought it’s better to have what I can of him in my life than not at all. Which I still would like, but it’s not easy.

I struggle so much with issues, like issues with self worth stemming from things in my past. That I’m learning I need to face as it’s stunted me in opening up in any of my relationships (platonic or romantic). But then there are the insecurities that stem from knowing I’m not a partner and can’t be one. And all that I read says that these insecurities can be worked on with your partner. But what if you’re not a partner?

How can you work on these insecurities when you’re not something more? When it’s supposed to just be casual and fun? It’s hard when this (whatever it is) is helping me grow in so many other ways and actually makes me happy most times. But it can hurt and be lonely sometimes. I become afraid to go to events where his other partners will be, where I’d have to look at what being his partner would be like but can’t have. That allow for the insecurities to set in without an outlet since I’m not partnered. How do you learn compersion in this scenario?

First and foremost, personally, I absolutely despise “compersion”.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong. But I deeply resent the term. Mostly because of letters like yours. It’s not your fault at all, but you’ve fallen exactly into the trap that the term “compersion” creates. For as much as people say “There’s no one right way to do polyamory”, that’s just not what the term “compersion” creates. I wrote a bit in the article you referenced about how it’s not compulsory — and I think that you should really take that on.

You don’t learn compersion. You just feel it or you don’t. And there isn’t anything wrong with not feeling it. And likewise, compersion is not an inoculation for jealousy. You can be both jealous but also happy your partner has found someone they like at the same time. You’re making a lot of the assumptions that I hoped to challenge in my article but let me expand on some of those and why you need to reframe your perspective, specifically referring to these topics.

  • What stops people from opening up
  • Insecurity or insufficiency
  • What makes a partner

What stops people from opening up

In your letter, you said that your insecurities and lack of self worth has “stunted” you from opening up. I definitely do think that someone’s lack of self worth and insecurities can make them afraid to open up to others, but what I want to avoid is you assuming that polyamory or open relationships are somehow going to help this. Polyamory isn’t a therapy program and it isn’t necessarily going to encourage you to be more open. In fact, if you’re insecure and scared, it’s going to be harder to operate in a different relationship style which lacks the cultural script that monogamy often provides people.

I mentioned in the article you referenced that people often mistake being insecure for self-hate and I do think you’re making that mistake here. Someone who believes themselves to be all around worthy can still have moments of insecurity. You’re setting yourself up here for failure by assuming there is some self-worth pinnacle you’re going to reach and that you won’t struggle with periods of insecurity your whole life. I think even the most well adjusted person would still struggle with insecurity — especially when faced with trying something new.

Even if you were to decide this was too hard, you might still be faced with these issues and I think the best way to actually address them is to not set yourself up for believing that this is your obstacle particularly in getting what you want from this person. He’s being quite honest with you about his ability and resources, which is good, but you’re making the mistake of believing that solving your insecurity will change his mind or somehow make you okay with having less, which brings me to the next issue here.

Insecurity or insufficiency

Someone who has a large amount of self worth will feel insecure or not happy with a relationship that doesn’t meet their needs. Sometimes there is both a problem with personal insecurity and not getting what you need in a relationship and that’s where it’s tricky. Not every bad feeling is a reflection of a personal problem that you need to address in polyamory. Sometimes you feel bad because you’re not getting what you need in a relationship and I’m wondering if that’s what’s going on here.

So many people who try polyamory assume every single negative thing they feel is either jealousy or a personal problem. You said it yourself. There are insecurities that stem from you just not being a full partner in that sense and that isn’t an insecurity that can be solved if what it is is actually an insufficiency in the relationship.

And this would be true if you were in, for example, a monogamous relationship with someone who had a time intense demanding career and you needed more attention than they could give you. You would probably also begin to feel insecure — but not as insecure because you don’t have the immediate thought process of assuming you’re not as good as a specific other person or the insecurity you felt wouldn’t feel the same because it would be over a career, not other people.

I don’t think your insecurity is an outlet for anything. I think it’s a very real and understandable feeling to have when you, especially being monogamous are used to the feelings you’re having with this person being coupled with more than what he’s able to give you. Many people, especially who only have relationships where they either don’t have a primary or domestic partner (and want one) but have partners who do have those things feel a gap in their lives for a short period of time. It’s not really a personal fault. It’s normal to feel. But some of this can be solved by understanding what he means specifically in terms of his boundaries.

What makes a partner

Some people have very clear definitions of what makes someone a partner. Other people, not so much. And personal definitions of what makes a partner can wildly vary. My domestic partner has people in their life who, if they were in my life in the exact same way, I would consider a “partner” but my partner doesn’t consider them “partners”.

