Honest from the beginning

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I recently tracked down a guy who was an almost boyfriend in college. I had already met my future husband, even though we weren’t dating yet, and that held me back. Even though we never got together, this guy and I really clicked as friends & he even came to our wedding.

I’ve thought about him on and off over the years. This desire started getting more intense recently, so I really put effort into the search & found him (he has almost zero internet presence.) So once we got in touch, I was already infatuated. Total giddy NRE. We haven’t hung out yet, but we’ve been texting & emailing a fair amount and I really do get the feeling that there could be something there. We picked up right where we left off. I know that I was idealizing and fantasizing and still am a bit, but it also doesn’t seem that I’m wrong about who I thought he would be 20 years later.

But he doesn’t know that my husband and I are polyamorous. As far as I know, he thinks I’m his long and happily married old friend, which I am. But I’m feeling flirty vibes from him. I didn’t want to tell him we’re non-monogamous for a while because I didn’t want to scare him, but now I’m wondering if I should so that he doesn’t feel shitty about himself if he does feel something and doesn’t think that I’m cheating.

I really want this. I don’t want to come off as predatory or like I’m giving him the bait & switch: he thought he was having a good time with an old friend, but I want to jump him. But I really do think there’s something there.

When it comes to these types of situations, I think that the best policy is honesty immediately. If someone isn’t interested in polyamory or doesn’t want to consider it, I don’t think that there is a way to introduce it that would make it more likely that someone is going to be interested in it. People can have experiences of polyamory that turn them off of the suggestion for a while, but ultimately they are going to be interested in it or not.

I would have probably advised you to be honest from the beginning just because there isn’t anything inherently predatory about being polyamorous and being interested in someone else and not being sure if they are polyamorous or not. Polyamory may be intimidating to him, but it’s not something you can necessarily change by introducing the topic to him. It might be that you were enjoying the attention and the opportunity that this brought with it and you didn’t want that to end.

The thing that concerns me is that there’s somewhat of a flirty energy going on and he doesn’t know you’re polyamorous. Most of what you’re focusing on is your perspective and not scaring him off, but it might be worth considering it from this guy’s perspective. He definitely for sure knows that you’re married or doesn’t have any reason to believe you’ve gotten divorced. Without seeing exactly what your texts to each other say, it’s hard to say if it’s crossing a line and he’s okay with allowing that to be nebulous. That… doesn’t make for the best recipe. If part of the draw for him is the forbidden aspect of it, then it might end abruptly.

At this point, it’s just best to have a straightforward conversation about everything. Let him know that you’re interested but you are fine remaining friends and that you’re polyamorous. It might end some of the fun experiences that you’re having, but at least it would be clear to both of you, especially if you are feeling like you want something more from this experience than just flirting and you want things to be honest and in the open.

That’s the best way to go about it if what you want from the situation is to have an honest open partnership with him. You could prepare some information for him to read if he wants to learn more about it. Give him some time to have a think about it and respect the fact that he may have wished you had been honest before, though if he never came forward to make things clearer, it is hard to know when exactly to introduce the subject. It might not be something he’s interested in, but at least you’ll know for sure.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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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?


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.

Rejecting someone slowly

Reading Time: 3 minutes

So my best friend is polyamorous, I’m monogamous, and (I’m 99.9% sure) my girlfriend is monogamous. (We’re all girls by the way) My best friend Just told me that she has a crush on my and my girlfriend, we’re all best friends. I don’t know exactly how to react, I’m not gonna cut off ties because she likes us. But I’m not interested in a polyamorous relationship. I don’t think my girlfriend is either. My best friend only told me (so far) so I’m not going to tell my girlfriend yet. Cause she’s probably not ready to tell her if she hasn’t already done it. But how do I let her down slowly? I’m so confused and stressed, how long has she felt this way? How’s my girlfriend going to react? What if she *does* want an open relationship? What if my best friend isolates herself because I don’t feel the same way? I’m in shock, and I can’t believe this is real. (I don’t mean to sound rude or disrespectful in any ways, I’m just not very educated on this subject.)

There isn’t a way to prevent someone from feeling disappointed or even hurt by you rejecting them. And the only other alternatives are completely ghosting her or going on with a relationship that you don’t want. You just have to be honest and say something like, “I appreciate that you felt comfortable telling me this. As you know, I’m monogamous. I don’t have any interest in a polyamorous relationship and I don’t feel that way about you. I’d like for us to continue to be friends.”

If she has become your best friend because she feels romantic toward you, she may not be so close with you after you tell her this. Unfortunately, there isn’t very much you can do about that. At the end of the day, your best friend started to have feelings for yourself and your girlfriend and decided to continue having those feelings and putting herself in situations where those feelings might continue most likely knowing you are monogamous. Had I given advice to her about this situation, I would have told her not to expect that a big confession would help the situation and to maybe ask where you stood on polyamory and, if you said you weren’t interested, to drop it.

If you don’t want polyamory, do not try it for the sake of trying to keep your best friend in your life. If your girlfriend is interested in dating her, unfortunately this might also mean ending your relationship with your girlfriend if she definitely does want to be polyamorous. I don’t mean to make light of how serious that is and it would obviously be upsetting to you, but I feel like if the alternative is pushing yourself to be polyamorous and you have no interest in doing so… then that is a far more painful alternative than it might seem right now.

So, to sum up, I think you should just tell her, not slowly, but up front and honestly. You cannot completely control her emotions or feelings. Obviously, don’t be a jerk about it, but being honest and straightforward about your feelings is important to do regardless of what relationship style you have. Speak to your girlfriend about it. I wouldn’t wait for your friend to tell her. If your girlfriend does want to try polyamory, make it clear this isn’t what you want. I’m sorry that this had to happen this way, however. I think that suddenly telling you this isn’t really helpful. You don’t have to cut off ties with her, but if she doesn’t respect your wishes and wants, then it might be best to regardless of how she does her relationship.

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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Lying by omission

Reading Time: 4 minutes

My fiancé who I have been with for 15 years. Has asked if I would be in a open relationship. He says he has always thought this way but what really made him to bring it up was talking to his therapist… and he got a crush on a mutual friend who he has gotten closer to over the last year. Which is a little hurtful on multiple levels.

He said he doesn’t want to hurt our relationship or me and that this is the most vulnerable and honest he has ever been. Which I do trust him and love him dearly. I told him after weeks of thinking and learning about it.. I like to know all the facts and learn about other ways of living etc before I say yes or no. I am a open thinker or at least would like to think so. That we could try this open relationship I don’t want other relationships at this time. But who knows maybe later on. I told him there are only a few rules:

1. No relationship with the mutual friend (no being alone with her either) or any other mutual friends

2. Has to come home at night

3. I need to know if he is involved with someone

So… with that being said I think those are very fair rules not a lot and honestly I don’t ever ask much of him. He failed to mention to me the other day that he dropped off a guitar at her house while I was working at my job not from home and we are quarantined. He didn’t bring it up because he knew it would upset me. Well I found out and was upset… I now also know that she may bring him lunch sometime this week while I’m working he doesn’t know that I am aware of that… I feel like I am suppose to trust him but now I don’t feel like I can. And I don’t want to bring it up.

I looked at his phone. He told me today that he doesn’t want to replace me he loves me and our relationship he just wants more freedom to do what he feels more naturally. I thought the base for open relationship with a main partner is trust… am I being crazy? I feel like I need to stand my ground on this. I always cave and I’m done doing that. I feel like I’m missing something and it’s no to much to ask of him to do… please help… feeling confused and like I’m going crazy…

You’re absolutely right that the base for an open relationship — and for any relationship to be honest — is trust. But you began opening this relationship with distrust.

Your first rule inherently means you don’t trust him. Even in a monogamous set up, I would advise people to never agree to any kind of relationship where their partner attempted to control them physically. It’s one thing to put a sort of pin in the idea that him dating a friend you both share would make you uncomfortable and it might be worth having a discussion about that sort of thing to address your fears but it’s a completely different thing to ban him from being alone with “her” or any other mutual friends you have.

Why? If you trust your partner agrees with your first rule willingly and it’s a mutual agreement, and not a restriction you are placing to prevent him from dating or falling in love with a specific person, then you should not have any reason to believe he would break this rule. And that puts him in an extremely awkward position where if someone — as two adults who are friends are wont to do — wants to hang out or drop of a guitar or do something simple, he now has to basically disclose the status of his relationship which he may not want to do with all of your mutual friends and he has to basically say, “I’m not allowed to see you because my wife won’t let me.” Ask yourself, if the situation was reversed and your husband was banning you from being alone with any mutual friend who is a guy, would that not sound a little like the 1950s?

He has a crush on your mutual friend and understandably that makes you afraid. But if he is going to replace you with her, you cannot prevent that from locking him in a tower away from her. It’s understandable to not want to lose a friendship because things become awkward with dating, but sometimes that just can’t be avoided. Restricting him from dating her is only going to cause resentment and push him further away from you.

Rules aren’t a problem in general, but they have to do what they are designed to do and there has to be a logic behind them. For a lot of people opening up their relationship, it makes sense to want to have the security of your partner not doing overnights right away, especially if you’ve been with them for 15 years and it’s a new experience for you. It also makes sense to want to know if he is involved with someone because you might need some time to process things and get some reassurance from him when this does happen. So many rules when people first open their relationship are about avoiding the anxiety that comes with change and that doesn’t work.

If you are truly okay with opening the relationship, then you have to understand that this will fundamentally change your partnership. He will be focusing on other people and you should be free to do the same. This change is like knocking down some of the pillars of your relationship and rebuilding them. Trust has to be rebuilt. And that process is filled with anxiety that you can’t avoid.

You may want to read through the intro to polyamory article I wrote and work on talking together about your ideals, recognising what your anchor is in polyamory, and figuring out how to compromise effectively. Re-framing some of your fears might make them less intense and you may realise your rules are not really needed as time goes on. But really, if you start a relationship forbidding your partner from being alone with any specific person, that demonstrates a lack of trust. And that is definitely worth you reconsidering.

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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Crushing on a monogamous friend

Reading Time: 7 minutes
This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

I am a polyamorous non-binary man in a very happy three-year relationship with a another polyamorous man. This question isn’t about my partner, but rather about a monogamous friend I have named James.

