Episode 74: Dating Friendly

Reading Time: 10 minutes

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

Discussion Topic:

What makes a friend different from a partner to you?

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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betraying yourself for others

Reading Time: 3 minutes

My ex and I were together for a year and nine months. He was my first relationship and first sexual encounter. He is fifteen years my senior, and we met when I was eighteen. I didn’t know about his actual age, or the fact he had a girlfriend on the other side of the country (we were both new to the area at the time) until a few months into dating each other. I was vocal about wanting a non-monogamous relationship from the beginning, and continued to be until the end. However, he wanted more. When a dirty message (albeit unprovoked) came up on my phone several months after we met, he angrily told me that he didn’t want to be with me if I wouldn’t be exclusive. I was scared of losing him, and know that he knew he was pressuring me into commitment.

I justified my sleeping with other men on two separate occasions, as well as sending explicit photos to others because I gave him a multitude of chances to see things my way (or to leave, which he ultimately did and should have a long time ago, as much as I hate to admit it) and didn’t enthusiastically consent to monogamy. I knew he wouldn’t be okay with what I was doing, but at the time, I thought I was justified in my actions. I realize now that I in no way was and seriously betrayed him, even though I was never caught. I think it may be for the better for both of us now that it is over, although that is no excuse for what I did.

I am seeing a therapist now to work through both the end of the relationship, and how I contributed to the unhealthy environment. I still love and care about him so much. He was my best friend. All of this information makes everything even worse, because I wonder how could I have ever done that to someone I know means so much to me.

Do you have any advice for me on how to work on forgiving myself and move forward?

I feel like you’re holding yourself here to an account that your partner doesn’t seem to be holding himself to. This relationship began with him cheating on you, whether you were vocal about non-monogamy or not. A hidden relationship is, to most people’s definition, cheating. He not only lied about his actual age but he also lied about another relationship.

While I do think you should have been the one to cut things off when he told you that he didn’t want to do non-monogamy or even before when you realised he had been cheating on you and lying about his age, you are 15 years younger than he is and in a way, I don’t see why he couldn’t have done that either and I very much wonder if his anger at seeing the text was because he thought that, due to your age gap, he could somehow convince you easier to be monogamous.

Whether or not you were justified in your actions, I really don’t see this as some kind of long intense and intended deception. If anything, you were honest from the outset on what you intended to do. Even if you knowingly did things you knew he wouldn’t like, it’s not like you overtly lied about it either.

On the contrary, there’s a lot of excuses for what you did. He was pressuring you to commit in a way you didn’t want to commit. You gave him the chance to leave on a consistent basis. While I absolutely do think you should have ended things when he said he didn’t want to be with you if you wouldn’t be exclusive, I don’t think it’s worth this level of self flagellation.

What you might want to consider working through your therapist with is what you define as a ‘best friend’ and how do you go forward recognising that the level of treatment you expect yourself to have for others is clearly not equal to the level of treatment you expect others to have of you. You’re asking yourself how you could have done this to someone who means so much to you but… he cheated and lied from the beginning — how could he have done that to you?

Go easier on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Being afraid of losing a relationship you can sometimes enjoy outside of the rough patches is a very human thing. Wanting to avoid a breakup is a very human thing. Be aware of the choices you made that ended up making this breakup more difficult, but don’t beat yourself up for it.

Pay more attention to when you’re also seriously betraying yourself or allowing others to do so and accepting it as deserved.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 71: Feelings and Friends

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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

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

Discussion Topic:

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

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

Episode 71 – Feelings and Friends

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

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

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

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

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

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

Response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regret after opening

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck!

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HSV 2 and polyamory

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve been in a wonderful V-triad for 3 years and I love my partner & metamour!

