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It’s easy to think you might be interest in non-monogamy, but what if you have some conflicting feelings when theory becomes practice? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What “meaning” do you attach to sex, if any? And why?

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

Been with my partner for 2 years now, and I’ve always been a sexually open person, which they knew about from the beginning.

For a while we lived together and I decided to respect their space and go monogam[ous] for a year, still trying to make them understand I like an open relationship with physical meaningless things.

We live separately now and I got them to let me explore some other people.

Recently my partner started dating another person which I thought I’ll be alright with, but it hurts like nothing I felt before. We had a short chat about it and I suggested a little break to think about us without seeing each other.

My question would be – where could we go from here?

I know I’m emotional monogamist open to sexual pleasure. But how could I tell them after I made them try new things to stop?

Response:

So in short, how can you tell them after you made them try new things to stop? I mean, *should* you tell them to stop is the big question here. I think that your reaction is pretty normal actually. A lot of people even if they think they’re totally “prepared” for Non-Monogamy, when the rubber meets the road or the if it hits the shan however you want to say it — It is a lot more different when it’s practice and not just theory. 

And it’s very scary. Regardless of how open you think you are, you have lived in a society your whole life — I’m guessing unless you’ve lived in a different type of culture, in which case I apologise — but most people who are listening to this who tend to be among the people who write me come from a society where monogamy is presented to them as the only option and the only valid option.

And that is a lifetime of messages, a lifetime of … programming seems really daft to say but it’s a lifetime of information that you’ve had to basically, you know, deal with your whole life and along with that, a lot of monogamous people struggle I feel with realistic expectations of monogamy because of that message. A lot of monogamous people struggle with the idea that their partner can be attracted to somebody else and that means something about how much they love them. Like monogamous people struggle with this messaging. 

So of course, you are going to struggle with that. That make sense. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an “emotional monogamist” and I would really challenge yourself on that. It’s not fair, really for you to expect your partner to just dump somebody else. It’s also not fair for that person that your partner is dating, just because you’re uncomfortable. So you can tell your partner to stop. You could make that demand. But if I were your partner or I were advising your partner I would tell your partner to break up with you. Just because for someone to do that is really not cool. And it doesn’t— it’s very selfish with all due respect. 

So— and I understand the feeling of wanting things to stop and even taking breaks and wanting to step away from all of the intense emotions. I get that but you can’t just completely dump someone — and it’s not really fair to do that to the other person — just because you’re uncomfortable. I want to point out something that you said though in your letter. You said I like an open relationship with “physical meaningless things”. There’s two things about this. 

First of all, just because you’re both interested in open relationships— it seems like they are. But you can both be into open relationships and still be very different in terms of how you want to practice them. Just because you’re into that doesn’t mean you’re inherently compatible. Some people are interested in casual sex who are polyamorous. Some people are not interested in casual sex. It doesn’t have to be a relationship ending thing. I don’t think you have to have the exact same outlook or or belief system or needs with regards to sex just to date. 

But I do think you have to accept that your partner isn’t going to have the same outlook on sex as you do. And I think that’s even true in monogamous relationships. I mean, just because two people are monogamous doesn’t mean that they have the same relationship to sex, or the same, you know, value—  value sex in their life in the exact same ways. So it comes down to whether or not this is something you can accept. 

Maybe you feel like *you* want physical meaningless things. Maybe your partner doesn’t and that’s okay. I’ve been in that kind of a relationship where I was with someone who was interested in more casual things, and I’m not. And it was challenging for me because I immediately assumed that all of their casual relationships were like the same as a more serious relationship to me. 

Another thing that I want to point out is that I feel like we get really loosey goosey with the terms like “casual sex” and “meaningless sex”. I mean, it could be that when you say you’re interested in physical, meaningless things that you like, go to a club pick someone out, you know, go to a bathroom together and then never speak to them again. Even so, I would still say that has a meaning. It’s not meaningless completely. You may not want to have a commitment involved in that. That doesn’t make the act meaningless. 

I really want to get people away from assuming that being interested in casual sex means that the people that you have casual sex with, like mean nothing. I feel like that’s a really harsh and horrible way to look at it. And I don’t think that that’s true, just based off of my experience of having a partner who was interested in casual sex. I assumed that casual sex meant that you didn’t care about the other person. But that’s not really true. 