I met James about four months ago at a school event and, maybe blame NRE, but it felt like love at first sight and I (maybe foolishly) believe he was attracted to me when we first met since I caught him looking at me across the room and because he was also strangely nervous during our first time hanging out together.

The second time we hung out, he told me he had a long-distance partner of one year. Since then, James and I have become super close friends, and I realized I love him in a strong emotional “soul” way, which is stunning to me because the last person I felt this kind of instant attraction to was my current partner. Also, the day I met him was the day my crush on him started and what actually made me realize I was polyamorous.

I originally thought of my crush as “queerplatonic” or emotional in that I absolutely admire and adore him, want to be emotionally close, and want to share myself with him in an emotionally intimate way. It was also sensual because I wanted to cuddle with him (and I still do).

After a month-long period this December where I sort of went crazy because he couldn’t talk or hang since he was traveling (I took this very personally and realized I was in over my head), I realized that this connection was more than queerplatonic and was definitely romantic, and that I also have a codependent anxious reaction to him not getting back to me.

I know I would never cross someone’s relationship boundaries if they are monogamous, but I feel like my crush on James has gotten me stressed out to the point where I’m nervous about myself around him no matter how much I try to play it cool. I even tried to hook up with other people as an attempt at claiming my own agency outside of this crush. This did help, but I know it was unhealthy because I know I subconsciously did it to “assert” myself and make it known to him that I, in a way, was not attracted to him (a form of denial).

I’m nervous around James because I feel like whenever we talk about relationships, I don’t want him to think I’m coming on to him because I don’t want to scare him away or potentially offend his partner, and I never would try to flirt with him because I truly value him as a friend and I don’t want to cross his boundaries since I know for certain we have the potential to be lifelong best friends and companions.

However, I’m just heartbroken because I think we can never be romantically together since he’s told me, casually, that he doesn’t think he could ever be in an open relationship. This is sad because when I first saw him it was like love at first sight and my intuition, which is rarely wrong, tells me that he has feelings for me. I want to tell him that I’m nervous around him because of my emotional/queerplatonic crush, but I feel like it’s lying to him in a way because I’m not letting him in that it’s more romantic than I want to describe.

At the same time, I don’t want to tell him about my romantic feelings because I don’t want to infringe on his monogamous relationship or scare him away. However, I would totally tell him about my romantic feelings eventually if he were single (I would also ask him if he were down to have cuddle moments), but the situation just makes me scared, and it’s sad because I feel like it’s a barrier to our relationship.

What do you think I should do, and how should I approach this or confess to him? What are the politics of admitting an emotional or romantic crush on your monogamous best friend?

The two biggest things I think you need right now are: self-examination and self-reflection.

Unless you grew up in a completely different culture (and apologies if that’s the case), you’ve likely been raised in a society that has not only endorsed monogamy but put forward that monogamy is your only choice. Even though you know now that’s not the case, the remnants of this exist in a lot of different ways and one of those, in my opinion, is the assumption that crushes or romantic feelings need to be… for lack of a better word, consummated.

We’re encouraged to either act on our crushes or hope our crushes act on us because we’re supposed to find “the one” and not let them get away and very often we’re presented with the idea that unrequited love or not acting on feelings is sad or pathetic. Specifically, society tells the people it describes as men that they must absolutely act on these feelings and pursue people they find attractive and the alternative is either mockery or sadness. Not to mention, men who hold onto the crushes they have while pretending to be friends with people, usually women, just waiting for their day… well, that doesn’t sound really healthy or good either.

Aside from societal influences, it also makes logical sense to want to reach out when you have deep feelings to see if that person also has them for you. However, there is another option that just really isn’t considered. You can be someone who has romantic feelings for another person and enjoy those feelings without it necessarily being something that you have to act on — especially if you feel like those feelings won’t be reciprocated or they can’t be actioned on. I believe that it’s partially because society encourages us to see a failure in a missed sexual or romantic encounter that we put such a pressure on ourselves to act and therefore, it comes in between some of the more positive emotions that having a crush can bring in our lives.

If you were biding your time or lying outright to James if he asked you if you were attracted to him and you were pining for the untimely death of his long distance partner (or, perhaps, less dramatically, a breakup), then I would say that maybe this is unhealthy. But it sounds like you have a good friendship together. You have a good friendship which gives you a lot of positive feelings. And sometimes you have these deeper feelings — is it possible to just enjoy what you have?

This is where the self-reflection comes in. Some polyamorous people can be monogamous and some can’t — no matter how wonderful a monogamous person they’re dating is. They’ve had to ask themselves if they could go throughout the rest of their life monogamous and never feel like they’ve missed out… so you’ll have to have a similar type of reflection about James. Are the level of your feelings so high that you would somehow feel cheated if you were never able to act on them? This is where creepier people who pretend to be friends with people but are just waiting for them to become available should draw the line. If you feel like you will not be happy if you can never ever date James then, for his benefit, you should probably part ways as friends.

However, that doesn’t seem like what’s happening here. You’re more afraid of admitting to having romantic feelings about James, especially whilst these feelings are bubbling so high. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s lying to him to not admit your romantic feelings. We don’t always have to divulge the feelings that we have to everyone.

If you had sexual feelings about a colleague at work, would you feel like you had to divulge that if you were working on a big project together? Probably not. You’re aware that James is not able to date you and worried that, especially in a culture where crushes must always be acted on, admitting to having one on him might be more of a Big Deal than it is.

What might work in this situation, rather than confessing your romantic attraction to them, is being aware of your feelings and start trying to create some boundaries so that you aren’t stretching into territory that might make you or James feel uncomfortable. James may very well have feelings for you, but at present he is currently in a monogamous relationship and, not to say anything ill of James, I feel like situations like this where the lines get a little blurry create an environment where cheating can happen. And if you think you feel awkward now… imagine how awkward you’d be if James wanted you to cheat?

Initially, I would suggest considering putting a bit more space between the two of you and, not just ghosting him or anything, but having a conversation about it beforehand. I feel like you can acknowledge your discomfort without confessing everything. You can say something like, “I notice that I feel closer to you and, while this isn’t such a problem for me because I’m not monogamous, I respect the relationship that you have with your partner and I’m worried that I may be crossing some boundaries there.

I’d absolutely love for us to have a close friendship and I do have close friendships with other people where we cuddle and all that kind of thing, but I feel like I have to be more careful in this case. I’m worried that I could accidentally cross a line without meaning to and I’m not interested at all in cheating or helping someone cheat and it’s very important to me that I behave ethically.”

This might be a really good way of being able to talk about your discomfort while also addressing the big monogamous elephant in the room. Monogamous people can have different boundaries in different types of relationships. Some monogamous people may not mind their partner cuddling with others — but what would make you feel better here ultimately is if things were a little clearer. If he responds to this well he can tell you what lines not to cross or you can work on a check in system that will feel more natural and you can sit with and still enjoy your romantic feelings without it having to end up in a relationship.

Consider still not diving head first into being intimate friends, especially since you are noticing that you’re having trouble when you don’t have access to him. Definitely work on addressing that and setting more realistic expectations for yourself. And it may be that realising you don’t have to be in a relationship with someone to enjoy romantic feelings about them that helps that. It may be that after the initial couple of months of new relationship energy, things do get a little calmer. If he was priming you for a cheating conspirator, he may pull back from a lot of things all together — but don’t blame yourself for that. That’s absolutely not your fault.

To summarise, it might be worth examining some of the messages you’ve got from society about crushes and what has to be done with them. Have a conversation with him about your nerves and boundaries — but you don’t need to spill your heart out about your romantic feelings. And lastly, create a little bit of space between the two of you so you can feel a little less intense about it.

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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Episode 47: Harem Boy

Reading Time: 16 minutes
This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

If a man says that all men want a harem of submissive, subservient women, should you be concerned?

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

Discussion Topic: If you could create your ideal pornography, what would it feature?

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

Episode 47 – Harem Boy

Should you judge a guy who says that all men want a harem of submissive women? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – If you could create your ideal p*rn, what would it look like?

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’m new to non-monogamy and kink. I’ve been exploring non-monogamy for about 1.5 years and kink for 6 months. They’re related because I want to explore different things sexually with different partners and different things romantically with different partners.

There’s one person I’ve had an on and off thing for about a year, P. P and I work together. So, I see him everyday and work with him everyday and have lunch with him most days (usually in a group). Every time one of us has a breakup or is in a vulnerable [space], we know that the other person will be there in a crisis, so we end up getting emotionally (and physically, usually) entangled. Last year, in the fall, I finally realized the reason we are on and off is because P wasn’t providing the assurance and support that I needed to know that I was an important person in his life.

I asked for this and he was unable to provide it in a way that felt right to me. P has partners, who he calls partners, and friends, who he calls friends. He always called me a friend, but said our relationship was “messy.” I realized he could never give me what I wanted- saying that he cared about me and that I was important in his life. (Relatedly, I could never get a clear answer on his polyam theory. Is he a relationship anarchist, solo, etc? So, I couldn’t tell if I was not accommodating his relationship style or what.)

So, in the fall, I broke up with P. For me, it felt like a breakup. (He still says “how is it a breakup if we weren’t dating?”) I went through stages of grief and found a therapist and felt totally over it. I reduced the amount of time I saw him, texted him outside of work, and ate lunch with him as much as I could. But then, after trying a monogamous relationship for 6 months – putting my kink and polyam explorations on hold, I broke up with that person.

And I fell hard into P’s arms. And he was there for me. P held me while I cried and reminded me how special I am and told me that even though this other guy was a good person, that I said I needed more and I had the right to ask for more from him and if we couldn’t meet up more or this other guy didn’t allow me to have other sexual partners, then I was allowed to make the decision that was best for me.

The issue I have with P is what I feel is a fundamental incompatibility in our values. I deeply believe that society is structured to privilege some and punish others for things that are out of their control (gender, race, ability). And he agrees that things are unequal but doesn’t agree that we should try to change anything. We are both over-thinkers and a bunch of our conversations end up discussing politics or consciousness or what equality and equity should/shouldn’t look like.

