Episode 26: Flirting or Cheating

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.

What if your partner has always flirted in a way you define is cheating and now they want to be non-monogamous?

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

Discussion Topic – True or False: “I know how to stand up for myself”.

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

Episode 26 – Flirting or Cheating

What if your partner has always flirted in a way you define is cheating and now they want to be non-monogamous. 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 – True or False: “I know how to stand up for myself”.

 

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

Letter:

I hope you can help as I’m in a situation where I’m not sure what to do next.

Basic summary: I am a 36 year old bisexual male and have been with my current bisexual female partner (29) for 7 years this August. In October last year she professed a desire to be non-monogamous. Not to date, but to just sleep with people, especially women, as she had not done this in her Uni years and early 20’s and feels like she missed out on getting to do it, as she’s only ever had male partners and those have been long term and loving rather than short and sexual, or one-night-stands. She had been keeping this desire secret from our relationship for over 3 years.

We are, as of now, still monogamous.

I want what’s best for her, I always have. She is absolutely the bright spot at the centre of my universe! If there’s something she wants, I don’t want to stand in her way. But this makes me so stressed out that my mental health has been seriously affected. I’ve had to go to therapy to try and work through things. It plays on my insecurity and my anxieties (mainly around my looks and self worth and self confidence, I think she’s absolutely gorgeous and I’m just fine) so badly that I can’t get it off my mind and I feel awful pretty much all the time. It’s been on my mind every day since October last year when she first brought it up. I just think I might fundamentally not want to do it. Not that I have problems with others doing it or the concept of it itself, just not for me.

When she goes out I worry about what might happen, she assures me that she wouldn’t do anything and wouldn’t cheat, but I have been told on several occasions by different people that her behaviour really gets close to the mark. I think she has a hard and fast line that cheating is purely physical, as long as she doesn’t make out with anyone or sleep with anyone then anything else is below that line is ok.

For example, I’ve been told that whilst with a group of friends (who are mostly polyamorous and have over the years all been together in different set ups with each other) that she (before we’d had *any* conversations) told the group that we were in fact, polyamorous. This lead to a bisexual woman in the group getting very close to her that evening, flirting and dancing in a very close way and touching, and when this other person wanted to move it to the next level of making out and inviting her back to her place for sex, she held her hands up and said she couldn’t and she’d got the wrong idea. They haven’t spoken since.

On another occasion she was with a friend in a bar and wrote a note to an attractive woman in a bar and passed it to them, telling them that she thought they were incredibly attractive. The woman read it and before anything could happen, my GF panicked and left the bar.

On a friend’s birthday night out, she was very touchy-feely with them and told her she was “sexy”, this person then invited them to dinner where she confessed strong sexual feelings towards my GF, which she reciprocated, but needed to check with her BF if she could sleep with or do anything with my GF. He ultimately said no (on the Saturday) but my GF had the ‘talk’ with me on the Thursday. She also has had flirty evenings with a specific male friend, who has said he’s very attracted to her and wants to sleep with her.

Both of these things, she says had zero bearing on her having the conversation with me and opening the dialogue. I want to believe her, but the timing makes me suspicious that as she suddenly had two very good opportunities on the horizon that she wanted to have the conversation with me to allow her to progress. I felt terrible feeling that she’d waited until she had something fully lined up before she spoke to me, despite her saying it was a coincidence.

From my personal experience when I’ve been out, on a recent night out for a birthday when she’d had a few drinks she got extremely tactile with people, constantly touching them and when she wants to talk to them wrapping her hand around their head and leaning right into their ear to talk to them. I had to double take because I thought she was making out with them as did a few others. She does this with female friends in the poly group, but also male strangers.

I saw this, the men in question are then buying her drinks and getting very close and I saw one of them running his hands on her body and groping her. As we hadn’t had any further discussions or set any boundaries, I got quite upset seeing this behaviour because I was there and she was doing this so I feel like she probably does this when I’m not there. I got upset and left, and a friend came to talk to me as i was so upset and eventually i went back to the house we were staying at.

My GF did not come and speak to me, despite me messaging saying I was upset. Eventually when she came back at 4am with a group of men, at least 2 of them who have messaged her and are definitely interested, she walked straight past me. I waited a few minutes and went outside to see where she was and she was sat on a chair, with her legs draped across so closely her butt was on his outer leg, the guy who hours earlier told me he was really interested in her and told me that I was a “cuck”.

I got even more upset, stormed off and told her i was going home. Some time later she caught up with me, we had a big row and I said I couldn’t cope anymore and we should probably break up. We were both probably a little too drunk to continue that conversation. The next day she came home at around 6pm, showered then came in to my workshop to see me, I apologised for my behaviour as I feel I should communicate my feelings more if she’s doing something that upsets me, and she apologised for her behaviour as well (the getting up in and on people when she’s drunk, insisting she’s just being friendly but also acknowledging it may be perceived as flirty) and that’s basically where it was left. We haven’t discussed it since and again, I know I’ll have to be the one to bring it up so we can confirm where we’re at and where we’re going.

I raised that it’s been really hard and I see it as unfair on me to constantly be the one trying to work through the situation and always the one who has to bring it up as it wasn’t me who brought this into our relationship. It weighs on me every day, and some days I’m so sad and tired that I just can’t face bringing it up. Her response to this is that she’s wanted to bring it up but hasn’t because when she comes home I’m always there for her, always ask about her day and give her hugs and affection, we go for nice walks and I cook the dinner and then we snuggle up on the sofa and watch tv or listen to a podcast; and she doesn’t want to not have that on days when she’s tired and she doesn’t want to jeapordise what we have and lose it from her life by bringing it up and going down the path of non-monogamy in case she ends up losing me.

I feel like there are two versions of her, the one that wants this stable relationship and the one who wants to go out and sleep with others, and I’m not sure how this will play out or what I want to do. I don’t want to lose her, but I don’t want to get into something like ENM just to keep her in my life, as that i’m sure will ultimately end in heartache. Sometimes I think it would be nice to kiss someone else, but when it all seems to come up I seem to struggle with the anxiety and jealousy or the whole situation and it puts me off.

Since I started writing all this (it’s taken me a few weeks), we were both due to go out to the Goth night where all this seems to play out but a few hours before my GF said that she didn’t want me to go as she was stressed by the potential of me going in case we ended up having another argument. I pointed out that we’d had a talk, established that communication from me and relaying how what she does makes me feel and also we’d been out a few times since then and not had arguments.

But, she was worried about me being in the environment regardless as the other nights out had been ‘different’. So I decided I didn’t want to potentially put any dampeners on her night and I wanted her to enjoy, so I stayed at home. She had a gig (she’s a musician) the next day so said she’d be home by 3am. She eventually came home at 5am. I was a little worried the following day as like I mentioned earlier, I worry about her behaviour and her safety and I’m starting to realise I have some trust issues with her as while I do not feel she lies to me, I do think she may not be 100% truthful with me and herself.

This was unfortunately (I think) proven accurate as the following day she handed me her phone to take some photos of her and when I went into her gallery there were dozens of photos of her and one of the previously mentioned men who are interested hanging all over each other and being very close. While I was seeing these (I had her phone for a while, about 30 minutes), she received a message from this guy saying he really enjoyed dancing and being with her and could she send him the photos. A friend also told me that on the night my GF was pestering a female friend she has previously said is attractive into making out with her.

I just don’t know what to do. I want to stay with her because I love her so much, we click and are absolutely perfect for each other in so many ways, but this ENM stuff and her new behaviour with people with people when she is out is really upsetting for me. I really don’t like that my perception is she’s flirting, but she says she isn’t that she’s just being friendly so I don’t know whether she’s trying to make me feel better or i’m just misinterpreting and being sensitive. A few other people have said her behaviour seems too close to the mark to be innocent and friendly, so I just don’t know.

Letter:

So you keep saying that this “ethical non monogamy stuff”. What she’s doing now is is not ethical at all. It’s um… the thing of it is like… there are people who are naturally very flirty people and they don’t really intend to be flirty. That’s just kind of how they interact with people. And that’s absolutely fine. And this is kind of why I think that when people get together they need to kind of establish what cheating is because as you’ve said, she seems to think that it’s a very hard line and it has to be that she’s made out or slept with someone else. And that’s definitely cheating, but everything else isn’t.

It’s okay. Like I’m not— I don’t think that there’s necessarily one definition of cheating that is right for everyone. I think it’s important to come to an agreement because you know, you might have a couple who both of them think that watching porn is cheating. And I don’t necessarily agree with that. But if both of them agree with that and that’s their definition and that works for them and I think that works for them and that’s fine. Clearly, you don’t have the same definitions and I don’t think it’s completely ridiculous for you to feel like you know, specifically the like groping and the touching… I think it’s okay if that makes you feel uncomfortable.

But it would be different if that was all that was going on here. The thing that really really is making the red flags kind of come up here is that the first instance you talk about where she’s with a group of polyamorous people and she tells them that she’s polyamorous. There’s a lot of instances of her making moves on people and then sort of getting freaked out and backing off. I think it’s totally fair for you to feel upset by the fact that it seems like you know, she’s insisting that these two incidents of people that she’s kind of lined up, and that it’s no coincidence— it’s absolute coincidence that this happened. And that does kind of tend to happen sometimes where people

want non monogamy and I’m not— I don’t think this makes her necessarily a bad person.

Sometimes people really want non-monogamy and it is the interest in someone else who is physically there and the opportunity being presented to them that actually makes them push to ask for it. But they have to kind of be honest about that. And the fact that she’s not being honest about that is a little bit worrying. She’s lying about things which isn’t really cool. And I don’t think it was cool that you went through her phone pictures. Like a I do think that was a little bit you know, you don’t snoop unless you are prepared to act on the things that you find and snooping in that situation doesn’t give you very good ethical leverage.

But she is kind of lying about what’s going on. And she is, you know, you hear from other people… it’s interesting because you say that she thinks this hard line of cheating is making out or sleeping with someone, and yet you’re hearing on multiple instances where she’s trying to make out with people and she may not be successful in that, but that still doesn’t make that not cheating. You don’t have to actually do it for it to be cheating.

I guess for her like she’s trying to pull back the definition of cheating as much as she can so that she can do as much as you can without being guilty. But even if we were to say okay, you know all the touchy gropey stuff and dancing with people and the flirting isn’t cheating but making out and sleeping with someone is. Okay. If that’s the case, then her trying to make out with someone or directly saying such as in the last example that you gave where, you know, she is literally trying to get someone to make out with her. That is cheating.

Even if she isn’t successful in getting that to happen, it’s still cheating. And it’s really not acceptable. You know, I’m really— the thing that really kind of bothers me is that you can have very different definitions of behaviours. And some people like I said, are naturally flirty, and they don’t really mean it. And they… or even if they do mean to be flirty, it’s not a relationship thing for them, or it’s just something that— it’s just a way they enjoy interacting with other people. And that’s fine. Like for some people, it’s— it doesn’t have to mean anything deep. It’s just… They just like being flirty, and that’s fine.

