My partner of one year and I are a monogamish couple. We haven’t had any other partners outside of each other, although there is an interested party (in him) now. I am fine with the interested party, but this is the first time we are putting our dynamic into play and I had some weirdness about that last night that has me overthinking things this morning.
Some backstory: I have never been in a non-monogamous relationship before and this is all new for me. My partner has had non-monogamous relationships before. When we got together last year, he was seeing this girl (a mutual friend of ours) who took us dating terribly. She really liked my partner, but also never communicated that to him, and she was pissed we were seeing each other. Also, until I confessed I was into him, I had no idea they were seeing each other occasionally. I had to defend my feelings and felt like I was in the wrong for being into my partner. She is polyamorous of about four years and has a primary partner who has been polyamorous for over a decade, so she had had experience with working with her dynamic.
Due to her being so violently upset and unwilling to process things, my partner ended it with her. I counted her as a friend and she dropped me immediately after, although after a year she is being nicer to me again. Her primary partner is a good friend of mine and he didn’t stop being my friend, but he has a tendency to be weird when I bring up my partner (yet I am fine with it when he talks about his partner who treated me poorly… Because I want to keep my community and be a good person) To give more context, my partner, myself, and her partner are all musicians and play together regularly with others in a very tight knit community. She is a part of that community as much as us, but she isn’t a musician.
I was really scared to lose the community due to weirdness from other people and being unable to attend certain events because someone else was there who seemed like they wanted to plant a few daggers in my back. The whole experience was really hard on me and left a sour taste in my mouth for a full-on polyamorous relationship, especially with people we both know since it can get really unpleasant and messy and impact our social lives outside of the relationships. Also, it seems like a lot of jerks and manipulative people use polyamory to spread their hurt, and I don’t want to use that term to describe me since it’s being used to self-excuse horrible behavior.
I am not interested in being polyamorous, but I am in being non-monogamous with a primary partner. So, I guess I’m “poly[am] friendly”? Ugh. Don’t like that term. For me, polyamory has that emotional level of connection expected, such as loving that other partner. I don’t want to love someone else, I don’t want to have anywhere close to the level of emotional connection I have with my primary partner with anyone else, nor for him to have that with another person. It’s too much for me, and too much for him (something he has said). But for a date or two, or to see occasionally, and maybe sleep with once in a while? That’s more my speed, and we seem to be on the same page with that. Ideally, I have imagined it not being with people we know in common as a way to avoid the scenario from last year, and yes, ideally, we only hook up with people we don’t mutually know or share important community with.
Anyway, I am fine with the actual new person. She is only ever in town 3 days a year and is otherwise ace/aro with a weird thing for my partner. I’m fairly certain she doesn’t want to have sex with my partner or even make out with him, she wants to hold his hand and kiss his cheek- even if they did want to sleep together, that’s fine. She’s a very sweet person. Again, I’m not bothered by her as a person. But it is someone we both know and share important community with, and that’s not what I had pictured. It’s the first time putting this dynamic into play and all I have to work with is ideals, not experience.
So last night, after we three had talked about them having their intimate times together the next few days, he and I talked on the way home and I did express I felt weird about it being someone we both knew. My partner accused me of not being into this dynamic because I said I felt weird that it was someone we both knew and that’s not my ideal. He said that I am ideally into non-monogamy but in practice, I am not. There is a local polyamory cocktail group that meets up once a month that he has wanted to go to, and I am interested in going. However, he once made a comment about how my feelings on not wanting to be polyamorous and keep extraneous partners light and simple would offend some “hard-core” polyamorous people at that event.
I now feel on the fence about going since I don’t want to spend an evening with people mad at me or to offend them. I care deeply about how I make people feel and I don’t want to make anyone offended. This type of event is not my space, it is a space others created that I can partake in- as such, I do not want to mess that up for anyone. So now I am not interested in going as much as I originally was because I don’t want to spend an evening being disliked for being the way I am. I am apprehensive about going, and maybe I want to talk to someone who organizes the event before going to be sure I won’t spend an evening being miserable and feeling like I am offending people.