Because we don’t really have a diverse set of terminologies for the different types of relationships we can have with people, we’re stuck with one group of words (partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, lover, etc.) that can all really mean very different things to very different people, especially to those of us who have no interest in formal marriage.

So what you need to understand is what he means by “bandwidth”. It sounds like what he’s afraid of is that you, by virtue of trying out non-monogamy for the first time and not having any other partners, may want to lean on him for emotional support that he can’t provide because he already provides that to other people.

What he was trying to do was manage those expectations with you and he did it, I think, in as clear of a way as he could. We can set physical boundaries quite easily in terms of the number of times we may think we can visit, but it’s really hard to grok what ‘emotional energy’ really means until it’s not being given or we’re giving too much of it.

With the way your partner has behaved and understanding that you’re new to polyamory, I think he’s going to understand as well that you might be confused by new situations. He doesn’t sound like the kind of person who wrongfully expects you to be happy all of the time, especially if you’re not getting as much as you’d like from him and you want more.

That’s going to hurt but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong or that you should stop seeing him. He’s not going to be able to solve that hurt and working on your insecurities won’t solve that hurt. That might be something you need to consider solving by seeking other partners for yourself.

Otherwise, you can ask to talk to him about your fears around seeing his other partners. Because I doubt necessarily that he treats you physically different from his other partners. He probably is the same amount of loving towards you as he is towards his other partners. It’s just that if you need to rely on him, he can’t commit to that.

But it’s not to say he feels less for you or that he would be less loving with you than other people. In general, I think if you feel it would cause you upset and you don’t have to go to events with his other partners, than don’t put yourself through some emotional decathlon just to prove a point. Avoid unnecessary pain and drama where it need not ought to be caused.

Because I do think that it will remind you, even if he doesn’t treat you different, of what you can’t have. And ultimately this is where you need to figure out what makes a partner for you. Is this relationship meeting all of your needs? It doesn’t sound like it, even as wonderful as it is. Some people can operate in relationships like these because they need or want a lot of alone time. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case for you. So you need to decide if you’re going to seek other partners to address what’s missing or if you can’t or don’t want to do that — in which case, you’re going to have to accept the level he can commit to you and decide if the moments of loneliness and pain are worth the ultimate benefit he brings to your life.

In summary

If it’s accessible for you, I definitely would advise a polyamory friendly therapist to talk this through with because every relationship involves compromise and no relationship is without some type of difficulty. It may be that there is something in staying with this, even if it’s not 100% what you need right now. Because having 40% of what you need right now is better than 0% in some ways. A therapist would be able to talk you through that.

Overall, though, I think you need to stop setting yourself up for failure by assuming this is a personal problem and not a fundamental lack of satisfaction you may have with this level of commitment. You need to figure out if you’re willing and able to date others and what a “partner” is specifically to you so you can have a better understanding of the ways this relationship doesn’t meet those needs.

Give yourself permission to feel sadness, fear and insecurity without assuming there is something wrong with you that you need to fix.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Gaslighting and polyamory

My wife and I started a open marriage about 5 years ago. Prior to that we were active in the lifestyle so seeing each other with other people was no longer an issue for either one of us. My wife was the one that suggested the open relationship and I was ok with it, but concerned with who she was interested in. The man was a salesman that visited our place of work, and was a friend for both of us.

It was tough in the beginning, but we found that it made us closer and more open about everything that we did. About a year ago [I] started to notice a change in my wife’s behavior. She wasn’t as sexually active, and I felt a bit neglected. In the beginning we told each other we would always put each other first and that if either one of us wanted the other to stop we would.

I had simply told her that I don’t feel like the priority anymore. She dismissed my concerns and just said i was annoying her. A few months prior to me mentioning all this I had a stroke, and she uses this as an excuse and tells me that I’m different because I had a stroke. I maintain that although that is possible, there’s nothing I can do about how I feel. Deep down I do not believe the stroke had anything to do with it. I think it was just noticing that she was falling in love with this man.

We’ve argued over this man for the last year, and I have tried to let her see him, she insisted that she was in love with the situation, and not “In Love” with him. My mind was telling me she was lying, but my heart wanted to believe her. She insisted that I am the man that she wants to be with but flat out refused to stop seeing him. This caused many arguments in the last few months.

A couple of weeks ago I did something that I shouldn’t have done, and looked at her text messages between my wife and her man while she was gone. I was shocked to find several text talking about how they both loved each other very much. She said how sad she would be not to be able to see him immediately when she returned.