But what bothers me about this, and if this were different, I would try to you know, help you kind of get over that a bit— but she’s not really acknowledging that her behaviour hurts you. And that’s kind of the thing that that worries me about the situation. It would be one thing if she was a bit flirty and maybe was a little bit not realising how flirty she’s being. Because there are you know people can be like that as well. It’s just that she’s flirty and she also, when you bring it up, doesn’t seem to be apologising for that.

And in fact this last example you give where you both want to go out, she actually just wants you to stay home rather than— she doesn’t want to deal with the emotional responsibility that her actions have. And unfortunately that’s not a good sign in general because part of being polyamorous isn’t the fun bit— or even non-monogamous so even if she just wants to sleep with other people, it’s not all fun and games. And if that’s what you want, you kind of have to be willing to deal you know and help your partner in some instances and be supportive towards them.

And here you are, you’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to I don’t want to dampen her night and I want her to have whatever it is that she wants”. But is she really doing that for you? She’s not really emotionally supporting you in any way. In fact, she’s trying to avoid emotionally supporting you. She’s— now she’s getting to a point where she’s like, “No, I don’t actually want you to come” because she wants to be able to, you know, flirt and do whatever it is she wants without you having a problem with it. And it’d be one thing if she came at you with this and was like, “Look, you know, I clearly am very flirty with people, and that upsets you and I don’t want to upset you. Maybe, you know, we can go out this other time together at this other place”.

It would be one thing if she was kind of willing to acknowledge that her behaviour has the potential to hurt you and be there for you when that happens. But she instead just wants you not to be there. And then she she sort of says, “Well, I don’t want to bring this up because we’re having such a good time. And I don’t want to have to spoil our good night where you cook, can you cuddle me and support me and I don’t want to have to bring it up because it’ll dampen the mood”. Like so what? Like tough shit. That’s kind of how being in a relationship works.

Sometimes it’s not all fun. Sometimes you have to have difficult conversations, and you can’t put them off just because you don’t feel like it. That’s not helping anyone. You know. And you on the other hand, you seem to be willing to have those conversations, you seem to be willing to get through the difficult parts and talk about it. But she doesn’t even want to talk about it. How— you know, you said it yourself that you are the person who’s kind of having to bring stuff up and push the communication and that’s just not a very good sign. It would be one thing— because I do think you could be in a situation where you could try ethical non monogamy, if it was ethical— and I really hate using the word “ethical non monogamy” because it’s sort of like the word “consensual sex” or you know, like, if it’s not— if sex is not consensual than it’s not sex. It’s rape. If it’s not ethical non monogamy, then it’s cheating.

You know, you could be polyamorous or in an open relationship, I think very well, but you can’t pull the weight of the whole relationship for you both and you can’t do all the communication for you both. She has to be willing to not have a great day or deal with the kind of emotions that sometimes opening a relationship brings even if it’s not, you know, full on other relationship. And she just doesn’t seem to be willing to do that.

And she’s also kind of— the biggest red flag is that like being with polyamorous people and saying that you’re polyamorous and it turns out, you’re not like… that is not okay, under any circumstances. And I bet there’s no— it’s not a coincidence that she hasn’t spoken to those people again, or at least to that person that you know, tried to invite her back to their house because polyamorous people like, on the whole like, I mean, people are people and different in different places, but that’s not a cool thing. Like we don’t— polyamorous people and polyamorous communities don’t tend to like it when people are dishonest about that kind of stuff, because the whole point of it is not to be dishonest.

So yeah, I wish that there was something better I could tell you in this situation. You know, you could get a couple therapist, you could try that. But at the end of the day, you cannot force someone else into, you know, trying to talk to you about this. You can’t force someone else into communicating, if they’re unwilling to communicate and she just doesn’t seem to be willing to communicate. She doesn’t even seem to be willing to figure out a way to handle her flirtiness with other people and make you feel better. Because I do think like— I don’t necessarily think that someone flirting, even being very tactile, some people are just very tactile people. I don’t necessarily think that it automatically like makes her a terrible person.

And I don’t think that she necessarily has like some deep ulterior motive. It may just genuinely be that she doesn’t realise just how flirty she is and how she comes off. But there are points when she kind of has to be Little bit more cognisant of that and and how it affects you, and at least make an effort to making you feel better and or at least acknowledging what it’s done to you or how it makes you feel. The fact that like as well, the behavior that you talked about when she— you know, you were very, very upset clearly and she comes home with like a load of guys, and one of the guys calls you a cuck. And like, she doesn’t even acknowledge you and like walks past you like all of that it’s just really shitty behavior. It’s really shitty behavior, honestly, like, at the very least, regardless of how flirty she is, or isn’t with other people, the second someone calls her partner and name and, you know, insults them, she should stick up for you and say, “Excuse me?”.

Unless you know she didn’t hear it, but she should care about that. Like, you know— I don’t know if the guy who called you a cuck is the same guy who sent her all the pictures are wanted to see all the pictures or whatever the hell that is. But yeah, she’s showing you on on multiple occasions that she kind of wants to do what she wants to do. And it’d be one thing if she was just flirty and didn’t realize it but was still willing to work with you and still trying to help you and still trying to be sensitive to the fact that it is upsetting you, she doesn’t even seem to be willing to do that.

And I think that if she’s not willing to do that, then there really isn’t much you can do about the situation and it’s you know, this isn’t even about whether or not you can do non-monogamy or if non-monogamy is for you. This is about the fact that you’re kind of with someone who genuinely doesn’t seem to care about your best interests and in her actions. Maybe in her words, she cares about you, but she is not really proving that with her actions. Unfortunately, she’s just kind of doing what she wants to do and not really caring about the effect it has on you and really wanting deal with the effect it has on you and just putting that off or avoiding it completely which is— doesn’t really spell anything good to be honest.

So yeah, in summation, like, what she’s doing isn’t ethical. This isn’t  an ethical

non monogamy. It’s really important to have an agreed definition of cheating but I think you’re kind of well past that right now. Because based on your definition, a hard line of someone— her making out with someone or sleeping with someone, if she goes after a person with the intention of making out with them, then that is still cheating. It doesn’t matter if she’s successful or not. It’s still cheating because she had the intention. She probably might disagree with that. But as you can tell like this is— this is a problem is somebody basically kind of trying to redefine cheating so that they’re not cheating is an issue.

Clearly doesn’t even matter if it meets the specific definition of what cheating is it still upsets you. And that’s what’s important. Like it doesn’t have to be cheating to upset you. And she needs to acknowledge that and the fact that she’s not willing to acknowledge the hurt that she’s causing,

is kind of the biggest problem here. And the fact that you’re kind of having to bring everything up, the fact that you’re kind of having to have these conversations and she doesn’t want to have them really, really doesn’t spell a very good future for you both.

And I wish— I genuinely genuinely wish that I had something better to suggest. But I just feel like, you can try getting up polyamorous friendly couples therapist who may be can make her work on being more aware of her behaviour and acknowledging that with you and having these difficult conversations— because I don’t necessarily blame her for not wanting to have shitty conversations. Like I don’t blame anyone for that. But she just at some point, you got to put your big adult panties on and deal with it. That’s just life and you can’t force her into growing up, unfortunately.

So yeah, maybe find— if you have the access to it— a non-monogamy friendly therapist who can work with her on that if she’s willing to work. If she says she is, but you need to really think about Plan B. Because if she continues to behave this way, and doesn’t acknowledge it, then I don’t think opening up the relationship is going to fix that. Because if anything, she’ll have permission, but she’s still not going to care that something is hurting your feelings and doesn’t seem to be willing to fix that and until she’s willing to fix that, or at least address it and have conversations about, it just doesn’t spell very good things.

But I do think— you know, it is tough. I do genuinely hate it when like my best advice to someone is okay, maybe try a therapist, but it’s not looking good. And maybe you should think about seeing other people. But at the end of the day like this is wearing down your mental health and you don’t deserve that. You really don’t deserve to feel so insecure and have good reasons for feeling insecure and feel so you know, frustrated and in this situation you don’t deserve that. So I hope that helps and good luck.

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Polyamory as a treatment for infidelity

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.

I’m 33 and I live with my girlfriend who is 28. We met 3 years ago while she still had a boyfriend. A that time I was physically attracted to her (she is very beautiful) but as I knew she had a boyfriend I did not approach her. However, during a party we got close and ended up kissing. For me this was just physical and after few months we ended up having sex (she still being in a relationship). I did not care much as I thought it was just sex but things started to escalate and long story short, she left her boyfriend to be with me. Since the beginning (when we were lovers), she always told me that she always had this need of freedom within a relationship, she wanted to be able to have sex with anybody she felt attracted to. This with the consent of her partner. This of course was a problem with her ex and I guess was partly why the relationship ended.

After a few months she started pitching me the idea of an open relationship. I was not thrilled with it (I guess I should have seen this one coming) and I said I would feel bad because for me having sex was something very intimate and I thought that if you look for sex outside the relationship, your partner doesn’t satisfies you sexually. She had all these arguments of “sex is just physical”, “I just want to be in a relationship with you” and also that she felt really bad if she could not do it (have the freedom). She started by asking me to let her have sex with one of her female friends (who btw is in an open relationship, that seems to work very well). I opposed and she respected that.

However she asked again, an now she told me she was doing a big sacrifice for me, because I was worthwhile and she didn’t want to lose me by cheating on me, but she still had this obsession. I told her that I understood her arguments but that I thought it was a big step for me and that maybe it was easier if we tried to first have a threesome (After all that’s how her friend started her open relationship). She thought the idea was not good enough because she had this urgent feeling and that she wanted to do that herself. So after she appealed to my reason and some insistence I told her that I would be ok if she had sex with girls (but only girls). She calmed down for a while.

It was ok for a while (actually she didn’t do it with her friend, although I explicitly told her it was ok), but then came the obsession with a guy she met at a conference. Again she started trying to convince me about letting her do it with him. I told her I had already gave in with girls, but that was not enough for her. She wanted to be with this guy and only that guy. You could see how obsessed she was with the topic when she talked about it. I said it was ok for her to go out with him but no sex, but it wasn’t enough.

After many talks and months, we came to the conclusion that she having sex with this guy was something inevitable and although I was clear telling her I didn’t know how I will react and where this would lead to I told her to go ahead. And it finally happened, yesterday she had sex with him. She arrived home and told me “It’s done, no big deal”. It took some minutes to sink in, and then I freaked out. I left while she was showering and came back 2 hours later. I had a frenzy of feelings (anger, sadness, fear…). I ended up sleeping in the guest room. She tried to talk to me but I didn’t want to. Then I couldn’t stop picturing her having sex with the guy, which is quite an uncomfortable feeling (didn’t let me sleep).

Right now I don’t know what to do. I cannot understand what I feel. I don’t even know if I love her because of this rejection feeling I have now (but I guess I do otherwise I wouldn’t care so much). I have been feeling that I have put her happiness and feelings over mine and that somehow that is not fair, because she has put herself over me and the relationship. I guess I feel angry at myself on not putting myself first. To be honest I never asked for an open relationship (I don’t feel the obsession she has) and I think I won’t be having sex with girls although I have the “freedom” to do so (I like having sex with her, so I don’t need to seek this elsewhere). She is a very beautiful girl and she could have sex with whoever she wants, so that also skews matters.

