Is 18 months long enough to wait for someone to decide if polyamory is for them?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: What is your love language?
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Is 18 months enough time to give someone to decide if they want polyamory? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What’s your love language?
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.
I have been in a relationship with my husband A for about 12 years. Initially we started off in an open, polyamorous relationship (back when we didn’t know the term). At the time, he was polyamorous and seeing two other women in addition to myself. Even though I was allowed to see others, I felt myself only wanting him, and therefore assumed I was monogamous.
At one point, I told him kindly that I would likely need to leave the relationship because it was hurting me too much that we were not exclusive (not blaming him at all, because he was completely honest about who he was). At that point, he told me he didn’t want to lose me, and that he would try monogamy.
We were then monogamous together for a few more years, after which time I developed an intense crush on someone (B) at work, who I almost ended my relationship over. Now I know that was NRE. My crush on (B) was mostly an emotional relationship, with some physical involvement with (As) subsequent permission. Too many details, but A and I briefly decided to open up our relationship, at which point A immediately found a part-time girlfriend.
At the time, I convinced myself I had a crush on B because A wasn’t ready to marry me, and I therefore didn’t “feel loved enough.” A gave me a choice to either stay in the relationship or leave to be with (B). I chose to stay with (A) and work on distancing myself from (B) to try and get over my feelings.
Also (B), though also having intense feelings for me, was not looking to settle into anything serious in that moment. And was also confused about what he wanted. B also had a lot of other emotional issues he was going through at the time, and it would have been a very unstable relationship. And I knew I still loved (A).
After deciding to stay together with A, things went well. We remained in a good relationship together, decided to get married, at least on my end felt generally happy.
We had some issues. One that kept on repeating itself is that my love language is through words. And for as long as we’ve been together, it’s hard for me to feel emotionally reassured or supported by A when I’m dealing with something stressful or upsetting.. Although I find he is really trying, it is difficult for A to comfort me without getting defensive, or telling me he feels “attacked,” because my voice sounds angry or upset, even though I’m upset about something that has nothing to do with him.
After a lot of thinking, I realized though B was not an emotionally stable man, that comforting me when I felt upset was something he had kind of been able to do.
Moving forward about 3 years after A and I got married, we settled down for another traveling gig in a new town. And several months into my new job, I found myself developing a crush on my coworker (C). This time it was different. I was shocked with myself. I couldn’t understand it. This time there was no excuse. A had given me everything I had asked for. He was committed, monogamous, he had married me, he was so good to my family. I still loved him. I knew that.
And yet, I found myself falling deeply in love with C. He returned my feelings. He was married. We both worked very hard on trying to remain just friends, no matter what our feelings were. I even tried to coordinate couples dates with me and A and C and his wife. A was very agreeable, but C’s wife kept on giving excuses for why they couldn’t hang out with us. So it never happened.
After a year and a half of holding back, I felt I didn’t want to hold back anymore. I was so in love with C, and I didn’t want to lose the chance. I kissed him at work (and some physical involvement as well). So yes, I cheated. I was planning on eventually telling A. A few months into the affair, A asks me and I tell him the truth.
In all fairness, I should’ve spoken to A. And I do take full responsibility for the cheating. It was wrong. And at the time, I was so scared he’d tell me I’d have to choose, like what happened the last time. And my NRE was so strong, I felt I wouldn’t be able to bear it and would have to leave A.
Well, A was understandably hurt. But, literally about less than 48 hours later, he tells me he has a realisation that we should go back to being polyamorous. After all, he was polyamorous already, had known that about himself for years, and I was obviously not doing well with monogamy. I still feel A should’ve yelled at me, punished me. Been upset with me for longer. I deserved it. I admit I am still having a hard time forgiving myself for my affair, even as I write this.
Well, A restructured into polyamory quite quickly. Within several months, he had a few new girlfriends (these were serious relationships with women he deeply cared for – not casual encounters). This is who he is. (Later A explained to me he had been very unhappy for the last few years, and had felt himself becoming more emotionally distant as a result;
A does admit he believes some of what drew me to C is that C was a strong emotionally supportive friend who was there for me for over a year, when A had been emotionally distant. A is still so thankful I met C and that C was there for me during that time).
