I’ve been seeing this guy for about 6 months now but we haven’t been very open with how we want our relationship to progress. We spend most of our time together and we have dinner with his family every week. I’m 23 years old and have never had a relationship — or even been close, I haven’t been particularly sexually active before I met him either. For some reason I never saw a relationship being in my future. Last night he messaged me wanting more clarification on our relationship boundaries to which I told him I don’t want to be with anyone else, this is huge for me as I never expected to feel like this.
However, his response was that he doesn’t want to be with anyone else but that he wants to be open to kissing and flirting with other people — he later elaborated that he doesn’t believe in monogamy and that he ‘loves people’ and enjoys human connections. For me this felt like a punch in the gut. I really wanted to be with him and I wanted him to only want me. I didn’t react well to this and we have now basically broken up. But I am so devastated, I have never experienced this type of heart ache. With no dating experience I can’t say that I’m against non-monogamy because I don’t even know what it’s like to be monogamous. However at this point I don’t feel this is what I want and I don’t think it’s worth me pursuing something that i’m not comfortable with.
He did say that if I felt uncomfortable with it then he wouldn’t do it but I didn’t think much of this because if thats what he wants he’ll do it with or without my consent. I don’t know where to go from here, I was falling in love with him and now I feel lost.
I see a few things going on here that I want to address:
- Contact rules
- “Believing” in monogamy
- Knowing if you can do non-monogamy
First of all, I’m sorry that you’re going through this heartache right now. It really sucks when you emotionally invest in someone and then it turns out that you’re not as compatible as you think that you are. It really sucks.
The thing that strikes me as odd about this particular setup is the way he chose to introduce this. You don’t mention in your letter whether non-monogamy is new to you or to your ex, but it strikes me as a bit strange that you would be seeing each other for six months and meet his family without really clarifying that you’re dating and what that entails. And what strikes me as even odder is that he wouldn’t make it clear from the outset that he wanted something other than monogamy.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where monogamy is very much the cultural default. It wouldn’t surprise me if I were dating someone for six months and they had met my family if they expected and wanted monogamy. That’s pretty average. Him wanting to be with you but just kiss and flirt with other people sounds to me like someone who maybe was introduced to the concept and is now trying to introduce it, but introduce slowly in a way he thinks he can control.
Rules can and do work, but they have to be put in place for a good reason. I feel like this “only kissing and flirting” rule really isn’t going to work because it feels like it’s designed to limit a person from falling in love or developing serious feelings with someone else… and that’s just not something anyone can control, even if they are monogamous and not “allowed” to flirt or kiss anyone else. It just isn’t something you can control.
It does sound like he has discovered non-monogamy, wants to do it and that it was just unfortunate timing on your end, but, I do feel like the way he went about this wasn’t great for you which brings me to my next point about what he said.
“Believing” in monogamy
Boy oh boy do I absolutely and fundamentally hate when people say they don’t “believe in monogamy” because it is one of the most asinine things a person who isn’t monogamous can say. Here’s the thing. If monogamy doesn’t work for one person, that’s fine but it does and has worked with many people. What bothers me especially about this comment from him is that… if this is what he felt six months ago, he could have bothered letting you know. And if he did, that was massively irresponsible.
The version of monogamy that society endorses, I personally feel, isn’t actually very healthy. That’s the version where your one romantic partner means more to you than any friendship or other relationship, where you pretend like you’re not attracted to other people, where jealousy (and physical, angry expressions of it) are encouraged or tolerated, where you are a failure if your relationship doesn’t last until one of you dies out of it… all of that is massively unhealthy. But society’s ideas about what monogamy should entail =/= monogamy itself.
It’s similar to gender. Just because society tries to act like women should be x, y, and z, that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to being a woman or that by being a woman you automatically agree with all of that. Monogamy does and can work for some people, including yourself. If you want a situation where your partner feels romantic feelings for you strongly and where you commit to each other, that’s fine.
I always think it’s worth people who are monogamous thinking about why they are and trying to question where that comes from, not because monogamy doesn’t work, but because society only provides monogamy as the only valid option. It’s worth you thinking about what it is about a partner wanting someone else that threatens you because I do think you should realise that monogamy does not mean you have a partner who only desires you. People can and do desire other people. The difference with monogamy is not that they don’t desire others, but that they make a commitment of time, emotional energy, and life experiences with each other. So that’s worth thinking about.
But, it’s okay for you to not really want to try non-monogamy now. It doesn’t make you less hip or less open or less loving than anyone else. Which leads me to my next point.
Knowing if you can do non-monogamy
It can be hard to realise whether or not non-monogamy is going to be something you “can do” because the goal posts on that are defined so poorly. A lot of non-monogamous people go through anxiety, jealousy, fear and all sorts of emotions not only when they start to try non-monogamy but all throughout their lives. We put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves as non-monogamous people to be “okay” with everything so we can provide that non-monogamy is something we “can do” that, I feel at least, it becomes almost self-sabotaging.
When you have situations like yours, you have every reason to try non-monogamy, even just to save your partnership. Some people can and do enter non-monogamy in this way. They don’t know about it, a partner introduces it, they try it and it works totally for them. But some people are only trying it so that they can keep their partners in their lives and eventually the fact that they just don’t want to live that way and their needs are not being met ends up causing a blow out anyway.
I cannot tell you whether or not you can do non-monogamy. I can’t tell you if you’ll be happy if you try it. I can’t tell you whether or not this will work for you. But what I can ask you to do is think long and hard about why you want a relationship and what you want out of it and I do think that will lead you into a realistic understanding of whether or not non-monogamy is for you and if it’s worth trying.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. How much time and energy do I expect a partner to devote to me?
2. Why do I expect this? What do I want to get out of it?
3. How do I picture living with a partner in the future? What life experience will I need us to share?
4. What do I need in a relationship to be happy?
5. Am I okay with having a partner who doesn’t devote most of their free time to me?
6. Do I see a benefit in dating more than one person at a time? How much energy do I have for this?
7. What makes me feel loved by a partner?
So many people when they are trying to decide if they can “do polyamory” ask themselves the wrong questions like whether or not they could stand watching their partner kiss another person, whether or not they generally feel jealous, etc. While these may give you some idea about your general feelings about sharing a partner, it’s no indication of whether or not it will actually work for you. You can be fine with your partner kissing someone else, but still be unsatisfied if your partner spends a good deal of time without you there.
To me, it sounds like you have thought about this and non-monogamy isn’t for you — and that’s okay. I know you’re hurting right now and you’re tempted to try it to stop the pain, but please try to remember that part of dating is heartbreak. Part of putting yourself out there means having not so great experiences, but also that this isn’t all of what dating and love is. You can and will find someone who is more suited to your needs and you shouldn’t waste your time with people who know for sure that they can’t meet your needs.
But who knows? Maybe in asking yourself some of these questions, you might come to the conclusion that you’re willing to try. And if that’s the case, that’s also fine. But just be sure that your partner, especially if he knew this entire time that he “didn’t believe in monogamy” or whatever hogwash, that he gets better at communicating because there’s just no excuse for not telling you sooner if that’s the case. And I’d also steer clear of rules about behaviours (e.g. no falling in love, etc) because rules cannot and do not stop the human heart and/or libido. If they did, infidelity would not exist.
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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