In this kind of situation sometimes I advise people who have some interest in non-monogamy or at least have some interest in trying it about some common pitfalls they might explore or things they might think about when opening their relationship — but you don’t want that.

With all due respect to your girlfriend, she may be polyamorous by nature but she is also someone who has consistently demonstrated a lack of respect for the boundaries of her partners. You got with her through infidelity and I don’t really believe it was as easy as her partner not wanting to open their relationship — she cheated on them. And that’s not acceptable behaviour. Maybe she needs to come into her own and figure out how to pick partners who want the same thing she wants, respect people enough to let them go if they’re not what she wants, and, instead of trying to hound people into non-monogamy, simply date people who are non-monogamous.

Instead she is taking a bit of a cowardly way out. Instead of breaking up with you because she clearly does not want monogamy and you do, she is just trying to harangue you into letting her do what she wants. And when you give an inch, she’ll ask for a mile. It’s not going to be ‘enough’ for her because she wants what she wants and she’s clearly not going to accept your ‘no’ as a complete sentence.

Honestly, she barely sounds polyamorous. Someone who does not respect their partner enough to accept their boundaries and either break up with them if they are not acceptable or accept them is not someone who is going to have good relationships in their life, monogamous or not. You deserve better.

Maybe you could attempt a monogamous/polyamorous situation with someone who had shown a pattern of respecting your ‘no’, but this person has not done that. Break it off and find someone who respects you. I wish I had something different to offer you but you can’t force a person to respect you or your boundaries.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 25: First Time Jitters

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 your first foray into non-monogamy is cheating — but it’s not sexual — are you doomed?

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

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

Discussion Topic –  If you had a memoir, what would the title of it be?

Episode 25 – First Time Jitters

If your first foray into non-monogamy is cheating – but it’s not sexual – are you doomed?  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 had a memoir, what would the title of it be?

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

Letter:

My wife cheated on me a few months ago. It was an emotional friendship which she mistaked one night that it could be something more. She immediately ended all ties with the friend. We worked through the issue,  and our relationship grew stronger.

In order to prevent this from happening again I have now given her permission to sleep with other people,  as long as it’s purely physical and I am aware of the situation. She has agreed, only to be physical experiences and always to be honest.

We try to plan these experiences together and I get the WORST anxiety.  I know this is probably normal with most people.  Should I push through the anxiety? Do I owe it to her to at least try this to see how I will feel after? I really want to be able to give this to her. She’s given me every inclination that this will only be physical experiences,  so why am I so worried?

Any help would be appreciated!

Response:

So um, this is like the biggest thing that I think a lot of people do when they go to open their relationship. I don’t think that cheating is necessarily the best start to an open relationship. It is like a way that a lot of people end up in open relationships. So… and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of all, you know, a kind of negative aspect of it. But I do you think that when cheating happens, the person who cheated really needs to really understand why it is they did what they did, and be willing to rebuild that trust. Like that needs to be kind of a big thing.

Because essentially, what’s happened is that all of the trust that you’ve built in your relationship, and I don’t know how long you’ve been with your wife, but all the trust that you’ve built has now kind of been broken, and you can’t really build a house on a broken foundation. And opening your relationship is an extreme stressor into the relationship just like having a child is, just like moving to a new country is. It is a big change and if you try to make that change on top of a foundation that is cracked, it’s going to be very, very difficult.

So I think that the primary thing, which is probably causing you anxiety isn’t just opening your relationship. But it’s also that your wife has cheated. And it doesn’t… It doesn’t sound like she’s unapologetic about it. You said you work through the issue and your relationship is growing stronger. But you also need to remember that even as your relationship is growing stronger, it’s going to take a while for you to have the same level of trust again, and so it is okay for you to be anxious, and I think you would be anxious, even if you hadn’t opened up your relationship.

The second thing that really worries me here is that you’re opening a relationship to prevent her from cheating on you again. People can still cheat in open or polyamorous or non monogamous relationships. It depends how you define cheating. Like I accept the fact that people define cheating in their own way. And I encourage people to figure out what is cheating to them as early as they can in a relationship because I do sometimes think that when people have different definitions of what cheating is, they end up in situations where one person has cheated according to the other person, but the other person doesn’t think they’ve cheated.

In my definition of cheating, cheating is when a partner has hidden or lied to me about something. And that can be intentional lying or lying through omission. So it doesn’t even have to be sex. And it sounds like in this situation, you said it was an emotional friendship. It can be something like that. It’s just anything that a partner is lying to me about and hiding from me is cheating to me. You can’t prevent that from happening necessarily by opening the relationship completely.  And I think that suckering yourself into that false sense of security is a really dangerous thing, especially because what some people end up doing when they first open their relationships is that they’re so not used to this being a thing that sometimes they accidentally cheat on their partner.

So they’ll open the relationship. They’ll go out and they know they have permission, but they are afraid almost have a discussion with a partner after they’ve been out with somebody else. And so it’s easier sometimes for them to hide it and not talk about it, even though that is technically cheating. So that can still happen, she can be still worried. Even if you know you’ve made this arrangement, she can still be worried and not tell you something. I think there needs to be some understanding of that. But yeah, you shouldn’t assume that you can’t be cheated on. And that’s not to make you even more scared or to increase your anxiety, but it’s just to be realistic about the situation.

The second thing, or I guess, well, the third thing is that this rule— and a lot of people do this. They make these rules where, “Okay, it’s just going to be physical. We’re not going to fall in love with somebody else”. I think that there are very, very few people in this planet— on this planet, even who are self aware enough to be able to say “I won’t fall in love with somebody”. And even then I think it’s not that they can control who they fall in love with. I think it’s that they know themselves well enough, that when they start having those kind of feelings, they’re able to pull back.

Most people I don’t think are really that capable of that. And it’s not to say anything bad about your wife or anything bad about anybody else. But you really can’t control who you start to develop romantic feelings for. Most of us can’t. If you could control that, I probably wouldn’t get so many letters. You just can’t control that. So creating this rule where you won’t have feelings isn’t really a good rule. And it also is there to try and prevent something from happening that you can’t prevent from happening. What you need to think about is you know, especially since when, you know if she had cheated because she was sexually curious and had a one night stand with somebody, then maybe it would be different but she actually cheated by having this emotional friendship and this connection with somebody.

So it’s it’s unrealistic for you or for her to really expect that she won’t have that connection again with somebody. It’s unrealistic for anyone who’s monogamous to expect that somebody you know that their partner won’t— you know, can’t fall in love with somebody else. You can. It’s not about preventing those feelings. It’s about figuring out what you’re going to do when those feelings occur. And you and her both would need to have a look at what polyamory is, and what you really want out of this situation because it makes me wonder if, when she cheated on you, she had this emotional friendship and it doesn’t seem like that was just about having different sexual experiences.

It seemed like that was about a relationship. Does she actually want other relationships or is she just sort of agreeing to this kind of thing where she can have sex with other people because that’s what you’re giving her. But you know, she can’t control if she has emotional you know, emotions towards somebody else. And do you really want to be in a situation where she does have emotions for somebody else? Is that really a threat to you? Are you interested in her actually dating other people? What does that look like for your relationship?

So it’s normal that you’re having a lot of anxiety. But I do think that you haven’t really spelled out what this means you’re kind of allowing, you know, giving her permission to sleep with other people. But you haven’t really figured out if this is what she wants fully, or if this is what she’s missing. And that’s naturally, you know, you’re having anxiety for, you know, because of that, because you haven’t really established anything. You don’t really know how this is going to change your relationship. I don’t know— it doesn’t seem like in this letter that you’ve really sat down and thought, okay, if she is sleeping with other people, is there like a designated date night where she can go out with people? How will this affect the plans that you might have for each other in the future?

I think that you can— you could proceed because I do think that this anxiety you feel is totally totally normal. Like, I think people don’t talk about it enough. Like the first night when you have like a live in partner or somebody that you’ve been with for a while, the first night, when they go out with somebody else sucks. It really sucks. It just feels terrible. I… it took me a long time to actually be able to sleep through the night. And that wasn’t even my partner like going out and staying the night at other people’s houses. That was just my partner going out to a party that would last all night.

It’s just hard because, you know, your brain goes on a sort of Magical Mystery Tour of the terriblest things that could happen, or at least my brain does. So that’s quite normal, and it does get better. But the thing of it is, is that, you know, I can say to you, yeah, it’s gonna get better. Keep going with it. You’re gonna have to go through anxiety sometimes live through it, come out the other end and see that  you’re fine and your partner still there, and it does get better over a period of time.

But given what you’ve told me about the way that she cheated first off, it makes me wonder if this is actually what she wants, you know, because maybe she just wants sexual experiences, but she is going to end up having emotional friendships and emotional connections with the people that she sleeps with. And you haven’t really— you’ve only made a rule that it shouldn’t happen. But you haven’t really talked about what’s going to happen if it does happen. I mean, what is going to happen? At what point you know— it’s very hard to say when you’ve fallen in love with somebody. It’s very hard to say when you have feelings for somebody, sometimes that’s very nebulous. And so at what point is she supposed to come to you and say, “I think I’m falling for this person”.

You could go the extra mile like some people do, and put extra extra rules on it and say, you can only sleep with one person three times. I don’t think that’s really, really helpful because you just can’t prevent somebody from having feelings for somebody else. You just can’t prevent that. And it’s unrealistic to make a rule that they can’t do that because they can’t help it. So what you need to think about is what’s going to happen if that happens. Does she actually want other relationships with other people? And if she does, you know, I don’t think that necessarily means that your relationship has to end.

I think that you just need to think about, if there’s something in it for you. Is— you know, what does polyamory offer you? Don’t just do something because your partner’s doing it and you want to make sure that they are happy. You need to also think about your happiness. So, you know, you might get something out of polyamory and even if you’re not necessarily interested in being polyamorous yourself maybe you like to have your alone time. Maybe there are hobbies you want to take up that will take up time and there’s all kinds of reasons why a person who might be more monogamously inclined would be okay with their partner not only sleeping with other people but also having relationships with other people.

And it’s just about thinking about how that will impact your life in a physical way. Because I think, you know, love is infinite and yada yada yada, but time is not. But— and I think that people need to think about how their time will be impacted. And regardless of you know, the amount of love your partner has for you, when you agree to a situation that is non-monogamous or polyamorous or open, you are basically agreeing to your partner spending less time with you than they would otherwise. And I think it— I don’t think that’s exclusive to non monogamy.

I think that if you are dating someone who is you know in some type of military service or you’re dating someone who is a doctor or dating someone who’s a lawyer, someone who has an intense career which pulls them away for long periods of time, or they have to be at their job for 18 hours— that you’re also when you’re dating them or marrying them or in a long term relationship with them, you are agreeing to a relationship where that person does not have the same amount of time for you as somebody who would otherwise be in a different position. So you know, I don’t think it’s necessarily a terrible thing.

In my personal experience, like even if I don’t have other partners, I enjoy being alone. I enjoy having that time to myself. I enjoy going out with my friends. I enjoy doing things that aren’t necessarily dating other people. So there’s lots of reasons why it would be appealing to you. But you need to think about that. And I think right now you’re just trying to solve the cheating by opening the relationship and allowing her to sleep with other people. And as I said, if she had cheated in a way that was kind of like being interested in a sexual experience and going after it, then maybe I would, you know, see that this might be a solution to that. But the fact that it was kind of more of an emotional connection, I just think that, you know, this rule that you have, where it’s only going to be physical is just doomed to failure.  And maybe there’s a part of your subconscious that knows that. And that’s a big reason why you’re freaking out.