So after A found out about the affair, I spoke to C, who was adamantly opposed to polyamory, not because he judges it, but because he doesn’t believe it’s for him. Initially he attempted to leave his wife, telling her he wanted to be with me, but later went back to her when he found out I had no intention of leaving my husband.
He tried to bring up polyamory with his wife, who declined it, and gave him an ultimatum that he had to choose between her or me. (C admitted to me later that he had initially left his wife because he was hoping I might choose him and leave my husband).
To be clear, C didn’t want to pull me away from A, but was hoping that maybe I’d realise he was a better choice for me, and that maybe A and I were growing apart. C never gave me an ultimatum. He has a kind heart, and told me he would’ve worked on being happy for me if I chose A and was happy with A. But he had difficulty with the concept of polyamory.
After discussing the option of polyamory, C asked me to wait, because he wanted to try and learn more and consider whether he could open himself up to this idea. Initially he dived in, began reading books, going on poly[am] blogs, and talking of a potential poly[am] future with me. But a few months in, he stopped, not really explaining why, other than to say he was busy with all this other stuff in his life, and didn’t have the time, and that he still was processing things.
During this time, we have been seeing each other secretly (his wife doesn’t know, although I have repeatedly told him he should tell her). My husband A knows everything. Actually, A and C have met and like each other. Though they aren’t friends, they get along. A is comfortable. C has never quite felt comfortable, and always worries he’s in the way of my marriage with A.
It has been about 18 months total of me waiting (basically putting my life on hold) for C to process what he wants. It’s not that C told me I couldn’t date anyone else. But he did say that if I began seeing someone new, he would have an emotionally difficult time starting a new relationship with me, and may have to really leave. He’s obviously ok with me continuing to see A.
So I’ve been seeing A. And I’m seeing C in secret (because he hasn’t told his wife). And because of this dynamic, I barely get to see him. Just briefly for a few hours once or twice a week when his wife is at work. And it’s so hard, that I’ve given myself a deadline that I’ve told him about where I will eventually need to leave. Because it hurts too much, coming second to his wife all the time. Not getting to really even date, no overnights, limited phone time, mostly texting.
I won’t go into this part in detail, but C’s wife (per C’s description) is controlling in many ways, does not treat him respectfully, and keeps him away from his kids from his previous marriage, forcing him to choose.
During this time, my husband A has developed several significant relationships with 3 other women, and also developing some relationships with a few others that are yet undetermined status. Our relationship has shifted. We are no longer a couple in a primary relationship, with secondary relationships.
He considers himself egalitarian poly[am], and solo poly[am], and I am now one of several partners he loves. I only see him about 1-2 days a week (so we have maybe a day date together, and one evening). Occasionally we have a bit more time when one of his girlfriends is out of town. He even had his own apartment he is subletting, where he goes occasionally. And he has moved into the spare room in our apartment, so that our relationship is no longer like a couple, and more suited to dating. Though we are dating about once a week, our situation at home in our apartment is more like roommates.
This has been very difficult for me, because I was used to seeing A all the time, every day. I know I still love him, and that he still loves me. Even though I’ve been having the affair with C, the concepts of polyamory are still very new to me, and I struggle a lot with insecurity, and things I’m working on with myself.
I do have emotional outbursts intermittently, and am still processing through multiple monogamous concepts I am trying to restructure in my mind. I am learning as I go, and do believe I am slowly making progress, identifying where my insecurities lie. I do believe seeing an individual poly[am]-friendly therapist would be good for me.
As I explained before, A has always had a difficult time emotionally supporting me when I’m upset – so this has caused a large strain on our relationship over the last 6 months, especially if I’m upset because of something he is doing. And I am still working on creating a poly[am]-friendly support group. For a while, A was one of my only emotional supports, and that’s a large burden to place on A.
It got so bad that we separated for a couple of weeks, and I was almost ready to leave him. But then I realized I still love A so much, and don’t want to give up on our relationship yet. But 1-2 days a week is not enough for me. I enjoy being in a couple. It’s what I would want. I think I’m polyamorous (still not quite sure), but not a solo poly[am]. It’s important for me to have quality time in my relationship to develop the intimacy I need. I need more time in a relationship than 1-2 days a week. But this is all A can give me at this point.