I am bisexual and definitely will want to sleep with women again at some point in my life. I also want to sleep with other men. I like getting to know people on that intimate level. I don’t think being monogamous will work for me in the long run, and my partner is the same way. Attractions happen, and they are fun to check out and have fun with. But I need patience for dealing with my first experience with this dynamic, and I felt as if my words were thrown in my face. I know that ideals will likely not manifest, but this is all I have to work with so far and I need patience to be a little weirded out by the fact it is someone we both know and that’s not what I really wanted to have happen, but here we are.
He also said that I shouldn’t let the events from last year with this girl he was seeing be an influencer in my thoughts on non-monogamy. Except it is a huge influencer! I lost a friend in her, had major shifts in my friendship with her partner, and had stability in a community I hold sacred shaken. And then he said I am paranoid about the whole thing, and not logical. When I asked how I come across that way, he couldn’t back it up in any eloquent manner, but said “you just do”. I don’t know how I’m being paranoid and I am sad this is the image I give off. I am just doing the best I can to communicate my boundaries and my feelings.
He has a history of being a terrible communicator. We are both dedicated to being good communicators with one another and actively working on it. But the words he sometimes uses are absolute garbage words, and he shuts down on me in conversations (bad habits) when he doesn’t know what to say instead of digging down and figuring out how to express what is on his mind.
I need patience and have asked for it. It will be given, but I feel that because I reacted in a way that wasn’t 100% “I’m ready and into this!” (more like “I’m okay with this but it does make me feel a little weird and I need patience”) that he is going to count this against the relationship and ultimately not want to be with me because I am “paranoid and illogical”. I struggle every day with feelings of inadequacy. I am always wondering why he is with me, and I definitely think to myself that he will find someone better and break my heart. That’s on me to work on. I am responsible for my own feelings of adequacy and self-assurance. I am responsible for breaking my own negative thought process. Unless my partner tells me otherwise, he loves me and wants to work on our relationship and is open to it growing and developing further, since he has told me these things. Those words are music to my ears.
But I need some patience right now because this is all new and so far, I have had negative experiences with non-monogamy. I do not want our emotional bond threatened. But I know that having the option of an open relationship is what I need. I spent 5 years in a monogamous relationship with my ex with absolutely no way of establishing an open dynamic that would have led to me being more satisfied. I want to sleep with other people, and so does my partner. Honestly, our relationship won’t work for either of us if it isn’t open.
What’s your advice for me to improve my communication here? Am I overreacting to what he said? Do I have to come up with more realistic boundaries?
There’s a lot here that I want to address but I want to say first I hope you’re feeling better now that you’re reading this. Here’s what I’m going to cover:
- What it means to be polyamorous
- Who you love the most
- Dating people you know
- Being “responsible for your own feelings”
What it means to be polyamorous
Personally, I make a distinction between calling myself non-monogamous and calling myself polyamorous, but that has little to do with how I practice what I do and more to do, as I explain in this article, about the community and the way I don’t fit into and don’t want it to represent me. There are times to split hairs and times to not split hairs.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not you want to call yourself polyamorous or not but… if you’re someone who wants to have relationships, regardless of how “deep” those are, with other people and to just swap partners for sex… then you sound pretty polyamorous to me and not “polyamory friendly”. I feel like the way that you are talking about it though is portraying an intention you likely don’t have, which I’ll explain.
Who gets to decide how “deep” a relationship is and how much “feeling” we have for one person or the next? We have an idea as individuals of the “depth” of our own feelings, but I think that what that actually translates to is commitment and time. This is one of the biggest reasons relationships can be so complicated. Because one could spend a lot of time with someone and have no deep emotional feeling or connection to them. And the reverse could also be true. For example, I have a friend who I haven’t physically seen for years and we barely speak online, but I feel very close to him because we have been friends for over a decade. When we do speak, it’s great and I love it. Whereas, I speak every day to my work colleagues and I spend loads of time for them, but I don’t feel very deep for them in comparison to other people.
Some of this is controllable. Like if I wanted to invest some time in my colleagues, they could become close friends. There are people I know from places I’ve worked who have become very close friends to me. But then others haven’t because just don’t gel that way. But also I as an individual do not form many close connections.