They talked about sexual desires that I had never knew she was interested in. In fact the same sexual fantasies that she told me were disgusting. (we’ve had an amazing sex life). The other very troublesome issues were how she complained to him about me, and would reply to her bashing me. Then I found out that he has been trying to get her to leave me and go to him. He is in the process of a divorce. I feel horrible that I betrayed her trust and looked at the text, but I also feel this hatred and betrayal towards her for lying and being with this man who is obviously not understanding his role in this open relationship.

I don’t know how I could trust her again with an regular marriage let alone a open one, and she is still insistent that she continue the relationship with her man that she deeply loves and I know he tries to take her from me. I’ve made it clear that I can not be the man she wants if she continues with this man after everything I found out.

I’m so confused and don’t know if I should continue to listen to my heart or listen to logic and just end the marriage of 17 years.

First off I want to say that I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this, especially after being married for such a long time. This sounds like a very difficult thing to cope with. There are a few things I want to discuss.

  • Stealing partners
  • Rules about love
  • Respect and dismissal
  • Violations of privacy

Stealing partners

This is commonly known as cowgirling or cowboying — someone who dates someone who is non-monogamous with the full intention of “stealing” them from their partner and, more likely than not, pulling them into a monogamous relationship. I’m sure this does happen. People can do this intentionally or not — or sometimes it’s just difficult when you’re in a relationship that isn’t working out so well to lean into another one.

But what’s important here is to identify the responsibility where it lies. Your wife isn’t being “stolen”. She’s choosing to deprioritise you. She’s choosing to engage with someone who is encouraging her to leave you. Personally, I would have zero tolerance for an individual who tried to convince me to leave any of my partners, regardless. It’s a horrible sign and the fact that she’s choosing to engage in this discussion means she is more than willing to do this. That’s the problem. She’s not being stolen.

She’s leaving of her own accord so be sure, as hard as it might be with someone who seems to be actively willing to take your partner, to put the blame where it actually lies. In a lot of ways though, I spotted problems from the beginning with regards to how you opened your relationship.

Rules about love

You stated how you always promised to put one another first and allow each other to veto your relationships and almost seemed to promise that you wouldn’t fall in love with other people. Had I given you advice from this point, I would have said that you needed to be more realistic about your rules. You cannot control whether or not you fall in love with anyone and you should never make any rules that create the expectation that someone can control these types of emotions.

I’m also concerned by the demand that either of you drop someone if you’re uncomfortable. Opening up your relationship can sometimes cause some discomfort. And if your wife is dating someone who you both know, this might increase the discomfort, but this doesn’t mean that you should be allowed to cancel relationships you’re not involved with. It’s not fair to either of you or the people you’re dating for you to have control over each other’s relationships.

What concerns me about the rule of “putting each other first” is that this isn’t clear and this is the problem you’re running into now. You need specific physical targets of time spent because right now you may not feel like you’re a priority but for all intents and purposes, your wife thinks she’s doing everything just fine and that’s enough for her. This rule doesn’t properly work because it’s defined by perception rather than specifics. And also, at the end of the day, you can’t use a rule to make your partner care for you which brings me to the next issue here.

Respect and dismissal

Regardless of how we may personally feel regarding what we’re doing in a relationship, we always have to be willing to hear our partner out. Even if your wife doesn’t think she’s neglecting you, she should care when you say that you feel neglected. And clearly she doesn’t actually care about whether or not you’re upset or bothered.

I find it really worrying that she’s blaming everything on your stroke, especially when it’s something so far out of your control. Sometimes things happen with partners and they may change over time, but if you’re so different after the stroke that she’s struggling to be attracted to you, then she should have the guts to actually say that to you instead of what feels like gaslighting you into believing that your behaviour was wildly different before your stroke than afterwards.

She shouldn’t dismiss your concerns, she should respond to them and be willing to address them. She obviously can’t help or change if she feels less interested in sex, but she also doesn’t have to dismiss your feelings.

And that brings me to the last point.

Violations of privacy

Snooping is always a double edged sword. Either you find the thing your gut tells you is there and your relationship is forever changed or you violate someone’s privacy and find out you’re wrong and the relationship is forever changed because you broke that trust. It’s good that you identified that you shouldn’t have done what you did, but on the other hand, what you found was especially worrying.

I don’t fault your wife for feeling like she has to tap dance over whether or not she loves you, feeling sad that she can’t see her other partner immediately when she wants, and I don’t necessarily see it as a problem that she complained about you. If you think about the people you confide in, I’m pretty sure at one point or another you’ve complained about your wife. We all do complain about our relationships from time to time. What worries me specifically is she telling you one thing about fantasies and telling someone else something different.

