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I have a very unique and complicated relationship that I need help with. I am M, 23, and my partner is F, 25. I read in some of your posts that just because you’re different doesn’t mean you’re incompatible. I want to start by listing some of our major differences. I come from a conservative Christian community, and monogamy is all I have ever known. My partner comes from a very sex-positive background, and is set in her identity as polyamorous, (solo polyamorous to be exact, which means she values independence and doesn’t have any primary partners, and feels like she can’t emotionally stay with one person too long). To complicate things further, I identify as demisexual, which means I need to develop an intimate emotional connection before I feel sexual attraction. Now to add the icing on the cake, I am nomadic, and the max I’ve stayed at one location in the past two years is 2 months. She is pretty much tethered permanently to her home (student loans, work placement etc..).

We may have the chance to travel together in the near future, but I don’t think it’s going to happen often. We are madly in love with each other, and have been trying hard to express that love regardless of our differences. What is the best thing we can do for our relationship, without hurting the other? Thank you for any help!

There are a few things here that I want to discuss.

  • Differences in backgrounds
  • Solo polyamory
  • Long distance relationships

Differences in backgrounds

You mention in your letter that you come from different backgrounds, but I don’t see this as a potential incompatibility. We all have to start somewhere in our lives and I don’t think that where you grow up is necessarily an indication of where you will end up in any sense of the word. When I was young, I was very anti-choice because it was an opinion that had been passed on to me by the adults in my life, but I don’t feel that way now. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that polyamory comes easier for some people of different backgrounds because it really depends on the person. So don’t count that necessarily as a massive difference.

While it’s true that coming from a very conservative Christian community might present some obstacles for you personally that you have to work through, I wouldn’t assume that is exclusive to this relationship. If it doesn’t work out with you and your partner, you may end up in another relationship where it challenges this more than your current one does. It’s worth thinking about it that way rather than an obstacle.

Solo polyamory

I’m a tiny bit confused by your partner’s definition of solo polyamory because it doesn’t seem to be accurate. I don’t know if this is your assumption or her definition, but I would definitely recommend having a discussion with her about, specifically the idea that solo polyamory people ‘can’t emotionally stay with one person too long’. It’s hard for me to even parse what that exactly means. It doesn’t sound like solo polyamory to me. It sounds like someone afraid of commitment or wanting to avoid emotional labour and responsibility that a relationship can often include.

Solo polyamory is literally just about not necessarily wanting or having a ‘primary’ partner and living independently. I know many solo polyamorous people who are very emotionally invested in all of their relationships, they just don’t want that emotional investment to include cohabitation and prefer to live on their own. If your partner has explicitly told you that she doesn’t want to ‘emotionally stay with one person too long’, I think you need to have a discussion with her to understand what that means.

Individually, each of you need to think about and communicate to each other your expectations of what not only this relationship might look like as things develop but also what you want out of a relationship and what it means for you. You state you’re demisexual, which is fine, but do you have an interest in polyamory? Or are you only doing it so you can have her as a partner because you’re already emotionally invested? Have you really considered how you might feel if/when she begins to date other people and how that might affect you? Because if you aren’t interested or motivated towards polyamory on your own, this might be a much bigger obstacle than anything else you’ve listed here.

Once you’ve both thought about that, then you can decide how your relationship can or can’t take form in the future, which leads me to the next topic.

Long distance relationships

Your nomadic lifestyle is what it is and it doesn’t sound like this is going to change any time in the future, but it might be worth thinking about if this will be true for the rest of your life or if you will, for lack of a better expression, ‘settle down’ one day. Can your partner do long distance? Have you talked about this?

Polyamory isn’t a stop gap or a life raft. And it’s really important to not consider it a stop-gap solution to keep a relationship alive or to give a relationship which won’t work a chance. You might be motivated toward polyamory because your relationship with this person will be long distance and because you are demisexual and aren’t frequently attracted to people so you might be thinking about all of the ways you can make this work and it might very well work for a good period of time while you are nomadic. It may be possible you don’t mind at all her dating other people and things work fine.

But what happens when you want to settle down and you’ve spent years in a relationship with someone who has absolutely no interest in ‘settling down’ in the way you are going to want? What are you going to do then?

You need to really think about not just whether or not you and your partner can do a long distance relationship if your nomadic lifestyle continues, but also what happens if and when you no longer become nomadic. I don’t believe relationships have to last until you die to be ‘successful’. I think that there is a possibility you both can approach this like adults, have a good relationship and then understand that when you decide to be less nomadic, things might fundamentally change to the point where the relationship ends. I would not put your bets on her changing her mind and wanting to ‘settle down’ too in the future and focus on what information you have now.

To summarise, I think you need to think about what you want out of polyamory, if you want polyamory and she likewise needs to think about what kind of relationship structure she does want and what that means for someone wanting to be with her. You both need to think about whether you can do long distance and what happens if and when you become less nomadic.

The last thing I’d add is that pain is an inherent risk of meeting new people and developing feelings for them. You already have feelings for one another and I don’t think that there is anything you’re going to do to be able to prevent hurt. Hurt can and does happen. Instead of trying to avoid it completely, try to think about how you might cope if and when the hurt does happen.

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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