This comes into our personal lives and our relationship to each other. He has, in the past, and continues to seek partnerships where he holds a lot of power. He has dated women who have just moved to the country and don’t speak English so he can show them around. He prefers dating smaller women. To me, this all relates to his beliefs about the binary gender system being unequal for a reason and he tolerates (and seeks) inequality in his relationships because of that belief.

He has joked about wanting a harem and his preferred structure to be submissive/subservient women answering to and providing for him and how he loves girls with “daddy issues.” And the worst part is he repeatedly says that “all men” would want that if they just “thought about it long enough.” I know that isn’t true. And it reminds me of why I shouldn’t want to date this person, because I’m afraid I would end up like the women he does date.

Unfortunately, I’m in love with him. I told him so about a month ago now, but we also agree that we shouldn’t date because we work together and because we have this incompatibility in how we see the world (gender specifically but also other areas of privilege).

I guess I’m wondering if this second incompatibility is one that makes sense to you. I keep hearing in your podcast that I can’t judge or control the other person’s relationships with others, and since our relationship is just “messy” but I’m not in a submissive or subservient role, is it ok to break up with him over his beliefs and subsequently his other relationship‘s power imbalances?

The other part of my question is How do I get over this person who I see every day?


So. Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve ever said that you can’t judge other people’s relationships with others. I think that you’re more than welcome to have opinions about how people run their relationships, and sometimes it just so happens in polyamory that we witness people treating other people like crap, and that changes how we feel about the person that we fall in love with. And polyamory is really funny thing in that you know you do get to see your partner in other relationships, and even though you shouldn’t necessarily make comparisons with you and other partners, you can kind of look at the way that they’re treating other partners and think about how that plays into the context of your relationships.

And then the other thing that you kind of say is, that I do say you can’t control another person’s relationship with others. I mean you can attempt to. The point that I make with that is that when people attempt to control other people’s relationships, it doesn’t tend to work out well. What they’re trying to do and generally speaking, they’re trying to control others relationships because they feel insecure about the partnership that they have with that person. So they want to end the other partnerships or control those, so that they can feel better about the partnership they have with that person.

My point is that you can’t— you can’t fix what’s broken in your relationship by restraining someone else’s relationships. That’s not how it works. That has absolutely nothing to do with this wider point, which is… You do not have to— and if no one ever gets anything else from any of my columns except this one line. This is a very very important line— wanting to break up with somebody is a good enough reason to break up with them. I see this like all the time and not even in polyamory but also in monogamy.

It’s just people thinking that they don’t have a good enough reason to break up with somebody. And I actually tweeted this relatively recently. It’s not going to be recently when this comes out because it’s, you know, going to be in December, but I tweeted through the Non-Monogamy help account that polyamory isn’t about— It’s about finding multiple fulfilling relationships. It’s not about collecting a series of unfulfilling relationships that together form some kind of reasonable stasis for you as a human being,

That’s not what it’s about. But a lot of people just want to use it as a reason to not break up with somebody because it’s like, “oh, we can just sort of downgrade our relationship or we can change it” because they don’t want to break up with somebody. If

you are not feeling it. Then you’re not feeling it and it can be hard to suss that out when you have a lot of emotions in play. You know you like this guy. You care about him. But if it’s not actually serving you, and if you know— there’s a lot of other reasons to not want to be in a relationship with this person so you don’t really have to have a good reason.

You can just be like “you know what actually your politics are kind of shit, and I don’t want to be a subservient submissive woman who’s part of your harem”. And, I mean, just even just like, just think about what he saying. He agrees that society is unequal but doesn’t think we should try to change it. Well of course he fucking doesn’t because he likes it that way. And you have to think about, “okay, do I really want to be with someone who” — it is what you say a fundamental in compatibility, to the point where I don’t even know how you end up in conversations with this person.

Because the second that somebody basically says to me, “yeah I think society is equal but that’s okay”. I would really struggle because that… you have to understand that, you know, people have differences of opinion. You know not liking pineapple on pizza is a difference of opinion. And it’s good I guess that he’s not— I guess it’s good he’s acknowledging that society is unequal, but it comes down to humanity, and people should be treated well and not be taken advantage of and you kind of have to think about that when you’re actually, you know, talking to him about this stuff. Like he fundamentally disagrees. You know he acknowledges that society does privilege some and punish others based on things people can’t control, like gender, like race like ability, and he doesn’t think you should try to change anything.      

I mean, yeah, I just, I mean, sit with that for a little bit, and I know it’s really hard because like you do have all these feelings, but that is— that in and of itself forget like all this other horrible stuff that you said that in and of itself is a good reason not to date him. Other good reasons not to date him he won’t— I, you know— it’s really really funny because you’re sitting here and you’re saying you’re afraid you’re going to end up like the women he does date, and you specifically say that he intentionally or maybe not knowingly, but it seems like he always dates people he has a power over, so like you said he will find somebody who’s new to the country and who doesn’t speak English that well and he’ll show them around.

He’ll date women with “daddy issues” which… Yikes. With a capital Yikes. You are in a less power position and he’s not telling you where you stand in his life to have power over you. And it’s working. So you think you’re not stuck in this but you are. He’s continually holding power over you. He’s gaslighting you. You know you’re saying, “this feels like a breakup” and he’s going “well it’s not a breakup”. Well you feel like it is. So even if he doesn’t feel strongly about you, he knows that you feel strongly about him.

And every time that you have these like situations in your life, you go back to him. So are you not subservient to him in some way? Are you not in some way kind of reliant on him in a way that he probably enjoys? And he knows that the second that he defines this for you, and gives you a clarity, then you can go “okay or nah”. And maybe that’s why he’s not giving you clarity, because the second he gives you clarity, you will go “Yes or no”. So he keeps you in this limbo. Maybe intentionally for a reason.

So, I mean that in and of itself— all of these reasons are fantastic reasons on their own to break up with somebody: someone will not give you a clear idea of where you stand in their life and continuously denies your reality when you are— you try to break up with them and I’m really really confused because you said, “I broke up with him.” And you went through stages of grief you

reduced the amount of talk— the amount of time you saw him. I assume you also reduced how much you texted him or ate lunch with him.

But you know, He’s— you still kind of fall back into him which I’m not blaming you for like that’s totally understandable. But

this is kind of where your power lies and I have no doubt— like I’m not sitting there watching your debates with him on these fundamental societal issues. But, you know, some of these issues are going to be things where you can have a debate because they won’t affect you. I mean i don’t know if gender, race and ability as things that you can’t control affects you on all three accounts. It could. And that’s even worse.

If it does affect you on all accounts and maybe it doesn’t affect him on all accounts, so this is another way that he’s kind of probably playing devil’s advocate, and I just— it makes my skin crawl. Someone who has all the power in society in a lot of ways, and knows it, and is going to sit here and discuss politics and consciousness and equity and equality with you when you in the ways that you’ve experienced marginalisation, you are the one who should be saying, “Yeah, this is what that is”.

This is what, you know, if you experience, you know, discrimination based on these things then you get to say, ah this is sexism. This is heterosexism. This is, you know, transphobia. If you experienced those things you get to talk about things which affect you and you get to define them and he shouldn’t be debating with you about that. He can be asking questions. He can be learning. But where he experiences the privilege and you experience the marginalisation, he should be listening to you but he’s not.

And that’s kind of another way that he’s kind of playing this kind of power game. So, yeah. And then everything else you mentioned in this massive paragraph about how he basically just wants tons of subservient women— like I would barely call this person polyamorous. I don’t know if he defines him— I mean he doesn’t define himself. So, *shrugs*. There isn’t anything great about anything that he mentions here. Like dating women who he knows he has some kind of power over, and to some extent consciously doing this, seeking those relationships, and the ”daddy issue” thing like… That’s so creepy. Triple creepy, like, ugh.

So you know and then thinking that this is the way all men are. So clearly all of your debates in your politicking and your higher consciousness discussions about equity and equality are not doing anything. They’re not convincing him. He’s wasting your time. So yeah, I know that you’re in love with him. And that really sucks, but you need to break up with him again.

This is really hard because like, the best thing that I can recommend for you is like get another job. And I know that that’s like a shitty thing to say because, you know, I don’t know what your life circumstances are. I don’t know what kind of job you have. I don’t know how easy it is. But whatever you can do to distance yourself from him and really, really put that boundary down, you need to do that, you know. You really really really need to do that.

And, ugh, it’s really hard but you need to make— if he’s not going to define the relationship, then you can define it, and you can say, “We are just friends. And we are co-working friends”. And you need to not have one on one lunches with him. If there’s a group lunch, then you know maybe eat lunch by yourself or find someone else each lunch with. I know like office politics and shit are really horrible. So maybe you’ll be like the odd one out but you know what? How feasible is it for you to stay in this job? Like even if you don’t still love him? Even when you do break through all of that, it’s going to be really hard to just stay there with, you know, I mean once all this— I feel like once all the love haze fades and you actually start realising what a horrible person this guy is this, it’s going to be hard for you to want to be around him in general.

So I really would kind of be looking on the horizon for a different career option or somewhere else to work, so that you can stay away from him. Do not answer his phone calls. Do not respond to his text. Basically treat him like— you know, and make that clear to him. Be like “Look, this isn’t going anywhere. I need it to go somewhere. We don’t agree politically on things. We need to shut this down. We’re acquaintances now, and I would appreciate it if you would treat me like an acquaintance.” And he might not. I would bet anything that the second you start trying to put some boundaries down, he’s going to test them and don’t think he’s going to respect them at all.

Because he’s trying to assert power in the way that you know that he wants to. And if you need to get HR involved— well, I would if you have a union, I would get your union involved first, or at least speak to a union. If you’re not a member of the union, look at Industrial Workers of the World is a union you could check out that as global, and as in lots of different places or if you have a specific career type there might be a specific type of union that has a lot of members. Ask, you know— do a google I’m not quite sure what to recommend. IWW is good for all different kinds of work. It doesn’t have to be just industrial work.

So speak to a union and have them work with you to talk to HR, if you need to and say, “We’ve had a bit of a kind of not really but kind of relationship and I want to end it and I want to remain professional”. And if he— you know make that really clear and then when he violates those boundaries, make sure you have documentation of your response saying “please don’t do this” but you know— and document everything. Because you know he’s also given— I hope he never said all this to you in a work environment. Like I really hope it wasn’t— I know that— Ugh, gosh, and even just like thinking about it’s horrible, like all of these things he said like… Ughh. Just ugh. Ugh. Triple yikes, like quadruple— I don’t know any higher multiples of yikes. It’s a big yikes. It’s a very big yikes.

