Episode 74: Dating Friendly

Reading Time: 10 minutes

In starting out in polyamory, most people want to make rules — like no dating friends or family. It’s worth thinking more about that rule. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What makes a friend different from a partner to you?

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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.

Podcast transcript

My BF and I have been dating for 4 months.  We get along really well and are working on a committed fluid bonded relationship. From the start of our relationship he explained that he desires a non monogamous type relationship. He has been in them in the past in the form of one night stands or FWB type situations. 

I, on the other hand, have only had traditional monogamous relationships but I am exploring non monogamy and think it would be something I’d like to try. Listening to your advice and tips has opened my mind up and given me a lot to think about.

My plan is to present my thoughts to him about it this weekend. To see, among other things, what non-monogamy looks like to him and explain what I think it would look like to me. On that thought, I’ve thought a lot about boundaries and rules. 

With your insight I realised that setting them are not realistic and I do not plan to set any (apart from sexual health rules where we will use protection from now on because I can control that).  That said, I wonder about how to broach the subject of ‘friends and family’ being a potential metamours. 

He has jokingly made sexual type remarks in the past about some friends and family members that make me wonder if he would want that. At the time I told him that he is no longer to do that around me. It made me fearful, jealous and felt disrespectful. 

Thinking on it now though, I wonder if I have any say on whether he pursues that avenue or not? Who am I to say? I’m not saying that I would stick around if he does do that but I can’t stop him if he decides to pursue it. His choice.

So I am wondering, how you would approach this or how others have approached it?

Response:

So first and foremost, I feel like friends and family are two different categories, Putting them together is a little bit different, especially because people have different relationships with their friends and family. And for most people, friendships are a little bit more tolerable than family. Because for a lot of people, and this isn’t even necessarily myself included— But for a lot of people, family is kind of like something that they don’t feel comfortable just getting rid of. 

And I’m not saying that people feel comfortable just getting rid of their friends. But family is a little bit different in that way, in that this is kind of the relationships that they’ve had for their whole life versus a friendship might be very different to them and how they define it. So I don’t think friends and family are kind of in the same category. And I think that you should kind of think about that. 

The second thing that I would think of is that everyone kind of has their own boundaries around how they feel. I mean, there are some people in monogamous situations where you know, they break up with someone, and then maybe like their cousin or something like that. And that can be awkward, but it is— it really just depends on the family. Like it’s so specific and dependent upon the relationships that family members have with each other. I think I would feel weird if my partners dated my family members, not necessarily because I have close relationships with my family, but because I don’t, and it would put me in a really awkward position because I don’t necessarily want to have to interact with them. 

So everyone kind of has their own boundaries around that. I think the interesting thing about polyamory that a lot of people don’t realise is that within monogamy, we’re kind of sold a narrative that your partner chooses you because you’re the best, or they choose you for a very specific, unique kind of snowflake-y type of reason. And I’m not saying that that’s not true. But you know, you kind of assume that your partner has, for lack of a better word, good taste, or— when basically, when you kind of get into a polyamorous or non monogamous situation, you sort of then see the taste of your partner. And sometimes that makes you go, “Wow, I didn’t necessarily know that you would be interested in someone who you know is like this or like that”. 

And because you know your friends, and you know your family members, like when your partner is interested in a random stranger, and you don’t know who they are just yet and then maybe later on down the line, you find out, “oh, that person isn’t, you know, that great”. Maybe they’re kind of, you know, however you wanted to find that. Because, you know your friends and family members, I think sometimes when people are attracted to them and you’re just sort of like, “Oh, I know about that person”. 

And like,  not to say you don’t think negatively of your friends, but you start to wonder what it is about yourself that maybe your partner was into. You start to wonder— it really questions that idea that like, “Oh, yes, my partner is into me, because I’m the best or the I’m, you know, I’m a good catch”. You start to go, Well, what is a good catch? And like, why is my partner interested in me? And if the thing for me, and maybe I’m being a bit of a dickhead, and I fully admit that I could be being a bit of a dickhead. But the thing for me is that I’m going like, “Oh, is my partner just interested in me, because I’m interested in them?” It’s kind of the thing that kind of rocks me a little bit. 

So sometimes that is part of the difficulty. It changes the way that we see our partners, especially if they choose people who are not great for them in some way. Or, it kind of makes you wonder, like, why? Like this person is— especially if they’re not being treated well, and it’s hard for you to just sit back— or at least it’s hard for me to just sit back and go, “Oh, this person is not treating you right. Why are you with them?” That can be a really, really difficult thing. And I’m not saying anything bad of your family members or friends. 

They could be great, and you totally understand what your partner sees in them. But that can be an interesting aspect of polyamory. I think it’s always worth when you have kind of a feeling of “Oh, I don’t know how I feel about this” kind of redefine it as a friendship and see if that changes things. So if your friend was interested in your cousin and obviously this makes family meetings and stuff a little bit more awkward, right? 

Because a lot of families aren’t really understanding of polyamory or get it and that might make that might make things a little bit more strange if you do have family meetups, but if your cousin was interested in this person, then I think you can realise— or if your friend was interested in your cousin, then I think you can realise, is it about the fear that my partners into somebody else? Or is it about who I know that somebody else to be. So if I had a friend who was interested in somebody, and I knew that person, probably, in my judgment of them, maybe I thought, you know, they might not be great, because I’ve seen them in other relationships. 

And I might worry for my friends benefit, right? Then it’s less about, you know, the fact that “oh, this is a bit weird” and more about, “oh, I’m a bit concerned about what this relationship is”. Now all that said, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stop it. I think you do have the right kind of mindset, which is like, can you actually control what he does? If he does decide to date family members or friends, you can’t really control that. However, the thing I would say is, you can’t also promise that you’re going to be cool with everything. And it’s not realistic for him to expect you to just be able to be cool with everything, or be comfortable in every situation. 

The one thing that I say, there are people who have been really crap to me who I don’t want to be around, because they’ve been really crap to me, or I don’t really care for them. And I’m fine— I can have partners who date those people. That’s fine. The thing that I draw boundaries around is like, “Look, you can date this person, I don’t particularly care for them. So I don’t really want to hang out with them. I don’t really want to do group dates. I don’t really want to do any of that. If they’re going to be in our shared living space, I would appreciate some, you know, warning, so that I can vacate the premises”, like, things like that. 

And that’s just because,I don’t want to be around these people. And I have a right to not want to be around those people if that’s something that I don’t want. You don’t have to just smile and be cool with everything if you can’t promise that. So, you can draw those kinds of boundaries. You can say, “Look, you can date whom you like”. And I mean, this is exactly the same thing as if you were in a monogamous relationship, and you disliked your partner’s friends. And that happens, sometimes. You’re not obligated to like your partner’s friends. And you can say, like, “Look, if you want to be friends with these people, I don’t particularly care for them, they get on my nerves, whatever it is. So if they come around, let me know so I can go out. And don’t invite me to like group stuff, because I don’t want to do that kind of thing”. 

And maybe that makes things awkward but it also makes it awkward for you to have to deal with that. So my approach to that wouldn’t necessarily be “don’t date my family members, or don’t date, my friends”/ I would just be honest about how I felt like, yeah, if you if you date my mom, that’s gonna be weird, you know. That’s gonna be weird. I’m going to feel weirded out by that. And I can’t guarantee that I’m going to be— nobody wants to necessarily break up over something like that. But I’m going to feel weird about that. And just try and take it on a case by case basis, rather than making a big leap to everything. 

And also be willing to question your initial kind of feelings of like, “Oh, that’s weird” . Because, you know, if if I did have a partner who dated a cousin, for example, instead of like, my mom or something like that, I think it would be weird. It would definitely be weird at first. But I think that, for their happiness, as long as I wasn’t like— we weren’t all going to big family functions all the time together and it was weird, I think I could deal with it. So you never know. And it might be that you might initially have some feelings, but you don’t necessarily always have to listen to your initial feelings about stuff. You can kind of go “Okay, I feel this way”. Think about it a little bit, give yourself a little bit of time and don’t make rushed decisions about things and see how you feel about it. 

If you still feel uncomfortable after a while, then that’s fine. You’re allowed to be uncomfortable about stuff and you’re allowed to go, “I don’t think so I think I’m gonna nope out of the situation” or change your partnership in such a way where you don’t live together, or however that may be. And that may seem really scary. But the thing that is important to remember is that you have no idea what the future holds. You may think now that putting a boundary around like “Okay, you can’t date my friends or family members because that would be weird”. But you have no idea what will happen and who he’s necessarily going to date. 

Later on down the line, he may date someone that makes you feel way weirder than any friend or family member could ever make you feel and you can’t really control that. You may foresee some discomfort and maybe like, “Oh, I want to stop this”. Instead of doing that just go “Okay”. And don’t make promises about— that’s one thing that a lot of people do is that they, especially in polyamory, like you— if you are the partner that is scared of making your partner feel uncomfortable— you are going to want to be like, “Are you okay? Are you okay? Please tell me that you’re okay”.

You can’t promise all the time to be okay. And even if your partner does kind of put pressure on you to do that for the sake of feeling comfortable themselves, don’t give in to that. Don’t promise to be okay in every situation. You can’t predict how you’re necessarily going to feel in every situation. But you can promise that you’ll take a case by case approach to stuff, that you will try to be respectful of their feelings, and that they and you both will be respectful of each other’s boundaries around the situation. That is probably the approach that I would take to that. 

So again, to kind of wrap up, friends and family or, you know, for most people, are very different categories. And so it’s it’s important not to just lump those together, because they are very different categories to a lot of people. Figure out amongst each other how you define those categories, and what you think about that. Talk about it. 

The second thing is that it is interesting that within polyamory, the fact that you can see who else your partner chooses, can sometimes affect your relationship, and sometimes for the better sometimes, for the worse, sometimes it’s just interesting to see the choices that your partner chooses to make. And it does kind of call into question, the narrative that monogamy gives you, which is that your partner has chosen you because you are the best, and you have won the race and yada, yada. 

And that is really a really interesting thing to experience. The third thing is if you want to sit with your discomfort and kind of examine it, and think about why it is you feel the way that you do, it’s always good to ask how would you feel if your friend did this instead of your partner. Just because sometimes that takes a little bit of the fear of loss and the fear of sexual competition, a lot of the different things that people experience in polyamory, away from that and makes you kind of a little bit calmer about it and makes you rethink it. 

And then last but not least, you can’t promise that you’re going to be happy about every choice. So don’t promise that. He shouldn’t be promising that either. Just try and take it case by case. Try to be willing to step back. Think about your feelings a bit not making a quick harsh judgments. And also, don’t be afraid to set boundaries around what you’re willing to be around because that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Again, think about it as if you have a partner— you’re monogamous and you have a partner who has friends that you really don’t like. Similar boundaries around that. Doesn’t mean you have to break up, but it does mean that you kind of have to work around that. So I hope that helps and good luck.

Hierarchies causing paranoia

Reading Time: 7 minutes

When I met the person (A) I’m seeing now, 5+ years ago, he was seeing other people. At the time I wasn’t particularly interested in anything more than casual anyways so seeing him occasionally suited me.

A few months in he told me that he was now in an open relationship with someone. The open relationship ‘rules’ he and his girlfriend had included no sleepovers, (which we never had anyways) and also that she wanted to know each time he met up with someone (presumably I wasn’t the only other person he was seeing).