To summarize, first things first, I think that if cheating happens, and you want to open a relationship, the person definitely needs to be kind of— give you a little bit of patience with the amount of anxiety that you’re going to have because that trust has to be rebuilt. And sometimes the trust has to be rebuilt and an actual active scenario because it’s easy just to sit down and talk about this stuff. It’s easy just to sit down say, “Oh yes, I know you’ll never leave me”. But until it’s actually put into the test, you’re going to feel anxious. And then sometimes it takes it being put to the test. And then you coming out the other side and seeing that she hasn’t left for you to actually calm down a bit. So the— you know, theory is different than application basically.

Second thing is that this rule that you have where it’s only physical is a bit doomed to failure. It’s not really going to work. Because you can’t prevent— you can’t— someone can’t prevent their emotions to this extent. So you need to rethink that rule and rethink the reasons why you’re opening the relationship and also you know, what you plan to do, if feelings happen and how that might change your relationship. You and your partner need to really think about, you know, what it is that she wants out of a relationship. Does she want multiple relationships? Is it really just sexual experiences she wants? And just be really candidly honest with each other.

And then last but not least, this anxiety— if you get all that worked out. Like if you have a good talk about it and she figures out that she is kind of being not honest with herself and just kind of going with what you’re offering. But maybe she actually does want relationships and maybe you figure out you’re okay with that. Whatever ends up happening, if you do decide to try this, this anxiety that you have is totally totally, totally normal. It’s just totally normal. It’s okay to be terrified the first night or even the second night or even the fifth night that your partner is spending it with someone else and just to be fraught with anxiety.

I have been fraught with anxiety before. I’m much better now I can sleep through

the night now, which is good. And I am way way less anxious about it. I’m so much more chill than I was before. So just in my personal experience, this complete and utter anxiety is totally normal. And unfortunately, you do kind of just have to go through it and see that your partner hasn’t left you. That’s just sometimes the way anxiety is. The more you try to avoid it by making rules or by trying to– And I tried to distract myself. Like that’s the kind of advice everyone gives you like, “Oh, spend time with a friend, you know. Take a bath”. Yeah, I did, but I still felt shit.

Like, it’s sometimes unavoidable. So you know, it’s okay that you feel that. (So sorry about the siren noise). It’s okay that you feel that. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling that way. Because you can’t really cope with your anxiety if you’re too busy beating yourself up for having it and just kind of accept that it’s going to be shit. And don’t let that control your partner or prevent your partner from from not doing things. Like I said, the more you put off going through that anxiety, it doesn’t change the amount. Like I— in my personal experience. If I give anxiety and it takes a mile. If I allow my anxiety to start to control my behaviors, I’ll think “Oh no,  I’ll just avoid this for now”. And then it adds another thing that I have to avoid and another thing to avoid and then another and then another and it just builds until I’m just sitting in a corner crying and everything is going to attack me.  So you just can’t— Just don’t let it get to a point of controlling you. You just gotta go through it, unfortunately.

So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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Open relationships after cheating

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.

Me and boyfriend been dating for almost 2 years. We were seeing each other for like 6 months, then apart for 6 months but now we are together but we will be apart again soon.

One time I caught him on tinder and it upset me. Then he told me he’s not great in monogamous relationship. He told me he’d be okay if I meet or sleep with other guy and it won’t change his feeling towards me. He also said it’s easy for him to separate sex and relationship. I told him I don’t think I can do that. He told me I don’t have to do that I don’t want to. But he didn’t say anything to compromise my feeling, and that upset me, he knows that I’m upset but I think he just can’t change his habits.

Also, the day before I caught him on tinder, I read his was sexting other girl and I got upset. He said sorry and he said he’d stop but the next day I caught him on tinder so I feel cheated.

Then after, I asked him if he’s been sleeping with other people since we’re together. He admitted it, but I already knew it because I checked his messages secretly. It happened when I moved back to my country and he hasn’t had a plan to come here and decided to move in with me.

However, I secretly know that he’s been on tinder and like to chat random girls. I used to check on his phone secretly but at some point he knew this and he changed all his password. So I know I have trust issue.

On the other hand, I also being on tinder all the time but never meet people in person, just chatting. And after we spoke about that monogamous stuff, I decided to meet couple of people and I didn’t enjoy it. I could and I want to be in monogamous relationship. Actually I think I’m on tinder and meet other guys because of him. But I also feel I’m selfish.

I do believe his feelings towards me. He says he want to have a life with me, have kids. And I do believe that, because he sacrifices a lot of thing for me. He moved in to my country while he doesn’t even speak the language, no friends. He stay here for 6 months even know I know he hates this place.

I want to be with him and have a life with him. But I’m afraid this will ruin myself. I can’t help myself thinking that he sleeps with other girl when we’re not together and that’s killing me. I am happy with him but he sometimes makes me upset. I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I feel like I want to end this relationship but the minutes after I feel like I still want to be with him.

Sorry for the long message and would really appreciate it if you could give some insights or suggestions or anything.

I’m sorry you’re going through this. This is one of those situations where non-monogamy really isn’t going to fix this problem. Your partner has cheated on you and attempted to create a non-monogamous relationship after the fact and with, in all honesty, piss poor excuses.

If he is not great in a monogamous relationship, he should have told you that from the start. There is really no excuse for him cheating on you. If he can’t do monogamy, then he shouldn’t pretend like he can because all he is doing is hurting you. Just because you are supposedly free to sleep with other people, does not mean this will work.

Non-monogamy isn’t automatically for folks who can’t “do” monogamy. Cheating on someone is an unethical thing to do, and there are very few excuses for cheating that I personally think are acceptable. But this man has told you who he is. He’s shown it to you multiple times. And while sometimes people can stumble upon non-monogamy through their partner cheating and discover it works for them, it does not sound like it works for you.

You’ve only been together for around a year and there is already trouble, lack of trust on both sides, and he is already showing you multiple times he will not be faithful.

While I think you reading his texts is a violation of privacy which is wrong, I don’t think it means you have “trust issues”. That still might be something you want to discuss with a polyamory friendly therapist, but so long as you haven’t done this in other relationships where the person has not cheated on you, I think you can forgive yourself that indiscretion. You’re not selfish. In the slightest.

Unless you want to spend the rest of your life checking his texts, being lied to, and not really dating anyone because it’s not what you want, please end it and find someone who is capable of meeting your needs. Of course you’re going to feel like you still want to be with him. You probably will for awhile until you heal.

But he’s cheating on you and lying to you and you deserve better.

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.

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Can polyamory fix a sexless marriage?

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.

I’m a 66 year old male and “happily married” for 26 years. I’ve got the perfect relationship except for one small thing, I’m stuck in a sexless marriage. I’ve always had a high libido and my wife had a low libido. Somehow we made it work, but over the last couple of years, she has no libido.

I went to counseling and my counselor recommended self pleasure as a way for me to find sexual pleasure without depending on my wife. This makes sense except for two small snags. First, I grew up Catholic and I was brainwashed into believing that self pleasure was sin and ended in eternal damnation.

Yes, that’s right I grew up in a time when self pleasure was considered abnormal and my mother scolded me when she found me playing with myself. The only acceptable sex in those days was PIV sex. And here’s where matters get worse. I’m so well trained that I rely totally on my wife to initiate.

Since my wife has no interest in sex, I can’t depend on her to initiate sex. I cheated in the past with extramarital affairs and don’t want to do it again. I want to be faithful. I’m looking for non-monogamous alternatives, something like friends with benefits. Someone to trade emails and talk about sex online. I’ve talked to my wife about this and she is OK with it as long as it’s anonymous and there is no contact IRL. I like reading, writing and listening to erotica and I’m looking for a collaboration partner. I set up boundaries and I think I’m on the right track, but some counselors have warned against it. They say I’m just deluding myself and taking a big risk of sliding down a slippery slope into an affair.

Also, I’m concerned that I may be hooked on the thrill of new relationship energy. When I meet someone online, I have all of these high hopes on how they will be “the one”. An understanding woman. A sexy woman. A seductive woman. A woman who can figure out what I want and gives it to me. I seem to be searching for the feelings that come from this kind of friendship. It feels like the excitement from “puppy love”.

Please share your thoughts.

There are a few things going on here that I want to address but the first question I think that’s worth asking is this — and it might be a tricky one:

Why are you still married?

I get that you love each other and maybe everything else *but* this really works for you, but it doesn’t seem like you have a business together and you’re 66 so I’m assuming that you’re not still taking care of small children. You may both own property together, but there isn’t really anything here tying you together to the point where separating would be incredibly difficult or impossible.

Which is not to make light of the fact you’ve been married for such a long time or trying to make it seem like it’s easy to break up a marriage that has lasted for so long. But I do think it should be considered as one of the possibilities you have to solve this issue. Especially since being in your 60s really isn’t the end of the world and you could, as you worry about in your letter, find someone who is more aligned with your needs.

And one of the biggest reasons I’m asking you this is because of your fear. Almost everyone has a fear they will be replaced, but the things you’re highlighting here go beyond just pure libido issues. You don’t just worry you’ll find a woman who has a similar libido as you — but that they will be “understanding” which makes me really wonder about the broader issues in your current relationship and if you’re really compatible.

You say you’ve been “happily” married and somehow you’ve made it work… it just doesn’t sound like you’re all that thrilled by your partnership to begin with. You don’t talk about any of the positives of your current relationship. And I have to wonder if part of the upbringing you mentioned has pushed you into this traditional type of marriage and kept you in it… when it doesn’t seem like what you genuinely want.

It’s hard to say if non-monogamy will actually solve the issue, but I’m not convinced that it’s some “slippery slope” that will lead you into real life cheating. I feel like that’s really almost taking the onus and agency out of your own choices in life. I would instead describe it as a band-aid over a gaping wound. I feel like if your deeper need is that you want more sex, then only satiating yourself in some small way has the risk of making you even more aware of the lack of it in your life, rather than solving it. It’s hard to say at this point or until you try it if it will “solve” the problem, but I also feel like pushing you into a situation where you can realise that this need is actually greater and this small solution won’t solve it might give you the motivation to realise that perhaps the current relationship you have just isn’t tenable in its current state and you and your wife are ultimately incompatible.

One other thing I want to add is that I do think that you should apply the same effort to solve this problem as you do with the conditioning you have that makes it difficult for you to initiate sex or take care of your own physical needs. Those are both things which you can work on with a therapist and, they may take awhile, but it’s not impossible.

I would consider finding a therapist who both deals with this specifically and is also open to non-monogamy and isn’t going to automatically deter you from finding solutions — especially since I feel like the “slippery slope” argument sounds almost too aligned with the condition you’ve grown up in. They could just as well have said “forbidden fruit” and this type of thinking really just discourages and disempowers you from feeling responsible for your own actions — which you ultimately are. And especially if you feel divorce is not an option for you, you should really apply yourself here.