Likewise, I’m going to assume that she did not respond with any defense when this other guy was insulting you or encouraging her to leave you, which is another concern. It’s one thing to complain about a partner and another to insult them. This guy may not understand his role in an open relationship, but that’s only because your wife is permitting this.

In summary

Ultimately, I don’t think that, even if she left this guy, it would change the deep foundational problems with this relationship. I don’t think it is pure coincidence that she suggested having an open relationship and immediately wanted to date someone she already knew. While I don’t want to speculate, it’s possible she had already been cheating with him at the time, as that does happen. It makes me wonder if she really just wanted to date this guy but didn’t have the courage to break up.

For me, in this situation, I would have a hard time wanting to stay with someone who has shown a pattern of not just lying to me about simple things like sexual fantasies but also tries to blame all of my concerns on medical conditions and doesn’t take me seriously when I say that I am hurt or feeling neglected. I don’t know if those are things that can be solved through therapy. No one can make her want to be with you if she doesn’t want to. Someone can help her find the courage to be more forthright with what she wants so she doesn’t lie so much, but at the end of the day, that’s not something you can change for her.

I would advise having a session with a polyamory friendly therapist and talking this out and seeing what their advice is. It can be rough to throw in the towel after so long, but personally I think that you deserve not to waste your time on someone who is clearly not prioritising you and insults you behind your back — or allows other people to. You deserve a lot better than that and you don’t need to cling to her for that. Again, I want to say how sorry I am that you’re going through this because it sounds incredibly rough but it’s much better to realise a busted situation when you can and get out of it than stay and continue to be let down.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Curing codependency with polyamory

I was in a three-year monogamous relationship recently. I had an experience with the entheogen/psychedelic ayahuasca that helped me see that many of the issues in that relationship and all my previous relationships had roots in co-dependency. I realized that exploring ethical non-monogamy could be a powerful tool to help me release some of my own co-dependent habits, mostly around clinging too tightly to my own standards and expectations of my monogamous partners to take care of themselves in certain ways that didn’t always have a direct impact on me and that I had a new-found wish to simply accept and hold space for change (or not-change).

This thought process was also sparked by a friend who expressed a desire to enter into a romantic relationship with me. So, I wasn’t just introducing my existing partner to the general idea of non-monogamy, but also to my more immediate desire to begin a relationship with another man. My existing partner tried to the extent that he could, but it was overwhelming for him and he acted out in ways that I found fundamentally unacceptable and I ended that relationship.

The problem now is that the man I began a new relationship with was also never interested in non-monogamy. He was ok with me continuing my existing relationship, but once I was out of that relationship and exploring the possibility of others, he expressed discomfort. Finally he asked me to choose non-monogamy or him.

I see great potential in my relationship with him that I haven’t seen in my other relationships. The communication and openness has been wonderful and he’s someone who really takes care of himself — and the lack of that in my last relationship was one of the things that sent me on this non-monogamy journey. I recently told this person that “I can’t do monogamy” in response to his request that I choose.

In the absence of a clear answer, I felt that choosing a personal principle over an individual might be the right path. But I find myself wondering if I’m holding onto an ideal instead of being present with what’s in front of me. I don’t know for sure yet whether non-monogamy is the right fit for me — I haven’t had a chance to fully explore it yet. I have a sense that it’s the best path for me, but I’m not clear on whether or not it’s so important for me that I want to choose it over someone I have grown to love.

There’s a lot going on here.

With the full recognition that I’m not a therapist (but I will be checking this with the therapist I work with), I’m not convinced that polyamory and/or non-monogamy are tools that can help people break bad habits. In fact, I think that codependency isn’t something that’s going to be solved by trying non-monogamy. You can accept and hold space for change within monogamy. And people can be codependent and be non-monogamous.

And actually, given what you’ve said about how your codependent habits have to do with with “clinging too tightly to my own standards and expectation of my monogamous partners to take care of themselves” — I don’t necessarily think that this is specifically codependency. You don’t explicitly say what sort of things your partners aren’t doing for themselves that frustrate you, but I wouldn’t describe that as being codependent. It’s not unreasonable or unrealistic for you to want your partners to take care of themselves and to feel frustrated when they don’t, even when it doesn’t have a direct impact on you.

Your aim shouldn’t be to distance yourself from these feelings but rather accept them and learn how to cope with them better. I don’t think non-monogamy is necessarily going to change that or fix that. That has to be done by seeking out therapy, if it’s accessible to you, and identifying ways of rerouting your energies to more productive things.