Ultimately this didn’t make much difference to our situation, so we continued to see each other sporadically as before. We had several conversations about it, since I was curious about the idea of polyamory, having never really experienced it before. (I’ve had casual relationships with several people at the same time, but always stopped seeing the other people once it started to get serious with one)

Around 6 months in I started also seeing someone else (B) and it progressed rapidly. I considered how to keep both relationships going as I enjoyed them both for different reasons. B was very romantic, very much about us as a couple, very supportive, and very vocal about building a future for us together. A and I have a lot of interests in common, and we have a playful banter that I find irresistable. I asked A for advice on how to broach the subject of open relationship, which he gave me – be upfront and honest from the beginning.

I had one conversation with B where I asked him abstractly how he felt about an open relationship, and he said that while he wasn’t interested in pursuing it and wanted to only see me, but he was ok with the idea if I wanted to see other people. After some thought, I decided that it didn’t seem fair for someone to put all their energy into me and for me not to reciprocate the same in return, so I stopped seeing A, who wished me the best and we agreed to still be friends (although we had minimal contact for those years other than the very occasional friendly message).

Over 3 years later, B turned out to be one of the worst relationship experiences I’d ever had. He had lied, cheated on me with several people, and worst of all- gaslighted me. After a few months of discovering this, and some therapy, I managed to extricate myself from the whole unsavory situation and break it off for good. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since.

Around this time, I contacted A. He was happy to hear from me and we immediately picked up where we left off (he was still in an open relationship with the same woman). We saw each other occasionally.. and texted a bit in between. It was just what I needed after months of feeling unwanted in my previous relationship. Then COVID happened. We were all in lockdown, and I barely left my apt for months. A and I continued to chat via text, and about 1.5 months later I felt safe enough to venture out to visit him. He said he had been seeing someone else sporadically who also hadn’t really left her apt much too.

Things had shifted slightly during this time. He had split up with his girlfriend and invited me to stay the night. Over time we started to spend even more time together, 2-3 times a week. We were in contact almost everyday. He sometimes hung out with me and my friends, went away with me for a weekend in the summer, spent thanksgiving together with my friends. We continued to enjoy each other’s company (all this while I knew he was seeing someone else but I guess I never cared to ask for much detail). It has been just over a year since we started seeing each other, and about 8 months we have been hanging out since he split with his ex girlfriend.

Recently I’ve realized that I’ve developed feelings for him, when I felt jealous about hearing that he had made plans with someone else on a night that I had suggested to meet. Having not been a particularly possessive or jealous person in previous (monogamous) relationships I struggled with it quietly at first, trying to understand my feelings and why it bothered me (especially since I’ve known about his seeing other people all along). I realized that we had slowly developed a romantic relationship even though it had been undefined and hadn’t really been discussed. So eventually we talked about it all… how we both felt that this was much more than just a casual relationship, all the insecure feelings I was having, how he had approached his previous non-monogamous relationships.

He said he understood how it felt, having been through the same jealousy and confusion before when he first began an open relationship, of which he’s had 2. He patiently assured me that it was normal to have these feelings at first, and said that it was good to talk about it openly and honestly, asked how he could put me at ease, what ground rules would help me feel ok with it. It has been a few ongoing conversations that happen generally when I feel a little rattled about finding out that he has made plans with her. Not always, but sometimes, usually when Its a time I’ve suggested to meet, less so if it isn’t. I asked to know in advance when he was seeing her, so it wouldn’t be a surprise. He readily agreed to this. Then I said that like his previous girlfriend I prefer to be the only one that sleeps over. This he said was more difficult to walk back since the other woman and him had already been doing this, but that he would not sleepover with any other people he started seeing in the future.

I also asked about the nature of that relationship – he said they saw each other about once a week, and had no plans to increase the frequency. He told me a little about their connection, and tried to reassure me that it wasn’t as special as ours was to him. He has been seeing her for 5 months. She sees other people other than him sporadically too. There is also one other woman that he sees once every few months, that clearly isn’t emotional. No worries about that, in fact I think it’s pretty hot and like hearing about their sexcapades.

Anyways, I’m in a bit of a pickle. I think I am open to being in an open relationship, I’m in to the idea having other sexual partners, and am curious about meeting other sexual partners myself. I do however now feel the need to be the primary relationship, and that the surrounding relationships are casual, not emotional. But since his other relationship happened before we discussed any of it, it’s like a grandfathered situation. He insists it’s not the same and that I shouldn’t feel replaceable but somehow I still have a niggling feeling that comes back every so often.

I don’t want to ask him to end or some how de-escalate the relationship with her- to me it seems way too controlling and unfair(esp to her, even if I don’t know her) I’d never dream of demanding that. I think anyone asking someone to do that would probably end up being resented anyways, even if they did agree/acquiesce to it. I also believe that by asking someone NOT to do something they’d likely want it more, so that’s counter productive ultimately.

So, it’s a bit of a conundrum.. How do I deal with these feelings I have? Is it reasonable to desire to be a primary person in an open relationship and for others involved to be secondary in this particular instance? I can’t help feel a little like I’m changing the goal posts/rules mid game. While I believe him when he says I’m the special relationship, I also can’t help feel like that could change at any moment should they spend more time together, and it makes me uneasy. Is it a case of learning to get over the jealousy and just trusting in him or am I not cut out for this and should I just leave?

You started as his “non-primary” relationship and that changed and shifted. Despite the rules his girlfriend instituted, their relationship didn’t necessarily last. I think deep down you know this, which is why you feel anxious. Although his reassurance should technically help, it doesn’t. I don’t think that’s what he meant, but this is what ends up happening when people give the kind of reassurance that your partner gave.

When one person holds the position of “primary”, inevitably this means that this is a position you can either be in and or not be in. Obviously, you’re going to want to be in this position and now that you have more to lose, you’re a lot more afraid of losing this position. You’re not necessarily jealous, you’re worried that what happened to his girlfriend could easily happen to you. Someone else could grow stronger and closer to him and if there is only one place for a “special” relationship, then you’ll always have to be vigilant that you can be replaced.

It’s normal to feel when starting in an open relationship, especially when you start having more feelings, scared to lose your partner and to want to have more stability. I think people get scared in monogamous relationships too, they just have more cultural scripts to tie them down and soothe their anxiety. You don’t have that, so you’re reaching for something to grab ahold of. And even though your partner is willing to provide it, the unfortunate side effect of being put on a pedestal is that you can be kicked off.

Having nervousness around this doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for it. Negative feelings and jealousy is really typical especially since a lot has changed. Even if you dated previously but your relationship was different, it’s changed now so it makes sense that you would be nervous. I would suggest you and your partner not lean into your feelings. I wrote previously on this in a column called “When reassurance means denial” which might help.

I also wrote an introductory article which might help you and your partner find your anchors and figure out what you want out of non-monogamy and that might allow you to find something to cling to that isn’t a hierarchical position and also help you face some of these fears.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 71: Feelings and Friends

Reading Time: 6 minutes

We create rules sometimes about what our partners can do because we’re afraid of losing them, but sometimes the rules we make don’t actually change anything.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

How do you introduce the topic of STIs to someone you’re interested in dating or sleeping with?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 71 – Feelings and Friends

We create rules sometimes about what our partners can do because we’re afraid of losing them, but sometimes the rules we make don’t actually change anything. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

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.

Podcast transcript

My boyfriend (26) and I (21) have been together for 3 years. We are in an “open” relationship, where we have both given permission to sleep with other people. As a couple, we talk about and fantasise about being with other people, both together and separately. 

Neither of us have found the right situation, until now. I used Feeld, the app, and found someone who has consented to the situation and with meeting up with me alone and with both of us together. I was excited and when I presented this to my boyfriend and asked if we could meet for drinks, he told me he didn’t want me talking to and developing relationships with other people.

To me, that’s understandable and not at all unreasonable; however, the issue there is that I’ve never just “hooked up” with anyone. I need some sort of connection before sleeping with someone. I have no intentions of having emotions involved or to fill any sort of role that is currently filled by my boyfriend with anyone else. I just want casual sex, but I feel the need to get to know new partners. He doesn’t seem to understand and isn’t willing to compromise on it. Not that I feel like we should if he’s truly uncomfortable with it.

My question is, does this mean we should just close our relationship and move on? I’m not against that but I would be a little disappointed, as this has been the basis of my fantasies for years.

Response:

The issue here is that friends go out for a drink together. Friends have emotions and feelings towards one another. If he doesn’t want you to develop relationships with other people… I mean, I know that he means “a relationship”, right? But a friendship is also technically “a relationship” in the broadest sense of the term. It’s totally understandable if for him he can meet someone with little to no conversation and get busy, that’s fine. That’s fine. Not everyone else is necessarily like that, and you are not like that and I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to want to just meet and have drinks.

And I’m guessing you’re gonna find a lot of people— I mean, I don’t know maybe in random clubs and stuff like that — maybe you will find more people who are cool with like just randomly hooking up without at least having a little bit of a conversation first. But generally speaking I would say within the polyamory universe, most people want to have like a chat and get to know each other a little bit. I really don’t think that that is developing a relationship, right? 

You chat and have drinks with coworkers and you’re not necessarily developing long term deep partnerships with coworkers. I mean maybe you do. But that’s not a huge ask. So I think you need to have a bigger discussion because, what happens if you do develop feelings for somebody? Because even if you were to follow these very — to me — a little bit odd rules… But okay, it’s his rule. That’s how he wants to do it. 

Just because you don’t have a conversation with somebody doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t develop feelings for them. Sex sometimes creates feelings, and especially if this is something that you’ve been fantasising about a lot. You can develop feelings. And what does that mean? Because I think people say — but what it means to have “have feelings” is a very subjective emotional experience which I don’t think is necessarily the same for every single person on this planet.

Does he just not ever meet up with drinks with somebody unless he definitely wants to have a relationship with him? Because if that’s how he does things fine, but it’s clearly not how you do things. And what this kind of means in a lot of ways, is that there’s kind of a feeling of a lack of trust. That he doesn’t trust you. I don’t think he thinks that logically in his brain. He’s not like “Well I don’t She’s just going to go meet up with somebody and they’re going to be married next week”. I don’t think he thinks that, but this type of rule and this type of fear tends to come from two things. 

One is that he has an anxiety understandably of losing you. He doesn’t want to lose you. So he is going to be afraid of you developing feelings for someone and ditching him. That is a totally understandable feeling. He can’t control that. His making this rule is not going to be able to control that. You could meet someone at the grocery store and reach for the same mango and you both fall desperately in love. Doesn’t happen to me. Could happen to you. I don’t know your life, you know. That could happen. 

You could meet someone at work who you chat with and you fall in love with. Unless he plans on keeping you locked up in a tower and not meeting anyone but you… And if he does, you should leave. He’s not going to be able to prevent you from developing feelings for somebody. That’s not controllable. So he has to understand that as much as he is afraid of that and that’s — I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. That makes total sense. He can’t actually control that. And he certainly can’t control that by making these weird arbitrary rules.

If anything that’s more likely to drive you away than it is, you know… because if this is something that you really want to act on, and this is a thing that you feel like, “Well if I don’t do this… I have only one life and so I need to find someone who will let me do this or who’s interested in doing this”. So yeah it’s just… he can’t really control his fear with that rule and he needs to understand that.

Then you both kind of need to understand what it is that you would like— what it is that “having feelings” means. Because another thing that I think happens a lot when people open the relationship is that there’s so many rules about like… “You need to tell me when you have feelings for somebody” or, you know “I need to know” because people have a really understandable fear and anxiety that their partner will meet someone, be blown away and be like “Well, screw you, I’m gone bye”. That is totally understandable and people are people aren’t afraid of that in monogamy because they don’t think it’s going to happen.