Because really, even if you break up with your partner and find a new person, it’s really unfair and not on for them to be solely responsible for fulfilling your sexual needs. And perhaps this is why you haven’t yet considered divorce as an option — because you’d go for a period without a sexual partner most likely. But really, you need to be able to handle some basic things on your own and you need to be able to initiate things at least instead of relying on your partner to do so.

To summarise, I think that initially some of the comments you made made me wonder if there are aspects outside of just a mismatched libido that make you and your partner inherently compatible and it is really worth you considering why it is you’re still married if you’re not happy. In terms of solutions to this, I think you need to primarily work on being unable to meet your own physical needs and initiate sex with partners — because this is a problem regardless of what type of relationship style you’re in or who you’re with.

And lastly, I doubt that the solution you’re providing is a “slippery slope” but you also need to be aware that it may not solve everything and may, in fact, demonstrate to you exactly how incompatible you are with your partner. I don’t think this is necessarily a problem because it might encourage you to do what may make you happier, which is ending your marriage. And there is a risk of you being tempted to meet someone in person, but that’s something I think you should take full responsibility for instead of blaming the solution, especially since it seems like this is a critical issue and with or without this, you may end up being unfaithful again anyway if nothing is done.

I hope this makes sense to you and I don’t take it lightly to say you might have to consider ending your marriage, but I also don’t want anyone to see divorce or breaking up as inherently a failure. Don’t get stuck into a sunken cost fallacy where you think you should stay married just because you’ve been married for so long.

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.

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Episode 12: Needing to be Touched

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.

When your partner feels like they can’t touch anyone any more, are cheating or polyamory your only options? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

You should also be able to find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 12 – Needing To Be Touched

When your partner feels like they can’t touch anyone any more, are cheating or polyamory your only options? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

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

Letter:

So normally I feel like a snowflake for whatever reason and then I google around and find that I’m just one of many many people with whatever thought or problem I thought was unique. Not so after the birth of our daughter, my wife and I had a great sex life until we started trying to have a baby. A miscarriage and way too many trips to fertility clinics over five years had a very bad effect. But we miraculously got pregnant on our own and I hoped or thought things might change after our fairly happy and normal postpartum phase.

My wife felt touched-out, exhausted, in love with her little nursing. I stepped up in every way possible. Taking over all household chores, and providing any support necessary.  In the words of my wife “you’re great”.  I go above and beyond, all our friends say so. Anyway, my needs are weird, almost exclusively physical. I need touch and get almost nothing from praise or gifts or anything like that.  And my wife has not touched me without me explicitly asking to be touched in over two years.  That’s too long for me to deal with in any way suggested by anyone I’ve talked to..

We’re now pregnant again and I’m trying to figure out what my options are so I can keep being a good dad and husband.  I’ve gotten massage and that helps a bit. But I think I need some sort of intimate sexual connection at least once a month.  That seems to be a minimum for me not just to feel good about myself or have fun or anything trivial like that.  But fundamentally necessary to relieve excruciating tension and  stress.  For example, when this was all at its worst, I ripped my rotator cuff in my sleep from the sheer tension.  All doctors I saw said they never heard of such a thing.

So, I feel like my choices in monogamy are either divorce or ripping my other rotator cuff.  So I turn to polyamory out of fear and hope.  I understand it can be a particularly bad idea in the middle of a vulnerable time for my wife.  I am not trying to abandon her or in any way cheat my responsibility as a dad.  I knew what I was signing up for, she made an incredible sacrifice with the childbirth itself, which is incredible and insane and in my opinion elevates all mothers to the level of superhero.  But, without even talking about fairness, because that’s impossible and shouldn’t be a subject when kids are involved, I just have basic physical needs.

Is there something I’m not seeing?  We talked, my wife and I.  She seems defeated into agreeing that I should sleep with other women.  That makes it even worse.  But I go back to thinking that I’ll just break if I have to store that much tension again.  I did try everything like exercise and meditation and therapy and it’s all laughably inadequate.  I just need to be wanted and to be taken care of physically once in a while.  Doesn’t sound like polyamory has anything like that for me, but I’m at a loss.

Response:

So, first of all I want to say the sounds like an incredibly difficult situation to be in and I think that you seem like you’ve explored a lot of different options and the first thing that I kind of want to point out… I mean you said you talk to your wife about this and she seems kind of resigned to the idea of you sleeping with other people. I’m assuming but I haven’t really got the sense from your letter that there hasn’t seemed to be a discussion about what the options are for your wife to provide this touch.

I mean, that seems like an obvious answer like… obviously me know if you are touch starved, your wife could touch you more often. I’m assuming that’s not something that is at a workable for her for whatever reason and I just wonder like it… it’s a very difficult situation. Obviously you don’t want to pressure her into it and you don’t want to… kind of you know… it’s already a difficult situation, adding more kids to the relationship. Kids are very stressful and create a lot of stress. You don’t want to add that stress by sort of being like you know… oh once a month it’s time for you to do your wifely duties.

I can totally understand why you want to approach it that way but like… you know, you said this is a basic need for you and I do think that… it doesn’t say you’ve tried couples therapy. Are there things that your wife can do that may address the problem or make it a little bit easier for you to deal with the situation? Is her lack of touch wanting… is that something that she finds a problem? Is that something that she wants to address with a therapist? Is that something that is from the postpartum depression? I mean, not depression… Is that related to that? Or is that something else?

Because it seems like… I mean obviously if she feels like she doesn’t really want to be touched and it’s not a problem for her and she doesn’t see it as a problem then… you know, forcing her into a situation where she’s being forced to touch people in a sexual way where she doesn’t want to isn’t something that is a solution. And I think you know that. But I don’t know as that you’ve necessarily explored… it doesn’t sound like a you’ve necessarily explored all of that together.

Therapy just for you might not be the solution. Maybe you need couples therapy with each other to sort of explore what it is about touch that she is not keen on any more. Is that something that she wants to change? Is that something that she wants to address? I mean… because in my own personal situation like… I am on the asexual spectrum. I totally understand people saying “enthusiastic consent, enthusiastic consent” and I’m really you know… I get why people say that but on the other hand sometimes as person who is on the asexual spectrum I kind of feel like sometimes my consent isn’t that enthusiastic.

And it’s not to say I don’t want to have sex with my partners. It’s just that sometimes like… I don’t feel like I have the same urge to do it in the same way they do. And so I think for me like sex sometimes has a different type of meaning to it. It’s not really about like satisfying a physical urge. It’s kind of more about sometimes even satisfying a romantic or emotional urge and sometimes you know… I don’t necessarily feel any kind of urge but I do participate in sexual activities with my partners because I know they have urges or you know… It sounds… it is really hard because it doesn’t… I struggle with it as well. It really sounds very much like I’m forcing myself to have sex with people when I don’t necessarily really want to and that’s not really what’s happening.

Because I’ve been in situations where I’ve done stuff where I’ve not wanted to so… I do know the difference. But if I’m honest about some of the situations like you know… There are times when I do sexual things that I’m not like a 100% into it and I do it because I care about my partners. And I want them to be happy. And I know it’s just… it sounds kind of bad but I don’t think it is always. I don’t feel disgusted afterwards. I don’t feel used. If I felt any of those things, it would be one thing but I don’t so… I wonder if this is not… like I said I don’t think you do and I don’t think anyone does want to force your wife into a situation where she’s doing stuff she doesn’t want to do. But I just feel like there is more to explore there that you really haven’t necessarily… it doesn’t sound like from the letter that you’ve explored.

If you have explored that and she just you know for whatever reason doesn’t want to touch people, doesn’t want to be touched. It’s not something that she can foresee herself wanting in the immediate future or in the near distant future… then it does sound like you’re at an impasse. Because you have needs, but I think you’re on the money with feeling like polyamory isn’t really the solution to this. Because polyamory is really… I think you could probably establish relationships with other people but that doesn’t really sound like what you want to do.

I do really feel like people who go into polyamory or non-monogamy… I think they should at the very least have their own rationale for wanting to go into it that involves an understanding of wanting multiple romantic partnerships in their life and I feel like that’s not really what you want. You do crave kind of what you describe as intimate sexual connection but you don’t really talk about wanting other relationships and so I’m not really sure if that’s really want you want here. I don’t know if swinging is necessarily what you want either because you know… I mean that could potentially work. But I don’t necessarily feel like that kind of environment is as is necessarily what you want to go into as a single guy more or less. You know, not “single” but I think that would be quite difficult for you.

One option that you might consider and I mean I think it’s worth exploring with your wife as well… you know you said she seems resigned to the fact that you have to sleep with other women and obviously she’s going to be disappointed in that because you have a monogamous relationship. You have this kind of expectation. But I do wonder if it’s worth exploring as well. If there’s not a way she can help you meet this need, if it’s worth thinking about… what are the reasons why she feels dejected about it? Because I do often think that you know… there’s going to be an understandable feeling on her behalf that she can’t meet a need that you have. That’s going to make her…. it’s likely going to make her feel quite inadequate and that’s totally understandable.

But if this is just a sort of a sexual need and massage has helped then I do think another option you might consider exploring which might be something she’s more comfortable with if she thinks about the reasons behind it, is hiring a sex worker. Sex workers do all different types of work and you could even for the first time consider kind of like you know… you can talk about boundaries with your wife in terms of what you do with a sex worker. Like maybe you can just… she can give you kind of a sexual massage and that can be kind of just what the sex worker does. Like you don’t have to necessarily have penetrative sex with a sex worker. But she can… I’m assuming you would want a sex worker that goes by “she”. I could be wrong. But the sex worker can provide you with a sort of sexual touch that could help in the situation and it might be more of what you’re looking for.

Because you’re not really looking for a constant relationship and I do think it would be almost unfair for you to kind of try to pursue that on polyamory angle because the other people… you’re really looking to meet in a sexual need. And there are people who are polyamorous who probably wouldn’t mind helping with that. I do think that generally speaking you know… when you talk about polyamory it is about other romantic relationships and those people might want to be more involved and have more involvement than just helping you meet a sexual need. Whereas like a sex worker who you hire who can help you out with that. Then there is a more professional type of relationship there and that actually might take a little bit pressure off your wife.

I mean it really depends. I know that this seems kind of silly to say maybe to some people that hiring a sex worker might make her feel less threatened but if you think about it, it’s a professional relationship with a professional in the same way you would hire a masseuse to massage you. They have the experience and the knowledge to help you in this situation and can put you at ease and can help you out with that. Sex workers are professionals so they can help you and I think that, because it’s a professional relationship, maybe there is less threat there for your wife because she doesn’t have to worry that you’re gonna run off with someone because this is a professional who’s coming in to help you. It’s not another relationship she has to worry about, which isn’t to say you know you can’t have a relationship with a sex worker. Obviously people can and do. Sex workers have relationships. What I’m saying is that this is designed to be a professional interaction with someone and so that might make some of the pressure that your wife might feel about you sleeping with other women a little less because it’s a professional person rather than just like a person who could steal you away. And that might make her feel better.