And I do have to add that with everything that’s going on with C, he is able (more than any man I’ve been with) to emotionally comfort me and reassure me when I’m upset. It is a need I never really had met until I met C. And it’s a need that is very important to me. .
So my dilemma is this:
I love A and C. They both love me. Ideally, I’d love to be with both of them. C has similar values and life goals to mine/ Ideally I’d love for him to be a primary partner with me – in terms of living together, time spent together, etc – and for A to be my secondary partner. A is cool with that. C is not. After 18 months of processing, C is still not sure he can handle polyamory. The idea of me possibly meeting future men upsets him. He is still not even sure he can share me with A.
Though A and I have gone in very different directions since we became poly[am], I still love him, and don’t want to leave him right now. I feel I may regret it, and possibly end up resenting C for it later on.
Ideally I’d want a fully polyamorous relationship that is non-exclusive, but I am willing to compromise on a closed triad (well, A will be fully polyamorous, but I will be exclusive with A and C only, and C will be exclusive with me; and his wife if she wants to continue seeing him – I have never asked C to choose between me and his wife).
Part of me still wonders whether I’m truly polyamorous, or whether my need for emotional support and comfort/reassurance was just not met in my relationship with A. Would I be happy with C alone? Or am I poly[am]?
At this point, I’m planning on ending my affair with C, because I can’t go on barely getting to be with someone I deeply care about, and I don’t feel good that his wife doesn’t know. I feel both she and I deserve more respect in our relationships. Not that he is intentionally disrespecting us. He just knows if he tells her he’ll have to lose her; and he loves us both. Though he says he’s pretty unhappy with her. And prefers to be with me.
At the same time, I am not sure if I should just give C what he wants – monogamy. 24/7 exclusive relationship. I don’t want to lose him. And he is willing to offer me things that A is not.
If I stay with A, and lose C, I end up with a relationship where I only get to date A only 1-2 days a week. Is that kind of relationship worth giving C up over? And at this point I’m still really high on NRE with C. I feel so in love with him, and the idea of letting him go overwhelms me. I know I can do it, but it will hurt so much.
But I love A, and I don’t want to leave him. He’s been such a good man to me over the past 12 years, and I still think we have potential.
Any advice on what I should do?
The first thing that I would say with this is that— one thing that I’ve kind of repeated a lot in the columns and in the podcasts occasionally, is that polyamory isn’t about having multiple unfulfilling relationships. It’s supposed to be about having multiple fulfilling relationships, and I sometimes feel like people choose polyamory, not because they’re actually interested in polyamory but because they don’t want to break up with someone, and I don’t really think that that’s the same thing.
Like, you shouldn’t use polyamory as an excuse to stay with people who aren’t really meeting your needs. And that’s kind of what I feel like you’ve done with A for a very, very long time. A clearly is not really capable of giving you the emotional support you need. And I think you can deal with that if you don’t have to rely on A. But I still think that the fact that A reacts so badly to you being emotional about things that do involve him
is a little worrying.
Because even if you only have a “secondary” relationship, you still may have issues and you still may have things that you need to discuss, and it’s going to be really hard for you to actually discuss them if, you know, A reacts or has this kind of reaction to you being emotional. And that might be worth working on with each other. I don’t know, like, far be it for me to say when someone else has too many partners, but the fact that he has like so many people that he has to focus on. It just makes me wonder like what the deal is with that.
And people can have multiple partners and lots of different partners and that doesn’t reflect anything, but sometimes I do think that sometimes people choose polyamory because it means that they don’t have to emotionally support anybody. Do you know what I mean? Like if they’re just a “secondary” to everybody and they don’t have to live with anyone, and they don’t have to be a primary or any kind of an emotional support to anyone then they can get away with not being able to emotionally support anyone. And I think that that’s okay but I do think that that merits some kind of communication and I just, I worry that there hasn’t really been a situation where A has sat you down and said “Look, you need this, and I can’t provide this”.