But it can totally happen in monogamy. Polyamory doesn’t magically make that more likely to happen. Okay, understandably, like someone having permission to go out and have dates with somebody is a little bit different but somebody can fall in love with someone that they’ve just met, and ditch you. Either one of you. That is something that can happen. So, that is something that a lot of people fear and so they try to create all these rules of like, “Okay, I need to monitor the situation so that I can have— the first sign that anything is wrong and we can we can handle that”. 

But you need to start from a base level of trust right? It’s sort of like if you started off in monogamy and you decided that you would each show each other all your text messages for the week. That’s kind of the analogous rule. When you start off in monogamy, you start off on a basis of trust, which means that you don’t need to look at each other’s text messages. In the same regard, you need to start off on the basis of trust. He needs to get that you are saying “Hey, I’m prioritising this relationship. We’ve both decided that the type of non-monogamy that we want to have is one where we are a primary type, and then we have other sexual fun experiments with other people, but there is no change from this primary type, and that’s fine”.

And I would also encourage you to communicate that to other people so that they’re aware that this is the hierarchy that you’re working on and they don’t get upset or will understandably know to not expect more from you. But you both agreed on what you want. So now what you need to do is trust that that’s what both of you want, and give yourself a little leeway. Because going out with drinks with someone is not developing feelings, So, yeah. All right. 

To sum up, first things first, friends have drinks together. Having drinks is not developing a relationship with somebody. You need to have a bigger discussion about what that means within the context of your relationships, what you’re going to do if you do develop feelings with for somebody. And then also, you need to remind him that he may have this fear and you may have it too. You just may not have had it crop up just yet. that he might lose you, but he can’t try to control that by making these arbitrary rules. 

Instead of you all making a rule that you won’t fall for anybody else, you need to decide what you will do if that does happen, and that will actually help. Don’t just make a rule. You can’t control your feelings. So it’s important that you don’t try to make rules that act as though you can control your feelings. Try to have trust in one another, and talk about what will happen if the “worst” should happen and you do end up having feelings for somebody else. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Ethical vs healthy

Reading Time: 8 minutes

I’m new to the world of ENM and after lots of time spent reading– I’m more confused than ever!

Before I get into all of it, I guess my concerns can be boiled down into two questions: 1) Is it possible to co-create an ethically non-monogamous relationship in which the majority of attention/ focus is placed on the primary partnership and other relationships are kept “casual”? I ask if it’s possible because a lot of sources that I’m reading about ENM seem to suggest that such structures are extremely difficult to maintain and even naive, as people often fall in love with others. 2) Is it possible to do so ethically?

To question 1– When my partner and I got together, he was very upfront about the fact that he wanted to create an ethically non-monogamous relationship. I’d say I’m a bit more oriented towards monogamy than he is, but ENM has interested me for a while and seems to align with my values. We decided to only see each other for the beginning of our relationship as we got to know each other and to then open things up down the line. I have been very clear with him and myself about what structure of ENM I think will make me happy:

Our relationship is a “home base,” we prioritize this relationship in terms of time/ making plans for the future/ emotional support, there is an intention that outside relationships are “casual” and more like hook up buddies rather than other serious, committed partnerships (I say intention instead of rule because if one us wants something more serious with someone else, we’ll have a conversation about it– it won’t be like someone did anything bad).

None of these are “rules” and I would only want to continue with that structure if we both continue to feel good about it. We don’t have the strict “outside relationships can be sexual but not romantic” limit because it doesn’t really make much sense to either of us. I know it’s impossible to control feelings, and he doesn’t feel like “romantic feelings” and “casual relationships” are mutually exclusive. At the same time, I just don’t think I’d be happy in a non-hierarchical polyam situation. I really enjoy the sense of building “a home” and future with one romantic partner.

My partner says this structure also sounds fulfilling for him. He’s a bit more open to a non- hierarchical situation in theory. But as he says, “I’m choosing to be with you and I know this is what you want, so I’m more than happy to do it.”

But is this structure just doomed to fail? Am I being naive in thinking we can maintain it?

And towards my second question– I’m super confused because so many ENM sources indicate that requesting limits on your partner’s relationships with other people is unethical and controlling. I’m not interested in having veto power or commanding that he do things, but I do want to have a sense that I can voice discomforts about his actions with other people, and that those discomforts will be taken seriously. For example, if he started seeing someone really frequently, I’d like to be able to say, “Hey, this feels like your relationship with ___ is getting more serious and might be outside of the structure we initially agreed to. If I’m correct, I feel uncomfortable about that. What do you think?” That doesn’t necessarily mean he has to end that relationship.

I mean, that could be one outcome of that conversation if he decided to do so. But it could also look like, “I know that I still highly value being your primary partner and I don’t know if a non-hierarchical situation will feel good and happy to me. What are your thoughts around that? What do you want? Is there a way we can work with this other person so that there needs/ wants are being incorporated into that structure if we both decide it’s still what we want?” I guess what I’m getting at is– Is there a way to strike an ethical balance between influence and control? Where my partner might make decisions that ends up limiting his other relationships IF AND ONLY IF it is ultimately his decision, albeit one that is influenced by my wants and desires (given that I’m an important person in his life, and we’ve both said to one another that we want each other’s feelings about situations to influence our decisions).

We have of course decided to be upfront with future partners as soon as possible about these things– that we will prioritize our relationship in the above mentioned ways and that there is a chance our relationship may influence other relationships. But is it still unethical going into this knowing full well that we may be influencing each others’ relationships.

Anyways, I know this is a lot! I thank you for reading this and would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

The issue I have with your first question is that a primary partnership and “casual” relationship necessarily mean the majority of attention and focus is placed on one “primary” person. I believe you could have a primary partner without necessarily focusing the most on them at any given time, but I think other relationships being “casual” doesn’t negate the meaning they have to the individual. It just might mean what is expected and agreed on in terms of time commitment. Basically, “primary” is really up to how individuals define it. Your assumption that building a home with one partner and not another means one means more to the person than the other isn’t necessarily true.

Not all non-hierarchical polyamorous people are solo polyam people. Some do build homes with others and sometimes multiple people. I would probably encourage you to challenge that perception. It’s possible for someone to have serious committed relationships with multiple people and actually live with only one. Some people don’t wish to live with any partners. That doesn’t mean that they don’t care as much about those partners as people who live with their partners.

The definition of “ethical” at it’s basic means that nothing is against explicit consent or hidden. Any structure where people are consenting to what’s going on and happy with what’s going on is technically ethical. Codependent relationships can be technically ethical. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, if agreed upon, can be ethical. That doesn’t always mean they’re healthy or good for the people in them or outside of them. Your structure is ethical if you agree on it. Is it fair for the people who come into contact with your partner? Probably not. But they can choose not to engage with your boyfriend based on that. I think to pretend like what you have *isn’t* a veto power is, to be blunt, lying to yourself.

You want the structure you want because, to put it simply, you want to matter more to your partner than other people. A lot of people don’t see this as an ethical choice because it’s not really what polyamory is about and you can’t matter more without others by default mattering less. You’re focused a little more on what this means for you without really thinking about what it means for the other people involved. You’re assuming that more time spent with you makes you mean or matter more, which isn’t necessarily true. And the deciding factor of this all hinges on whether or not you feel he’s spending too much time with other people, rather than his own desire to choose. He’s doing it because you want it, not because he wants it. Which means it’s ultimately your decision and based around your comfort, rather than his. Even if he agrees to go with what you want, that doesn’t mean that it’s not based on your decision.

It might be worth you considering why it is you want the structure you want. You don’t mention a specific desire to buy a house or have children (which you don’t need to do to build a home together), which would be a reason to want to make sure he shared in those goals and was willing to put forward towards them, especially given how the division of labour in households tends to be unequal, but you specifically want his other relationships to mean less than yours. You assert this isn’t a rule, but… let’s be real. It is a rule. You want hierarchy and you probably want it for an understandable reason – you’re scared of breaking up. Will this intention/rule actually prevent that from happening? If monogamy doesn’t prevent people from cheating or leaving their partner, this intention or rule is not going to be able to stop your partner from leaving you, if that’s what he wants to do.

This is ethical if you both decide you want to do it and if he is honest with others about it… but that doesn’t mean it will prevent you or anybody else from heartbreak. You can request limits on your partner’s relationship with other people and they can accept those limits, but I think it’s worth asking if that will prevent what it is that you think it will prevent. I think you’re being a bit naive in assuming that coming to him and saying, “I have a problem with the fact that you’re spending time with this person more than I’d like” isn’t going to be seen as a request for a change of action. Already you’re coming to him with a “What do you think about prioritising me above others?” and he’s going, “I don’t want to do that, but I will for you!” Already he’s sacrificing what he wants for what you want. It stands to reason that would be a pattern that would continue.

Even if you don’t outright demand he leave someone else, if you’re demanding that he spend a certain amount of time with you and not others… then you are kind of demanding that. He’s making this decision for your comfort and not the other way around. I don’t know if it’s fair to call it “control” because he is consenting to it but… it’s not really going to matter for the person that ends up being at the receiving end of this. Whether you call it influence or control, whether you call it a rule or a limitation, whether you think you’re executing a veto or not… it’s someone else who basically gets to have their relationship decided for them. If they agree to that, then that’s fine. But a lot of people wouldn’t for an understandable reason.

Relationships “fail” for all sorts of reasons. There isn’t going to be a magical structure that’s going to ensure the survival of your relationship. Even if your partner wanted monogamy and never wanted to sleep with anyone else, that wouldn’t mean your relationship is built for “success”. Monogamy won’t even necessarily ensure you have the majority of your partner’s attention or even their agreement on a shared goal in life.

I think what you need to do is consider the reasons you want other relationships to mean less. Consider exactly how much time you want from your partner. Consider whether your rules/intentions will actually solve what you think they will solve. Consider the feelings of the other people who might be interacting with your partner. Consider whether if time spent with you is the only way your partner can show to you that he is intending to build a home with you and what that means. Consider whether your assumption that building a home with a partner means hierarchy and that non-hierarchical polyamory means not building a home.

If he is happy to have flings and casual sex with others and that works for him, then it can work for you both. But I wouldn’t just hope that he doesn’t have feelings for others and that you don’t I would assume that it could happen. And what will happen if he doesn’t want to just dump that person because you’re uncomfortable. Can you commit to the idea that your partner may not spend the majority of their time with you? And is he already compromising by agreeing to a hierarchy if that’s not what he actually wants? It might be worth talking through this with a polyamory friendly therapist in the end and thinking about how you both manage conflict so you can address these situations when they come up.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Regret after opening

Reading Time: 5 minutes

My wife and I have been together for 17 years and very happily married for 13 years.
For the majority of our marriage she has been unhappy in her own skin triggered by being over weight.  This lead to not wanting to engage in sexual activity.

In the past 12 months she has lost an incredible amount of weigh with bariatric surgery.  She now feels much happier in her skin and is loving life and looking to explore her new found sexuality.

Over the last 2 years my health has started to decline, I am on testosterone and thyroid replacements along with, at times, severe tiredness and my sex drive has also taken a nose dive.
This has put strain on our marriage and she floated the idea opening our marriage.

I am unsure of the idea with us going to couples therapy to explore our marriage strength and the path forward, we agreed to wait until after therapy to make a decision; however an opportunity had arisen with a group of people, I do not know them or included into any messages.  During the discussions on if she would go she said “can we agree that fo us to determine if this right for us an event should happen”.
I disagreed and said that is not a good idea however eventually relented and she went.