But you know, having that documentation on your side if he does decide to be more assertive in his assumption that he is entitled to more power than you are, then you can have that in your back pocket but— I really hate this advice in terms of telling you to switch jobs because that’s, you know, I’ve been in career situations where that is just not a friggin option for me. And I don’t know what your options are. But yeah, that is probably the best thing I think for you is to physically get yourself away from the situation. If you can’t or if it’s going to take a while then like I said, I’ll reiterate— redefine your relationship clearly. It’s not messy anymore. It’s very clean. It’s an acquaintance relationship. You’re not even close friends. We’re acquaintances. The end.

And treat him as you would any other random co-worker you have no history with. And if you have to get a friend or someone else involved in your life to check you. Every time you feel like texting him. Every time you know— Find some other friends. like distract yourself. If you’re new to a town or you’re new to a place, you probably maybe hopefully have other friends you can send an online chat to and explain to them. You don’t have to talk to them about all of polyamory stuff or anything but you can say like, Look. Or you can just go into on a polyamory community and just be like “I need someone to talk to, to tell me that not text

this person”. That’s what friends are for. They’re supposed to be there for you to say “Don’t. Don’t you dare. Don’t text him. Don’t talk to him”. Pretend that he is a zombie.

And if you go anywhere near him he’ll bite you and you will be a zombie for for the rest of your life. That’s it every time— like do like… This isn’t real advice. I’m just gonna say like you know do some associations where like every time you see him picture a zombie and, you know, hopefully that that message will go through. I know it’s gonna suck because you are feeling the feels for him. And you’ve got probably goo goo eyes that are distracting you from these truly truly horrible things that this man has said, and I’m hoping that by telling you that you are in a submissive role in this situation, that might snap you out of it a little bit.

But it’ll be shitty. It’ll be sucky. It’ll hurt, but you have to just step away from this dude. They’re like, even if you just— Even if all you told me was that he wants a harem and thinks that all men want harems— that was enough. Like I would have said no no no no no no. Stay away from this dude like so… the fact that all of this other background… ai yay yay. Just… that’s my best advice. You know, it’s okay— it’s always okay to break up with someone if you want to break up with them. You know, generally speaking, I think that it’s always worth, if you’re in a long, long term relationship where there are lots of bonds, thinking about the reasons behind them. You know, I don’t always advocate people break up right away but that hasn’t anything to do with judging other relationships.

That has to do with you know how attached you are. You know whether or not the person involved has shown a commitment to recognising where they’ve hurt you, things like that, like, yeah, it’s tricky. But I’m just saying that like, yes, it is okay for you in this situation to break up with him over his horrible, truly disgusting beliefs and the power imbalances that he seeks and has in your relationship with him as well. Yes, that is okay, and in the future if you were just not feeling it, if somebody isn’t meeting your needs, if it’s just not working out, and they have no desire, not only to fix the problems in life, but to fix the problems in your relationships to the point where they deny your reality, then yes, you can absolutely break up with them. Absolutely, yes.

My secondary advice I know that it’s… I know— If you can find on the job, please try, because it’s going to be really really hard and I honestly like— if he believes all of this horrible, horrible stuff. I just don’t think he’s going to be respectful of your boundaries. I don’t think he’s going to make this easy for you. And I bet if we continue talking, and you told me more about him and about these situations where you’ve fallen into his arms, I’m betting that there was something he did.

I think there’s more to that story so. So yeah please if you can try to get out of that situation. Find a union, talk to them about the situation. Make boundaries very clear with him and absolutely firm, and then document the hell out of when he doesn’t respect them as much as you can. Always try to get witnesses. Never be alone with him in any situation. And if you need your union to talk to your HR department and say there was a previous situation with him. You have some history, and you don’t feel comfortable being alone with him, then do that.

If you have the union behind you. Don’t trust HR. They’re there to protect the company. They’re not there to protect you. And if he is in a higher position than you, than more likely than not, they’re going to get rid of you than actually trying to fix the situation. So be wary of HR but if you have a union on your side then they will protect you and advise you of what your rights are and what you can ask for and argue for.

So yeah, I’m so sorry you’re in this situation because it really really sucks but I’m just hoping that the clarity that I’ve been able to provide for this situation have helped you realise that you deserve a lot better than this. And you don’t deserve to be this ridiculous push pull tug of war crap for this guy. And as much as he might— I mean, honestly like— such a low bar. P walked into a bar because it was so low. Like telling you have the right to, you know, ask for more sexual partners if that’s what you want, telling you that you are special… Anyone can do that. That’s being a friend, and maybe you haven’t had very good friends in your life and I can relate.

But he’s not doing, you know— there’s another episode I did ages ago about gold medals. Please go look that one up, because you’re giving him gold medals for shit that basic friends should do. Friends should be able to tell you all this stuff, he’s not doing anything amazing by doing that he’s just, you know, doing what he should do as a friend. So yeah, I’m gonna stop— I just feel really bad for your situation. I really really hope that you’re able to do all these things because you definitely definitely don’t deserve to be this weird second fiddle in this guy’s bizarre harem. Okay. I hope that helps. 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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Episode 40: Polyam is Valid

Reading Time: 8 minutes
This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

What if you’re struggling to see the relationship you have as valid if they’re married to someone else?

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

Discussion Topic: If a really kind person wanted to praise me, they’d say, if a really tough person assessed me, they’d say.

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

Episode 40 – Polyam is Valid

What if you’re struggling to see the relationship you have as valid if they’re married to someone else? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – if a really kind person wanted to praise me, they’d say, if a really tough person assessed me, they’d say.

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’m new to mono/poly[am] life. He’s married & I thought we’d stay FWBs. I saw his marriage as a safeguard to either of us catching serious feelings. (My bad!)

Now that we’ve started to know/care about each other, it’s hard accepting that he loves me. I know it’s wrong/insulting to assume what we have is “meaningless” because he’s married. And it would deeply hurt him to know I’ve been stuck thinking this way. Or that I was fine with this being a throwaway type of thing.

But it’s hard to accept that I could matter to him too (or at all). Especially because I spent so much time focusing on boundaries, jealousy, & so much other stuff to  adapt to this, I’m embarrassed to admit that it never occurred to me that I could be more than a “side chick” fling. Or that this was about romantic love at all.

 In my head I know it’s silly & ignorant to dismiss or invalidate any type of love. But my feelings haven’t caught up. It would be nice to believe we could have something special but just thinking about it feels fake.

I’m self aware enough to realize that this is a really shitty view of polyamory & its meaning. I’m ashamed to admit that I just saw him as someone’s leftovers who couldn’t really love as many people as he thinks. And it sucks.

What can I do to start seeing/accepting  poly[am] love as real & valid? How can I work on changing my perspective so I can respect/acknowledge his feelings even though I don’t understand them?


First thing that I want to say is that I think that you need to give yourself a little bit of a break because this quite often happens to people new to polyamory. They read a lot about it. They investigate a lot about it. And then, despite the fact that they know that they’re coming from a culture where monogamy is the norm, where it’s sort of socially reinforced, and they have all these cultural scripts for monogamy, they somehow just expect themselves to be able to adapt to polyamory easily without much of a fuss.

And just magically— because polyamory seems like a good choice for them. But if you really think about it, I think that part of what your brain is trying to do is protect yourself because you’ve grown up— unless you’ve grown up in a different society than I have. And apologies if that’s the case. You’ve grown up in a society that has told you that monogamy is the norm. It is the socially acceptable way to express love and that the only valid love is you know, when people are married to each other. So there is some type of protective instinct I think in your mind to go “I need to be really careful because I don’t want to get my feelings hurt”.

Because you know— and in your defence, there are quite a lot of married polyamorous people and you don’t really say much about his history like whether or not he’s been polyamorous for a certain amount of years, whether or not he was polyamorous before he met his current wife. There are plenty of people who become polyamorous in their marriage and then decide to date someone else. And then it doesn’t work out in the way that they think it should. And they dump that person and that person gets really hurt.

So I don’t think that you protecting yourself a little bit is immature or necessarily a sign that you don’t consider polyamory, the love that people have in polyamorous relationships, real and valid, I think it’s just kind of a little bit of a natural self protectant in the situation, and it makes a lot of sense. It’s not silly and ignorant. I think you’re just trying to be wary of it. And that’s fair enough. I mean, you don’t really say how long you’ve been with this person, or how long he’s been married to this other person.

And there is a big imbalance here in terms of, you know, the amount of times you know— the amount of time he’s with this married person versus you unless he met you a week after he met this married person. And even if that’s the case, he’s married to this person. There just isn’t natural power and balance and it makes perfect sense for you to try and be wary of that. I think that you need to give him a little bit more credit in just assuming his capacity for love. But I don’t think that you just trying to protect yourself as necessarily, you know, a sign of your immaturity or something ignorant or bad about yourself.

I think that you need to kind of think about as well what is real and valid love. Because the thing about growing up in a society where monogamy is the default and where marriage is kind of encouraged is that it creates what’s known as the relationship escalator and if you haven’t heard of the concept of the relationship escalator definitely Google it.

It’s basically a sort of cultural script that you get, which sort of says right, you meet someone, you really like them, you go on a date, you date officially, you move in together, you get married, you have kids— it’s a sort of like upper escalator of steps that you take in order to— you know, in general everyone’s relationship isn’t— people can fall in love with other people. Things can happen. It’s not as solid and secure as we’d like to think, however, this kind of escalator and the sort of script that you follow gives you the reassurance that your relationship is stable and that your love is valid.

And so it’s going to be really hard for you because within polyamory, you kind of have to create a different kind of escalator. You have to create different types of meaning. You have to decide what commitment means if commitment isn’t being sexually exclusive to somebody, then what does it mean and how do you define it? And what does it look like in your life? So you have come through a culture where real and valid love, has been defined by marriage and has been defined by sexual exclusivity, has been defined by monogamy.