That’s just how I am. I can’t change that. And many people, like you, might be polyamorous but feel they have more emotional connection to one partner, that they live with and share a life with, than others. That is perfectly legitimate. Because sometimes this is just how people work and that doesn’t mean they don’t care for others. It’s not to say I don’t care about my colleagues, but there are different levels of emotional connection.
This can physically translate into the amount of time we spend with someone or the types of life commitments we want to share with them. Perhaps some of us only wish to have children with someone we share a deeper emotional connection with. Some folks who may practice solo polyamory may feel very deep connections to multiple people but, because there are only 24 hours in a day, can only spend certain amounts of time with different people.
The problem we make is that we assume that the level of emotional connection we have will always equal the amount of time we spend with someone or that it can reflect that. Or that the emotional connection we have for one person is comparable to the emotions we have for another. The bond I have with my friend of 10 years is very different to the bond I have with romantic partners. To compare the two is just not applicable to me.
This is one of the many problems I have with the way some people practice “relationship anarchy” or RA. Many people who practice RA can suggest all relationships are identical in that regard. They force people to try and be “equal” about something that may not be possible for them to be “equal” about or may just… not be applicable.
If someone asked me if I valued my relationship with my friend of 10 years with my partner “equally”… I’d be hard pressed to understand what that even means. And if I guess I was forced a gunpoint to pick someone, I’d probably maybe pick my partner depending on other factors but mostly because I rely on him for more emotional support but… that’s not some type of reflection of who I truly feel the “most” for because it’s freaking complicated!
Who you love the most
While at this point you may be telling yourself that you emotionally will be more invested in your husband, you can’t really say for sure what will happen down the line. You have no idea how your emotions will go and you may end up feeling just as strongly for someone else as you do your husband. And unless your husband has been in that situation, he can’t really say for sure either.
What you can say is how you envision relationships to work out in terms of physical practicalities and that’s something that’s worth discussing with your partner. These things might change of course, as life tends to do, but having this idea of what it means for you to have other relationships and how that will impact you will help.
It’s very important that you and your partner understand the distinction between the emotional depth of relationships you think you might have and how much you actually care for a person because, as I mentioned before, what you’re saying if you go to polyamorous meet up and tell people that basically you’re never going to feel as strongly for someone else as you do for your partner… well, that’s basically like saying you’re willing to sacrifice a new relationship and anyone’s feelings to save yours and your partner. And who is going to want to subscribe to that newsletter? No one. In fact, you’ll come off as one of those couples just looking for flings that won’t complicate their lives and who don’t value those people as individuals with their own wants and needs just like they have.
Some people are very much like that. I can glean from your letter though that you aren’t. Whatever emotional depth you think you will or won’t have for any new person isn’t really relevant. Like, no one’s going to come by and check the amount of love you have for each partner like a gas meter, so what does it really matter? What matters are the practicalities of what that emotional depth entails. Where people get fucked over when they date a couple trying out polyamory is where that is never defined and then people sacrifice the secondary to save the mothership because they never worked out how the practicalities would happen.
Emotions and relationships are so much more complicated than a hierarchical structure can ever really encompass. For example, your partner’s best friend could die tomorrow in a car crash and your partner might feel like, even though you planned a date together or some time together, he needs to rush off and attend the funeral or be there for the family. Does that mean your partner loved his best friend more than you? No.
And would you be bothered if your partner focused on someone else instead of you in those kinds of situations? I mean, I’d like to think not. And I’d like to think, even if there is a structure in place in your mind where maybe you spend most of your time with your partner, you still care about anyone you date as a fellow human being and wouldn’t abandon them in a time of need. But these are emergencies and you need to think about the day to day practicalities.
Dating the people you know
If you had this discussion when you set out, then you might have been able to see the pitfall of dating someone within your circle of friends. But that’s done and dusted so instead you both need to sit down and talk about how new relationships generally will impact your current one. And, rather than arguing about what emotions you should or shouldn’t feel which is pointless, talk about the realities of what happens if he breaks up with this person.
You can’t control whom he dates and to a certain extent, he can’t control who he ends up feeling attracted to. But you can talk about what you can do to mitigate risks — and do involve the new person in this discussion to. There is no reason this can’t be worked out and everyone can be adults about it.
