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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck!

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