That said, it’s hard for me to be able to tell you whether or not you should or shouldn’t pursue non-monogamy or not. I think if your main motivation was seeing this change within yourself, it’s worth you really trying with someone who you have communication with and who does take care of themselves if you don’t have that behaviour anymore.

Ultimately, non-monogamy isn’t supposed to be a way for you to find other partners to distract you from one partner getting on your nerves or to keep someone who you have an incompatibility with around so you don’t have to hurt them. It’s about wanting more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship in your life or that freedom to explore that and I’m not sure if that’s really what you’re seeking.

Have some introspection with a polyamory friendly therapist and talk some of these things through. It’s possible to be someone who can do both non-monogamy and monogamy, it’s not always an either or situation. But what you don’t want to do is give up a good connection you have just because you feel you will reach some type of higher level more “adjusted” state as a non-monogamous person than you would being monogamous. Because it’s not a higher path, it’s just a different one.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Trial separation to try polyamory

My wife and I are 31 and have been married for 2 years but together for 13. We have 2 kids that I love very much and work hard to share all responsibilities and we have made great strides recently with improving our communication and me feeling more comfortable with asking for what I want in our sexual relationship. We have an active sex life and she is my best friend and I feel we are good for each other.

My wife and I met during the summer before going off to college and have been together since, with some issues along the way. I have cheated on my wife twice while we were dating and developed a crush on a coworker that might have resulted in cheating were the opportunity available. My wife was the only woman I had sex with up until the most recent cheating, with a women we will call C. After C, my wife, then girlfriend, and I to split while I pursued a relationship with C.

After phone calls with C and an eventual weekend away, I realized that she was not the woman that I wanted and that I was not in a healthy mental state, and I went to my wife telling her I wanted her back. After a couple more months of separation we moved back in together and 6 months later we got married. I expressed remorse to my wife for what I had done with C but I never owned up to my past transgressions.

About 1 year ago I had a serious seizure, I have a history of epilepsy, and this pushed me to work towards change, but it wasn’t until a therapeutic mushroom trip that revealed to me past trauma that I sought out true change. After that session I told my wife about all the mistakes I had made through our history together and I sought out therapy, which I still go to and it has been very helpful. I had never been good with understanding or conveying my feelings, a result of my childhood, but my wife listened to all the painful things I had to say and we are still together. I have been working to love myself more and be a better husband for my wife and I thought I was past my transgressions.

Recently however I developed a crush on a woman at my work, lets call her D, and I tried hard to resist. Over time the resistance started to fall away and I found myself being more and more drawn towards D, wanting to talk with her and I feel I can sense a mutual attraction even though she too is in a relationship. I have fantasized about a sexual encounter with D and she has been frequently on my mind and in my dreams, but I had no intentions of cheating on my wife, I don’t want to put her through that again. I have also rather recently come to accept that I am bisexual and that this was one source for much of the shame I experienced throughout my life (I grew up with a religious mother with outdated ideas of relationships and brothers who picked on me and frequently used the term gay or fag and shamed me for my emotional sensitivity and I resultantly learned to shut down my emotions and feel shame at attraction towards men and resist it fiercely).

I have told my wife about both my sexuality and about D and my desire to open up our relationship and it has been met with a lot of resistance. She would rather divorce or separate for a year while I “explore” things and try to figure out what it is I want. She feels she cannot be with me if I am with someone else at some point and she is especially uncomfortable with the idea of me being with another guy while we are together, although she is accepting of my identifying as bisexual.

I do not want to separate because I love her and want to be with her and I love the family we have together and don’t want to see it split up, but I recognize the patterns of my attraction to other women, and my past resistance to my attraction to men, and I worry that if we remain monogamous that it will only be a matter of time before this all repeats itself. At the same time I don’t see how exploring for a year will help me in 5 or 10 or more years down the road if we get back together and I have all of these feelings again.

My wife seems very against the idea of a non-monogamous relationship but I also know that I too was against this idea at one point and it has only been recently when I became honest with myself about who I am and what I want that I realized that this could possibly be a solution. I know I can’t force her into this relationship but I have to try and convince her to give it a try rather than just give up on us.

So I guess my question is: What should I do? How do I convince my wife to give this a try rather than be done with us? I have talked to my therapist some about this topic but she doesn’t specialize in non-monogamy and I feel a second opinion of sorts can be helpful for me working through this situation. I appreciate you taking the time to read through this and I am very grateful for any advice you have to offer.

I’m sorry you’re going through this difficult self-discovery journey, but the good thing is that you’re finding this stuff out now rather than repressing it and waiting years and years down the line. I’m going to cover a few topic areas but I’ll start with your first and foremost question: How do you convince your wife to be non-monogamous? And the honest short answer is “You don’t”. But let me explain.

