What happens when your partner keeps hinting that they want monogamy but you’re not even sure if you’ve ever felt love at all?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: If you were to get a job offer in another country, how would your relationships change?

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Episode 50 – What Is Love?

Your partner expects you to commit to monogamy eventually but you’re not sure if you’ve ever been in love. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – If you were to get a job offer in another country, how would your relationships change?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I think I am polyamorous, but it is hard to say due to several complicated factors. I have been dating my boyfriend since college, and I met him when I was at a pretty low point in my life, and I had very low self-esteem. He was my first… almost everything. But I met him on a break, and when I went back to school pretty far away, we decided to keep dating long-distance.

However, pretty soon I started regretting it when my really good friend/crush admitted he had liked me for some time. My boyfriend said I could kiss him if I wanted, but I felt nervous and confused about it, and when we got a little too physical at some parties (holding hands/cuddling), he got really upset and jealous, and we had a big fight.

Since then, we have been opening and closing the relationship at different times. There have been three major phases of non-monogamy. The first was when I studied abroad and dated someone so seriously that I considered him my boyfriend. My first boyfriend was very upset by this, and I was upset at how he was talking to me… We ended up in couples counselling, and it felt better.

The second time was right before I graduated, when I said I wanted to try casual dating/sex, and he said I should. I hooked up with so many people in a short time that he got upset, like I tried to get in as many men as possible as soon as I could. It hurt that he said he wanted me to explore, but got mad at the way I did. It ended up not really being for me, anyway. I came out of it with 1 more person that I felt pretty serious about, and we still talk sometimes, but rarely see each other.

The third is when I moved abroad soon after graduating, and we negotiated a new agreement where I could do whatever I wanted with whoever. He was going to trust me and our relationship more. I met up with a few of my established people a few times, and he was fine with it. But the main problem is when I don’t see him for a long time, I stop being interested in physical stuff with him for a while until I have warmed up to being around him again.

This isn’t really the case with others… more chemistry? Shorter relationship, so it feels more exciting? I am not sure. But it causes my boyfriend to get really paranoid that I am going to leave him for someone else, especially with the distance between us right now. We have had brief stints of living together though, and I enjoyed them and felt happy with the relationship.

Currently I am seeing a new person. It is complicated because he is in my friend group here abroad, and I have to keep lots of secrets from almost everyone I know, as most people know about my boyfriend. And my boyfriend keeps talking about marriage and kids with me, which stresses me out. I want marriage and kids, but I don’t want to lose these other relationships either, and I am very confused about who I want to be that committed to and how it would work.

And I know my boyfriend probably sees it as we are the primary relationship and everyone else is just a temporary thing for fun, but I don’t really like the hierarchy to be so … stiff. These other people are people I want to keep in my life, and they all bring different aspects that I enjoy.

Sometimes my boyfriend gets sad about the distance and tells me things like how he is excited for when we can just be together, the two of us, and it makes me think that he is expecting monogamy, like if we get married and have kids, and it just feels… really scary. That he thinks he can just say the word and expect all this to stop. Or that what I am doing isn’t good in the context of raising children. Or that if I like other people as much as I like him, that I am doing something wrong.

I have encouraged him to date other people as well, because I think he is a person who needs lots of physical comfort and someone to get him out of ruts, but he hasn’t, either because he is not good at finding people (especially since his coworkers know he has a girlfriend) or because he is not actually interested. Of course I wouldn’t force him to be polyamorous, but given my situation I think it would make things a lot better and take off the burden from me to make him feel happy and loved all the time. I have asked him if he even gets anything out of the relationship being the way that it is, or if he just puts up with it for my sake. He has assured me that parts of it excite him, but it is usually hard to predict whether something will excite him or upset him.

Also, sort of related, is I don’t really understand what love is supposed to feel like? My boyfriend says he loves me, and I grew up quite a romantic, so I always thought love meant you only wanted that person and you felt ready to spend the rest of your life with them and have kids. I guess I sort of am looking for that feeling, but have never felt it, so I don’t know if I am doing something wrong.

Something my boyfriend often says when checking in on how my relationships are going is, “sounds great! just don’t fall in love with him” — I always want to say, I don’t know what love even is, and if I did, why would you not want me to feel it? He knows I don’t really feel those lovey feelings the same way he does, so I am not sure what this warning is supposed to mean.