And that’s a little worrying, because even if you are to date A as a secondary he still… you can’t even tell him right now that one to two days is not enough for you because he reacts so poorly and feels attacked every time you bring something up. So it’s like you have to be, regardless of how often you see somebody, you have to be able to tell them if they’re not meeting your needs. You have to be able to have difficult discussions. It’s really really funny because I actually spoke to my therapist, about, you know, with the— If you’re listening to this right now. Right now I’m recording this, we’re in a pandemic so we’re in lockdown. And with my partners— like my with my domestic partner that I live with— obviously we are around each other 24/7, and that causes a lot of friction in a lot of ways.
And because we’ve been bickering so much that has sort of signalled in my head a panic kind of thing and has made me go, “Oh my god we’re bickering we’re gonna—“. You know because I’m used to big family arguments ending up in something huge and dramatic happening. I’m used to a family argument ending with someone getting kicked out. So, for us to bicker, I’m not really used to that and it really really throws me off. And so— but my therapist actually said like, “Look, if you go in a whole relationship without ever arguing— You know, sometimes arguing get your feelings out and it helps you work through things and you become stronger together because you argue. It doesn’t weaken things”. And it makes me wonder like if you can’t argue with A, if you can’t bring things up, if you can’t have a disagreement because every time you bring something up, he’s like, “Oh you’re attacking me”.
That doesn’t bode well for any kind of relationship with him, and that’s that’s kind of a worry and I do kind of wonder if this is what you’re actually, you know— this is what’s happening to you. You are basically you know in this relationship— and keeping it open because and seeking other partners because you feel lonely and because you’re not getting the things that you need, emotionally . So that is something that you really need to think about, because, I mean, you are incompatible in a lot of ways.
A second thing though is that you’re making C out to be a lot nicer than he is. You say he’s not intentionally doing this. He is intentionally doing this. Like he is intentionally choosing to cheat on his wife with you. He is. And he doesn’t have the sort of ability to state his needs with his wife, either. He is not able to accept the fact that two people, even if they’re married and even if they love each other and care for each other can be incompatible, and is totally is like— I’m almost annoyed— heavily annoyed with C because he’s such a massive hypocrite.
He doesn’t want you to be polyamorous. Basically he is dictating to you, you know whether or not— you say “well he doesn’t—“. People don’t have to specifically say you’re not allowed to date other people. If they create a situation where you feel unsafe or you feel like you can’t like that. That’s the thing like he is basically making a situation where you can’t pursue anybody else. He’s fine to cheat on his wife, but he has a problem with consensual ethical open relationships, and like, I’m not saying he has to be polyamorous and I’m not saying he has to be okay with it, but it is very hypocritical for him to be in a situation where basically he’s allowed to cheat but you can’t have another ethical relationship because he will have a problem with that.
It’s… yeah, he’s not as great as you’re making him out to be like he may be great at emotionally comforting you. And to be honest, like that’s— that isn’t… that’s not a high bar. Like all due respect to you. All due respect to A. All due respect to the situation. Someone being able to comfort you when you are upset is not like a… There’s another podcast that I recorded earlier about gold medals. Go listen to that. It’s not like— so many people are in situations, and I’m gonna be honest with you, it’s usually women who are in situations with men or in relationships with men where the man does something very very basic, that should be expected in a romantic relationship, and the woman is like, “Oh my god, he’s just so amazing he does such a—“. No.
He’s doing what he fucking should when he’s in a relationship which is being there for his partner. That’s not a gold star. That is the lowest frickin bar in the world. So, yeah. Stop. It’s probably your new relationship energy, even though you’ve been in this situation for 18 months. It is definitely— You’ve got some rose tinted glasses on when it comes to C. Probably because he comforts you so well. But he’s not all you think he is because if he was really an emotionally responsible person, he would go, “Huh”.
And this whole— this whole bullshit about like his wife is really mean to him or whatever. Anytime a man slags off his ex think about that situation. Okay. I’m not denying that maybe his wife isn’t that great and that may be the situation. Then why is he there? So, no, like, like come on. Think about this for a minute, like. You cannot have someone who is emotionally responsible and is going to be there for you and you’re giving him all these excuses and saying, “oh he’s— but he’s lovely, he has a kind heart, and he just doesn’t want to leave his wife because he loves her but he, but he does want to be with me, but she’s really bad and he does really want—“ This such a lie.