Convincing people

You have a motivation to consider non-monogamy as a viable life option — you don’t seem to be able to function as a monogamous person. Whether that is due to any significant problem you have or it’s just the way you are, it’s something that motivates you to consider this as a realistic and live-able option.

Unless your wife has a history of cheating, she has no real reason to pursue non-monogamy. Just as you can’t convince someone to want children if they have no interest, you cannot convince someone to want non-monogamy if that’s what they truly want. And given the history with your wife and her decision for as trial separation, I think she’s actually showing some very clear awareness of her own boundaries and needs and providing you with what is the most realistic option for her.

Trying non-monogamy as a couple is fraught with problems, especially if there is a history of infidelity. When individuals come to me and tell me their partner wants them to be non-monogamous, I always say that the only way they should try non-monogamy is if they personally — outside of salvaging a relationship — can see an honest benefit in it. There are situations where individuals are monogamous to a polyamorous partner, but these situations aren’t necessarily common.

Your wife is communicating to you very clearly where her boundaries are and honestly, I think it’s incredibly mature and re-assuring. The fact that she has the bravery to provide you with a period of time to explore and is not walking away from the relationship entirely shows a willingness to work towards a solution in the future.

However, I can understand that a year feels like a nebulous time frame which leads me to my second subject matter.

Trial separations

The only problem I foresee occurring with regards to “trying out” polyamory for a year is that, if you do go forward with this with your wife, you will effectively become ‘single’. The chances of you, depending on the community local to you, finding not only another partner but an additional partner to ‘test’ to see if you are actually interested in non-monogamy is more likely than not very slim. A year down the line, you may not find any polyamorous person who is willing or interested in accepting a situation where you may have a ‘primary’ down the line that could potentially come in and cause problems with your relationship.

You could very well date multiple people at once, but I don’t think that’s really the same as being polyamorous and managing multiple romantic relationships at once. I can understand your wife not wanting to be around to deal with the emotional impact of seeing you with others and managing her jealousy — as you may discover through trying out polyamory in a fun and interesting way that it is your exact fit in terms of lifestyle choices she may equally discover through trying out polyamory with you in emotionally challenging and painful way that polyamory is, most definitely, not for her. It is safer for her to allow you to take a break for a year.

But, as I’ve said, there is no guarantee that you will be able to reach ‘polyamory’ essentially in terms of actively managing multiple romantic relationships and knowing that is what you want in a year’s time. And it is a random amount of time to set. How long is your wife willing to wait around while you figure out? Even though she is willing to wait for you to figure your life out, the fact of the matter is that many people in situations where themselves and their partner are both fully ready, willing and excited to try polyamory find that their first year is fraught with difficulties and they don’t necessarily find multiple partners for further years down the line.

Additionally, this trial separation may mean that, even if, ideally, you do find multiple partners and you decide this is the life for you and your wife is willing to try this out as she has done some self-exploration and has her own motivations to try it herself, you will still have a lack of experience in managing the relationship between yourself and your wife along with others as each relationship is individual. You may find yourself back at square one if she is just trying polyamory as well and there seems to be an assumption from her part that you could pick up where you left off when, even if your wife is willing to try polyamory after a year, your relationship will be fundamentally different.

My worry is that this trial separation won’t actually solve the problem that’s in place, which brings me to my next subject.

Cheating and non-monogamy

Frequently, I remind people that very rarely do people in couples come to a conclusion together that non-monogamy is something they want to try. Usually the discussion is prompted by one partner and at times cheating is a method by which this discussion is prompted. It’s not to say individuals cannot go from cheating to non-monogamy, but I hesitate to assume that non-monogamy can solve every single incident of cheating. It really has a lot to do with the motivations of the individual who cheated.

You don’t really discuss why you cheated and what motivated you and that is going to be the key to your answer. Clearly, you feel as though you cannot commit to sexual monogamy and need the freedom and probably want the freedom to explore sexual contact with others outside of this relationship. You need to make sure that the motivation for cheating is enacting a taboo or an avoidance of commitment because individuals who cheat because it’s “wrong” and that’s the draw or people who find it difficult to emotionally commit to one person cannot solve either of those problems by trying non-monogamy.

What is the draw of non-monogamy to you? Do you actually want multiple physical relationships or do you just feel like you want more sexual experiences with individuals? If the answer is the latter, you may not have to pursue ‘polyamory’ in the sense of managing and wanting multiple romantic relationships. You could instead consider hiring a sex worker in intermittent periods with your wife’s consent and good STI preventative measures put in place in order to try things out.