If they have children, then that’s even more going to reinforce that concept for you. So you kind of have to break down the messages that you’ve received about what real and valid love means. And you kind of have to think okay, “What makes this type of their relationship more real and valid?”. Is it the marriage thing? Are there other things that you both can do that can create that kind of stability for you or create that kind of, you know, maybe after five years, you decide— you may not be able to legally marry multiple people, but you can certainly have as many marriage ceremonies as you want.

You know, you can certainly buy rings for each other, if that’s the kind of way you want to express your commitment to one another, then you can do that. So just think about what real and valid love actually means to you. And I think if that means that you’ll be able to accept it, but it’s going to be hard and it’s going to be a difficult egg to crack when you have an entire society surrounding you that says, you know, it has to end in marriage, or you know, if somebody doesn’t make it out of the relationship alive, then it’s not a valid coupledom.

So you have all of that to fight, and that’s not easy. So give yourself a little bit of a break again. I think as well… You know, one of the things that people joke about polyamory and about polyamorous people Is that we sometimes over communicate and communicate to an extent to which it becomes unhelpful. And I do think sometimes we overthink things. People in polyamorous situations are so worried about it “working” and are so aware of kind of a it’s not— I wouldn’t say it’s a dominant cultural narrative because people are aware open relationships exist. I think they’re sort of aware of it.

I think that they’re… the sort of assumption that most people would have is that it doesn’t work. Like they would just assume that it doesn’t work. And when we ask, Well, what does work mean? We define working as you know, the people in that relationship being in that relationship until somebody in that relationship dies. And that’s what working means.

And even though I’m lax to sort of recommend Dan Savage in any way, shape or form for a various amount of reasons, the aspect of the advice that he gives when he says that we need to stop defining relationship success, as you know, one person— only one person makes it out alive. I agree with that. I think that You are surrounded by a society which in some ways, I wouldn’t say completely dominantly says— but the idea is that open relationships don’t work. Non monogamy doesn’t work. Polyamory doesn’t work.

And so you have to kind of fight against this and that that is really difficult and and takes up a lot of your energy. And part of that and trying to protect ourselves from that assumption that “Oh, it doesn’t work. I need to make sure this works”. And we judge ourselves so much based on that and we judge our ability to do polyamory. We don’t do that for monogamy. You know, comedians have made tons of money, bocous de money on joking about how terrible marriages and about how horrible monogamy is. Monogamous people are never expected to love monogamy they never expected to enjoy monogamy.

However, there is a different standard that is kind of put upon the shoulders— and I think it’s partially self placed. We think that we need to enjoy non monogamy all of the time in order for it to be validated. choice. And so you really, really put in the situation where you’re like, hyper examining everything because you’re waiting for something to fail, because you don’t want it to fail because you want everything to work because it has to work. And that creates a lot of tension where if you were monogamous, you wouldn’t be worrying about half these things.

So I think you need to like, think about how often you’re thinking about this. Think about how much weight you’re putting on this. Think about, you know, would you be analysing this so much if you were just dating him? And the assumption would be that maybe you would end up being in a monogamous relationship? Or maybe you wouldn’t? So I think you need to— it’s easy to say, don’t worry so much. But really, that’s the advice, like, think about how much you’re picking this apart, and ask yourself if you really need to pick this apart so much. Is it really helping you? You know, you’re not going to be able to take out some kind of love-ometer and measure how much what is real and valid love and how much love do I have for this and that neither, like it’s not something that’s a measurable concept.

So you just have to try that, you know, you care about this person and the relationship will go where it can go. I think if you do have the resources and it’s accessible for you, I think finding a polyamory friendly therapist would also be really helpful. But in general, I think, to kind of sum up, remember that you don’t have any models for this. You don’t have any scripts for this. You don’t have the relationship escalator.

You don’t have all of this—  all of these messages about what real invalid love means and examine that. I think don’t be so hard on yourself. Because you’re protecting yourself in this situation of saying, “Okay, maybe I need to not put all of my eggs in one basket”. You’re protecting yourself. So don’t be so hard on yourself for protecting yourself. And then you know, last but not least, don’t pick this apart to such a minute extent. You don’t need to analyse this in such serious depth.

Think about where you want your relationship to go. But you don’t have to pick it apart so much that you’re just analysing and fretting over the details and like “Oh am I accepting that this love is real and valid? Am I you know, really accepting this or not?” I think that part of you your inability to accept it as the fact that you’re kind of hyper analysing it.

Alright, well, I think that’s about it. I really hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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Episode 32 – Dating a Colleague

Reading Time: 14 minutes
This content is 2 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

If you fell for someone at work and they’re now off limits, should you keep pushing it? Is your partner giving you an unfair veto?

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

Discussion Topic: What are you a little addicted to?

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

Episode 32 – Dating a Colleague

If you fell for someone at work and they’re now off limits, should you keep pushing it? Is your partner giving you an unfair veto? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What are you addicted to?

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 45 y.o. woman and have been married for 23 years. We started our relationship very young and “decided” to be monogamous. I use quotation marks because at the time we really didn’t know better; we didn’t really discuss openly different relationship styles. We didn’t know about long term relationships at all.

We have 2 kids ages 7 and 10. My husband has been a good guy but over the last years I have lost desire and he also stopped finding joy in life and would focus on family and life’s constraints, including allowing codependency with his mother, etc…. He became the “no, we can’t” guy.

After having been raised thinking that infidelity is an absolute wrong, lo and behold I fell deeply in love with “Guy at work”. This was a person who had helped me grow tremendously professionally and personally. He helped me become self confident and aware of different ways of loving, living and giving. I was not looking to fall in love with anybody but found myself with deep feelings for this guy.

I learned he felt the same way and without much foresight I gave myself into this new relationship, which lasted about 8 months, even though we both developed our feelings over many years of working together. It became so intense that for me to be honest with myself I decided to stop the relationship and think about what i really wanted in life.

I also didn’t want to do this behind my husband’s back. Initially I thought the issues I had with my husband were the source of my falling in love with someone else. As I progressed in therapy and reading and listening to podcasts, I realized that while my relationship with my husband could and should be improved, my feelings for “guy at work” were independent, and that I would like to try consensual non-monogamy.

About a month into couples therapy I disclosed my affair. I don’t think I did in the best way, and I’m not sure how I could’ve had the wisdom to do it in a better way, but I wanted us to work through the reality of our situation and felt I needed to be upfront with him. In essence I told him I had developed feelings for another person, that I still loved him and that I wanted to explore an open relationship.

He immediately went home to the computer and found a lot of my communications with “guy at work”. This hurt him immensely because he learned a lot of details that I believe have damaged him psychologically. My husband entered into a phase of righteousness about my affair. We started the slow process of building trust. I stopped all communications with Guy at Work I have not spoken to him at all over the last six months.

The problem is that I really don’t see myself going back to monogamy… neither does my husband, but he has put as a condition that “guy at work” is off limits… But HE IS the one I love and that I want to have an additional relationship with… I feel it is a very deep need and one that if my husband does not allow would just be devastating to me.

I also don’t believe that my husband should be able to control who I see. Although I believe that mutual non-monogamy is based on mutual consent, I don’t believe he has the right to veto who I love. I believe that ultimately we are on this earth to build meaningful connections and contribute to other people’s lives, and I don’t want my husband controlling that.

That said I wanna go through this process in a very careful and respectful way. I know that reading all of our texts was scarring to him. And even though he sees a benefits offer of an open relationship, he has told me that “guy at work” is off-limits. BTW, neither he nor I work at the same place anymore.

I would like to work with my husband and help him get through the trauma that he suffered. I have a few questions. The first one is whether it is possible to successfully open a marriage after an affair has been disclosed – a deeply hurtful for one of the partners. Second, will my husband be able to ever get over my feelings for a guy at work? He doesn’t even live on the same state so it would be a long distance relationship if anything…

I should also add that even though I deeply love my husband, and I find him attractive, I don’t desire him. He’s a good looking guy but I don’t feel that I want to have sex with him. I can do this occasionally if we have had the right level of affection, but that something that we’re still working through and I find myself not desiring to have sex with him as often. I am okay with that.

I would really appreciate your advice. Seems that most of the talk on open relationships is for twenty-somethings but many of us in our 40’s need it as well… Thank you so much!


A few things here. The first question you ask is, is it possible to open a relationship successfully after an affair? Yes, it is possible, but with some real big caveats here.

It is very, very rare for a person— or a couple that is already in an established monogamous relationship, for both of those people to decide to be non-monogamous at the same time. It’s usually one person that comes up with the idea. Quite a lot of times either that person has already cheated. Sometimes they have developed an interest in someone and that is something— that is someone that they want to pursue.

Rarely is it the case that they just kind of discover that they want to be non monogamous. Usually it’s something that spurs them to it and encourages them to break that barrier. Even if they’ve considered it before. It’s usually another person that they want to pursue, that has caused them to decide to make the move to either ask for it or have an affair. I think that the things that make transitioning from an affair to a successful open relationship are— for one thing, owning the situation.

It’s hard for me to say, you know whether or not you’re fully owning the situation itself. It sounds like you are. You admit that this was really hard thing for your husband, and that it’s been psychologically damaging to him. However, there’s one issue in the fact that immediately after you disclose this affair, your partner went home to the computer and basically, snooped. Snooping never really works out. And usually people snoop to find things that they don’t know.

And I find it really concerning that your husband decided to snoop when he already knew what he was going to find. That, coupled with the fact that you’ve said that he’s kind of lost his, you know, spark. That he’s been quite on the negative side. That he’s developed some codependency with his mother. These are— and that’s kind of your definition. I don’t know if that’s actually been a therapist that said that.

These are kind of really concerning things about him that I think he really needs to pursue with a therapist and it doesn’t sound like— it sounds like you have a couples therapist but I don’t know if he is seeing a separate therapist and I really think he needs to consider that because that decision to decide to go and then look for information that he knew was going to be damaging to him, is a really, really big red flag.

And it doesn’t sound like he actually apologised for violating your privacy because that was a violation of your privacy. He shouldn’t be allowed, even if you have cheated— that doesn’t automatically give him access or rights to explore any bit of communications that you’ve had with someone else. So you really need to be able to own up to things and be really, really honest in the fact that he’s kind of been self righteous about this and that he it doesn’t sound like he’s really sought help for this choice that he made is kind of a big barrier to this.