Recently, I tested positive for genital herpes and they’ve both been beyond supportive but they seem *too supportive* which I didn’t think could be possible. I suggested closing our triad indefinitely and even permanently to minimize risk and my metamour was okay with it but knew it would never work for our partner. I love my partner but I’m between a rock and hard place; I’m tired and terrified of being a risk and being at risk to a point I’m contemplating monogamy and/or abstinence while they wish for me to overlook the stigma and be a level of sex positive that one would normally dream of but I’m drifting away from. I’ve talked to my therapist but another source wouldn’t hurt at this point.

What might help you before you make any rash decisions is to fully immerse yourself in learning as much as you can about HSV 2, or genital herpes, and HSV in general especially it’s commonality. While I’ve not gone through this myself, I would expect that it is incredibly common to have to work through all of the shame and stigma attached to HSV in our culture and figure out what your risk level is.

There isn’t necessarily wrong with you having a period of abstinence while you reorient yourself and work on your feelings and your partners seem like they would understand that. From my perspective, it sounds like you’re taking responsibility for things that you have no control of and that’s likely not going to help. Rather than closing your triad, you could simply do only activities which don’t involve skin to skin contact for a period while you ground yourself again.

Being an immunocompromised person with lifelong disability and health issues, I’ve always been panicked by the prospect of having *another* health issue to manage. I can’t pretend the stigma itself wasn’t an issue for me, but because of the nature of my health condition, it affects my immune system for anything else, which causes me to be ultra cautious and also ultra paranoid. Combined with anxiety, I’m driven to want to try and control every aspect of everything to control my anxiety.

However, when I’ve had the prospect of partners who have HSV2 or metamours, I dug myself into research about HSV. When I realised how common it was, how it could be managed, how even wearing condoms can’t prevent you from catching it, and all of the other aspects about it I had to realise how little I could control things. Especially since, as far as I’m aware, you can’t really even test for HSV of either type until you have a symptom so it’s possible your partner and metamour already have HSV, they just haven’t had symptoms about it.

In the same way that I tell people that the cultural script of monogamy gives them reassurance and makes them feel like their relationship is “safer” than non-monogamy is, equally I think people also assume that STIs won’t happen to them when it’s really down to random chance in a lot of situations. Another good analogy that helped me was driving. We can wear seatbelts, drive safely and do everything we can, but that won’t prevent an accident and an accident can happen the first time you ever drive or the 500,000th time you drive. If you had an accident, it would make sense to be afraid of your partners driving, especially in a car you had an accident in but there is only so much you can control.

We accept culturally that the benefits of driving outweigh the risks — even though driving can kill you and HSV is not deadly. But we’ve historically put so much shame around STIs and around HSV in general that it’s hard for us to see that it’s just another risk and be as casual about it as we are about the potential of any other accident.

Give yourself some time and take a period of personal abstinence if you need to. Throw yourself into groups and learn about HSV2 and talk to other people about it. Find a doctor who will answer all of your questions and research as much as you can about risk. Maybe when you have a little bit more knowledge you will feel more grounded and be less likely to assume responsibility for your partner and metamour’s sexual health.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Hiding partners from each other

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I had something better to advise but unfortunately you are at an impasse. I hope this helps and good luck!

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Fidelity and grief

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have ADHD and am dealing with the bereavement of both of my parents dying… Cancer… 2016 and 2018… My wife couldn’t handle the effect of my ADHD with my grief which caused severe anxiety and depression… I can’t really say I blame her. I was a nightmare. She has endometriosis so sex happens little and when I does to be honest it’s pretty mediocre. She moved out… Then I did. I slept with someone else and so did she and then within 3 months we were back together. I didn’t tell her who it was I slept with and she has big issues with this person…

The person in question and I used to be “friends with benefits”… So she really hates her. Actually, I slept with the person in question twice… I told her I slept with a girl once after I got home to find she had moved out and left her wedding ring and taken mine… I didn’t want to lie to her but I knew ultimately it didn’t matter who it was… but she wouldn’t see it that way. My wife also slept with someone else in our time apart… She had moved back into our old house at this point… I know it shouldn’t make me jealous but it does… I love her with all my heart and she has been honest with me… I have been partly lying… About who it was and how many times… But it STILL makes me jealous. Is it possible to recover from this? I can’t leave her as I love her too much… How do I shake the jealousy… Sometimes I think the fact I still have a partial secret should make it easier… But it doesn’t. 🙁

There’s a cliche that goes around that it’s the people who are most paranoid about their partners cheating who are most likely to cheat. I don’t know how based this is in reality, but I do think there is a kernel of truth in it in that when we know we have done something wrong ourselves and we have feelings about it and we can’t or won’t be honest with our partners about it, that will likely affect the relationship.