So basically I am just wondering, am I doing something wrong? Should I be doing something differently? Is there a way to keep my long-distance relationship steady and healthy given that it I sometimes feel drained, like I have to prop it up emotionally/sexually? How can I feel better about wanting to get married and have kids in my current situation? ~Is love just a social construct?~ Thanks so much in advance for any advice.

Response:

So, the big thing here is, again, I’m gonna… I said this in Episode 48. I’m gonna say it again. Polyamory is not about finding multiple relationships that are partially suited to you.

I think that a lot of people get into polyamory because they don’t want to break up with somebody and they just sort of collect semi sustaining semi fulfilling relationships with people, until they reach a kind of permissible stasis with people. It just feels like your boyfriend doesn’t actually want polyamory. Like you’re kind of saying, what is— seems like the truth. Like it seems like he thinks this is just a temporary thing. And it’s not a temporary thing for you. Clearly, you have some fundamental disagreements about the way you want to live your lives.

And if it makes you feel any better, this happens all the time with monogamous people. It’s not just a thing with— okay one person’s polyamorous, one person’s monogamous. Two polyamorous people can have this kind of incompatibility as well in terms of just not wanting to live their lives the same way. Monogamous people can have this incompatibility. So for you it’s like, okay, yeah you want to have kids and get married and stuff but you want to be in a polyamorous relationship. You want to have multiple partners. You want to have this freedom.

And there are so many signs that this is not what he wants. He thinks that this is temporary and the whole, like “just don’t fall in love with him”… Eh. I just feel like that’s a very clear sign that someone—  it’s okay— Some people do have an open style relationship where they are primarily in love with one person and that they do have just like flings, and things like that. And if that’s something you both agree on than that’s absolutely fine. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what you want. So you’re stuck in this sort of situation where he has a very different idea of what’s going on than you do. And I think that you’ve been hesitant to get rid of the relationship that you have with him.

Because, you know, it’s kind of a bit what’s called a sunk cost fallacy. I keep saying “sunken cost fallacy” but I think it’s actually just sunk cost fallacy. But it’s basically where because you’ve put so much effort in, you’re really hesitant to actually get rid of it because you’re like “well I put so much in, I have to keep putting into it”. But actually you’re not really doing anything but digging a deeper hole. So, I think that you need to really both sit down and be really clear with each other about what it is that you actually want.

And I honestly like don’t really blame you because if you’ve been dating him… If you’ve been dating him since you were in college, that does mean you are quite young. Everyone’s different. Some people are ready to settle down, more or less like “settle down” when they are 22. Some people are not really ready for that until they’re 32. And if you’re not ready for that, then you’re not ready for that and I just feel like, you know, moving to long distance… it’s funny that we had that discussion question today because it was really apt for this whole entire question you have — but you move to long distance to sort of try and keep the relationship alive.

And understandably you did that because he was your first everything. It’s quite hard to just break up. Sometimes you want to give that a try and that’s okay to give that a try. But that— nothing is going to solve such an inherent incompatibility. Like there are things that can be worked around. There are things that you can negotiate and compromise with and I do think that, you know, especially if you have a relationship where you live together or you plan on living together, there is going to be some compromise.

Because there’s always compromise with any adult that you live with, to a certain extent. But there are some things that you can’t really compromise on and like having kids, for example— If you had no interest in having children, there’s no real way to compromise on that. And trying to have children when you don’t know that you’re sure that you want to… It’s… Yeah. So there’s lots of situations here where, you know… I think there are obviously situations where maybe he felt uncomfortable. Like being uncomfortable with, you know— saying okay “go ahead and sleep with whomever you want” and then be uncomfortable.

He might feel uncomfortable when he tries polyamory. When you’re with other people, sometimes when you’re trying stuff out. You have to be comfortable with your partner being uncomfortable and you have to go “Okay, my partner’s uncomfortable”, and instead of stopping what you’re doing, you have to work with him to address that. And I think sometimes when people try out polyamory they go “okay— oh my partner feels uncomfortable stop stop stop everything stop everything go back”. And that doesn’t actually fix the problem. The problem is that they feel uncomfortable and how do they cope with it?

So, there were some situations where, you know, there could have been a little bit more done to see if he really is interested in polyamory. If it would have just been that situation I would have said, okay, you should let him feel that discomfort and work through that, but the fact that he’s saying stuff like “don’t fall in love with him” … I think that your intuition is right that it’s not— it’s not that he is at all interested in polyamory. It just doesn’t sound like he wants… He doesn’t even—  it sounds like he could potentially do a situation where you did have just flings, but that isn’t what you want.