The second thing is honesty. Committing to full honesty in the future is also a big thing. And, you know, it doesn’t sound like you— and I may be getting this wrong— but it doesn’t sound like you’ve been honest with him about not desiring him anymore. Maybe because you saw his behaviour when you actually disclosed the affair. And you don’t really want to give him any more reasons to be depressed but you know, did that— did you explain that?  Because you said you still love him and you still want to work on things, but you need to be honest about the fact that you don’t desire him.

The other kind of question that you had that kind of relates to what I’m going to continue to say about whether or not it’s possible is, is it possible for your husband to get over his feelings? I think that obviously, your husband is projecting and blaming the responsibility of this entire fair on this guy at work. That really isn’t fair in a way. I mean, he has been really self righteous with you, which has shown that he does blame you as well.

I mean, it is equally your fault, as well as this guy at work. I don’t think it’s completely unfair for him to not feel great about you being with guy at work, because even though you did have the affair, and you decided to do that, this guy represents a lot of really negative things. And I don’t know what he read in those messages that he shouldn’t have read, but he’s not going to be able to get that just out of his mind.

Which isn’t your fault, because he shouldn’t have read that. But equally like I understand where you’re coming from. You talk a lot about, you know, mutual consent and mutual non-monogamy and he doesn’t have the right to veto. But at the same time, you didn’t give him the chance to consent to it to a non-monogamous relationship. You had an affair. And at this point, he can’t go back to the time before that affair. So you kind of removed his agency from the situation.

It’d be one thing if you saw yourself developing feelings for this colleague and you approached your husband at that time, and offered him the chance to either try an open relationship with you or go your separate ways, but you didn’t give him that option. So now he’s forced. He’s essentially forced into non-monogamy. Even if he can see some benefits out of it. He’s been forced through your affair into the situation and it’s not really— if you think about it, you now being like, “Well, we need to be mutually— have mutual consent and you can’t veto who I want to be a partner”.

You know, I get that and I fully fully support that. But I don’t really feel like this is a veto. I feel like this is a fair boundary, given what he’s been through. I think it’s fair enough, if you’ve had an affair, for him to say, “Okay, I will do non-monogamy, but I really don’t want it to be with this person”. I think honestly, like— I think that that’s not really a veto. I think that that’s the continuous circumstances by which he’s willing to continue in this relationship with you. That’s not really a veto.

It’s not as if you developed feelings for this guy and you were already in an open relationship with mutual consent. And then he tried to take that away from you. You pursued this, and you pursued it behind your husband’s back. And now you didn’t give him the chance for mutual consent then. And so I just feel like, you know, this— it may not make a lot of sense, and I do really feel like he’s projecting a lot of his feelings onto this guy.

And maybe blaming him a bit more than he needs to. But I think that given what’s happened, and given everything that he’s been through, even if some of what he’s been through is because he decided to violate your privacy. You know, in a perfect world, yes, he doesn’t get to control or veto any relationships, but you didn’t give him the the ability to consent to an open relationship. So I do kind of feel like it’s, it’s a fair enough ask, or it’s a fair enough boundary for him. And that’s kind of what he’s doing.

He’s putting his cards on the table at this point. Because once you’ve kind of broken your initial relationship agreements, you’re negotiating a new relationship agreement, and he has decided that okay, non monogamy is okay, but not with this person. And I think some people have boundaries like that even without an affair. Some people are like “You can’t— I’m not cool with you dating my friends”. A lot of people have very reasonable boundaries around you not dating family members. So this is now his boundary with regards to how he’s going to move forward in this situation and be able to cope with this and still stay with you.

And I think what you need to decide is whether or not you actually want non-monogamy. Or you just want to date this guy. And I mean, I think you really need to consider the fact that you haven’t spoken to him for six months, and he doesn’t even live in the same state as you. I mean, for all, you know, work guy could be in a monogamous relationship with someone else right now. Like, you may be building up all this and making all this kind of kerfuffle initially about this guy who you had this really intense connection with, but you haven’t spoken to him in six months.

So what you’ve communicated to guy at work is that he’s not your first priority, and that he will be chucked if and when your husband is upset. You know, he— I don’t know if he knew you were married, which also really, you know… I understand you’ve learned a lot from this guy, and he’s been wonderful and awakened all kinds of things within you, but if he knew you were married and was willing to participate in infidelity with you, that’s kind of… that’s not— that’s not consensual non-monogamy either.

So I would then question whether or not guy at work is able to participate in consensual non-monogamy because he’s already kind of illustrated that he’s not willing to participate in something consensual. He’s fine with it being non-consensual, which is a problem. And some people, unfortunately, are interested in cheating because it’s exciting and it’s and it’s secretive, but aren’t really interested in legit,  you know, non-monogamous relationships.

So, I think that’s something you need to think about. Because you’re putting all this on the line for someone who may not even be available to you right now. So, you know, you have to decide whether or not this relationship is worth giving your husband up. And, you know, or I think, given the status of your relationship, like… I know, you’ve been together for a long time.

Does he really want non monogamy or is he just doing this to keep you? You’ve been married for 23 years. That’s a lot.

You’ve got kids, who aren’t fully grown yet, but at the same time, you started this relationship when you were really young. You didn’t really know what you wanted. Now you know what you want. And I think you need to really sit down and ask yourself, is non-monogamy the thing you really want? Or is it just that you liked this relationship and you wanted ir to continue? And ask yourself some real hard questions about it. Is it really going to continue? Now that you’ve had this big upset?

Is it really going to be able to just pick up from where it’s left off with this work guy? Because you haven’t spoken to him in six months. You don’t even know where he is right now. And whether or not he’s with somebody else, or whether or not he’s actually interested in a consensual non-monogamous relationship or if he just liked the cheating. So there’s a lot of things to really consider there.

And to be fair, I don’t think it’s— I don’t think it’s completely out of the ballpark, and completely ridiculous for your husband to say, as a compromise, “I will stay and I will do non-monogamy because I may get some potential benefits out of that. So I see the benefits to me in doing this, but I don’t want you to pursue this guy you cheated on me with”. I feel like that’s a pretty fair ask, in a way. It’s a compromise.

But you have to decide if it’s a compromise you actually want to make, and whether or not it’s worth it for you. Because ultimately, that’s what it kind of comes down to. There may be a time in the future, you know, after the dust is settled and you figured out a groove with non-monogamy and you figured out what you both want it and it’s working for both of you. There may be a time when he’s not so bothered about guy at work, but I don’t think it’s… he can give you a time limit on that.

I don’t think he can realistically project when his feelings will be better. And I think because the onus is on you. You are the one that violated your agreement together. You are the one that lied. So you have to reestablish

That trust with him. And maybe you deciding, “Okay, you know what? I won’t see this guy”. It seems unfair to you, but part of it may be that that’s what he needs to reestablish trust with you to know that you are actually going to give up something because you haven’t had to give up something.

If you really think about it, you’ve had your cake, and you’ve got to eat it too, in a way. You’ve had your really fun relationship with this work guy and you’ve had your husband. He hasn’t, you know— He’s now just figuring out that those eight months like, we’re a lie, and now he has to adjust to that.

And now he has to figure out how to work out a new relationship now that his whole life has changed. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask for him to not want the person who was involved and knew about it (I’m guessing that guy at work knew that you were married) to not be a part of that. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask. So it really comes down to what you… what you’re willing to do.

So yeah, to sum up, is it possible to go from an affair to a successful non-monogamous relationship? Yes. But with some serious caveats about people got to be really, really honest with one another. They gotta own up to their shit. You have to be willing to own up on both sides to the mistakes that you’ve made. And you’ve got to, as I said, Be honest about, you know, the real situation. It doesn’t sound like you’ve been fully honest with him about where your desire levels are.

And maybe that’s part of it. And is it possible for your husband to get over his feelings? Maybe, at some point down the future, but I think that considering you’re the kind of the one that messed up here, you need to think about the fact that he is in a situation where his entire foundations have cracked and you’ve got to rebuild that. As you said, and maybe part of rebuilding that is, I mean, you haven’t spoken to for six months. Like I said, you know, you’ve clearly already separated from him in a way. You’ve already shown that and I don’t think it’s fair to say, “Okay, let’s not see him for two years and then I’ll go”.

You need to let your husband decide that and I don’t think it’s completely out of the ballpark of fair for him to decide to compromise by having an open relationship but not— but to say this person that you cheated with is off limits. I don’t think that’s— I don’t really see that as a veto power. I see that as his sort of putting his cards and boundaries on the table of like, “Alright, I will compromise on non monogamy but this is what I want”. And I don’t think that’s the same as a veto. I think that’s different.

It may not be suitable for you. I may not be happy for you, It may not be what you want. But I don’t think that’s completely unfair. So ultimately, it’s it’s kind of in your ball— It’s in your ballpark. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t use sports metaphors when I don’t know sports. It’s in— it’s up to you

to decide whether or not those terms you can agree with. And it comes down to, with the situation of lacking and desire for him, with his depression and the other I mean, I don’t know if he’s depressed.

It seems like he’s got something going on he needs to work on with somebody. Is it something that you want to continue? You know, is it non-monogamy that you really want? Or is it just dating this other guy that you really wanted? Because if you decide non monogamy is the thing you want and you can’t make this agreement with your husband could easily turn you know, decide to break up with your husband, go back find guy at work is dating somebody else.

That’s why you got to be really into non-monogamy, not just this guy at work because if you go back— You got to be okay with the fact that if you go back to guy at work and he’s with somebody else, and he’s not interested, or you know, what have you Are you fine with that? Or are you actually like, “Oh crap. I just wanted  guy at work”. Yeah. So it’s something for you to you to think about and pick through.

But I hope it helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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Crush on a partner’s friend

Reading Time: 4 minutes
This content is 3 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

My husband and I have been dating for four years and married for almost one. When we met, I was already polyam and had a long-term boyfriend. My relationship with this boyfriend was already starting to “cool” a bit, though, so I was free to jump in with my future husband and devote a lot of time to him without having to consult my boyfriend much. The three of us lived together for a few years, but even then I spent much more time with my husband. Now my husband and I live together, just the two of us. I don’t see my boyfriend very much, but we’re both pretty fine with that.