If it’s not a lie, it’s such a fucking cop out like, come on. If he if their relationship is that bad and if he really doesn’t want to be with his wife, then why is he fucking there? Why is he there? What is his frickin excuse. 18 months?! Come on. No, no, no, no, and like you’re basically— here’s the thing. If you are monogamous and you— let’s just put aside the polyamory for a situation. If you are monogamous, and you were dating— and I know that people cheat for a lot of different reasons and it can be complicated and I get it. Generally speaking, though, if you’re monogamous and you are cheating on someone with someone. What that tells you about that person who you are cheating with, even though A knows that you’re that you’re with C and is fine with it. But C’s wife doesn’t know. He is okay with cheating.
He is okay with non-ethical behaviour. He is okay lying to his wife and it stands to reason that if he’s okay lying to his wife, he’s okay lying to you. Like, and it means that if your relationship goes sour, or for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, then he’s fine lying to you. Like you’re not special and he might say that, but you really really really really need to not to believe that because… Yeah, it’s just not a good situation. He’s not as great as you’re making him out to be. He may be great at emotionally validating you but once again that is not an extreme relationship skill. That’s just a basic thing, and he probably knows that and he’s using that a bit to his advantage. So that’s one thing.
The other thing that really concerns me about A that I need to mention is that your relationship changed. He decided he’s ethical solo polyam, and now you only see him one day, two days a week. Where’s the fucking conversation about that? Like, I totally get that people can explore polyamory and come to find out that different situations suit them better. And oh actually I don’t really want to be in a primary relationship. I actually want to have more freedom, and that’s fine. That is absolutely fine. But a discussion needs to be had. And why hasn’t A sat you down and said “Hey look, I’m not feeling this primary situation.”
Like it just seems like all this sort of just slowly happened to you. And there was just no discussion and now you only see A one to two days a week, and it’s just… I mean that’s not to say that like. It’s not to say that you necessarily would then go “well I don’t want this” and A would go “okay let’s stay primary then”, but at least
if he had some kind of discussion with you, then you would be able to go, “Hmm, I’m not cool with that. Like one to two days a week isn’t great for me”. And maybe you could have, like, I don’t know, slowly, you could have gone from six days a week to five days a week to four day— like you could have, it could have been a little easier on you, especially since A doesn’t even emotionally support you very well in general anyway.
But instead he’s just sort of— and I don’t know how fast this happened like if it was just like, one day he was like, “Oh, I’m gonna move into the second room and blah blah blah”. But I mean you gotta have a kind of discussion about it. He’s not had any kind of like… how was that ethical? How is it ethical to just slowly completely pull away from your partner without really addressing it or talking about it? That’s… that’s not great, like for any kind of relationship. So, yeah, I think you are in a bit of a situation but. And I wish that I had some something better to advise because I feel like even if you sit down and have a conversation with A and say, “one or two days a week isn’t cutting it for me”. I don’t think A is wanting to give you anymore. I don’t think that’s going to fix that situation.
You can absolutely leave C, but you know— you’re just going to leave C. He’s not going to dump his wife for you. And even if he does, you are in a situation where he does have a problem with you being with A. Like he does— even though he’s okay with it right now, he does have a problem with it and he’s going to want you to dump A. He is going to want that. And then he’s going to bring up the fact that he dumped his wife for you. So like, don’t pull the frickin wool over your eyes and realise that he is— that’s what’s gonna happen if he did dump his wife.
He would then immediately expect you to dump A. I doubt— heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily doubt that he will be okay with you being with A in any context, even if you only saw A one to two days a week, he’d never be okay with it. So, and you say “oh well, maybe I could go 24/7 do monogamy with C”, but the thing is, you’d be doing monogamy with somebody who cheated. And is that really what you want? Like, I’m not saying that like people— like “once a cheater always a cheater” or anything like that. Like people cheat for all sorts of different reasons. It can be really complicated but at the same time, if he’s not even acknowledging the fact that what he’s doing is wrong…
You know I just, I don’t think that that would be a good situation for you to be in, especially because, if you just happen to fall in love with another co-worker, there ain’t no way C is ever going to hear of it. You know, if you do find out that you are more polyamorous than you think you are, you’re kind of screwed in that regard. So, yeah, I think that the thing that you need to do is be comfortable being alone. Unfortunately I think that you need to dump C immediately, like it’s— Cheating is not polyamory. What you’re doing isn’t polyamory, I’m sorry. Cheating is not polyamory. You’re helping C cheat, which isn’t polyamory. It’s unethical. It’s wrong. You shouldn’t do it, even if you love C so much, I get that. But it’s wrong. So you need to dump him. Like, you need to make him choose.