She went to the event alone, and had sex with 3 other people, the next day she briefly recounted the event with me.

I am suffering from regret and remorse on the decision, she does not and said it was one of the best decisions she had ever made just felt right.

Later on I requested we close the marriage, she got upset and angry.

There are a variety of reasons people choose to open their relationships. In some cases, it can be due to sexual incompatibility which can be caused by things like illness or age — or just be part of the way people are. I think that sometimes this can work but it has to be done with caution. Even when there isn’t an incompatibility that causes someone to open their relationship, they can already feel like they are “not enough”. It takes a lot to try and reframe your perspective from that concept but if literally the reason your partner is opening the relationship is because others can provide something you can’t… it’s going to be much harder to cope with that.

What worries me about this situation is that you have a partner who has spent over 13 years with a difficult relationship with her own body. While I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of her feelings or the level of fatphobia she faced from others, you can absolutely be “overweight” or be fat and enjoy life, have an active sex life, and be happy in your skin. I worry that her approach has reinforced her thinking that she has to be thinner to enjoy life and society probably is also reinforcing that. People who would have rejected her body before are likely not rejecting her now and I don’t blame her for enjoying the attention and the experience.

Perhaps that is the reason why she didn’t want to wait until after therapy and put more pressure on you to be okay with her going to what sounds like a group sex or swinging event. However difficult it might have been for you to consider opening the marriage while also dealing with your own health issues, it’s that much more difficult if you don’t feel like you’re going to have a choice or you’re relenting in places where you should stay strong and committed to your principles. When people do open their relationships due to an incompatibility, there needs to be reassurance and emotional support in the relationship. Trust has to essentially be rebuilt and re-learned.

While I want to be sympathetic with her in her desire to explore parts of romance and sex which may have felt previously off limits to her, I can’t help but notice that you never completely rejected the concept of an open marriage, you just felt a reasonable and understandable discomfort with it. You suggested couples therapy and asked for patience and understanding and at every point she instead pressured you. I do just have your words to go on, but it doesn’t seem like she’s offering you any kindness or understanding. Even if she was happy to have gone to that event, she could have been more understanding of your feelings.

You’ve done your best to try and be accommodating and it doesn’t seem like she’s putting in the same effort. It would be one thing if you were neglecting her, but you’re dealing with your own health issues that she doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for. Before you even agreed to open your marriage, she essentially made plans with others that you weren’t a part of and made it seem like you had to go along with it to really prove if you could do non-monogamy. While I absolutely do think that there is a point where you have to see if it actually works for you, it’s not too much to ask to want to go to couples therapy to talk it out first.

It is understandable she would be upset when you requested to close the marriage, but I felt like you probably wouldn’t have asked for that if you had actually discussed more about what opening your relationship would mean before it happened. She might be overcome with the opportunities that seem to be in front of her that weren’t there before, but she has to, if she wants to continue being married to you, be willing to understand your feelings and work with you.

Reapproach her and ask for you, before anyone does anything sexual with anyone else, to actually be able to sit down with a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk about what opening your relationship could look like and how you can stay together while dealing with this incompatibility. It would be also helpful for you and your wife to see therapists individually to address some of the issues you’re going through with your health and she with her self-esteem.

While she may have experienced a shift in treatment by others after having surgery, the only thing constant is change. All of our bodies change and shift in different ways and no body type is an obstacle for having a healthy, fulfilling life where you love your skin. Sexuality and exploration is not reserved for people who meet societal ideals.

If she refuses to go to couples therapy and does not honour your request to wait to have any outside activity until you’ve been able to talk with a therapist (which you can find online if there isn’t one near to you you can see) then I would seriously consider whether or not this is worth preserving. If she cannot respect that this is difficult and give you the emotional support you need, then it might be better to find someone who is more willing to give you that support.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 69: Self-Sacrificing Too Much

Reading Time: 13 minutes

If you’ve given a partner 10 years in monogamy, but they expect you to be happy and feel compersion after deciding to be polyamorous, you might be self-sacrificing  a little too much.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What’s one major way your values have changed in the last 10 years?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 69 – Self-Sacrificing Too Much

If you’ve given a partner 10 years in monogamy, but they expect you to be happy and feel compersion after deciding to be polyamorous, you might be self-sacrificing  a little too much.  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

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.

Podcast transcript

My long term partner and I have been together for 10 years. When we started dating I told him I was polyam and he said he was mono. I had been in mono relationships and so I was ok with us being that. I mentioned it again as our relationship progressed and he seemed to be interested but it just really never got off the ground. At that point I committed to being mono for the duration of our relationship and began building on that. 

Then about 7 months ago he decided that he wanted to try polyam. Since then it’s been nothing but heartache. For years I worked on turning off all my poly[am] switches and focused on building our relationship. And now he has decided that I need to turn them all back on immediately so that he can date.

I have ways been polyam, even when I didn’t know what to call it or even realise that I was. 

Believe me, it caused me no small amount of heartache when I was younger and crushing on multiple people at once. My desire to pursue it has not changed because it is who I am. He and I are really struggling right now because I’m not ecstatic for him in every possible way. I am putting in hard work reading and researching and self examination and really trying to break down all the bullshit I’ve built up over 10 years of being in a mono relationship. I can’t even get him to read a book. He says he has it all figured out and he’s totally adjusted to everything on every level.

Compersion is very difficult for me. I feel like he asked me to be his one and only special person for 10 years and now I’m not anymore and he is giving away to other people what was ours. And I hate it. I’m working on it but right now I despise his partners and I am angry and resentful and jealous that they’re getting a part that, for the entirety of our relationship, has been for me because that’s how HE wanted it and now he’s just decided to 180 and pull the rug right out from under me.

When we are intimate now I can’t think of anything else besides them. As you can imagine, it strains our intimacy. I try. I swear I am trying. It hurts that I can’t seem to be happy for him. I feel guilty because he gets mad that I’m not, like I’m doing something wrong.

Response:

First and foremost, if you were with a friend, and you had some boxes to carry, and your friend said, “You know what? I don’t know if I can do this. Would you carry these?” And you carried them and you were like, “Okay fine. I understand you may not be able to do it”. And you carry them. And then, after a long time, your friend is like, “Oh wait, actually I can totally do this. This is fine. Whatever. Cool, I can do it”. You would be annoyed. And you not only would be annoyed because he’d been carrying them for so long, you wouldn’t expect in the scenario for the person who has been carrying the boxes to be happy about the change in situation. 

I mean obviously yes. It’s great that things have changed to make it a little easier, sort of, on you, but it would be unrealistic and unfair to expect that person who had been carrying all those boxes to suddenly be like, “Oh this is awesome. I’m so glad that you’re enjoying carrying your box!” It’s not like a completely comparable situation. I don’t mean to compare relationships to holding boxes, but it’s very very unrealistic for any person to completely change and sacrifice—  because this has been a sacrifice for you — and then be happy, just suddenly be happy and cool and fine with things changing.

Changing is going to cause, even if it’s a change that you would have liked to have had, changing things is going to be a little nerve wracking. And especially in the situation that you’re in, like you said you’ve kind of— I don’t think you can necessarily switch off your inclination towards polyamory if it’s what you feel is an inclination. However, whenever people create a hierarchy — and whether this is in monogamy or polyamory — if you create a hierarchy where there is one person who is more important than everybody else and that person is the romantic person and you can do this within polyamory.

This is kind of what happens when people create “primary partners”. If you create a hierarchy that one person is important, it is naturally going to create a worry, and a little bit of a defence mechanism if you are in that prioritised position to want to stay in that prioritised position. You’re naturally going to worry about that changing. So it makes complete and total sense for you to, after 10 years of being in a monogamous relationship with somebody, for you to be worried that — what if this person isn’t polyamorous? They just want to find someone new to replace me? 

It’s okay to have those worries. This is a massive change. It’s a massive, massive change. It’s like if after 10 years, your partner was like, “Nope I don’t want kids. Hate kids. Don’t want kids. Hate kids. Don’t want kids. Hate kids”, and then suddenly was like, “Let’s have a million babies”. You would be a little bit concerned. And you wouldn’t be wrong for feeling that. So right now, what you’re doing is you’re putting yourself, not only — and I really hate compersion. The thing that I hate about compersion, right— And for people who don’t know what compersion is —Basically it’s supposed to be the “opposite of jealousy” although I’ve seen that be challenged more and more. 

It’s basically when you’re happy that your partner is with somebody else like you’re happy for them. I really hate putting it in a position where compersion is like the ideal or compersion is like the top of the mountain and you’re trying to reach the top of the mountain and sometimes you just have to be okay that you can’t get to the top. No, it’s a cherry on top of the cake. It’s an extra side benefit. And it might just not be something that you experience

It’s the same with friendships. Some people are super interested in their friends romantic lives and really get excited when they’re dating other people, some people couldn’t give a fuck less, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you’re not deeply invested in being happy that you’re partner’s with somebody else. It’s okay to feel that. You’re putting conversion on this like mountain that you need to climb up and you’re forcing yourself to climb up this mountain. 

 Now, you have a little bit of a problem here. This is a problem that I have. I run an advice column because I have an inclination to be helpful. I like being helpful. I want to be helpful and useful to people. That’s just kind of the way my personality is. I have to be very very very careful about how I do that because I’ve been in way too many situations where I have basically busted my ass for someone. It’s difficult because sometimes I busted my ass for people but I haven’t really… They didn’t ask me to do that. And they’ve not recognised or seen what I’ve done and I felt resentment over that. 

You have to be really really careful with the inclination to self-sacrifice, because even though I don’t go out of my way to help people because I want cookies for it, or that I’m trying to necessarily do it to get on the good side. I’m not trying to be manipulative about it. But if I do self sacrifice, if I do work for people if I try to help someone, and then they turn around and they treat me like crap… It feels like it hurts worse. And I have to be really really careful about who I decide to sacrifice for. I’ve been in a lot of situations like not even romantic relationships, friendships.

I can imagine one friendship that I recently had where I—  they said that they couldn’t afford something and I built a Crowdfunder for them and I busted my ass to get it fully funded and they got the money and then they turned around, and they — we had a disagreement about something and they turned around and told everybody behind my back that I hated them and was trying to conspire against them and that really really hurt me. And it hurt me worse because I busted my butt so badly for them. And when that happens— like I’ve come to a conclusion that if I’m going to sacrifice or work hard for somebody, if I’m going to give to somebody, I have to release myself of the expectation and prepare for the reality that that person may not be that great.

 And it’s not my fault. There was a period of time where I wanted to be like, “Well I’m not going to sacrifice anything for anyone else. I’m not going to help anybody anymore”. And that’s just not within my personality, right? But I have to just be careful about this. I don’t think that it was wrong of you to give up on polyamory, but at the same time you do kind of have to realise that when you make that kind of a decision. You have to make that without basically beating yourself up if it doesn’t work out. If you can sacrifice something, and then be okay with whatever the result of that is, then that is the best choice to decide when to sacrifice something. 

It’s really difficult, because it does hurt, and it is incredibly painful when you really, you know, go out of your way to help someone, and you also need to be — if you have a tendency towards this — I think you also need to be wary about who you do this for. And you also need to realise is this person going to see me? Yes, for me, like, I don’t do things to to necessarily get loads of praise, but if I’m doing it for someone and I haven’t made them aware that I’m trying for them or if I haven’t, you know, if I haven’t not necessarily tried to stick it in their face, but if, if they don’t seem to be an appreciative person, right, or they specifically aren’t asking me for help and I’m just going out of my way to do it I have to be really careful about that. 