The main issue doesn’t actually involve the boyfriend, I just wanted to provide some context.

I have been openly polyam since the beginning of my relationship with my husband. He also wants to be polyam and has tried to date other people. Nothing has lasted very long or worked out very well for him. Over the years I’ve gone on one or two dates, but nothing has really come of them — partially because I just didn’t hit it off with that other person, but partially because it made my husband clearly very uncomfortable. Rather than deal with his discomfort, I ended those relationships. Our only “rule” about having relationships with other people is that we need to have a discussion about it first, which we did. But I felt too guilty about causing my husband so much pain.

Recently, I’ve started dating again with a newfound determination not to let my husband’s fear dictate my relationships. It’s been tough for both of us. I’m starting to worry that my husband is not suited to live a polyam lifestyle, and that he’s just trying to convince himself for my sake. I am willing to make compromises and sacrifices for my husband, but I worry that if I make too many I will resent him. And I worry that he will likewise resent me if I ask him to sacrifice too much.

I’m also unsure how to define what would be too much of a sacrifice on my part. I’m perfectly willing to talk things out at length with my husband, and I’m willing to plan special time to spend with him, but it often seems like that’s not enough for him. I know that his anxiety is normal and I want to make sure he has the freedom to feel those things, but I worry that they will end up making me feel guilty again and that his feelings will impact my relationships. He often says that he does not want to be monogamous, but I worry he only says that for my sake.

I’m also concerned because my husband has effectively asked me not to date his friends. I developed a crush on his best friend and he was very upset when I told him. Since then, I tried to ignore my feelings for his friend and these feelings have somewhat gone away, but they’re still there. I have always felt weird about the concept of “veto power” and I worry that this will cause me to resent him in the future (and perhaps already do, a little).

Essentially my question is: do you think my marriage is doomed, or do we have a chance to work this out?

We are both seeing therapists separately and we are planning to see one together, but I’m trying to weigh advice from multiple sources, and your column has been incredibly useful to me, so I’d love to get your advice.

I think the big question to ask yourself is… what do you win by avoiding what could be inevitable?

There is absolutely nothing you can do if your husband doesn’t actually want non-monogamy. I think there are certain aspects of what we want that can be flexible. There are some people who maybe weren’t aware non-monogamy existed and then discovered it and it ended up working for them and that’s why they decided to go with it. But there are and can be people for whom, no matter who they love or how much they try to shift their paradigm, it just isn’t the lifestyle they want. And that’s fine.

Delaying dating other people won’t change that. I know your brain is seeing a direct cause and effect relationship because it may seem on the surface that you pursuing things *causes* your partner distress, but really, you’re doing everything that you can to try and be cautious and respectful, but nothing about that will change if he just doesn’t want this. And likewise, if he *says* he does and he is lying to himself, there isn’t anything you can do to force him to tell the truth either.

When it comes to dating his best friend, I can absolutely understand why that’s a boundary for him. I dislike the way ‘veto power’ is discussed as if people’s boundaries around who their partner dates comes from a place of control and not a place of just maybe feeling a bit weird about it because of the way it can tear apart relationships. People have feelings like this all of the time, monogamous or not.

We’d feel weird if our partners dated our family members in some instances (I guess some people wouldn’t be bothered — but plenty would, and that’s fine) friends are the same kind of boundary. He has every reason to be worried about the way a relationship with you, especially if he’s struggling with non-monogamy, would impact his friendships, and I feel like he has every reason, even if non-monogamy did work, to be anxious about you dating his best friend.

If you were living in an isolated area where dating options were not very frequent, then maybe I would understand the need to act on the feelings, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case, so I might just weigh up the benefits and cons of causing further distress with your partner over pursuing this interest right at the moment. Waiting might be a better option, especially if your partner is up to non-monogamy and potentially might be more okay in the future.

Overall, I don’t think things are necessarily doomed, but I don’t think that it’s something you can control either way. It’s something your husband has to work out himself.

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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Should your partner date your friends?

Reading Time: 15 minutes
This content is 3 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

My partner of one year and I are a monogamish couple. We haven’t had any other partners outside of each other, although there is an interested party (in him) now. I am fine with the interested party, but this is the first time we are putting our dynamic into play and I had some weirdness about that last night that has me overthinking things this morning.

Some backstory: I have never been in a non-monogamous relationship before and this is all new for me. My partner has had non-monogamous relationships before. When we got together last year, he was seeing this girl (a mutual friend of ours) who took us dating terribly. She really liked my partner, but also never communicated that to him, and she was pissed we were seeing each other. Also, until I confessed I was into him, I had no idea they were seeing each other occasionally. I had to defend my feelings and felt like I was in the wrong for being into my partner. She is polyamorous of about four years and has a primary partner who has been polyamorous for over a decade, so she had had experience with working with her dynamic.

Due to her being so violently upset and unwilling to process things, my partner ended it with her. I counted her as a friend and she dropped me immediately after, although after a year she is being nicer to me again. Her primary partner is a good friend of mine and he didn’t stop being my friend, but he has a tendency to be weird when I bring up my partner (yet I am fine with it when he talks about his partner who treated me poorly… Because I want to keep my community and be a good person) To give more context, my partner, myself, and her partner are all musicians and play together regularly with others in a very tight knit community. She is a part of that community as much as us, but she isn’t a musician.

I was really scared to lose the community due to weirdness from other people and being unable to attend certain events because someone else was there who seemed like they wanted to plant a few daggers in my back. The whole experience was really hard on me and left a sour taste in my mouth for a full-on polyamorous relationship, especially with people we both know since it can get really unpleasant and messy and impact our social lives outside of the relationships. Also, it seems like a lot of jerks and manipulative people use polyamory to spread their hurt, and I don’t want to use that term to describe me since it’s being used to self-excuse horrible behavior.

I am not interested in being polyamorous, but I am in being non-monogamous with a primary partner. So, I guess I’m “poly[am] friendly”? Ugh. Don’t like that term. For me, polyamory has that emotional level of connection expected, such as loving that other partner. I don’t want to love someone else, I don’t want to have anywhere close to the level of emotional connection I have with my primary partner with anyone else, nor for him to have that with another person. It’s too much for me, and too much for him (something he has said). But for a date or two, or to see occasionally, and maybe sleep with once in a while? That’s more my speed, and we seem to be on the same page with that. Ideally, I have imagined it not being with people we know in common as a way to avoid the scenario from last year, and yes, ideally, we only hook up with people we don’t mutually know or share important community with.

Anyway, I am fine with the actual new person. She is only ever in town 3 days a year and is otherwise ace/aro with a weird thing for my partner. I’m fairly certain she doesn’t want to have sex with my partner or even make out with him, she wants to hold his hand and kiss his cheek- even if they did want to sleep together, that’s fine. She’s a very sweet person. Again, I’m not bothered by her as a person. But it is someone we both know and share important community with, and that’s not what I had pictured. It’s the first time putting this dynamic into play and all I have to work with is ideals, not experience.

So last night, after we three had talked about them having their intimate times together the next few days, he and I talked on the way home and I did express I felt weird about it being someone we both knew. My partner accused me of not being into this dynamic because I said I felt weird that it was someone we both knew and that’s not my ideal. He said that I am ideally into non-monogamy but in practice, I am not. There is a local polyamory cocktail group that meets up once a month that he has wanted to go to, and I am interested in going. However, he once made a comment about how my feelings on not wanting to be polyamorous and keep extraneous partners light and simple would offend some “hard-core” polyamorous people at that event.

I now feel on the fence about going since I don’t want to spend an evening with people mad at me or to offend them. I care deeply about how I make people feel and I don’t want to make anyone offended. This type of event is not my space, it is a space others created that I can partake in- as such, I do not want to mess that up for anyone. So now I am not interested in going as much as I originally was because I don’t want to spend an evening being disliked for being the way I am. I am apprehensive about going, and maybe I want to talk to someone who organizes the event before going to be sure I won’t spend an evening being miserable and feeling like I am offending people.

I am bisexual and definitely will want to sleep with women again at some point in my life. I also want to sleep with other men. I like getting to know people on that intimate level. I don’t think being monogamous will work for me in the long run, and my partner is the same way. Attractions happen, and they are fun to check out and have fun with. But I need patience for dealing with my first experience with this dynamic, and I felt as if my words were thrown in my face. I know that ideals will likely not manifest, but this is all I have to work with so far and I need patience to be a little weirded out by the fact it is someone we both know and that’s not what I really wanted to have happen, but here we are.

He also said that I shouldn’t let the events from last year with this girl he was seeing be an influencer in my thoughts on non-monogamy. Except it is a huge influencer! I lost a friend in her, had major shifts in my friendship with her partner, and had stability in a community I hold sacred shaken. And then he said I am paranoid about the whole thing, and not logical. When I asked how I come across that way, he couldn’t back it up in any eloquent manner, but said “you just do”. I don’t know how I’m being paranoid and I am sad this is the image I give off. I am just doing the best I can to communicate my boundaries and my feelings.

He has a history of being a terrible communicator. We are both dedicated to being good communicators with one another and actively working on it. But the words he sometimes uses are absolute garbage words, and he shuts down on me in conversations (bad habits) when he doesn’t know what to say instead of digging down and figuring out how to express what is on his mind.

I need patience and have asked for it. It will be given, but I feel that because I reacted in a way that wasn’t 100% “I’m ready and into this!” (more like “I’m okay with this but it does make me feel a little weird and I need patience”) that he is going to count this against the relationship and ultimately not want to be with me because I am “paranoid and illogical”. I struggle every day with feelings of inadequacy. I am always wondering why he is with me, and I definitely think to myself that he will find someone better and break my heart. That’s on me to work on. I am responsible for my own feelings of adequacy and self-assurance. I am responsible for breaking my own negative thought process. Unless my partner tells me otherwise, he loves me and wants to work on our relationship and is open to it growing and developing further, since he has told me these things. Those words are music to my ears.

But I need some patience right now because this is all new and so far, I have had negative experiences with non-monogamy. I do not want our emotional bond threatened. But I know that having the option of an open relationship is what I need. I spent 5 years in a monogamous relationship with my ex with absolutely no way of establishing an open dynamic that would have led to me being more satisfied. I want to sleep with other people, and so does my partner. Honestly, our relationship won’t work for either of us if it isn’t open.