And I think that another thing you might consider talking about and exploring with your wife is considering a fixed time. It really depends on the reasoning behind your wife not wanting to be touched or touch anyone. Is this a temporary thing? It could be just as a result of stress and because having children is extraordinarily stressful. So it might not last forever but it could last forever. Maybe she can’t say. But I think you know you can always talk about as well that might help her feel a little more relaxed about the situation is say… ok you know define time on this. Like maybe one week night or a one night a month or something, cause you say about once a month. Once a month, you know you find a sex worker, spend the night. You spend some time with a sex worker and then you can say, “ok I’m only doing this for the next two years, in one year or until certain point”.

I mean you obviously you can’t… it’s it’s hard to negotiate that if you’re kind of putting a timer on her being…  you know after a certain point she has to kinda take over. That can kind of be difficult stressful for her. But it might be something that really takes off the stress. It’s really hard to say because you don’t really talk about why it is that she’s not interested in touching you anymore. But I think you have the right inclination that polyamory really isn’t the right solution for this. I mean it’s not to say it can’t solve it all. I do think there might be someone who is polyamorous who would be fine in this kind of situation and helping you out, but I do think it’s kind of… when you think about it, because you’re very focused on your wife and your family for an understandable reason. You’re not really looking for another romantic relationship. So I think it’s kind of unfair for a person to come in who might be expecting a romantic relationship with you, might be expecting some type of commitment to kind of be put in that situation. So I do think you’ve got the nose right on the head on that.

But overall, just to sum up, I think firstly it’s worth getting a couples therapist to talk about this. Talk about what are the reasons behind her not wanting to touch? Is it a problem she wants to solve? Is there a way you can kind… and I will try and find a, even though you’re not interested in a polyamorous relationship, I would still try to find a therapist who is open to  polyamorous relationships, that is open to open relationships or a sex worker friendly therapist. Because if… you know therapists are people just like everybody else and I really feel like if you get a therapist who discriminates against sex workers, this could end up causing more damage. Seeing a therapist could cause more damage than help so definitely make sure that the therapist is pro sex work and pro polyamory and pro open relationships and is open to coming up with alternative solutions for this. Explore the options for your wife or providing it if that is something she wants to address.

And then I think… think about hiring a sex worker as an option and think about talking through that with a therapist with your wife and seeing how your wife feels about that as an option. Because I do think overall that might be the best approach for this. You do have a physical need and that’s valid and I think you don’t want to be put in a situation where you tear your rotator cuff. I’m not really sure what a rotator cuff is but it sounds painful. So you obviously don’t want to be put in this kind of situation and that’s totally valid. I think you need to just have a little bit more to talk with your wife about the situation.

It could be possible… I mean if you also don’t say if you told your wife that this is the reason why you tore your rotator cuff. Obviously you’ve talked to her about the possibly of sleeping with other women but maybe there needs to be more of a discussion about how to address this while also having children and dealing with the stress that that adds to a relationship.

I really hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 3: Shouldn’t This Be Easier?

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.

What if you’ve tried non-monogamy because you cheated, and it’s not working out as well as you thought? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below.

Episode 3: Shouldn’t this be easier if I’ve cheated?

What if you’ve tried non-monogamy because you cheated, and it’s not working out as well as you thought? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

 

You should also be able to find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed. A full transcript of the podcast can be found on Patreon.

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

Letter:

My name is anonymous. I’m 30 years old and I have a new boyfriend since June.

I’ve always had long monogamous relations, where in some point I start cheating on my bf. My last relationship ended in January 2017 and last almost 5 years, and in that period I systematically cheat on my bf with my best friend for 2 years (no sex involved).

After a long time I realise that I don’t think monogamy is the best for me or for a partner because in some point one of us its going to feel attracted by another person. So in this new relation we talk at the beginning about this thoughts and the two of us agreed that we will try an open relationship, keeping the feelings outside and having respect for the love that we have for each other. Later the conversation emerge again and I was scary because I thought that he has already someone. It wasn’t the case and we discuss about limits and what I’m able to tolerate. And I was very clear about the point that I never had a non monogamy relation before so I can’t tell how I’m going to react if he met someone.

Last Friday he just drop me the new that he met some girl and he would like to date her. That hurt a little. I get paralysed and I didn’t know how to handle that situation. I was confuse and upset, I didn’t understand why he feels the need of someone else so early in our relationship. He told me later that he felt our relation is strong enough, he loves me and that is enough. I say ok after cry a little bit.

Monday came and I woke up in his bed feeling miserable. I cry almost all day, I figure out later that I was feeling not value. I didn’t know what to do. In one hand, rationally speaking, for me non monogamous is a great idea, but emotionally in this moment when I found this men who I’m in love with, discovering that is the very first time that I feel that I am with a person who loves me back and take care of me, in a right moment in my life, know that he is interested in another woman killed me.

I read some of your entrance and I was pretty confidence in my idea of talk with him and tell him that I’m not prepared for this in the moment, but he ask me for more reasons because he thought my reasons weren’t enough. I explain that I really want to build something first before adding more people, that I didn’t know him so well and keep on that line… I felt during all the conversation very secure and confident about my feelings and his feelings, I don’t want to be suspicious and I really want to trust him…so I finally agreed. The problem is that I don’t feel the need of someone else. I don’t know how to keep this going.

I don’t know what kind of boundaries should I ask, I don’t want to this relationship become in a sort of lovers parade, I mean I don’t want to he starts going around and fooling around with every girl he likes. I’m wrong? Can I ask that kind of things? It is possible that he is manage all this situation to his convenience? I’m really lost and I need guidance. I want to be sure that we are doing this for the right motives. He told me he has trouble socialising and he has trouble with staying more than 4 days with the same person, and that he is doing that because he feels comfortable and save with me and he projects this love for a long time. I don’t know…really.

Response:

Right, so there is a lot of things going on here.

The first biggest thing that I would say is when starting any kind of open relationship situation, don’t make rules against feelings. Now there are certain people who will have a very good understanding of how they operate mentally and they can very confidently say, “I will only love this person and I can have sex and fool around with these people and I will never fall in love with them”. Some people can say that quite confidently and be very right about it. I don’t think that’s a good thing to make a rule about because you really can’t control something like that and also the boundaries between what makes friendship and what makes a relationship, especially if there is kind of a friends with benefits situation involved can be really really confusing.

Especially because they’re so individual. Like what what my boundaries are for what I consider friend and what I consider a lover are very very different to someone else. Someone else may do things with people they consider friends that they would also do with lovers. For some people those boundaries are non-existent. They feel just as strongly and just as romantically and will be romantic with friends as they are with lovers. There’s really no one right way to have those kinds of relationships. It’s really individual so I would really caution anyone trying to start non-monogamy with— and this is a big thing that people starting off try to do because they’re when they’re trying to open up their relationship that within one relationship they want to try and preserve and maintain that in some way and they think that the best way to preserve and maintain that is to say “I will only love you and I will not love anybody else”.

But nobody can make that rule I mean even to be honest with you, even in monogamy this rule is bullshit. Even people who are in monogamous relationships were they been married 4 years and they are devoted and they’ve done the vows fall in love with other people all the time. You can not make a rule that you will not fall in love with somebody because that is something that is completely out of your control. I think that what people mean when they say “I won’t fall in love with somebody else” is they’re talking about the level of commitment that they might have or they’re talking about you know… “I’ll always come home to you” or “I’ll be emotionally there for you”, “I’ll be emotionally supportive to you”.

I think that that’s the message that’s lost in translation. But you really need to identify that and not make that rule. I think that’s the first missstep in this other aspect but also I think just beyond that… the biggest problem that you have here and this is something that I see often is the assumption that because you were not capable of being faithful in a monogamous relationship that non-monogamy is for you. Because non-monogamy isn’t presented to us as a realistic solution. Non-monogamy isn’t presented as a valid lifestyle choice and a lot of people going to monogamy because it’s the only thing that they think they can do and some people… I mean I don’t personally consider myself naturally non-monogamous. That’s just not me.  Some people are that way. They don’t like the idea and don’t really operate in a way that makes them feel like having only one romantic relationship works for them. And so when they’re forced to be monogamous they end up being unfaithful.

However I don’t think that every single person who is unfaithful is necessarily inherently non-monogamous. I think that what being unfaithful is and what it means is really down to the individual and why they’re making those decisions and it’s something that you really need to explore with a therapist because… you know there are some people that are unfaithful because they love the thrill. They love the thrill of it being secret and non-monogamy will never work for those people because non-monogamy is all about honesty.  I just said this on Twitter the other day. I don’t say “ethical non-monogamy” because non-monogamy should be inherently ethical. If it’s not ethical, it cheating. If you’re lying, then it’s cheating. Non-monogamy is ethical. It’s not lying. It’s not hiding. It’s not keeping things a secret.

So for those people who cheat because they enjoy the thrill of the secret, non-monogamy will never work for them because it doesn’t give them what they seek. So I think you need to figure out why it is that you find it so difficult to be faithful because non-monogamy does require you to be faithful the people. Non-monogamy requires that you be committed to more than one person. If you find it difficult to commit to one person, the solution is not committing to more people. If you want sexual freedom, if you’re interested in having sex which— I don’t think that’s true because you said you systemically cheated on your boyfriend and your last relationship with your best friend for 2 years and there was no sex involved. You need to figure out what it is you’re looking for because I don’t know if non-monogamy is for you. And I think you came to that conclusion.

Which brings me to the next point: no is a complete sentence. I’m really really bothered by this person telling you that you don’t have “good enough” reasons to not want to be in a relationship with them. “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you” is a good enough reason to not be in a relationship with someone. You should not have to give him a treatise or a dissertation on why is you don’t want to try non-monogamy. If you don’t want to try it that is valid. This is the problem with a lot of polyamory advice, with a lot of the way polyamory is talked about… this type of “oh it’s very free and open and it’s so much better than monogamy and you just let go of all”. It seems like… especially the way you describe it when you say “keeping the feelings outside” and “having respect for the love that we have each other”. You just met! I mean I don’t know if this is… maybe this is someone you’ve known for a long time but you’re just starting out in a relationship. To say you have a great love for each other… I mean you’re going to have lots of feelings when you’re starting on a new relationship. You’re going to have what’s with people in non-monogamy generally  cALL “new relationship energy”.

This kind of… you know it’s new, it’s exciting, it’s sparkly and that sometimes is a reason a lot of people cheat— side note: because they love new relationship energy and they just want it all the time and and they don’t like it when things get stale but things do eventually get stale because that’s life. Anyway the point is that, you know, it feels like you might have been influenced and he as well might be influenced by this kind of new age-y “oh my god polyamory is like the most equitable thing you could ever do” type of talk and that’s not true. It’s just not true. Non-monogamy and monogamy are both perfectly valid ethical decisions. What makes them in unethical is not the relationship style itself, it’s the way people choose to practice it so… you have a good enough reason to— if you don’t want to do non monogamy you don’t have to. And don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have a good enough reason. That’s just… when I read that I was just like… what? I don’t have a good enough reason to break up with you? like… no. Wanting to do it is a good enough reason and somebody who respects your boundaries will be like— not to say that they’ll be like, “Oh you want to break up with me? Great! I’m so happy about that. That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard. Good for you and your boundaries!”. I don’t expect that but I also don’t think it’s ok for someone to be like “Oh you want to break up? What are your reasons? Hmm. Those reasons that good enough. We’re still in a relationship”.

