I’ve been seeing someone for about 7 months now. About 2.5 months ago we discussed our relationship, and the outcome of the conversation was that he doesn’t want to be exclusive. I have never been in a non monogamous relationship but I told him that I was open to it, and was willing to do that.

During our discussion I said that being sexually exclusive was not something that I needed to have, but that I just didn’t want to be emotionally blindsided by finding out through a third party or other means that he was seeing someone else. I told him I just wanted honesty of if he was seeing or sleeping with other people but that I didn’t know the details. He told me that he hadn’t been pursuing anyone else, and that he hadn’t slept with anyone else in the recent months.

In the past month I’ve come to the conclusion that he is indeed sleeping with and seeing someone else through social media. It also seems that they have a deeper connection than just sex, which is something I struggle with. I told him in our initial conversation that I would feel jealous if I found out, but that I could deal with those feelings and try and see how it goes if it did happen.

It wasn’t very hard for me to figure it out, but I’m feeling incredibly anxious because I don’t know how to bring it up. I haven’t let on that I know, and while there’s a slight chance that I could be wrong, I’m almost 99.99% sure that I’m correct in my assumptions.

I don’t know how to broach the subject without sounding like a stalker, and I’m not sure what I even want to hear from him, except for the truth. I don’t like feeling like I’ve been lied to , but for some reason I’m hesitating bringing up the conversation even though its hurting me.

You’ve got a lot going on here that I want to address but the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s really hard for me, without understanding what you saw on social media which would make you feel so confident that there is something going on, whether or not this is something which is very likely or a result of being paranoid. However, here is what I’ll address:

  • Non-monogamy instead of breaking up
  • Cheating in polyamory and non-monogamy
  • Your wants and needs

Non-monogamy instead of breaking up

What strikes me about the agreement you have with your partner is that he introduced non-monogamy and you agreed to it. It very much feels like a situation where you do not have a real drive to be non-monogamous nor do you see any benefits to it. There is no right way for someone to come into non-monogamy, but I do think that what is necessary for anyone introducing any amount of non-monogamy into their relationship is a very clear idea of what they want or an ability and space to be self-reflective enough to know when you’re not getting what you want.

You set up non-monogamy, but I don’t know if you really talked enough about what you expected or how this would eventually change your relationship. I’m completely guessing here, but it sounds like he introduced non-monogamy, you said it was fine for him to sleep with someone else but not fall in love and then I’d bet money on the fact that he may have not had a sexual relationship with this person you think he’s cheating with but he was already emotionally invested and felt like trying to ask for that right away would not work. Or, conversely, he could just be a cheater.

Either way, what you want is specifically swinging and what you want can only happen with someone who wants the same thing. No one controls their emotions and who they have feelings for. And it’s important for you to understand that monogamy isn’t going to protect you from that. People can and do fall in love with people without ever having a sexual relationship with them or that even being an option. I’m very, very hesitant of rules about emotions because you just cannot control them.

However, there are some people out there who know themselves well enough to know how their emotions work and who can and do have a more swinging based relationship where they have sex with other people but they don’t really develop deep emotional connections with them — and that’s cool.

But, I’m not sure if that’s actually what your partner wants. At this point, whether or not he’s cheating isn’t going to solve the crux of the issue which is whether or not he wants swinging or whether or not he actually wants polyamory. If you are uncomfortable with your primary partner sharing a deeper connection than just sex, then you don’t want polyamory. And the fact that you had no interest or drive to really seek this out to begin with sort of makes me think you barely tolerate swinging.

I could be wrong and maybe you are finding new people to date or sleep with and it’s going great, but clearly your exploration into non-monogamy right now is such that you want something like swinging. And the conversation I think you need to have with your partner is a clarification of what type of non-monogamy you want and also how that non-monogamy works with your life.

Cheating in polyamory and non-monogamy

In that regard, it’s also important for you to clarify what cheating is. “Cheating” is a boundary which even monogamous people take for granted. To some people, even watching pornography is “cheating”. While there is a debate to be had about what cheating is and isn’t, what’s relevant here is how each of you define cheating. And I’m wondering if you ever had this conversation.

For me, cheating is when a partner lies or hides something from me, whether actively or by omission. They don’t have to even sexually touch or meet someone else to cheat. It just involves actively hiding something from me and that to me is cheating. And I’ve made this clear to partners in the past — and to metamours — because it became very clear when I spoke to one metamour who didn’t think cheating was possible in non-monogamy who was likely facilitating cheating in one instance.

If you believe this is “cheating”, you can have this discussion with him about what he regards as cheating to ensure you’re on the same page. What counts as a “deep connection” really varies between individuals. And I don’t know what kind of person your partner is. It could be that he’s very flirty with people he considers friends. My domestic partner and I define a relationship in very different ways and we have an ongoing joke between us that the people I call his “partners”, he really doesn’t consider “partners” in that sense because the way relate to people is different.

This is a good way for you to introduce the subject. I think you need to be honest about snooping because I would consider a partner lying to me about something like that maybe not cheating per say, but still something which I would want to know was done to me and, even if it would upset me, I would need that person to be willing to make up for the violation of trust if I weren’t actually hiding anything. If he was hiding something from you and knowingly doing so and he is willing to admit that, it might be then important for you to think about how you’re going to deal with that. Violations of trust happen and sometimes it’s hard to know how we’re going to be able to process this. You may need the help of a non-monogamy friendly therapist to figure out how you’re both going to work from that.

Is this what you really want?

But, in bringing this back to my first point, I get the feeling that you and your partner, whether cheating is or isn’t happening, might not want the same things out of non-monogamy. I’m getting the feeling that you are agreeing to this to save a relationship which is barely even a year old. I’m wondering if it’s better for you to cut your losses and find someone who meets your needs more effectively. I do kind of feel like if, this early in the relationship, you have a partner who might already be violating your trust and you’re already violating his privacy by snooping… is it something that’s worth saving?

Even if this were a simple miscommunication, you are going to have to work at repairing the poor foundation of trust you already have and, if he is having a relationship with this other person, you’re going to be working at re-building your foundation while he’s with someone who represents a violation of your boundaries and a lot of negative feelings. Such a thing is possible, but it’s going to be very difficult for you to manage your emotions about his other partnership if he’s shown a disregard for you and your feelings. Likewise, If he feels particularly upset by your snooping or investigation, he’s going to have to rebuild that trust from you.

So, to recap, I think you first need to have a discussion about what you both want out of non-monogamy. Does he want something that is more like swinging or more like polyamory? If he says he’s fine with a more swinging type of scenario and, not that he’s not allowed to fall in love with someone, but that he’s not likely to (and you need to then think about what happens if either of you do develop feelings for someone), then you might then steer the conversation towards having a better understanding of cheating and see if you share that definition.

When you share that definition, explain that the reason you’re asking for clarification is because you noticed he’s done X Y Z on social media with a person and you want a better understanding of what that means. Allow him to explain the situation and if it comes out that he was hiding this from you, then you need to think about what that means for you.

But overall, I kind of am wondering if you’ll even need to get to your shared explanation of cheating because something kind of makes me think that he’s going to express wanting to be free to develop emotional connections with people and then you will have to come to the conclusion that you’re not compatible, making whether or not he is “cheating” a bit irrelevant.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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

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