So that is the thing that I want you to think about in the future. There’s nothing you do about it now. You’ve sacrificed 10 years to this person and you know, that is all gone and I do think you need to allow yourself to be sad about that. You need to allow yourself to mourn the loss of those 10 years, you know, you’ve kind of put yourself on the back shelf of it, and prioritises your partner over yourself. And that has caused you to lose touch with yourself in that way. It’s caused you to miss out on a lot of relationships you could have had during that time, and it’s okay for you to be sad about that. 

And I do think that right now you’re kind of like pushing all of your feelings back, because you’re still self sacrificing. You’re still prioritising his feelings, You’re still prioritising—  you want to have compersion because you want him to be happy. And you’re still doing that and I think that you need to stop doing that. And you need to allow yourself to be a little bit — like more than a little bit sad about what has happened and what you’ve missed out on. 

The big thing here, aside from all of those issues, is your partner’s attitude, which honestly really boils my piss to be frank. Expecting you to just turn around after 10 years of being monogamous, and not only be okay with polyamory, but to have no interest in doing any research after not being polyamorous, and I don’t think anyone needs a degree to be polyamorous, but understandably like you— It seems like you want to work through this with him, and you want to talk about things, and it just seems like he doesn’t want to talk about it. He just wants to do it and he wants you to be happy. That’s kind of bullshit. I’m not surprised that you’re struggling with being intimate with him and struggling in having any intimacy. Why would you? 

Why would you want to be intimate with someone who completely changes the game on you? And not only completely changes the game on you but, isn’t from what you’ve written, isn’t really showing you any compassion for what you’re going through? It’s like this scenario that I just introduced you in: you’re holding this box. If he said, “Do you know what, actually, I can hold that box. I’m really sorry that you’ve had to hold it for so long. I’m so sorry.” You can’t change what has happened and I respect the fact that like, you know, he could have been too self sacrificing. He could have equally tried polyamory when he didn’t want to, and if it hadn’t— I mean I’ve seen that scenario play out so many times where people push themselves into polyamory, and they really don’t want it, and it ends up being a really painful hard thing for them and I’m glad that he didn’t do that.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t show you any compassion for where you are. That doesn’t mean he can’t try to and I understand like reading books and doing all that research isn’t necessarily for everyone, but there’s still things he can work with you through. And it doesn’t sound like he’s even showing you the least bit of compassion for what you have gone through. Even if he wanted to be polyamorous, from the start the fact that you’ve had to kind of completely switch gears and not only that but he is getting mad at you for not being happy for him. That’s bullshit. 

Even if you were both “experienced polyamory people”, even if you both were experienced, and you had a partner who was getting mad at you because you weren’t happy for them, that’s bullshit. It’s okay that like, if he’s dating other people and you’re not feeling great, it’s okay if he struggles with that. A lot of people really struggle with the idea that something they’re doing is making their partner unhappy. A lot of people really struggle to go out on those first dates because they don’t want to upset their partner. A lot of people want to reach some kind of perfect state of readiness and perfection before they go out and date other people, because they really don’t want the partner to be unhappy. 

He’s not only not doing that but he’s getting mad at you for not being happy. Well, no wonder you’re not happy. That’s no reason for you to be happy. You spent 10 years completely changing how you do relationships for one person whose completely switched it up. Seems like they’re refusing to have any discussions with you about this. “I just expect you to be happy about it. Why are you sad?” You’re not a robot. And you know what, there might be people out there in the world who could completely switch and be fine and be like “Yeah and I’m totally stoked for you”. That’s great, that’s not you, and it’s not realistic to be— to have this expectation of you and like demand that you be cool.

If he wants to do polyamory it’s not like polyamory is not monogamy plus. It’s not monogamy but you get to sleep with whoever you want your partner’s cool with it. That’s not what polyamory is. And he has to be willing, just as he would in a monogamous relationship, to support you. If he has it all figured out for him. Brilliant, great. If he doesn’t need to— if he feels like he doesn’t need to read anything for him. Great. That’s great. But he still needs to be there for you and be supportive of what you’re going through. And that’s the issue. He could read 500 books and still be unsupportive. The books aren’t going to make him supportive.

But if he’s just unwilling to do any kind of work with you. I mean, and then he’s getting mad at you for not being happy. Of course you’re not! Even if you had a completely supportive partner, who was totally down with and gave you lots of assurance and lots and was there for you and apologised constantly about changing their mind and all this sorts of stuff — I would still expect you to not be completely and utterly happy because it’s a big shift. It’s a big change. And it’s scary to know if this is, is this person for real or are they just saying polyamory and then I’m going to get replaced? It’s totally an utterly expected for you to have those feelings, and to also mourn what you’ve lost. 

You’ve lost 10 years that you could have had so many relationships during that time. It’s okay for you to be upset about that, but instead of being able to have someone there for you and someone who supports you and understands and is trying to be there for you, you’ve got someone who is like, “No,  I’m cool with being polyamorous, and this is great. Whoo, why aren’t you happy for me?” Like what? It would be like in that same scenario that person just like took the box from you and was like doing cartwheels for it and then was like “Shouldn’t you be happy that I can carry this box?” No, of course you’re not happy. Of course you’re struggling to feel compersion. 

That is totally an utterly expected in this situation. That is kind of the bigger issue for me in this. Yes, you have an issue here with  self sacrifice, and whether or not, you know, that is something you should continue to do. Yes, you have an issue with not allowing yourself to feel your feelings about this because you’re too busy continuing to self-sacrifice. Those are issues you can address, but you can’t fix him not being willing to support you. And if he was supportive I would advise you to like, okay, accept where you are now accept what you’ve lost, mourn than what you’ve lost, try to work through some of this anger, see a polyamory friendly therapist on your own and see how you can reassure each other and work from where you are now to forward because I do see the other side of the situation and that if he did force himself to do polyamory and he couldn’t, that could have also ended just as badly.

There could have also been resentment and also then a lot of emotional pain in that situation, so I can understand — and I think it’s better that he said, “No, I don’t want to do it”, instead of trying to be self sacrificing in the same way you were. I think it’s better. But the fact that he is unwilling to be supportive of you is a big issue. And I do really, really think that regardless of whether you consider polyamory or monogamy is not the biggest issue in this situation. It’s am I with someone who is willing to support me and be with me and hold me through difficult times in my life and help me and, you know, allow me to feel my feelings? 

Someone who is being mad at you because you’re not happy is not someone who is allowing you to feel your feelings. It’s okay if he has feelings about your feelings. Like, that’s fine. But if there is this expectation and you know maybe it’s something you’re more forcing on yourself but it sounds like he’s also forcing this on you. There’s an expectation for you to just be happy. That isn’t going to work in monogamy, let alone polyamory. That doesn’t work in any relationship, if someone just expects you to constantly be happy and doesn’t want to deal with any sad feelings or unhappy feelings, that’s not realistic in monogamy or any— That’s not realistic in a friendship. That’s not realistic in any kind of relationship. 

You have to deal with the fact that sometimes people aren’t happy. And if you want to have a sustainable relationship with them then you have to be able  to work with them through that. If you have the resource talk to a polyamory friendly therapist about all this. But I do really, really think that you need to— you can ask him and put kind of put an ultimatum kind of situation on him, in terms of being more supportive of you, but there’s nothing you can do to make him care more about you. 

And I really, really think that you should consider whether or not it’s worth continuing to self sacrifice and continuing to be with someone who is not willing to sacrifice a little bit for you. Like it has to be mutual. It has to be someone who’s willing to at least consider the fact that you’re not happy, and try and be supportive of you. I think that you should really really consider if that’s the kind of person that you want to be with. Because the problem here is absolutely not that you can’t feel compersion. The problem is that you are being forced into a situation where you have to be happy or else, and that’s not a sustainable or helpful situation. I hope that helps and good luck. 

Becoming a third

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Up until 2 months ago, I had no previous experience with poly[am] dating or poly[am] relationships. What draws me to solo poly[am] is I have very deep needs around emotional connection and physical intimacy, but I don’t want kids or to raise a family, I enjoy living alone, and I love a lot of alone time. I’m also not a very jealous or possessive person and believe that love is not a zero sum game. If I give love to one person, it doesn’t mean I have less to give to another.

In June, I stumbled into possibly becoming the third in a heterosexual relationship that’s exploring opening up, as the man leans poly[am] and the woman more oriented towards monogamy. When the two of them met (we’ll call the man C and the woman B), C was dating another woman. C + B continued to date each other while C was with a third for about 10 months. For the past 9 months, it’s been just them with each other. Around March of this year, they decided to slowly explore opening things up as a couple.

The first photo in their profile was just the man and we matched, before I realized they were looking for couple’s play and threesomes, neither of which appeal to me. C suggested the 3 of us all meet up anyway for a picnic. We did and had a really nice time. They immediately asked me out on another date, which was lovely too. We had a productive conversation at the end of the night and B shared she was fine with C and me having a solo date, since I’m heterosexual and not interested in bisexual exploration or threesomes.

C and I both love developing emotional intimacy through texting and stayed in touch throughout the day, which then developed into daily sexting as well (more sharing of erotic desires and what we wanted to experience with each other than overt sexting.) I think the quick intensity of our feelings caught B off-guard, especially after learning about the length of our first date and an act of physical intimacy we shared (a cock massage, no orgasm or ejaculation). It was an act that was permitted while he was dating the third previously, but they hadn’t talked extensively through boundaries and violations related to him and me and the woman felt very hurt.

She was triggered and upset and asked for C not to be in touch with me for 2 weeks while she sorts out her feelings and needs, which she’s not clear on. She seems to also not be clearly attuned to her boundaries, so she lets things go, and then feels violated and activated. I have a deep need for communication in a relationship, especially during conflict— her 2-week request felt more about regaining control than equilibrating and processing her emotions. And C’s inability to show care and attention towards both of our needs and set his own boundaries versus taking on B’s were both red flags. What it communicated to me was:

1. C is not able to be/chooses not to be emotionally available to me when B is triggered
2. C is not able to be/chooses not to establish his own boundaries while holding space for B’s emotions- instead, he takes on hers (enmeshment)
3. Because they lack clarity on the shared boundaries of their openness, I’m receiving mixed messages and also fearful/distrusting energy, as if I’m a threat.

One more major concern: Because B has a lot of fears about opening up, she asks for reporting from C on our interactions and dates, which C provides, sometimes without asking me first. I addressed the privacy consent breaches with him and he was very apologetic but B’s need to know makes me feel like I have no privacy.

C also runs every activity by B for approval (“Is it OK that I rub her body during our date?”) I know some poly[am] couples place rules on what a specific partner can do with a third, but the notion that someone else can determine what I do with my body or what types of pleasure I can experience feels very wrong and out of alignment with my values and beliefs.

We’re regrouping after the 2 week pause next week. I really like C on his own, in a way that I feel just a few times a decade. But his partnership with B seems enmeshed, co-dependent, and hierarchical (I practice egalitarian poly). They did just start seeing a couple’s therapist with experience in polyamorous relationships, and they see individual therapists. I’m leaning two different directions re: our regroup conversation:

1. Share how much I enjoyed our time and suggest I’d be open to exploring reconnecting in a year, to give them time to align on their relationship vision and cultivate healthier relational skills

2. Go in with zero expectations and share what I would need to be different to continue exploring it:

That my privacy is protected (I’m fine with sexual activity at a high level being shared. I’m not comfortable with reading texts that I send verbatim or sharing any specific details of a sexual act without first asking for my permission)

That we operate from a place of mutual trust and respect; there aren’t restrictions placed on my sexual or pleasure experiences, our communication, or our emotional connection. And C does not run each relational act by C for approval.