Or, as another option, you could act as a single individual within swinger communities where there are other married couples and less interest in forming romantic relationships and more interest in trying out new things sexually (however, from anecdotal evidence I have heard that bisexual men can struggle in swinger’s communities as most couples are only interested in bisexual, single women).

This isn’t to say you can prevent yourself from developing feelings for people down the line, but if you want to explore those options, rather than a trial separation, you could work on a sort of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell agreement with your wife where you may have the freedom on specific nights to go to these communities or hire a sex worker in order to more or less satisfy your curiosity which may ebb as you age or have other obligations in life which take up your time. This might be something your wife could agree to temporarily to see if this is a solution to the problem.

It’s worth you investing time to find a polyamory friendly couples therapist who may be able to walk you through both a process of self discovery in your motivations for infidelity as well as facilitating talks between yourself and your wife on how to best work through your exploration outside of your marriage, if she wants to do that, in a way that is least harmful. Unfortunately, if your desire stems from an inherent want to explore multiple romantic relationships or complete freedom to do what you want with anyone at any time, this is likely not going to solve that. You may not be able to figure that out until you try something like the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell setup, and it’s worth being honest about that with your wife rather than promising this will be the last hurdle she may have to consider.

Ultimately, if what you desire is total freedom or multiple romantic relationships, your only real option is to fully separate as you are inherently now incompatible and a trial separation in that case would only string her along further than is necessary.

Bisexuality and discomfort

One last thing I want to address is your wife’s discomfort with you exploring a relationship with a man (and in this cause I will assume she may have equal discomfort with you exploring a relationship with a non-binary individual who may be read as a man). The reason I wish to address this is because if you do communicate this to others in any community, you may get a reaction because this, essentially and no offense intended to your wife, is somewhat of a biphobic/transphobic attitude.

However, I do think that when people have this discomfort in heterosexual relationships it sometimes stems from a very real and understandable fear that you dating someone who is a “man” and all that people assume about that (i.e. that the man will be masculine and have a penis), means that they are providing you with something that they cannot personally offer. I think this is something that’s understandable to be intimidated by.

However, there is often the assumption that bisexual people will leave their partners because we’re inherently unfaithful or we can’t commit to one person. In many cases, the underlying assumption beneath that is that men are always a ‘threat’. Bisexual men are assumed to be secretly just ‘gay’ and bisexual women are assumed to be secretly just ‘straight’ — and rarely the reverse.

I would invite your wife to explore these fears and break them down. She probably has them due to the biphobic messages she has heard from society. Personally, I find it a bit of a relief when one of my partners is dating someone who doesn’t have the same biological configuration I have because then there sometimes, not all the times, is less to directly compare myself to. But it can be hard for people to fully engage with that. Also, you might find that there are assumptions that a man will always have a certain genital configuration which may not be the case and that’s an assumption that’s worth challenging.

In summary

The initial suggestion of a trial separation from your wife isn’t inherently a bad one and it demonstrates a willingness on her part to continue to be committed to a relationship with you but it may not achieve the aims she is thinking it will. In order to really get to the root of the problem, you need to identify what motivates you to cheat and figure out if there can be another solution such as entering the swinger community, attending swinger events or hiring a sex worker that could potentially solve your problem.

You and your wife should challenge the assumptions that you can make in either being threatened by you potentially having a relationship with a man and what you assume about what a ‘man’ is all together. And finally, if ultimately you wish to have full freedom and/or multiple romantic relationships, a trial separation will only delay the inevitable and a full separation is probably a better bet in the long run.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Polyamory and the LGBTQ community

My question is this, why are most polyamory relationships associated with the gay, or lesbian society. I’m not prejudice[d] against anyone’s sexual preferences.

Currently, I am on house arrest. Because of a situation I put myself in. Since my first marriage I’ve had a belief that a man can love more than one woman.

I’m currently dating a woman of 52 years of age. We have known one another for almost 20 years. And have always been able talk and express our feelings to one another. We’ve always enjoyed a great sexual relationship also.

Right now, we see each other when we can. I love her very much, I’m not at all jealous of her seeing other men. And she feels the same way about me.

I guess what I want to know is why do you hear more about polyamory in the LGBT than you do with the heterosexual society?

Quite often in my column I say that polyamory can be a postcode lottery, meaning that the type of community that you find locally can be a lottery. Sometimes it’s very open minded and welcoming — sometimes not. While I wouldn’t say that I have experienced polyamory being more prevalent or discussed in the LGBTQ community, and in fact I’ve left quite a lot of online polyamory spaces because they were homophobic, biphobic and transphobic places, I do think that there probably is a trend where LGBTQ people are more open to the concept of polyamory.

