I have a question, am looking for advice on the topic of free/ libertine sexuality and eroticism.
Me and my boyfriend of 5 years are in a polyamorous relationship. We both have another long term relationship. I am very much in love with my boyfriend and also love my long term partner a lot.
The bound with boyfriend feels very intimate, our erotic connection is tantric and very fulfilling for both of us. Yet, we seem to disagree on the topic of “freedom”. He is very curious about all aspects of the erotic spectrum and we already explored a bit together and went to some libertine clubs and play parties where we experienced a couple of things with another couple, all very loving and playful. I liked the experiences because we went through them together…
His curiosity leads him however to want to experience a couple of things alone. For example he would like to experience a gang bang without me. He would like to be free to go to libertine clubs without me as well…He says it has nothing to do with me or us or with our fantastic erotic bound. It has to do with his need for variation and his fascination by this world.
And even if I want to support him and feel thankful that he is open about his fantasies and fascinations, it still feels threatening to me. I cannot bear the thought of him experiencing intimate things there without me…I am also a bit tempted to think about these club experiences as being more “ trivial” and afraid it might “trivialize” our sexuality…I know this is a tricky way to think about it…
Any advice on how to handle/ see this?
I can see this issue from both sides. What it comes down to is an issue of compatibility, but I would encourage you to try and think outside the box on this and unpack your feelings.
Different concepts of freedom
You don’t say whether or not your relationship began polyamorously or if you moved towards polyamory from monogamy. I do feel like sometimes that can have an impact on how things go. Specifically, I ask because when you initially set out to do polyamory, it would have been good to discuss with each other what types of relationships you wanted. It would have been, at that point, when he could have made it clear that he was interested in sex with other people without you present.
Still, having that discussion now may be what you need with regards to reassurance. It’s worth you thinking about why you’ve chosen polyamory, what you get out of it, and where you see yourself with your boyfriend and your long-term partner in the long run.
You mention that both you and your partner have other long-term partners and you don’t specify that you’re present for every one of his sexual encounters with his other long-term partner, so I’m wondering if what you’re saying about yourself is true. It is possible he’s not sexually active with his other long-term partner, but if he is, then your problem isn’t so much that you must be there when he’s intimate with other people, but that the thought of him being on his own makes you nervous specifically when it comes to more explicitly sexual situations.
I don’t think you disagree with the concept of freedom here, I just think you had different things in mind when it came to where your polyamorous relationships would lead.
When we feel threatened
Though there haven’t been many studies done on polyamorous people, I would gather that there are a good number of people who feel more threatened by their partner having casual encounters than ‘stable’ partnerships. On the surface, there is a lot more to be threatened by in a casual encounter. Fundamentally, your relationship is very different to a casual encounter. A casual encounter is, presumably, simple and doesn’t involve the emotional labour of a relationship.
There is a dynamic that exists between domestic types of partnerships and casual types of partnerships that creates an ideal environment for threat on both sides. Domestic partnerships are accompanied with all of the hassle that is living with another human being and potentially even dealing with children or owning a home together — all not very ‘fun’ things. Whereas for those on the side of a casual fling may feel like they never get the sense of commitment that a domestic partnership can bring — there are reasons to be threatened on both sides.
It’s possible you are threatened by the casual encounters your partner wants to have, and not by his other long-term partner, because of either your assumptions about what his motivations for wanting them are or the fact that they have a more ‘fun’ aspect than your current relationship does — it’s hard to really say. You mention the idea of “free / libertine sexuality and eroticism” which… this might be due to a language translation, but it makes me wonder if you are threatened by the idea of him being alone because you are internally trying to prove yourself to be as ‘free’ and ‘libertine’ as you say you are.
It’s worth you unpacking what it is about the idea of him being alone that bothers you and unpack why it is and what fears might be hiding behind that.
Different strokes for different folks
The idea of your boyfriend wanting to experience things alone is understandable and doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of interest in experiences with you. Just like him wanting to masturbate on his own doesn’t mean he’s not interested in you. Just like if he wants to go do something by himself, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t value the time he spends with you. He may wish to have his own experiences and that might be something that means something to him. And that’s okay.
It’s also okay if you prefer to have these experiences with him if the value you see in some of these experiences is the increase in intimacy it builds between the two of you. That is the value you have of this experience, and that’s okay. You and your partner do not have to have the same exact feelings and motivations for you to respect and understand one another. What’s worth you remembering is that your boyfriend values things in different ways than you do. For him, these experiences have a value in and of themselves, independent of intimacy between established partners, and that doesn’t mean that he values you and your experiences together any less.
It’s really hard not to take the idea of your partner wanting experiences which don’t involve you personally. It’s hard not to feel like this doesn’t represent a personal failure on your part or worry that something will change about your own relationship, but this is where your partner needs to step in and reassure you.
Give yourself permission to feel anxious about his casual flings. I feel anxious when my domestic partner has casual flings. It worries me because I worry about not being fun enough, I worry about increased STI risk and I worry for reasons I can’t even properly verbalise. I have no idea why I’m scared, I just am. And I embrace it and accept it. And to be honest, over time, my fear has gone down. It still crops up when I’m having a bad mental health time, but overall it has gone down.
Taking things one step at a time
You and your partner are different, but I don’t think your compatibility is such that you need to consider breaking up. I do think that you can think about ways to break down your fears, decontextualise them and get the support you need from your partner that you need to sort through this. You might want to consider finding a polyamory friendly couples therapist who can help you work through these things.
To recap, I think you need to think about what you want out of polyamory. Is what you want a partner who will only do sexual things with you and not alone? If that’s a major requirement for you, then you may be incompatible with your current partner. If you’ve decided you’re not sure or you don’t think that’s as important as other things, you should try to unpack what you’re worried about when it comes to him going off on his own. Ask him to be involved in reassuring your fears. Remember that he can value different experiences differently than you do, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t mean anything to him.
Then, I think you need to maybe have him slowly experiment with going out on his own. Make sure you have company or something to do on the nights when he does. Expect you might be upset and plan for that, but try to accept that you feel fear and work on ways to cope with that. You might find you come out of the other end and it’s not as big of a deal as you thought it was and that you’re just fine. Or, conversely, you might find out that this just isn’t something you want and that you’re more of a swinger than interested in polyamorous relationships.
I definitely think in the long run, it’s worth breaking down and thinking about your fears and giving it a try before calling it quits completely.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Note: I wrote this article in 2017 which means that some of my perspectives may have changed. Feel free to submit a similar question again.
Do you have a question?
If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to email@example.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.