That C is able to be both emotionally available to me and B, even when B’s triggered, and can simultaneously show care to our different needs around conflict resolution and communication.

That I am treated as an equal, positive, and a valued part of their lives.

Note: I can’t see them agreeing to these but I think it’s important to voice our truth 🙂 I’d value your perspective and how you would opt to proceed with a regroup conversation, if this situation was yours.

I wrote about this phenomenon previously in my article about why couples tend to want triads. I don’t think triads are necessarily bad or even doomed to failure, but generally speaking couples who seek to have a triad, especially a closed one, are doing so because they think it’s safer. And it demonstrates they haven’t done the work necessarily to address their fears or don’t have good communication and… this is the natural result.

That’s not to say here that B is wrong for her feelings, but C does not know how to deal with what’s going on between them without letting it affect your relationship in multiple ways including allowing her to dictate the terms of your relationship and also in the privacy violations.

It’s not really clear from your letter if they had a couple’s profile and said specifically what they were looking for, but I think that it was probably best for you to step out of that situation then — because what they want is something that you can’t provide. And furthermore, if you come across any other “poly[am] couples” who place rules on what their partners should do with others, and call people “thirds”, you should run for the hills. You’re not a “third”. You’re an equal partner to B and he’s not treating you that way.

You can give him an ultimatum and ask that he practice a more egalitarian form of polyamory, but ultimately that doesn’t seem to be what they were looking for from the start and, unless both of them want it, it’s not something you’re going to get.

I would hesitate to say his partnership is enmeshed or codependent — after all, it’s quite understandable to struggle with polyamory and to believe prioritising “the couple” or making these kinds of rules will fix what they can’t fix. They sound like they’re making mistakes to save their relationship and don’t have some great communication going. That can be addressed and fixed… just not by you.

Honestly the best thing you can do is separate yourself from this situation and wait until he contacts you and is able to have an actual separate relationship. Make the needs you’ve written down known and make it clear that a relationship cannot happen until these happen and make sure, if you try it again, you are real about backing away if you aren’t getting what you need.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 67: Temporary Monogamy

Reading Time: 19 minutes

Can an aversion to non-monogamy come from relationship anxiety and trauma?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What have you changed your mind about in terms of how you want to live your life?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 67 – Temporary Monogamy

Can an aversion to non-monogamy come from relationship anxiety and trauma?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What have you changed your mind about in terms of how you want to live your life?

 

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.

Podcast transcript

I am a queer, AMAB, non-binary person, and most of my adult life I identified as a cis gay man, which I mostly still pass as (at 27 yo). I have never considered or wanted to pursue non-monogamy before in my life.

A bit over a year ago, I met Dean. Dean is queer and has sexual and romantic attraction to people of all genders. I was instantly smitten by him and asked him out after meeting a few times. A month into the relationship, when things were clearly getting serious, we had a discussion about what kind of relationship style we wanted. This was something I was nervous to do because I could tell from our talks that he thinks about sex and relationships very differently than I do.

For him, romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships can all overlap, and our relationship is one that happens to be sexual and romantic and exists in the quilt of his many other friendships, etc. I have deeply emotional and intimate friendships too, but they are all platonic. Sexual and romantic attraction are inseparable for me. Dean is 25 and never has had a long-term or committed relationship like ours before.

In that conversation in the early part of our relationship, he said he had “never been interested in monogamy before,” but agreed to have a monogamous relationship with me. I immediately started seeking therapy from a sex therapist for help understanding my deep aversion to non-monogamy and past sexual and emotional trauma, because I love him, really want our relationship to continue, and quickly realised I have relationship anxiety.

I wanted to prepare to be able to consider a request from him for non-monogamy at some point. I didn’t brush this potential problem under the rug. I’m still working on this though, and in seven months of therapy I have really only gotten better at talking about it and recognizing that my anxieties stem from past relationship traumas. I’m working on managing the anxiety, and Dean has been so supportive and caring through that.

In our sporadic check-in conversations since, Dean has said he hasn’t felt like he’s sacrificing anything to be with me in a monogamous relationship and he feels fulfilled romantically and sexually by our relationship. That is, until this past week. Two friends of his have been dating for three years and one wants to pursue non-monogamy and the other doesn’t. The one says “she doesn’t think monogamy” works.

In our conversations about it, I could tell Dean agreed with her. When I asked him directly, he said that was true, which really hurt me because I feel like our relationship is “working.” We’re still in the “honeymoon phase” but I’m stupidly in love with him and we have a relationship in which I feel really safe, loved, and cared for (despite my anxiety). Now he says ultimately he does want to have a non-monogamous relationship, and I still feel like I can’t give that to him. The idea of him with other people makes me feel really horrible–debilitated even–and wracked with anxiety.

I don’t feel like non-monogamy is wrong or gross. I feel excited that there are people who are happy and thriving in consenting non-monogamous relationships. As a queer person, I understand the liberation of loving who and how you want to. I also reject a lot of the gross power dynamics and toxic possessiveness and jealousy that pervades a lot of (white cis hetero) monogamy.

I just don’t want non-monogamy for me, both for practical reasons (I am introverted and busy and don’t want to dedicate that much of my energy to maintaining multiple romantic/sexual relationships), and because that’s just not how I feel about romance and sex. I can feel within me the ability to love other people like I love Dean at the same time, but I find so much joy, vulnerability, safety, and love in waking up every day and choosing him and being okay with not knowing those other possibilities!

I feel so good about that decision. No FOMO here. I don’t think I will feel good about that anymore if I don’t feel like that is reciprocated. These feelings also make it really hard to understand where desire for non-monogamy is coming from in others and empathise. For people I’m not dating, that’s okay! I don’t have to get it! Now I am struggling and feeling deeply like I am “not enough” for Dean.

Dean says this is part of who he is. I really really want to be able to give that to him and to stay with him, but when I think about opening up our relationship, I immediately feel deeply violated. I can already feel myself turning into the most nasty, toxic, insecure horrorfest when I think about a life where he is seeing other people. I don’t want that for either me or Dean!

He says he doesn’t need non-monogamy to happen now, and he wants to be okay with this being unresolved, enjoy our relationship together, and figure it out as it comes. I feel like it has put an expiration date on our time together, I just don’t know when that date is, and this is going to be an enormous elephant in the room from here on out.

And now it doesn’t feel like therapy is working towards feeling free of trauma and societal expectations so I can have an informed and reasonable conversation over opening up the relationship IF that happens, but that I have no choice but to work to change who I am for WHEN this happens.

Anyway, I guess my question is what can we do? We both want to stay together a lot. I am trying to be open with Dean (who I trust deeply because he is a good communicator and has always been honest with me) and talk about it, but it feels like we are at an impasse, and also feels like fixating on it will wreck any other joy that we have. It also feels cosmically unfair! I don’t know what to do. Thanks for reading this ridiculously long email, and apologies for not keeping it more brief.

Response:

There’s obviously a lot going on here. I super related when you said “cosmically unfair”. Just because I’ve been in a lot of cosmetic unfair situations myself, I think that the first thing that I would do if I was in your situation and what I encourage people who are in this situation to do is ask yourself if you can see yourself being monogamously with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby. And the reason why I asked this is because I think that even if you are monogamous to someone who is polyamorous — and that does happen. You can have someone who is monogamous to a polyamorous person and doesn’t date other people.

The biggest difference between a monogamous relationship and a non-monogamous relationship is that someone who is non-monogamous will not be spending the vast majority of their time with you, and a monogamous relationship can have this. I think when you have someone who is a lawyer or a doctor or someone who works long hours, or who might be away for long periods of time, that is something that even if you are monogamous, you might not be able to deal with. So, dating that person won’t work.

Another kind of thing to think about is like long distance relationships. A lot of people can’t do them monogamously or not. So if you can see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby or isn’t around all the time or isn’t fully focused on you, that is the first small step. The feeling of anxiety and being like wracked with all of this kind of tension when you think about your partner being with someone else: I don’t think that that’s necessarily a sign that you can’t do non monogamy, because there’s some people who really— they’re voyeurs and they really like the idea of their partner— and they think about it and it’s hot.

Some people even if they are non-monogamous don’t think about that and they’re not necessarily interested in that. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a don’t ask don’t tell situation, but they don’t sit there and dwell on it. It’s not something that they’re interested in. So I don’t think you should definitely see that as a sign that it’s not meant for you. Especially because you do think that some of those feelings are coming from past relationship traumas. So I don’t think you should see that as a bad sign.

If you decide okay, he doesn’t have to spend all of his time with me, that’s fine, that’s kind of like a first step. I think that the next step is: is there something, anything about that situation, that could be of a benefit to you? And it’s funny that you say that you’re introverted and like busy and that’s like a big reason — that is kind of the reason why I am interested in polyamory, or non-monogamy, actually. Because I am introverted, because I don’t like partying, I don’t like dating. I don’t like. I’m not attracted to many people I don’t have what a lot of polyam people seem to have which is, “I just like so many people”.

And I’m not making fun of them just saying that like I’m not like that. I’m not a free love hippie type of person, I don’t fall in love with everyone that I see. I’m barely ever attracted to anybody, to the point where like, if I get a crush, I’m like “oh my god it’s happened again” because sometimes I think I will never have another one. That’s just me and the reason why I’m interested in polyamory is because, if I am interested in somebody else, then I want the freedom to be able to pursue it.

And I want to also be able to have friendships that are close that could maybe become non-platonic without having to worry about it being too close, or, you know, being a bother like all that toxic shitty stuff you mentioned about not necessarily inherent to monogamy itself. But all of that stuff that brings up. It’s just a lot easier. Also I like being alone, and like my partner going off and being with somebody else… Even if I want to live with another partner and I want to wake up with next to them, you know, sometimes I also like my alone time, so that can actually work quite well.

Just because you’re not like a like social butterfly, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you. When you try and separate this, that feeling of not being enough all that anxiety that is one thing and I do think that is something that you can work through. And that also quite an understandable feeling of not being enough but I’ll get to it in a second. If you can separate yourself from that and think purely as an individual. What is a benefit that you could see for yourself in a non monogamous setup? Even if it’s just having the house to yourself once a week.

There can be some benefit to you because like I said, there are situations where people are monogamous to a polyamorous person, and that does work fine for them, but they just have to be okay with them not spending all the time in the world with them. And also, there has to be some kind of benefit for them. And it can’t and really shouldn’t be a benefit that involves keeping this relationship and that’s going to be really hard for you in this situation because it does kind of seem like that’s the biggest reason that you want to try is to keep Dean in your life.

But there has to be something separate to that, because there’s an issue that I’m seeing — from the get it seems like Dean has made it clear to you that in terms of how he sees relationships, he doesn’t see romantic sexual partners as being better or more important than friends and stuff like that like it’s all kind of mixed. And I feel like you’ve kind of ignored that a little bit in your head. He’s agreed to do monogamy with you but just because he has agreed to be sexually and romantically exclusive with you, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s changed his mind about how relationships work.

And even if he continued to be monogamous with you that is still a big issue, because you’re kind of assuming a hierarchical structure in a way that isn’t even there now. Like you’re kind of allowing this agreement to do monogamy, sexually and romantically, to redefine it in your own head, to give you a kind of a false sense of security of what this relationship means in context with the other relationships that Dean has.

If you kind of remove that web of safety that you’ve kind of put that isn’t really there, you’re already kind of in a relationship with someone who isn’t necessarily going to prioritise you or believe in prioritising a romantic sexual relationship over other relationships. It sounds like that’s the way Dean does things. I could be wrong, but it does sound like that’s the way he does things so you might be kind of pulling the wool over your eyes a little bit right now already.