I don’t doubt that there are people who have casual sex who are basically using another human person’s body to masturbate. I’m pretty sure that does happen. However, that isn’t the case for every single person who has casual sex. So I would challenge yourself a little bit on — is this actually meaningless? You may feel a little bit scared and attach meaning to the person that your partner is dating because you’re scared and threatened by it. 

You may be attaching a meaning that isn’t there. The only way you’re going to figure out that is by really getting a better idea of what “meaning” means to you. And that’s a little bit harder in Non-Monogamy. Whenever we’re monogamous we have the thing that’s called “the relationship escalator,” which you might want to Google and it’s this idea that like, you know, this is how your life is supposed to be: you meet someone you get attached you begin an exclusive relationship. You may be move in with each other you maybe decide to marry you have babies, you know, that whole sort of step by step signal that a relationship has meaning.

And when you are non monogamous and you don’t have that relationship escalator, it is hard to understand what “meaning” means, especially since you live in a culture where exclusivity is the meaning. Exclusivity creates that meaning. So how do you create that meaning? And I think people make the mistake of assuming meaning, and not really knowing how to make meaning themselves, and feeling really lost about it. So I think that you might want to sit down with yourself a little bit and figure out why it is that you’re interested in Non-Monogamy? 

What do you hope to get out of it? What is your ideal within that? Because I feel like you just assuming that you’re an emotional monogamist perhaps because of this experience? I mean, you may be. But what is it that you specifically want out of this? And then when you try Non-Monogamy Again, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for. Because like I said, just because you are non-monogamous doesn’t mean everyone who is not-monogamous is going to be completely compatible with you. 

You may want a relationship that is more swinger like to be honest. That sounds more like swingers where you have one marriage and one kind of emotional relationship but you have sexual experiences with other people. I still wouldn’t call that meaningless, but it is the primary relationship which is prioritised and sort of seen as more important, and that may be fine within the context of a swinger community. 

But for people who feel like they’re more polyamorous who want what’s called “Kitchen Table polyamory” or something like that, where not only do you want multiple deep romantic relationships, but you want those people to get along and you want to have a big kind of family. That may not be compatible with you even if you feel you are non-monogamous. So, figure out what you want from non-monogamy. In my beginner 101 non monogamous article which you can find a NonMonogamyHelp.com I talked about it in the terms of an anchor and that is your personal reason for wanting non monogamy. 

And when you have that better idea, you’ll know what it is that you’re trying to ask for from a partner and you’ll be able to navigate some of these anxieties a little bit more. Because if you know, like, “Okay, I want to be non monogamous, but this is a specific thing that I want”, then you can approach other partners and see if that’s what they’re actually interested in. And then you won’t have such a major reaction to things. I think you’ll still have fears. 

I think you’ll still have anxieties and that’s fine. I don’t think you should set yourself up for failure by thinking that just because you’re super into what you call “physical meaningless things” doesn’t mean you won’t have feelings. You’re going to have feelings because it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to live in a monogamous society and just absolutely have no emotions when your partner is with someone else. I think that that’s just not realistic for most people. 

So yeah, to recap, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to force your partner to break up with somebody else. However, I do think that it’s important for you to figure out what it is that you want and your partner as well as — for you both to figure out what your ideal is, and to see if you actually are compatible within that. I think you should question your assumptions that you are an emotional monogamist and that the things that you do are meaningless to you. Because I feel like that may not be completely true, but it’s all about finding what non-monogamy actually means to you so that you have something to compare it to when it comes to meaning. 

I do think that you might want to look into swinger communities just because what you’ve already described — if this is exactly what you want — seems more akin to the swinger vibe necessarily, then the polyamorous vibe. And yeah, in general, I just think that you need to give yourself a little bit of a break. You will have fears. You will be hurt and nervous and scared with your partner dating another person. I think even if you find someone who is interested in the same style of relationship, you will still be scared if your partner is doing something physical with somebody else that is supposed to be “meaningless”. It’s expected and understandable that you might feel scared. Some people don’t and that’s fine, but it’s very very understandable. So don’t beat yourself up too badly for that. And lastly, I hope this helps and good luck.