At its core, your relationship foundation is cracked and challenged and it has been for awhile. Even before you broke up or had any of these understandable issues with grief and losing your parents, if you had told me that you had a wife who hated someone purely because you had a “friends with benefits” relationship with them, I would say this illustrated an issue that should have been addressed.

It makes me wonder if there is more about this person that’s not being discussed and if there are other issues about her that make your wife worried and therefore more jealous of her — maybe things you’re not wanting to acknowledge? Either way, you don’t feel capable of telling her the full truth because you’re worried about the consequences and it makes sense that your brain would wonder if the same is true for her.

Not to mention, you’ve struggled with, as you described, your sex life being mediocre for whatever reasons and it stands to reason you would wonder if this other person she slept with didn’t have those problems. You blame yourself a lot here and don’t give yourself much compassion. While it may absolutely be difficult for your wife to handle, having two parents die within 2 years of each other and then also struggling with something like ADHD in a society not built on respecting, understanding or accommodating neurodiversity… well, none of these things were your fault. Give yourself a break.

It is possible for you all to recover from this, but you have to be able to trust one another. You have to be able to be fully honest with one another. I’m not sure if this is a situation where you’re avoiding being honest with your wife because you struggle to cope with her being unhappy and you want to avoid confrontation or if she discourages you from being honest because she doesn’t want to provide further emotional support — but either way, the secrets have to stop.

My suggestion is that you both consider seeing a polyamory friendly and disability aware therapist who also knows a bit about grief. You need something of an air clear and an intense discussion of what happened between the two of you that caused you to separate, what happened during your separation where you can be totally honest, and what, other than a fear of being alone, that has brought you back together and then you can decide where to go from here.

Unfortunately, the sooner you accept that there may be a situation where you both need to separate. It’s very possible for two people to love and care for each other very much but still not be compatible in what they want. It sounds to me that there are issues surrounding how you coped with your grief that can be addressed rather than an incompatibility but there will be consequences for dishonesty and trust has to be rebuilt. It’s possible but it will take some time.

Find a therapist who can provide a neutral ground and space to discuss what actually happened, work it out between you two, and see how you can rebuild your foundation together.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Cheating and polyamory

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I am at my wit’s end. I was engaged to be married this summer; in the fall (we postponed for COVID), my fiancé confessed he had cheated on me extensively over years. I already had a bunch of concerns about his behavior in our relationship that I sort of stuffed and I tried many times over the years to talk about what he needed or how we could be monogamish and have me still feel safe, which he did not engage in. I would try to talk and it would go nowhere; I would send an email afterwards and get no reply. So that he was hiding these things all along is galling.

And I don’t trust him to put my needs first, to have boundaries, to prioritize the relationship or make me safe. And I worry I would spend our lives together miserable if I keep having to deal with this fallout when he’s attracted to and flirting with people. Do couples ever switch over and have it work? I’m so aggravated and he won’t even tell me what vision he has or what his needs are—and even by opening the conversation I feel like he is slapping me in the face after all the lying and refusal to be open before.

People do switch over and have it work — but it has to begin from trust.

If your partner is cheating extensively on top of outright refusing to respond to your attempts for communication, that doesn’t really sound good at all. Even if he is turning over a new leaf by telling you, if he won’t tell you what his needs are and refuses to have a conversation with you about it then…. it just doesn’t bode well. And it will continue not to bode well for you.