So thinking about “okay already, I’m kind of doing that”, thinking about that, and trying to understand what benefit you could get out of it might be a little bit helpful. If you can find a benefit for it that’s just for you, that is something that you can hold on to, when you’re dealing with this stuff.

The next big thing is that you not feeling like you’re not enough. It’s a very very understandable thing. Going through the process of trying to figure out what it is that you could— you would want out of Non-Monogamy as an individual might make you empathise a little bit more with the desire for non-Monogamy and maybe that non-Monogamy isn’t for you. But it’s not about not being enough, and it’s really hard to explain that.

The best way that people have been able to explain that to others is using the example of like if I go out to eat. If I want to go out to a restaurant, it doesn’t mean that my partner is a shitty cook, or that I don’t like it when they cook for me. Another way that I always encourage people to think about it because it’s probably the easiest kind of example for a lot of people, if you have one child having another child or wanting to have another child doesn’t mean that that one child is not enough.

And you can even think about it in terms of your friends. You might have very close— and you said you have very close emotional relationships with your friends. Wanting another friend or building a relationship with another friend doesn’t mean that the friends you have are shitty or that there’s anything bad about them. And we are encouraged within the society that we’re in, even if we’re queer, even if we try to break free of it, we are encouraged to think of love as a scarce resource that we have to compete with each other for.

And that if, you know, finding a one partner means that everyone else doesn’t get that and that that scarcity is what you need to find and therefore need to buy all these products for blah blah blah. If you challenge that idea in your head and you try to think okay. There might be situations where in a way you aren’t enough. There’s always going to be somebody out there that’s better at something than you regardless. But it’s not easily about that for most non-monogamous people.

They don’t choose it because one person isn’t enough for them. They may identify that they have a personal need for non-monogamy and variety, and therefore communicate that in a way that is “well one person isn’t enough for me”, but it’s just a little bit more complicated than that. The other thing that might also be helpful for you and understanding your anxiety and understanding whether or not this is for you is that monogamy and the way that it’s encouraged in society gives us a false sense of security.

And you can look this up when it comes to like “the relationship escalator” and everything else, you end even in this relationship that you’re in now you have assumed your safety in this relationship because monogamy itself, as well as all of the signs of “progression” in a relationship a lot of things are kind of built on this cultural script. Going through the script, even as a queer person, going through the script is, in a way, encouraging to us, it shows us that our relationship is “committed” that things are more rooted, that things are grounded, that everything is going by the script. So is fine. It’s safe.

There are people who have been together for 20 plus years, who break up. All relationships have an expiration date. There are no guarantees rather in life that anything will last. Just because you’re monogamous doesn’t mean your relationship will last. And also, if your relationship doesn’t last, it isn’t immediately a sign of failure. For me that has helped my anxiety. If anything. Realising that I have not as much control as I think I have, and that I need to, because my anxiety works on trying to make me think I have control over situations, because I’ve been in a lot of situations where I haven’t had control, and that’s been scary and I’ve been hurt yada yada yada.

But the point is, you can’t control every aspect of everything. And you could break up with Dean, go and find someone who definitely wants to be monogamous for them with them for 50 years and get cheated on. Nothing is guaranteed. So you shouldn’t assume that there is somehow more safety in monogamy than there is in non-monogamy.

To just challenge the person who said “monogamy doesn’t work”. I really hate that. It does work for some people. It depends on your expectations for what you want in monogamy. Like if you want a relationship where the other person never has a sexual thought about another person but you. Yeah, probably that doesn’t work. But monogamy in and of itself as just two people who don’t date other people. That does and can work for a lot of people. It really irritates me when people say that. Monogamy does work and it might be that monogamy is what works for you. And it doesn’t have to be because you’re traumatised.

That’s another thing that I want to say. Yes you might have a lot of traumas connected to the idea that your partner doesn’t want you. Even within the context of a monogamous relationship I would still encourage someone who felt like they weren’t enough to explore those thoughts, question the assumption of the safety that monogamy brings them, to build a relationship with themselves where if they aren’t enough as their partner does leave them. They are still safe within themselves.

But, it doesn’t work for everyone. Choosing monogamy doesn’t mean you’re insecure. Choosing monogamy doesn’t mean that you are traumatised and broken and just need someone to commit only to you because you’re too jealous or anything like that. That’s just not the case. It is a choice that some people want to make just like some people want to be child free. Being child free doesn’t mean that they’re scared to have kids. That could be one reason why people would choose to be child free because they are scared that they will pass their anxious shit on to kids, raising my hand here.

But that isn’t the only reason and that also doesn’t mean that people should have kids anyway. Equally, choosing to have children doesn’t mean that you’re afraid of death, and that you are obsessed with your own ego and want to pass on your legacy. There’s different valid reasons for why people choose different things in their life, and it doesn’t mean that there’s a problem with them as they choose it.

So, it may be that you just want monogamy, and as you’ve kind of explored it a little bit already in your letter. It might just be what you want because that’s the lifestyle that you want. When I’ve asked you if, can you see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career hobby if you said no, then no. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just not what you want. So if it’s not what you want then you shouldn’t try to shove yourself into a box. And, and do it. If you don’t want to.

As you said like the therapy isn’t going to help you if you feel like it’s not a choice. So, yeah. The other thing is, I am a little bit worried and I understand Dean’s like 25 and hasn’t had a long term relationship before. But the thing that really worries me about the situation is that Dean agreed to monogamy in a way that made it seem like — to you at least — that it was going to be the choice. And only didn’t really bring up until two weeks ago, that “hey actually at some point I may ask for non-monogamy”. And it would be one thing if from the beginning when Dean said “You know what I’d like to try monogamy, but I don’t know if it’s something that I’m going to want to do for for a long time.”

If he had presented that to you from the beginning, then I would have been like okay well he’s been fully honest about that. I don’t know if Dean’s being honest with himself. And I think that this confrontation will not really confrontation but this. Basically, seeing this breakdown in a relationship between your friends and then go “actually do you know what I think I do want Non-Monogamy!” It’s not going to be easy for you to just relax and smell the roses. When stuff is shifted like this, that’s really hard to deal with. You’re being pushed and pulled out of your safety and comfort zones. And that’s hard regardless of whatever lifestyle you decide to choose.

I hate the word lifestyle, hate it, but it is kind of a lifestyle. But the point is, like — I don’t think Dean did it maliciously doesn’t sound like Dean did it maliciously, however, that is still a really big concern. If he wanted to have to try monogamy. I feel like he should have made it obvious to you from the beginning that this was a trial. And it doesn’t seem like it was obvious to you. It seems like you thought “okay we’re doing monogamy, but I’m just preparing myself, to see if I might be able to do non-monogamy, and maybe who asked for it the future”.

But you haven’t had that signed, sealed and delivered. Now you’ve had it signed, sealed and delivered — that’s very different and it’s— to just be like, “well, we don’t know where this is going, just like relax” like I do think that sometimes you can just have a relationship and just because it ends doesn’t mean your failures, and that you don’t have to expect a relationship to last until one of you dies. But it’s like you said, it’s like the elephant in the room now. And it’s put an expiration date that you didn’t really think about. I mean, all relationships have an expiration date, but it put a new dimension into this that you didn’t factor in.

And it is a sudden thing and so it is very difficult for you to feel safe and comfortable with someone who has kind of just shifted their mind a little bit on something that’s quite huge. A good example to compare it to is, is the decision on whether or not to have kids and I think that’s just such a good comparison because if you had agreed “okay we were definitely not going to have kids, because I have all this trauma about children and I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it, but I’m going to go to therapy and see if I can work that out and in case one day you asked me if we can have a family” and then all of a sudden he’s like “yeah definitely I’m going to ask you to have kids one day”.

That’s very, you know, like — it worries me that he doesn’t realise how jarring, that is for you. Because it’s going to be hard enough to kind of cope with attempting this on top of having to also deal with the fact that he’s kind of changed the game on you a little bit. So, to sum up my response to this — ultimately I can’t tell you whether or not you can, or are non-monogamous. Some people feel innately non monogamous. I don’t personally necessarily feel that way, but I do feel like monogamy isn’t something that I would ever want. However, there are things that you can go through, as I’ve said, that can give you an indication of whether or not this type of way of doing things, is something that you can do, even if you were monogamous to a polyamorous person.

And those are the things I said: can you see yourself being with someone with a time intensive career hobby where they don’t spend all of their time with you? Can you find a personal benefit to non-monogamy that only applies to you, that isn’t saving this relationship, even if it’s being home alone every once in a while? Because like I said being introverted can actually work really well with non-monogamy. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, or a free love hippie to be interested in it.

If you can find a benefit and if you can see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby and can accept the fact that Dean won’t spend 100% of his time with you, then I think you might want to consider working on this concept of unpicking your assumptions about safety in monogamy, really challenging yourself a bit on the assumptions you’ve made so far in the relationship that because Dean is sexually and romantically monogamous to you that that suddenly means he defines relationships, the same way you do because that isn’t— I don’t think that’s true. And I think there probably needs to be more discussion around that.

Challenging some of the safety assumptions that you have will really help. I wrote a article called “13 mistakes people make when they try polyamory”. I think that’s what it’s called. You can find it on the website. That talks about the beginning steps of finding your anchor, challenging some of your fears, challenging some of the assumptions that you make that can really help cope with the anxiety of it. I don’t think that just because you have anxiety or disgust or fear or worry when you think about your partner being with other people that that means that you can’t do non-monogamy.

Because that can sometimes be just part of what you’ve learned about the scarcity of love from the culture that surrounds you. Another thing is, I do think you should potentially find a polyamory friendly couples therapist for you and Dean, even if Dean is a good communicator as you said, it’s a little bit worrying that Dean— It seems like there was a miscommunication. I’m not saying it’s wholly Dean’s fault. I think that there’s some assumptions made on both sides but it seems like when you agree to monogamy your assumption was that non-monogamy might come up, but that it wasn’t a definite, and now it’s a definite and you need to address that. miscommunication.

Even if it’s that Dean didn’t really realise that it was that important to him until now. It’s something that you have to work out together. Like how important is it actually? And there’s another bit in the article that I mentioned and what I advise people generally when they start out in non-monogamy is thinking about what their ideal situation is, and seeing if there’s compatibility. Because both of you could be non monogamous but still not compatible. Being non-monogamous doesn’t inherently mean that you’re compatible or that you want the same things in life. So working out what the ideal state is can then help you get further down that road.

I think that if you can— If you’re fine with him not spending all this time with you. If you can work on some of these feelings of not enough and challenging some of your assumptions of safety. If you can find a personal benefit out of being polyamorous, or non-monogamous for yourself. And if you can have discussions with Dean about why this miscommunication happened, and figure out how to avoid it happening again. Then, it might work out. You might be able to try being non monogamous.

You might be able to deal with some of these fears and stuff that you’ve been through before and push through that. I wouldn’t say that you’re always going to be happy because anytime you start something new or try something new or change up what you’re doing and you don’t have a cultural script to go by, you’re going to be frickin nervous. It’s going to stoke anxiety. Don’t expect it to be easy. But I don’t think that just because it gives you anxiety that it’s not worth trying. Or that it’s not something that you can do just because you feel anxious.