Sometimes making someone choose isn’t a bad thing. It’s not always controlling and bad. Sometimes when you say, “Actually you need to choose because if you don’t, it’s unethical. And I’m not going to participate in that”. So giving him an ultimatum isn’t a terrible thing. It doesn’t make you a terrible person. It just makes you a person with self respect and dignity. So, do that. Get rid of C. I don’t even think you should continue dating him. I think even if he dumped his wife for you. I mean, ask him say— I guarantee you… I guarantee you anything if you say, “oh, if you dump your wife…”, he’s gonna go “well then you dump A”. Like that’s gonna be— that is going to be what it is. Like, honestly, so I just think you should just get rid of C.
I get that he’s emotionally supportive but you need— what you need out of the situation is to learn how to be alone. Because, especially if you’re going to be polyamorous. You can’t always have, you know, it’s not Pokemon. It’s not Polymon. It’s not picking as many people, and avoiding being alone by having as many partners as possible. Sometimes you are alone. Sometimes you have to be comfortable being by yourself and being alone and being fine with that. You need to be more comfortable being alone.
You need to let go of the expectation that A is going to give you the emotional support that you want. That’s just not going to happen. And I think if you focus more on yourself, maybe see a therapist, if it’s accessible to you for yourself, find ways to gain emotional support through yourself, through therapy, through your friendship network, because that’s the thing. Polyamory is not just about, usually —it’s not just about multiple romantic relationships, it’s also— many people feel like polyamory opens them up to seeing all relationships as equally valid, so your friendships are also important relationships that should also be valued and that should also, you know— romantic relationships don’t necessarily mean so much more than friendships.
So your friends can emotionally validate you. Can you accept and receive emotional validation and help through your friends? Does it always have to be somebody that you’re sleeping with, or that you’re romantic with? So that’s what I think… that’s what you need to focus on. Get rid of C. Get rid of C completely. And you could keep A, but you need to let go of the expectation that A is going to be like C. There are other stuff to work on with A. Like whether or not you keep A around like, I don’t know… I do kind of feel like if you are in a relationship with someone who is unwilling to listen to you or if you can’t actually talk to him about anything— like even a friend should somewhat be able to emotionally validate you and that’s why I feel like if you had better friends, you would actually be like, “Oh, actually. Fuck A.”
Because sometimes and I’ve had that situation before where I have been in a partnership that I thought was fulfilling. And then I had friendships and I was like actually my friends are being more supportive than my partner is. So why am I with this person? And I think that if you, you know you could keep A around for a little bit. But I do think that once you realise that you can provide your emotional validation and you can get that from your friends, your community from people around you like… have more friends. Like it doesn’t always have to be someone you’re dating and I think once you do that you will then look at the relationship with A and you’ll be like, “Actually, you aren’t even that good of a friend. So maybe not. “
That’s kind of like my best advice to sum up really quickly. Get rid of C. No, no, no with C. Seek multiple fulfilling relationships, rather than collecting multiple unfulfilling relationships until you reach some sort of stasis. It’s not what I think, personally, what I think polyamory should be about. Focus on yourself. Be okay with being alone. Be okay with finding emotional support in people that aren’t immediately romantically connected to you. Value your friendships more.
And, yeah, seek polyamory friendly therapy if you have access to that. Be okay with being alone, because I do think that unless you have flexible schedules with five to seven partners on the go or your life is set up in a completely different way, you’re going to have to sometimes be okay with being alone and I think more people— monogamous people even in general, need to be okay with being alone. Because when you’re not okay with being alone then you stay in relationships that you shouldn’t. Yeah. I hope that helps and good luck.