Ask yourself why you are stuffing down all of the concerns you’ve had over the years and why you have stayed despite the fact that he has repeatedly shown you that he refuses to communicate, that he doesn’t have the drive or the ability to have these important conversations with you? Even if he didn’t want to have a primary style relationship with you, he still needs to be able to communicate that and if he out and out refuses to do that, there is not much you can do.

I might be tempted to ask how he told you or why he told you and if he made an earnest commitment to changing his behaviour and even seeing a relationship therapist who is familiar with polyamory but… this feels like you are going to entering what seems like a relationship style that doesn’t appeal to you to appease someone who is not meeting your basic communication needs.

Are you getting what you need out of this relationship? Are there areas where he is sacrificing for your benefit? Or are you just continuously pouring into something that is draining you? There’s a lot here you’re not saying so perhaps there is a good amount of sacrifice on his part and he is promising to turn over a new leaf in a way that feels different and earnest and, if so, you could considering some couples counselling to help you with some of the feelings of betrayal from the cheating.

But really consider whether or not his behaviour will change. I wish I had better things to say, but I don’t hold out much hope for this. I hope it helps still, and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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Addressing sexual incompatibility

Reading Time: 5 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.

CW: This question contains explicit sexual discussion.

I love my husband, we met almost 20 years ago now. We met online on an Alternative Lifestyle website. He was listed as a submissive and I a switch.

We are the best of friends and I love him dearly. We were engaged after only 5 weeks but it took us 11 years to actually tie the knot.

The truth is our sex life has never been brilliant and it tapered away to nothing, we went for years with no sex for one reason or another. Now he has had cancer for the past 4 years and he is now totally impotent. Even with 200mg of Viagra there is nothing happening.

I have stayed faithful, with only 2 encounters with other people, one female one male with the full knowledge of my husband. He was in the same room.

I did not have full sex ie penetration with the guy. I am a very sexual and sensual person and I crave intimacy and ultimately a hard cock!

My husband and I have discussed me getting sexual gratification elsewhere but he does not want me to leave him and quite honestly, I cannot imagine my life without him in it.

I guess what I’m asking for is advice about how we move forward into a non monogamous relationship?

I have had sex once in the last 7 years and I feel like I’m dying inside!

There are a few things here to go through:

  • Opening to solve incompatibility
  • Reframing and defining sex
  • Trust and opening relationships

Usually when people encourage opening a relationship to solve an incompatibility within a relationship, I advise caution because, depending on what the incompatibility is, it can be a recipe for serious and intense jealousy.

In this case, it seems your husband is open to the concept of you seeing other people. It’s possible that, with the stress of coping with cancer, he has little interest in sex overall. But I am wondering, especially if he’s open to taking Viagra, if that is fully the case. If he’s willing to take that, he’s willing to try and it’s going to be hard for him to realise that he is not capable of meeting your needs and it’ll be hard for him because part of that, especially, you know, having cancer — is not his fault.

I worry that sometimes people are too quick to jump to opening a relationship to solve the problems in one relationship.Polyamory is about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about collecting a bunch of semi-fufilling ones until you reach a level of stasis. As much as we don’t enjoy breaking up with people, if you’re opening up because your relationship on it’s own can’t stand, then it’s likely that the stress of opening up is going to break what little foundations you have.

If you do open to address an incompatibility, then I think that it will only work if that individual is okay with reconciling that incompatibility and if you can focus on what makes your relationship work and have that work wonderfully.

What concerns me is that you’re craving intimacy and sensuality… which you don’t need, as you put it, a “hard cock” to have. So I’m wondering why those things aren’t happening in your own relationship with the partner you have and whether you’re both putting the work in to solve this instead of trying to find others to solve the problem.

Following on that point on building intimacy in your relationship, I’m wondering if you are a little focused on penetrative sex in a way that is disempowering your partner, especially if he is a submissive. While I totally get and understanding preferring or liking penetrative sex, he doesn’t always have to use his own body for that. There are loads of options available where he could satisfy that without everything relying solely on his body.