So yeah, if you can go by the steps, give it a try. If from the out, you’re like, “Nope, I wouldn’t date someone who’s in the army. I wouldn’t date a doctor or a lawyer who was all the time at the office” or whatever then I just don’t think that even the kind of monogamy that you would want with other monogamous people would work for you, let alone this relationship and you might have to— If you can stop and enjoy the roses, if you can

enjoy the aspects of a relationship that you have with Dean, understanding that it might come to an end, then, do that.

But it sounds like that— if this is not of any interest to you whatsoever — it does sound like that would just be a little bit of a waste of your time. Unfortunately, if what you want is to find one person and settle down and do that whole shindig, then there’s no point in wasting your time. You know, maybe you have to kind of what they call de-escalate your relationship. Be friends and define your relationship that way until you find that person that you actually want to do that with. But yeah, I can’t tell you if you can or can’t do, non-monogamy.

It comes down to a couple of things that you have to be real with yourself about. And it’s really hard. And, if there’s one way that you feel strongly, don’t ignore your strong feelings and stay because even if you think, yeah, breakups hurt. It’s not a fun thing. It’s a sucky thing. But it’s always much much worse to sit and let resentment fester or to sit and try and lie to yourself and pull the wool over your eyes and think that you’re safe. When you’re not or think that things are going the way that you want. When you’re not. It’s always much much worse for to do that than it is to break it off, in my experience. So yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.

Preventing hurt feelings

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I am fairly new to the world of non-monogamy, having only been introduced to it in May 2020. Through learning about the different constructs that can be applied to a designer relationship I have discovered that this lifestyle could suit me well. Mostly as it encourages me to address the multitude of insecurities and other personal issues that make non-monogamy difficult. For the first time ever I am able to be compassionate towards myself and not just others, I am cultivating feelings of self-worth and getting closer to being able to allow myself to be present with my emotions instead of running away or numbing with substance abuse.

I care about the person that introduced me to non-monogamy deeply on many different levels and have communicated that we above all wish to safeguard our platonic friendship. We have also talked about their reservations with continuing the partnership on an intimate level as they are scared of hurting other people’s feelings. However, When I told them that I am a big boy and can handle change in circumstances they seemed to agree. The issue was then raised about if they were to flirt with someone in front of me how would that make me feel?

And upon reflecting on this dynamic I would personally like to get to the point where I could be in the same place as my partner and be fully comfortable with them flirting and then going off to explore an intimate connection with someone else. I feel compersion for friends and ex-partners in those circumstances and feel like it is possible to reach that level with a current partner but only if I have come to terms with my insecurities and know that I am enough to make myself happy.

To answer your question short and sweet: you can’t. You can’t completely assure someone of how you may feel in any given situation. You can, if you have experienced that situation before, give an estimation of what you think you would feel based on previous experience, but you can’t assure someone that you won’t feel anything about them being intimate with someone in your immediate presence.

But that’s not what necessarily concerns me about your letter and there a couple of things here that need to be addressed.

Polyamory will lead you to security

The first worry I have about the way you’ve expressed your letter and wants is that you feel that non-monogamy is going to lead you to a better place as a person than monogamy will. While I don’t doubt that non-monogamy brings with it different types of challenges, I really really discourage people whenever I can to view polyamory as some type of bootcamp for their emotions.

Why? Because the given assumption is that polyamory leads one to a Vulcan-like state of detachment from their emotions. There is a strand of beginner polyamory advice that is almost cult-like in it’s insistence that while there is supposedly “no wrong way to do polyamory” all of it’s suggestions point to the only and ideal way being detached, balanced and guru-like, giving off the impression that having or feeling emotions makes one “bad at polyamory”. And this, without a doubt, is not only an impossible expectation, but not fair.

Far be it from me to leap to complete assumptions about you, but I do wonder, if numbing your feelings with substance abuse was an issue for you in the past, if you are not just looking for another way to numb your emotions. And the polyamory advice often given seems to endorse or encourage the idea and promise a sort of zen like tranquility. I don’t think that’s the case for more people, nor do I think it should be the aim.

If you are practicing or wanting polyamory because you think it will bring things into your life that you as an individual will enjoy — great. But if you are practicing polyamory because you think it will make you a more mature, emotionally responsible person… well… that’s sort of like someone having a child because they hope it will make them a better person. Adding more relationships to your life doesn’t make you any better at coping with emotions. And throwing yourself into the deep in will not help you swim better.

Emotions represent insecurity

The second issue I have with the assumptions your making is that, if you should have any feelings seeing your partner flirt or go off to sleep with someone in front of you, that this is an immediate sign of insecurity — which is pretty much what a good deal of polyamory blogs will tell you. But this is not the case.

People have feelings about seeing their partners with other people for all sorts of reasons that are not as simple as just “being insecure”. For many people, they are afraid to lose the partner they have and this is a completely understandable reaction to have. Depending on the context of your relationship, if you have a brand new attachment with someone or you have a history of trauma where people have abandoned you or betrayed you, you may be reacting emotionally based on that lack of foundation or your personal history. These in turn may make you feel you aren’t good enough — but it’s not necessarily just a matter of personal insecurity.

I think, for the vast majority of people raised within a monogamous society, they are not going to be able to see their partner flirting with someone else without feeling at the very least some of the intrinsic fear they’ve learned by being in a society that’s told them that love only means something if their partner is sexually exclusive to them. Not only would I tell you that you are going to feel that way but I would tell you to expect to feel that way and, instead of trying to prevent feeling something, try and learn how to sit in discomfort, figure out what it is your afraid of, challenge some of the assumptions those fears are making or… avoid all of that together and, if at all possible, don’t be there to witness it.

Unless you both have the same social circles or go to the same parties, there’s no reason to purposefully put yourself in that position if you don’t want to. While you shouldn’t avoid doing things you want to do because you fear having a reaction, you also shouldn’t put yourself into a situation you know may be uncomfortable if you don’t have to. There are no awards to be won here for emotional endurance, I’m afraid. So why do that?

Don’t assume that having a reaction to your partner going off with someone else is about your personal insecurity. If you pursue polyamory, you’re going to be trying something without the same cultural scripts as friendships or monogamy and that in and of itself is enough to make one anxious on top of establishing a new bond of trust with someone and trying to counteract all of the social conditioning you’ve had that’s told you that sexual interest is something meant exclusively for someone you are interested in and only them.

Not to mention, the idea here is that there is some type of linear achievement you can have where you may in the past have feelings when you see your partner go off with someone else and then you progress to a level where you do not — and this is a false expectation. You may have no problems with one person but problems with another. You may have no problems and then suddenly experience a traumatic event and then have loads of anxieties you didn’t before. Life isn’t a linear progression in terms of our mental health. We go all over the place depending on what’s on our plates at any given time. Expecting to reach this “level” in a way isn’t fair on yourself or realistic.

Compersion is the ideal

Last but not least, you mention a topic that’s drawn much contention from me — compersion. I get why people use it. I’ve actually felt it now! You hear that readers? The compersion curmudgeon has felt compersion for the first time. Wild.

However, the problem I still very much have with this concept is that, again, while we say “there is no one right way to do polyamory” or “no wrong way” — whatever — compersion creates an ideal and you are creating an ideal that you just not may be able to do either because you just don’t feel compersion or because you do have an emotional response to someone you like going off with someone else — whether it’s fear or FOMO — and you can’t stop yourself from feeling.

I worry that by desiring this state, you are basically setting yourself up for failure. Compersion is great to feel, as I now actually know, but if you don’t have it or you are scared to lose your partner, this does not represent a failure on your behalf. Don’t let this be your goal. Let it be a nice bonus if and when it happens.

You are enough but you aren’t an island

Lastly, I want to address the sentiment you have in terms of your insecurities. “I am enough” is a wonderful sentiment and I don’t want people to feel like they are dependent upon others so much that they stay in relationships that hurt them because they think they deserve the mistreatment or because they don’t believe anyone else would love them.

However, there is a problem within much polyamory writing that promotes the idea of a kind of bootstraps mentality where if you have a problem, it’s only your problem and yours to deal with. This type of self-sufficiency paves the way for people who behave abusively to take as much advantage of others as possible and then gaslight people for attempting to reach out for help.

Human beings are social creatures and our nervous systems regulate either by us learning our own ways to self regulate but also by co-regulation with others around us. We have survived as a species for this long not because of brute strength or some type of weird survivalist individualist Mad Max type of concept — but because we formed communities and helped each other. There is a “Western” concept of individualism that creates a lot of problems when people are so focused on individuals that they forget that our communities are also important.

Bottom line, if you feel you cannot reach out to your partners for help or talk to them, there’s a problem with that. While they can’t be your therapists, they should be there to love and support you. And being afraid of the loss of them in your life is reasonable and understandable. There isn’t anything about that that means you aren’t enough. It just means the obvious — however enough you are, it hurts to lose someone who was important to you in your life, whether they are friend, family, or lover.

In summary

To sum up, I think that, while I can understand what it is you want, I worry you’re setting yourself up for failure. I wrote an introductory article about some of the classic blunders I see people trying polyamory find themselves in and that might help you in your initial quest and also with some of the things you’re worried about here.

Allow yourself to feel. You’re a human being, not a Vulcan. Feeling isn’t failure.

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 nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Hiding partners from each other

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I am monogamous, but I have been dating someone who identifies as poly for almost three years. We began our relationship while he had another girlfriend. That was a fairly traumatic time for me because I struggled with dealing with my emotions of jealousy, feeling less than and finding my place despite my desires for something more traditionally monogamous. Eventually he and his other girlfriend broke up, for reasons I did not know at the time.

We discussed that he would let me know when he became interested or sexually active with another woman again and things were smooth for a time.

It was over a year after his break up that I learned that he never stopped being sexually active but he never told me because he claims he did not want to hurt me. He said he felt like he was gut punching me every time he told me about his other partners, so he lied by omission.

I tried making this work, but I’m not sure what to do or if there are solutions. Is there a way for me to learn to be comfortable that he has other partners? Despite everything I know he loves me. I don’t question that. He just made a bad choice.

I don’t like knowing that if another partner wants more time, it would cut into my time. He also doesn’t want to live with anyone or have kids. Which are some things I want to experience. Am I trying to make something work that never will?

I’m sorry to tell you, you’re fundamentally incompatible and you’re both just delaying the inevitable.

The last bit of your letter seals the deal. You want to live with him and have kids and he does not. And you also do not like the idea that he would be spending time with other people, which inevitably will be the case if and when he finds other partners. Agreeing to non-monogamy fundamentally, even if you were to be monogamous yourself to him, means accepting a situation where your partner does not spend as much time with you as they would in most monogamous relationships. If that’s not something you want, then it’s not going to work for you.

And even if you were going to be monogamous, if you want different lives in a way that can’t be compromised — such as living together and having children — then there isn’t much either of you can do about it. You can’t really compromise on living together if he does not want that and you shouldn’t have children to make your partner happy if you do not want children.

It also doesn’t bode well that he’s basically cheated by lying by omission, probably because he knows that you do not want polyamory and he wants to try and keep things somehow and you’re being way more forgiving of him than you probably would be because you assume he made a “bad choice”. Cheating isn’t really just a bad choice. Just because you are lying to avoid hurting someone doesn’t make it better. He could have faced the music a year ago, ended it and given you a year to find a partner who can actually give you what you want and chose to lie instead — which, if he is honest with himself, knows that will and can not save you from hurt.

You’re unfortunately just not compatible — even if he were to give up polyamory. You don’t want the same lifestyles and it’s better for you to end things now and spend your time finding people who will actually meet your needs. As much as it may hurt to break up, it will hurt more down the line if you allow resentment and spite to build.

I wish I had something better to advise but unfortunately you are at an impasse. 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 nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.