That’s not how it works either so yeah… I think you need to figure it out. I can’t really tell you if non-monogamy is suitable for you. Some of these things that you experience… feeling anxiousness at him dating other people, wanting to think about boundaries of “when’s gonna spend this night with who and how”. I mean, people in non monogamous relationships have those anxieties. I have the anxieties. I have really big fear and anxiousness about new people. I get scared. Everyone gets scared and that’s something that you might be struggling to find in some of the non monogamy and polyandry advice. Because sometimes it seems like people don’t want to talk about the problems they have or they only want to talk about them when they’re solved. And they don’t really want to admit that these are ongoing problems.

Feeling scared and jealous is a human condition it’s not something that will ever be solved by choosing a relationship style. It’s just something you’re going to feel regardless of what relationship style you choose, so the very very normal that you feel these feelings. I don’t know if it’s a sign that non-monogamy— whether or not it’s for you. I feel like there are deeper issues that you need to address and that is why is it that in all you’re monogamous relationships you’ve cheated? What are you seeking out with that cheating? And once you realise that and understand that then you can begin to see if non-monogamy will work for you or not. You can still go through all of this and still have these super heavy feelings about someone that you have a lot of feelings about dating someone else.

You’ve lived in a culture…  most cultures— or not all cultures because I don’t know all cultures and I just can’t make that kind of assertion but I can’t I know that the culture I’ve lived in at least very much encourages monogamy as the choice. And monogamy— not just monogamy— but a very unhealthy form of monogamy. The idea that someone being jealous means that they love you. Someone being enraged by you being with someone else is a sign that they care about you. That is one of the worst ideas and one of the things I deeply deeply hate. Not that I necessarily fond of the reverse which is compression which I fucking hate which is just… “Oh I’m totally happy that you’re with someone else.” Like if your happy, that’s legit. Whatevs. But some people are just fucking neutral or just like “Eh, I am a little bit sad because you’re gone but you know I guess have fun”.

There’s not enough neutrality in this weird, insane— I shouldn’t say insane— but this intense super jealous or really intense super happy… Like sometimes you just in the fucking middle. But you’ve been encouraged to think that if your partner is with someone else, this is a threat to you. You’ve been encouraged to think that monogamy is security and stability when it’s just as dangerous and unknown as any other form of relationship. So you have all this stuff most likely floating in your head which is going to cause of these feelings but I think that in order to suss out whether non-monogamy is a good choice for you like I said you need to figure out what’s behind the cheating.

If cheating is for you about the thrill I don’t think non-monogamy will work for. If cheating is about feeling unvalued — because you mention some other bits about not feeling— that you feel really valued by him and you feel all these feelings. Is it that the reason you cheated on your past relationships is that you haven’t felt valued and maybe what you actually need is you’re cool with monogamy but you need to be in better relationships. I think there are no right reasons and that’s another thing thatI I’m kind of really “Ehh” about him saying. And also you say “I want to be sure you’re doing this for the right reasons”. I mean… there aren’t really any right reasons to do polyamory or to do non-monogamy or whatever word you choose. The only important thing is that you care about the other person, you care about who you’re with and you’re honest.

I think what worries me a little bit as well is that you know you said, “he told me he has trouble socialising and has trouble staying more than 4 days with the same person”. He’s doing that with you because he feels comfortable and safe with you. I mean maybe he needs to figure out why that is. Why does he feel uncomfortable staying more than 4 days. Is it you know maybe he just doesn’t like being around someone for that long? And that’s that’s fine. That’s legit. But you know there’s— just because that’s how he is doesn’t mean that’s how you are. And maybe he has, maybe he just likes to date multiple people, he likes to have different sexual experiences. He doesn’t enjoy staying in one place for too long and that’s the right reason for him and that may not be the right reason for you.

So you don’t need to have one right reason to do non-monogamy. All that matters is that you’re willing to be honest with people and the thing that worries me about him is him demanding that you have “good enough reasons” because that’s just silly. You not wanting it is it is a good enough reason. And I really question why he would… I get that he wants to be with you because if you feel safe and comfortable with you and he hasn’t felt that with other people… that’s nice but that doesn’t mean that you need to write him a 12 page dissertation on why you want to end your relationship with succinct and proven arguments with cited sources. You not wanting to be in this relationship is enough reason to not be in it.

To sum up, don’t make rules against feelings. If you try this again, try not to say “I’ll only love you” or “I’ll only have feelings for you”. You can’t control that not even in monogamy me as much as… when people get married its “until death do us part”… I don’t know about the wedding vows… something about forsaking all others. You can’t promise anyone. Very few people in this world are capable and know themselves well enough to say “I know that…” And even then I would argue that they probably can tell when they’re starting to develop feelings and know strategies to stop that or intercede on that. I don’t even think you can control… no one can control those feelings so don’t make the rules about that.

Just because you have cheated in the past doesn’t mean non-monogamy is the solution. I really think that you need to examine and speak to a therapist about why you’ve cheated and figure out what the reason is behind that. Hopefully you have a therapist who is friendly to non-monogamy. Definitely make sure because you don’t want a the just thinking… giving you also further bad idea because some of them do unfortunately.

No is a complete sentence. “I don’t want to be in this relationship” is a good enough reason to not being one. And if that’s how you felt I think you need to go with that because honestly like you said you don’t feel comfortable and you don’t. You’re unhappy. And you need to have a bit of time to think about this. Maybe you need some time alone to appreciate yourself and to appreciate… time alone— I really think that every single person should spend some time alone and not in a relationship. The relationship that you have with yourself is incredibly important and that cannot be overstated.

So spend some time with yourself. Figure out the reason behind is cheating. Figure out what you want. Why do you want a romantic relationship? So many people just decide that they should be in a romantic relationship because it’s what society tells them they should do. Why do you want a romantic relationship? What do you want your future to look like? And it’s ok if you don’t know. You might be like, “I don’t know” and that’s fine but like have a think about it at least. Consider it. Ponder it. Meditate on it.

And then lastly remember there isn’t a right reason to be polyamorous. I think the only thing that needs to be right is the ethics of how you practice it and keeping in mind that it involves commitment. It involves honesty. It involves a lot of scary feelings and that’s ok. Because you don’t have a model for it. You don’t have— you know we have all the models for monogamy. There’s a really great, brilliant article and if you, if haven’t read it it’s called  “the relationship escalator” and it talks about how… basically to sum up— With monogamy, we live in a society where were given— this is the steps. You meet, you go out on dates , you become partners and eventually you have more dates, you live together, and you propose and then you get married and have kids. We have this sort of script for how things were supposed to go and that script gives us confidence and reassurance that are relationship is stable and won’t go anywhere. When really there is no stability. We don’t know.

Even if you get married—  as much as it sounds terrible and I’m not trying to be a cynic— you know you get married and you do all that… there’s no guarantees in life. You never know what’s going to happen and you never know how your feelings are going to sway. You could fall in love with someone else. You could you could leave non-monogamy behind. You could find your perfect human being that you want to be with and you can get married can be with him for 40 years and then… you could fall in love with someone else and decide I don’t want to be with her anymore. It’s really fucking scary for people to think about and we don’t want to think about it. That’s why we try not to think about it but it can happen. So don’t assume that there is stability inherent in any relationship style because there isn’t.

You will come across a lot more terrifying and anxious things when you’re trying non-monogamy because you don’t have that that sort of framework that backs it up and tells you this is how things should go. I really hope that helps. I hope that it didn’t cause any problems— that my english was ok in terms of it not being too complicated. But yeah. I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 2: STIs Don’t Care About Feelings

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.

What if you wanted to become fluid bonded with a new partner — but they were already fluid bonded with someone else? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below or on Libsyn.

Episode 2: STIs Don’t Care About Feelings

What happens when your partner is fluid bonded with others but you want them to be fluid bonded to you instead? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

 

You should also be able to find the podcast on Spotify, Google Play, RadioPublic and hopefully, eventually, Stitcher. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed. A full transcript of the podcast can be found on Patreon.

Music for the podcast has been provided by Chris Albery-Jones at alberyjones.com and the art was made by Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcription

Letter:

So, I am currently dating an absolutely wonderful man (it’s been around 2 months but things *feel* a lot more advanced than that time frame would suggest). I have never met someone who makes me feel the way he does – he’s brilliant, the conversation sparkles, he cares deeply about my well-being, he keep track of little things that I like and dislike, the sex is some of the best I’ve ever had and I could just keep going on and on but I’ll spare you any further gushing because now I am just making even myself a little sick :). Rest assured, I completely adore him.

I knew early on that he wanted some form of “entirely negotiable non-monogamy.” I have some experience in the area (I was the third party in an open marriage in the past) and have always considered myself a sexually open and inquisitive person. The theory of non-monogamy generally appeals to me and from the get go I told him I was open to finding a form of it that works for us and our needs. Over the course of a couple of discussions, we decided that the best form of nonmonogamy for us is to play as a couple with other couples. There is, however, one issue that we seem to keep running up against.

The issue here is with respect to this one couple that he had been seeing fairly steadily for a while before he and I ever met. He started off playing with them as a couple but now he also plays with her solo every so often. They have an established a level of trust amongst them and have agreed not to use condoms.

I recently expressed an interest in the boyfriend and I taking things to the next level and forgoing condoms ourselves, but I said that I wouldn’t be able to do so until and unless he started using condoms with the couple again. I definitely trust my bf and I also trust his judgement immensely but at the same time I just can’t viscerally get comfortable with the idea of him not using condoms with them while he isn’t using them with me. And it’s not just about seeing periodic test results – it just feels too out of control for me (I have some background in epidemiology and that is definitely not helping me feel more comfortable).

My boyfriend hears me and my concerns but he is having trouble making the decision to stop using condoms with the couple whom he has technically known for much longer than he has known me. And this is starting to become a problem given that things are starting to get pretty serious. I can’t help but feel like he is choosing them over me even though he has told me time and time and again that that’s not the way he sees it. I get it intellectually but it’s hard not to feel like he is choosing them over me emotionally speaking.

He wants me to meet the couple and then make a decision whether to trust them myself or not. The problem is I doubt I’ll ever be able to get comfortable with the idea of more than two nodes in a condom-less connection. And now I can sense that I am starting to feel resentful of the couple and am even feeling a little angry towards my boyfriend. I know there has to be some mature way of dealing with this situation without giving into my more atavistic, lizard brain urges to start laying down ultimatums and getting suddenly jealous about a situation that I have otherwise been fine with since I found out about it.

To complicate matters, there’s an assortment of other issues related to this couple muddying the waters – I found a picture of the wife and she’s gorgeous and it’s been a little difficult for me to come to terms with that (don’t get me wrong, I do love my body and I know he loves my body but our culture and societal conditioning being what it is, this is just giving rise to some stuff for me that’s been difficult emotionally – but I recognize this is definitely more of a personal problem I just need to deal with myself).