It’s possible that, if you’re heavily focused on him maintaining an erection, he’s going to really struggle to perform and that will likely take the interest away from him, especially if he’s recovering from cancer. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but you seem really caviler about that — that’s a huge deal and a massively scary and stressful thing. It’s unsurprising that your partner isn’t exactly feeling in the mood. And if you’re adding pressure to that, it’s unsurprising that it’s only the situation that’s getting harder.

I am assuming he is interested in continuing to try to provide things for you because he’s taken Viagra but if he’s completely uninterested in this type of interaction and feels more asexual now than anything, then that’s totally understandable in terms of you wanting to seek outside stimulation — but asexual people are plenty capable of providing sensual experiences and intimacy. If he’s uninterested in intimacy all together with you then there is a wider issue that should be addressed with therapy.

Another issue that’s cropping up here is a common thing a lot of people do in their first forays in open relationships — thinking their partner has to be in the room when they have sex with other people. I don’t, unless you have a partner who is a voyeur, you do this. Mostly because it’s just not necessary.

You have to work together to trust one another and he has to be able to trust that you are going to stay with him even if you are getting a penetrative sex need met somewhere else. This is why I think it’s so important to not just find another person when another relationship isn’t working because it’s rekindling what you have together and building intimacy together that will help secure what you have together and make him feel less anxious and grounded.

If you start from a foundation of distrust, then it doesn’t tend to lead to great places. Even if he does trust you not to cheat, he has to also trust that you care enough about your relationship together to build on it and work with it. And if that work is not put in on either side, you’ll both struggle to communicate in the future.

I think that you could pursue non-monogamy, but I am worried in this instance you’re only delaying an inevitable breakup if you and your partner aren’t willing to put the work in toward building intimacy and sensuality with each other. There are so many things he can do and things you can try together that could meet your needs and I’m wondering if that has actually happened.

Opening up a relationship to solve an incompatibility can work — but there has to be other aspects of that relationship that fulfill you. And you shouldn’t keep a relationship that’s unfulfilling just because you don’t want it to end. But also, you need to apply a little less pressure to your partner to perform in that specific way and open up to other ways of him being able to build a connection with you that aren’t dependent upon him having an erection — asexual people have intimate and sensual relationships without having sex at all, so it is possible.

Last but not least, if you do open your relationship, you don’t have to do things in front of him to prove you’re faithful. He needs to trust you but you also need to demonstrate that you are willing to bond with him and build intimacy together in other ways, even if you desire penetrative sex with a person with a penis rather than toys. Because there’s not really a reason that can’t happen.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

I am wondering if their difficulty with intimacy is in some ways impacted by lingering or unprocessed emotions related to going through cancer together. That illness has a HUGE impact: anticipatory grief, helplessness, powerlessness, anger, caretaking dynamics, new functional limitations, etc. If they haven’t unpacked and digested all that — separately and together, then it could really stop fulfilling intimacy from happening.

Do you have a question?

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Slutshaming and polyamory

Reading Time: 5 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 identify as non monogamous, all my partners know that about me, and I feel very sure about this lifestyle for me.

I’m currently closely dating a man who also claims that he is non monogamous, the last month we have been living with each other and I haven’t actively been pursuing other partners or dates out of my own volition. But in a few weeks im going to Europe with one of my best friends, she and I are bother hyper sexual and can sometimes encourage each other to get rowdy sexually (with other people, not each other) so in preparation for this trip I wanted to check in with my partner and re talk about boundaries and clarity.

It turned into a disaster, he got very insecure and started questioning why I have the desire to sleep with randos, why I’m even non monogamous, and giving me shit about past experiences of random frivolous sex I’ve had…( I consensually had sex with an Uber driver, and in confidence I told my partner, who later threw it back at me with such lines as “I don’t get why you wanna just fuck every taxi driver you see…”) I don’t know if that’s necessary information, it just got elevated and unnecessary.

Anyhow, I feel confused by this, he also has had other partners and I support him in that, though currently none of them are pursuing him because I’m in the picture, not my choice , theirs. And he knew that random hookups were of interest to me before we started dating.