What’s your advice for me to improve my communication here? Am I overreacting to what he said? Do I have to come up with more realistic boundaries?

There’s a lot here that I want to address but I want to say first I hope you’re feeling better now that you’re reading this. Here’s what I’m going to cover:

  • What it means to be polyamorous
  • Who you love the most
  • Dating people you know
  • Being “responsible for your own feelings”

What it means to be polyamorous

Personally, I make a distinction between calling myself non-monogamous and calling myself polyamorous, but that has little to do with how I practice what I do and more to do, as I explain in this article, about the community and the way I don’t fit into and don’t want it to represent me. There are times to split hairs and times to not split hairs.

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not you want to call yourself polyamorous or not but… if you’re someone who wants to have relationships, regardless of how “deep” those are, with other people and to just swap partners for sex… then you sound pretty polyamorous to me and not “polyamory friendly”. I feel like the way that you are talking about it though is portraying an intention you likely don’t have, which I’ll explain.

Who gets to decide how “deep” a relationship is and how much “feeling” we have for one person or the next? We have an idea as individuals of the “depth” of our own feelings, but I think that what that actually translates to is commitment and time. This is one of the biggest reasons relationships can be so complicated. Because one could spend a lot of time with someone and have no deep emotional feeling or connection to them. And the reverse could also be true. For example, I have a friend who I haven’t physically seen for years and we barely speak online, but I feel very close to him because we have been friends for over a decade. When we do speak, it’s great and I love it. Whereas, I speak every day to my work colleagues and I spend loads of time for them, but I don’t feel very deep for them in comparison to other people.

Some of this is controllable. Like if I wanted to invest some time in my colleagues, they could become close friends. There are people I know from places I’ve worked who have become very close friends to me. But then others haven’t because just don’t gel that way. But also I as an individual do not form many close connections.

That’s just how I am. I can’t change that. And many people, like you, might be polyamorous but feel they have more emotional connection to one partner, that they live with and share a life with, than others. That is perfectly legitimate. Because sometimes this is just how people work and that doesn’t mean they don’t care for others. It’s not to say I don’t care about my colleagues, but there are different levels of emotional connection.

This can physically translate into the amount of time we spend with someone or the types of life commitments we want to share with them. Perhaps some of us only wish to have children with someone we share a deeper emotional connection with. Some folks who may practice solo polyamory may feel very deep connections to multiple people but, because there are only 24 hours in a day, can only spend certain amounts of time with different people.

The problem we make is that we assume that the level of emotional connection we have will always equal the amount of time we spend with someone or that it can reflect that. Or that the emotional connection we have for one person is comparable to the emotions we have for another. The bond I have with my friend of 10 years is very different to the bond I have with romantic partners. To compare the two is just not applicable to me.

This is one of the many problems I have with the way some people practice “relationship anarchy” or RA. Many people who practice RA can suggest all relationships are identical in that regard. They force people to try and be “equal” about something that may not be possible for them to be “equal” about or may just… not be applicable.

If someone asked me if I valued my relationship with my friend of 10 years with my partner “equally”… I’d be hard pressed to understand what that even means. And if I guess I was forced a gunpoint to pick someone, I’d probably maybe pick my partner depending on other factors but mostly because I rely on him for more emotional support but… that’s not some type of reflection of who I truly feel the “most” for because it’s freaking complicated!

Who you love the most

While at this point you may be telling yourself that you emotionally will be more invested in your husband, you can’t really say for sure what will happen down the line. You have no idea how your emotions will go and you may end up feeling just as strongly for someone else as you do your husband. And unless your husband has been in that situation, he can’t really say for sure either.

What you can say is how you envision relationships to work out in terms of physical practicalities and that’s something that’s worth discussing with your partner. These things might change of course, as life tends to do, but having this idea of what it means for you to have other relationships and how that will impact you will help.

It’s very important that you and your partner understand the distinction between the emotional depth of relationships you think you might have and how much you actually care for a person because, as I mentioned before, what you’re saying if you go to polyamorous meet up and tell people that basically you’re never going to feel as strongly for someone else as you do for your partner… well, that’s basically like saying you’re willing to sacrifice a new relationship and anyone’s feelings to save yours and your partner. And who is going to want to subscribe to that newsletter? No one. In fact, you’ll come off as one of those couples just looking for flings that won’t complicate their lives and who don’t value those people as individuals with their own wants and needs just like they have.

Some people are very much like that. I can glean from your letter though that you aren’t. Whatever emotional depth you think you will or won’t have for any new person isn’t really relevant. Like, no one’s going to come by and check the amount of love you have for each partner like a gas meter, so what does it really matter? What matters are the practicalities of what that emotional depth entails. Where people get fucked over when they date a couple trying out polyamory is where that is never defined and then people sacrifice the secondary to save the mothership because they never worked out how the practicalities would happen.

Emotions and relationships are so much more complicated than a hierarchical structure can ever really encompass. For example, your partner’s best friend could die tomorrow in a car crash and your partner might feel like, even though you planned a date together or some time together, he needs to rush off and attend the funeral or be there for the family. Does that mean your partner loved his best friend more than you? No.

And would you be bothered if your partner focused on someone else instead of you in those kinds of situations? I mean, I’d like to think not. And I’d like to think, even if there is a structure in place in your mind where maybe you spend most of your time with your partner, you still care about anyone you date as a fellow human being and wouldn’t abandon them in a time of need. But these are emergencies and you need to think about the day to day practicalities.

Dating the people you know

If you had this discussion when you set out, then you might have been able to see the pitfall of dating someone within your circle of friends. But that’s done and dusted so instead you both need to sit down and talk about how new relationships generally will impact your current one. And, rather than arguing about what emotions you should or shouldn’t feel which is pointless, talk about the realities of what happens if he breaks up with this person.

You can’t control whom he dates and to a certain extent, he can’t control who he ends up feeling attracted to. But you can talk about what you can do to mitigate risks — and do involve the new person in this discussion to. There is no reason this can’t be worked out and everyone can be adults about it.

Generally, when there is a drive to create a rule, I try and think about what the rule is trying to solve and really ask if the rule is going to actually solve that problem. You have a drive to create a rule around not dating people you both know, but the reason for that is because of this massive fallout you had where you lost friends and communities — and those are legitimate feelings.

But ask yourself, is this going to prevent the loss of friends completely? People stop being friends for all sorts of reasons and unfortunately you cannot prevent that. Even if neither of you were to not date anyone involved within this group, you could find a new group with new problems or there might be some conflict that arises out of this group that has nothing to do with anyone dating anyone.

You ran afoul by meeting someone who was particularly toxic, but that isn’t either of your faults and no amount of rules you put in place are going to prevent that from happening again and it’s important that you understand that, for as much as your feelings are valid for wanting to create this rule and for as realistic as this rule may seem to a lot of people… it might not be worth actually putting into practice at this point given your partner is already involved with a new person. You’re allowed to be frustrated and scared, for sure, but that doesn’t mean you should react by restricting activities.

Instead, you need to, as I said, have a serious discussion about the lessons you and your partner have learned from your previous experience and think about what you would do if this new person turns out exactly like the previous toxic person. What will you do differently? What signs did you miss previously that you can better interpret now? How can you deal with the consequences and can you deal with them together? All of this will help enormously with managing your anxiety around it.

I also think, as a side note, you need to seek out some communities that are your own rather than falling into your partner’s communities. It’s important not just from a dating perspective but from a personal perspective for you to have your own things going on as well. This is also going to mitigate your anxiety. You won’t be quite so terrified of losing some friends if you have other communities and people to discuss with.

All of this however, requires your partner to take a better role in being supportive towards you, which is my next point.

Being “responsible for your own feelings”

I absolutely fundamentally hate this mentality around “people are responsible for their own feelings”. I think the idea is meant to help people not feel so responsible for fixing everything or trying to control other people’s feelings and just live their life but it almost always ends up being twisted into a means by which people use to escape the responsibility of emotional support they should be providing to partners. And this is where your partner is fucking up — massively.

You have every right to be nervous and scared about this. And you need to be able to express those feelings and your partner needs to be able to respond to them with care, empathy and understanding. Right now, he is disregarding these feelings and devaluing them. Okay, so maybe feelings aren’t always “logical” but… who cares? Since when are you a Vulcan? Maybe you are paranoid, but fear is an important thing in our lives. Fear keeps us from being hurt. It exists for a reason. And shoving it down and pretending it doesn’t exist does not help matters, it only makes them worse. Especially if the reason you’re feeling fear is very logical.

Part of relationships are emotions and difficult ones, and if people are going to have multiple relationships, they need to be able to deal with the illogical organ that is the human brain. They need to be able to address concerns and learn how to respond to them and right now your partner is continuing to fail miserably at that and, if relationships with him, monogamous or polyamorous, are ever going to work he has to get better at communicating.

He doesn’t have a history of being a terrible communicator, he is a terrible communicator. And people who fail to step up to emotionally support people will always use this “responsible for your own feelings” line as an excuse to get out of the realities that come with having a relationship.

He needs to stop being your judge, jury and executioner. This is a relationship, not competency test. You do not have anything to prove to him with regards to being polyamorous and until he drops whatever it is he is doing that makes you feel under the microscope, you are going to feel very unhappy regardless of how anything goes.

It is not up to him to decide when you are and aren’t ready to do anything, it is only his job to listen and respond. He needs to give you patience and respect. And unfortunately, you absolutely cannot force him to do this. And I do really feel like all of these other problems are extraneous if you cannot solve this crucial crack in your foundation.

I would suggest you both see a polyamory positive relationships therapist to deal with the communication problems. You need more support and he needs to commit to being better at providing it. I really worry given the comments you’ve made about the way he communicates that it is not a two way street, that you are attempting to drag him into the skills he needs to be a better communicator.

As tempting as that might be to do, you have to resist the urge to force him to be interested. State that you need him to communicate better and offer to attend a therapist together but if he absolutely refuses, I really think you ought to rethink your entire relationship with him because if he cannot communicate well and makes no attempt to change this, it really calls into question where his priorities lie and it means you really need to think about whether you want to spend your entire life pulling teeth to get anywhere and I don’t think you do.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to 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.