Generally, when there is a drive to create a rule, I try and think about what the rule is trying to solve and really ask if the rule is going to actually solve that problem. You have a drive to create a rule around not dating people you both know, but the reason for that is because of this massive fallout you had where you lost friends and communities — and those are legitimate feelings.
But ask yourself, is this going to prevent the loss of friends completely? People stop being friends for all sorts of reasons and unfortunately you cannot prevent that. Even if neither of you were to not date anyone involved within this group, you could find a new group with new problems or there might be some conflict that arises out of this group that has nothing to do with anyone dating anyone.
You ran afoul by meeting someone who was particularly toxic, but that isn’t either of your faults and no amount of rules you put in place are going to prevent that from happening again and it’s important that you understand that, for as much as your feelings are valid for wanting to create this rule and for as realistic as this rule may seem to a lot of people… it might not be worth actually putting into practice at this point given your partner is already involved with a new person. You’re allowed to be frustrated and scared, for sure, but that doesn’t mean you should react by restricting activities.
Instead, you need to, as I said, have a serious discussion about the lessons you and your partner have learned from your previous experience and think about what you would do if this new person turns out exactly like the previous toxic person. What will you do differently? What signs did you miss previously that you can better interpret now? How can you deal with the consequences and can you deal with them together? All of this will help enormously with managing your anxiety around it.
I also think, as a side note, you need to seek out some communities that are your own rather than falling into your partner’s communities. It’s important not just from a dating perspective but from a personal perspective for you to have your own things going on as well. This is also going to mitigate your anxiety. You won’t be quite so terrified of losing some friends if you have other communities and people to discuss with.
All of this however, requires your partner to take a better role in being supportive towards you, which is my next point.
Being “responsible for your own feelings”
I absolutely fundamentally hate this mentality around “people are responsible for their own feelings”. I think the idea is meant to help people not feel so responsible for fixing everything or trying to control other people’s feelings and just live their life but it almost always ends up being twisted into a means by which people use to escape the responsibility of emotional support they should be providing to partners. And this is where your partner is fucking up — massively.
You have every right to be nervous and scared about this. And you need to be able to express those feelings and your partner needs to be able to respond to them with care, empathy and understanding. Right now, he is disregarding these feelings and devaluing them. Okay, so maybe feelings aren’t always “logical” but… who cares? Since when are you a Vulcan? Maybe you are paranoid, but fear is an important thing in our lives. Fear keeps us from being hurt. It exists for a reason. And shoving it down and pretending it doesn’t exist does not help matters, it only makes them worse. Especially if the reason you’re feeling fear is very logical.
Part of relationships are emotions and difficult ones, and if people are going to have multiple relationships, they need to be able to deal with the illogical organ that is the human brain. They need to be able to address concerns and learn how to respond to them and right now your partner is continuing to fail miserably at that and, if relationships with him, monogamous or polyamorous, are ever going to work he has to get better at communicating.
He doesn’t have a history of being a terrible communicator, he is a terrible communicator. And people who fail to step up to emotionally support people will always use this “responsible for your own feelings” line as an excuse to get out of the realities that come with having a relationship.
He needs to stop being your judge, jury and executioner. This is a relationship, not competency test. You do not have anything to prove to him with regards to being polyamorous and until he drops whatever it is he is doing that makes you feel under the microscope, you are going to feel very unhappy regardless of how anything goes.
It is not up to him to decide when you are and aren’t ready to do anything, it is only his job to listen and respond. He needs to give you patience and respect. And unfortunately, you absolutely cannot force him to do this. And I do really feel like all of these other problems are extraneous if you cannot solve this crucial crack in your foundation.
I would suggest you both see a polyamory positive relationships therapist to deal with the communication problems. You need more support and he needs to commit to being better at providing it. I really worry given the comments you’ve made about the way he communicates that it is not a two way street, that you are attempting to drag him into the skills he needs to be a better communicator.
As tempting as that might be to do, you have to resist the urge to force him to be interested. State that you need him to communicate better and offer to attend a therapist together but if he absolutely refuses, I really think you ought to rethink your entire relationship with him because if he cannot communicate well and makes no attempt to change this, it really calls into question where his priorities lie and it means you really need to think about whether you want to spend your entire life pulling teeth to get anywhere and I don’t think you do.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Do you have a question?
If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question will be posted anonymously.