I feel like his aggressive behavior is unnecessary, and it’s putting a strain on our relationship. This is where I stand, I do not want monogamy, I want autonomy to participate in safe random hook ups if I so desire, and I don’t know how to explain to him why that is a desire of mine.

How do I add clarity for him? How do I Help him with his insecurities so I can keep on as a non monogamous autonomous person? And am I valid in being upset that he’s upset?

The bigger issue underlying all of this is that you have a partner who has absolutely no problem with shaming and guilting you for your choices. The intent of this is to make you feel ashamed and it is, fundamentally, emotional abuse.

We all have different ways of expressing our sexuality. I’m not the type of person who does random hookups, generally speaking. That in and of itself isn’t a judgement towards anyone who does. It’s just not something I’m interested in. When I had a nesting partner who did do random hookups, it was a difficult thing for me to work out and I can’t say I had the best reaction to it.

This wasn’t because I felt like they were being irresponsible or because I had any feelings about it but more because sex represented something different to me, it was hard for me to put myself in the mindset of someone who wanted to do hookups. I still don’t know if I can put myself into that mindset. And sometimes I still get scared I’m not “enough” when new hookups happen. But I cope with these feelings by talking it out with my partner and, even though I have said things that have made them feel judged about their choices, I have apologised for that and have never meant to make them feel like there’s something wrong with them for wanting to have hookups.

And I’ve certainly not taken one hookup and threw back at my partner not only that they hookup with *everyone*, but also encouraged further shame. I’ve never questioned why they are non-monogamous to begin with either. I have definitely expressed genuine confusion by their choice and it did take me awhile to understand that I didn’t *need* to understand this for us to work things out, but to go as far as what your partner has done throws up some serious red flags.

He’s allowed to feel insecure and scared, but he’s not allowed to encourage you to feel shameful for your own choices in the way you describe, especially aggressively. You’re never going to make him understand your want for random hookups if he doesn’t get it but he also doesn’t have to inherently understand it to be respectful of you. I don’t know why my partner likes pineapple on pizza but I certainly don’t go on about how disgusting it is in a way that’s supposed to stop them from doing it or make them feel bad about it.

Personally, I would find it hard to stay in a relationship with someone who did this kind of gaslighting (extrapolating that because you had sex with ne Uber driver that you have sex with every single one) and emotionally abusive behaviour towards me. Still, I can empathise with the fact that it’s possible he’s lashing out because he’s insecure and doesn’t know how to handle it. We’re all capable of acting in an abusive way when under duress, especially if we have experienced that from caregivers.

But, if this is going to work, then some things need to happen. First, he needs to acknowledge these instances where he has encouraged you to feel shame, apologise for them and commit to stopping that. Second, he needs to commit to, if it’s accessible, seeing a therapist to work out how to better regulate his emotions so that he doesn’t lash out at people when he is feeling insecure. Third, you need to explain, unequivocally that, regardless of the current state of partners, your relationship is and always has been non-monogamous and you can and will be having random hookups if you want. If he does not like that or does not want that to happen, he needs to break up with you instead of trying to shame you out of having them.

And last, while I am more than willing to understand that people say things they don’t mean in times of stress and trauma, you need to exercise your ability to walk away or immediately stop any conversation with him that leads back to these ways of basically abusing you over things you have done in the past. Do not entertain that type of discussion ever again. He’s absolutely allowed to be scared and insecure — that’s pretty much a given. But he needs to be able to discuss it without shaming you about your choices.

Finally, you’re valid in what you’re feeling. You like random hookups and that’s legit. Even if someone else doesn’t understand it, there is no good reason why, so long as you are doing it for fun and not as a form of self-harm, anyone needs to question your reasoning for doing it. Your partner could have valid concerns about why you’re interested in random hookups and maybe there is or could be some larger issue (or not) — but that’s for you to handle and explore on your own and it’s certainly not going to be solved through shame and abuse.

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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