You do want multiple relationships and you don’t want to abandon that for any kind of situation. So I do think that you’re incompatible. I don’t think that you should worry so much about what love is and whether or not you feel it. Having bigger chemistry with newer people or different people isn’t surprising. It might be what’s called new relationship energy which is where you have kind of like you know someone sparkly and new and that’s exciting and you know you have that when you start off in a relationship.

But then when you have a kind of a longer term relationship, it’s not like the spark completely dulls and if you put effort in the spark doesn’t completely dull, but someone who is new and shiny is different and new and shiny. And so you feel like, “ooh”. So you might have more chemistry and you can be in a situation where you have more chemistry with some partners than with others and that isn’t a terrible thing. But you would be— I think you would be less concerned about it if there wasn’t all this pressure on your shoulders to kind of go back to a monogamous way of being, which is kind of what he wants. All of the signs are kind of pointing to that.

All of the signs are pointing to him basically, expecting you go “okay well I’m done”. And I just think that’s a… I mean you could. I mean, maybe one day just like you did when you mentioned how you, you know, had a lot of sex in a short period of time and then you were like “no, it’s not for me”. Maybe you will one day go “no it’s not for me” but he shouldn’t expect that to happen. And he shouldn’t equally pressure you for that to happen. And I don’t really blame him because I think he cares about you. I think he doesn’t want to break up, and I think he’s trying to adjust to the situation, so that you know he can stay with you because he cares about you.

But sometimes honestly when people— Some people can try polyamory and see if it’s for them and know it’s not for them. I think that sometimes when people are so afraid of breaking up, they end up in a situation that ends up being more painful than the breakup would have been. And I think that this situation is probably going— like he’s clearly not going to break up with you. He’s going to try in the hopes that you’re going to switch back to being monogamous. And I mean you could keep putting— could keep digging this hole, but I just don’t think that it’s it’s a good idea.

You feel burdened in this relationship. He’s kind of giving you all the signs that he’s not into opening it for the long term. So you gotta just sit down and have a real honest discussion about what it is that you both want because I just don’t think that this is actually what he wants, unfortunately. And I think he’s maybe just lying to himself a tiny tiny bit, so that he can stay with you. Because, I mean all people do that. I don’t blame anyone who does that, because that’s a very human thing to not want to break up with somebody. But sometimes two people can care very very very very very much about each other.

Two people can be almost compatible in tons of other ways. They can improve each other’s lives and be really really great for each other but they’re just not compatible past that and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s not your fault for being you. It’s not his fault for being him. It’s just, yeah, sometimes it’s just inherently not compatible. You just want different things out of life. It happens. Like if you think about it, it can happen to a monogamous couple if say one of the people in the couple is a doctor or a lawyer or has a very time intensive career and the other person just can’t handle that. That could happen if one person is, you know, has a type of career that pulls them away and makes them travel all the time you know. Maybe one person can’t handle that.

So, that can happen in a lot of different situations. But it’s not really anybody’s fault in this situation. I think probably what’s best to do… I mean you could just kind of break up but I do think, like— I think that it’ll it’ll make more sense to come to that agreement mutually if you actually sit down and talk about what it is that you want out of life, what it is that you— what your ideal situation looks like.

And then you can say, you know— he’ll maybe sit there and say “I want us to be together and be monogamous and wife and kids picket fence”.  And then you say “well I would like to have kids but I want to have multiple partners” and then there’s not many places you can go once you have that discussion. So it’s worth having that discussion and actually getting that out, rather than just prolonging it because dragging it on is… I think it’ll just make it painful for you both. I wish that I had something better to say. I really hate— I hate it when my advice is, you’re not compatible.

If he had said something else, if he had given some indication that he saw polyamory as a little bit beneficial to him— He doesn’t have to date tons of people. Like it’s fine if he doesn’t want to date. I don’t date a lot. I hate dating. So, it’s fine if he doesn’t want to date. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t do polyamory. But it’s all the other stuff around that like saying, “don’t fall in love” and “I can’t wait to work together alone”. Like all that other stuff is just a really massive indication that he’s probably not in it for the polyamory long haul, unfortunately.

So have that discussion and it might take you to— Unfortunately, where you might need to be which is not together. Yeah, I’m sorry. I wish I had something better to advise but I do think that that is the best in the long term for you both. I hope that helps and good luck.