There are a lot of reasons for this. I think socially as a whole if there is an aspect of your identity which you can’t change which is marginalised, you’re more likely to question the power structures that society puts into place, including the rules society places on how one should behave. To put it in a more simpler term, if the way you love another grown and consenting human being naturally is seen as ‘deviant’, then you’re going to question a lot about the society that has decided there is something wrong with other forms of love between consenting adults.

Furthermore, I think you also find this among people who are hypersexualised in society. If your baseline sexuality is seen as ‘too sexual’ then you might find that you’re more free to challenge some of the sex negative concepts the society hypersexualising you throws back at you. If you’re already on the margins and derided by society when you are harming no one, it gives you a better way of looking at other practices which aren’t harming anyone.

There’s also the pure and simple fact that LGBTQ people have a long history of not having the privilege to practice monogamy in the way society says one should practice it. Specifically in the US, queer people growing up the same time you did would face permanent disowning not just by their parents but also society. In many states in the US when you grew up, it was perfectly legal to arrest consenting people for having queer sex which would be sometimes called a ‘crime against nature’. In some places, if you were arrested for a ‘crime against nature’ you could have your name and picture printed in a newspaper and be forbidden from getting any form of job or license. Some queer people were lobotomised, castrated or given drugs that simulated waterboarding as a form of adverse conditioning to ‘cure’ them of being queer. Have a Google of the Atescodero State Mental Hospital which was known as ‘the Dachau for queers’.

And this isn’t isolated to the US. Many countries have a long history of either conversion therapy or execution for LGBTQ people daring to live their lives in the open. Alan Turing in the UK was condemned to chemical castration for homosexuality despite saving over 2 million lives through his contributions against the Nazis in WW2. Queer people were a target of Nazi Germany and, even after the concentration camps were liberated, many of the queer people in the concentration camps for being queer were immediately sent to jail and not liberated. The infamous picture of the Nazis burning books is actually a photo of them burning the books of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexuality which was making pioneering efforts of its time in transgender medical care.

So, suffice to say, many LGBTQ people did not have the option to marry and settle down with an individual, even if they wanted to, in a monogamous partnership for many years. This is a struggle that many people of colour had with interracial marriage in the US and in other places. And that’s not to say this struggle is over either. I know in the UK in particular, individuals fleeing countries where they would be murdered for being gay struggle to ‘prove’ their gayness to the Home Office to claim asylum. One person I met felt she had to submit a pornographic video of her and her partner in order to effectively claim asylum.

For many LGBTQ people, having a long term monogamous partnership wasn’t a realistic possibility. ‘Hooking up’ in semi public places like parks or closed down buildings was the only option a lot of people had for any form of sexual or romantic partnership. And I think the history of that has meant that over time many LGBTQ people have either been forced into a situation where their relationships had to be ‘open’ in the case of needing to marry or present a straight front to the world in order to prevent themselves from complete ruin or they just haven’t seen monogamy as something realistic and therefore have had a more open approach to relationships.

Still, while there is this history, I wouldn’t say that LGBTQ people are any more likely to be polyamorous or have open relationships than straight people. And in general, there are physically more straight people and therefore more likely to be straight polyamorous people than queer polyamorous people. But, to sum up the idea, it’s a lot more easy to see the validity of other lifestyles that harm absolutely no one when they involve consenting adults and not immediately dismiss it if you’re also immediately dismissed by society.

I want to add one last comment regarding your situation, even though you didn’t ask about it. You’re not required to stay in a monogamous relationship if that’s not what you want and you most certainly shouldn’t feel your current relationship is holding you literal hostage. It is possible to find people your age who are interested in polyamory and if that’s what you want to do, that’s what you should do.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

In my experience to date, most of the LGBT+ folks I encounter in the polyamorous world are bisexual/pansexual, not gay or lesbian. Some of the early leaders of polyamory, like Deborah Anapol who I believe coined the term polyamory, identified as bisexual. Someone who is sexually and romantically drawn to more than one gender may well have a higher innate interest in open relationships so they can satisfy a broader range of their interests and desires. Now this is not to say that all or even most bisexual or pansexual folks aren’t monogamous. Many are.

When I attended a polyamory conference in Ohio a couple of years ago, most of the dyads present were heterosexual pairings and yet most “polycules” (their extended network of relationships) contained at least one “queer” dyad as well. That seems to be a pretty common demographic breakdown here in the Midwest.

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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