Then there’s the issue that while I am very ok with my boyfriend having sex with this woman, it bothers me to no end that he texts this woman pretty regularly and the texts definitely go beyond simple logistical matters (I think this comes from me seeing texting on and off during the day as a thing that extends into one’s *real life* and it’s important to me that we keep bedroom things strictly in the bedroom) – when I brought up my concerns, he seemed to understand where I was coming from and said he would like some time to think about it. And then finally, there’s the matter that I feel like an outsider walking into a situation where everyone knows one another, which makes me feel weird and left out in a way. I have expressed an interest in getting together to find new couples for us to interact with instead, but I get the sense that continuing this particular relationship is important to the boyfriend and I want to be supportive.

So, as you can see, there’s a whole jumble of thoughts here and I cannot apologize enough for dropping them all on you! I’d appreciate any advice you might have for me!

Response:

Right. Well, there are a lot of different things going on here. The first thing that I want to say about the condom anxiety and this is to you and your boyfriend and to this couple: STIs… they don’t give a shit about who you trust and what your feelings are. And I get the idea of trusting people and going, “Do I trust this person’s understanding of sexual health risk? Do I trust that this person is going to make good decisions about how to protect themselves and therefore me?”. I get that. I totally get that. But at the same time, shit happens. STIs happen. They happen. And condoms don’t protect against all STIs. They just don’t. They don’t protect against HPV. They don’t protect against herpes. So you’re at risk no matter what sexual health activity you do.

And I don’t tell you that to freak you out because I’m a peer sexual health educator. I learned all about STIs and which ways you can get them and all the horrible symptoms — it is something in our culture as well that we’re very– there’s a lot of stigma and a lot of panic about it and to a certain extent that’s sometimes grounded because there are new strains of things like chlamydia coming out. There’s a lot of worry about antibiotic resistance. So some of it is understandable but also some of it is a little just sex negative and just people freaking out and not seeing STIs as another infection that you can get just from being human and existing in the world and not wrapping yourself in cotton wool and staying in your apartment all day.

So, they don’t care– STIs don’t care about your feelings or who you trust. And that’s a big thing that I had to learn with my partners actually because I had super condom anxiety and I was at the point where I almost felt like I wanted to make a rule with my partner that, even without being fluid bonded with them, that before he had sex with anyone, they had to get tested. Like newly tested. Like he couldn’t have sex with anyone new, and I as well, unless they had been tested.

This wasn’t something that my partner wanted to do because he felt like, “I’m not gonna do that. I wanna go to parties and maybe hook up with someone. That’s the risk that I accept”. And it was very, very difficult for me because I felt mentally more comfortable with him continuing to have sex with people he’d already had sex with than having sex with someone new that he just met. In my mind, the risk of having sex with someone you just met was bigger than having sex with someone that you’ve already known for a long time. And he pointed out to me that actually no that’s bullshit. Because even if you know someone for a long time, they could go have sex with someone new, they could get an STI, they could give it to him, he could give it to me so… because sometimes shit happens.Sometimes people, even though they’ve been tested, something hasn’t shown up yet. Sometimes it’s symptomless. Shit happens.

So, I think this whole argument about trust– do you trust the couple? Do you trust him? I get the feeling behind that but you need to stop talking about it that way. Because on that path, there be monsters. There be a… a clinical germ issue that is being — has feelings put on it. An emotional transference. It becomes less about how much risk there is in an activity to be exposed to something and more about who you trust and that’s not what you want to go into. Don’t go that way. What you need to do– you’re going to have anxiety about this and that’s one thing that you’re just going to have to accept and I deal with that shit every time my partner sleeps with someone new. Every time. It doesn’t matter. Like every time. I have this slight panic in the back of my head that’s like, “Oh my god! What if I get an STI and the world ends!” It’s okay to have that anxiety. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust anyone. It doesn’t mean that you hate people with STIs. It’s just normal. You’re going to have that anxiety and that’s fine. I hate the word normal, but anyway. That’s fine. You’re going to have anxiety and I think to a certain extent you need to allow yourself to have that anxiety and be able to learn to cope with it.

The other thing that you can do right — so you don’t explain if this couple is also sleeping with other people. So theoretically what you could create is a kind of fluid bonded agreement with yourself, your boyfriend and this couple. I don’t — and maybe this couple is monogamous except for what they do with you and your boyfriend — I don’t know how this is set up. And I know that this sounds like swinging. You don’t use the word ‘swinging’ but it sounds like swinging and swinging… a lot of people who are in swinger communities, because they’re married, they think, ‘oh we don’t have to use condoms’ and that’s quite common and there’s actually a high prevalence– from what I’ve read, I could be wrong.

There’s a high prevalence of STIs in the swinger community because people think that they don’t have to use condoms because everyone’s married and it’s fine. I don’t know what this other couple is doing but if you want to– I can understand why your boyfriend doesn’t want to start using condoms with them. Equally, I can understand why you — you’re not completely irrational to see this as a higher level of risk. It is. Instead of you being fluid bonded with one person who is only fluid bonded with you and use condoms with everyone else, you’re now fluided with someone who is fluid bonded to two other people. So yes there is more risk. But what you need to do is you need to talk– not *trust* and get a sense of feeling for people– you need to physically discuss the specifics of the situation with each other and maybe you can come to an agreement where you don’t use condoms with each other but you do use condoms outside of the circle.

And you need to think about– So the rules that I have in my relationships, if I’m fluid bonded with someone, I have to accept the fact that I’m at risk for things that can’t be protected from condoms. That’s just part of it, you have to accept that. But the sexual health rules that I have in place is that, if I or my fluid bonded partner want to have sex with someone new, we have to ask them a number of questions.

Usually we ask them: have they been recently tested? How do they safeguard their sexual health? What do they do? This is designed to see what their practices are and that’s a better way of building trust rather than just meeting someone and seeing that they’re ‘trustworthy’. What does that even mean? You need to– What I want to hear from someone or what’s good to hear from someone when you ask these questions is, “I always get tested after I have a new partner. I get tested at least once every year or once every six months or once every three months depending on the frequency of partners.” You wanna know that they’re aware that some STIs can remain dormant for six months, as far as I know. Pretty sure I’m right about that but the testing cycle should be six months– once every three months if you frequently have new partners and you can’t keep track of things but six months after the exposure of a new partner or a new– yeah. That would be ideal.

So what we’re trying to glean from those discussions is “Is this a person who takes responsibility for their sexual health?”. Because that’s the only thing you can do. It’s risky. That’s just life and I totally get your paranoia. I can’t emphasise that enough. I also have major STI paranoia because I know so much about sexual health. It sometimes isn’t helpful to know a lot, but you can create these types of sexual health rules and decide amongst the four of you: “Okay, we don’t use condoms with each other, we use condoms for everyone else.” You need to think about dental dams as well. Like is that a thing? Decide what your sexual health practices will be. What steps will you take when you meet someone new and want to have sex with someone new?

And then that way you– Your anxiety will not go away. I just want to make that clear. Like, you’re gonna feel fucking anxious because that’s anxiety and it’s horrible. And that’s yeah. You’re gonna still feel anxious and you probably will still feel anxious when you first have condomless sex with your boyfriend and you know that he’s not using condoms with these other people. You’re still gonna feel anxious but when you have these rules in place and when you have this structure and when you say “Okay, I know that I can’t rid of all risk but I know that I’m mitigating some of this risk by saying to these other people: Right. These are what we’re gonna ask every new partner.”

And I know when my fluid bonded partner, when I know they’re going to go and sleep with someone new I still occasionally go like, “Have they been tested? Have you asked the questions?” I know that he’s going to ask questions and I do trust him but it helps to hear stuff like that. And it’s okay. That’s really okay to be– and it does get emotional and I think it gets emotional because this trust is being put on it. It doesn’t surprise me that you’re starting to feel like he’s choosing these people over you because there’s this emotional aspect of trust being added to it. So if you say that you trust– if you don’t lay down any of these ideas about, ‘okay how are we actually going to protect our sexual health?” and you leave it all up to trust and ‘I *trust* this person’ than your brain is naturally going to come to the conclusion that your boyfriend *trusts* these people more than he *trusts* you. So, yeah, that’s why you’re feeling that way.

I think you establish these rules and you clarify your risk level figure out— how does this couple safeguard their sexual health? Do they get tested frequently? Do they ask these these questions of the new people they have sex with. I mean, if it were my ideal situation, every single person that I potentially could have some sexual health risk from, I’d be like, “How many people have you dated? What kind of sex did you have with them? What did you use?” I would get that detailed in my questioning but I don’t do that because it’s a bit much. And because I know it’s a bit of my own paranoia freaking out a bit and sometimes you just have to say “What am I gonna do? Am I gonna never have sex with anyone again?” Because that’s the only way to completely protect yourself from ANY STI is just to never have sex with anyone. Is that what you want to do?

I think if you just talk with these people. Let’s put it into words. Stop using emotional language. Stop making it about trust and identify what are the behaviours that these people have around sexual health. How do they protect it? What do they do? Don’t set a level of expectation that your anxiety will go away completely. Accept that you have some anxiety. Let these people know. Let your boyfriend know. Be like, “I’m anxious about this. It scares me. I am going to feel scared.” And they can also try and see what they can do to support you. That’s why I hate that shit that like, ‘emotions are your responsibility’.

Like, just like what you mentioned with the body image thing— that’s totally legit. Feeling… We all have been raised in this society and there’s so many shitty messages that we get and it’s very hard to ignore all of that shitty ass conditioning so when you— you can’t help but have these feelings. And yes, it’s not up to anyone to fix you but people can help. People can help and hurt the situation. People can be nice and including your boyfriend — He can give you reassurance both on your body issues and on the STI things and as long as people don’t set up an expectation of you that you’re not allowed to be anxious or afraid… I just think it’s important that when you do feel anxious or afraid that you learn how to cope with it and you learn the healthiest ways you can cope with it.

I struggle with this so much. I struggle with being able to tell people what I need. I struggle with… In my life, I’ve not been in situations where I felt comfortable to say what I need because that’s a very very vulnerable thing. One of the things I hate most about most polyamory advice is that it very much is like, “Just tell someone what you need and everything will be fine.” It very much completely makes it seem like doing that isn’t a fucking terrifying thing because it is. It totally is. So, yeah. Have that established idea of how people protect their sexual health and that will probably help the anxiety. it’s not going to get rid of it. I’ll tell you at least from my experience, I’ve gotten less anxious about the STI risk. Now, the anxiety peaks when I have other shitty things going on because when it rains it pours and — Think of it like your body anxiety. I’m sure sometimes you feel like, “Yeah I’m fucking kickass” and then there are just days when you’re like “Ugh, I’m the worst person in the world”. It’s like that. Anxiety is like that. Over time, I really do feel like when you build that trust, when you know that you can count on these people, when you have these things set in place, you will feel better. But you’re gonna feel fucking anxious and that’s just how it is.

The other thing I kind of wanted to mention was you said about the texting. What you said is that you’ve agreed that your style of non-monogamy is that you want play with other couples. What seems to be happening here is something a bit more than that and I think you and your boyfriend really need to talk about this because you don’t say that you’re swingers in that you only have sex. Like the boundaries there are that you love each other and you only have sex with other people and that’s all it is, just sex. And that seems to be your mental boundary but that doesn’t seem to be how your boyfriend is operating. And that’s not necessarily bad because I am very, very wary of people putting in rules which say, “I won’t fall in love with someone” or “I won’t develop feelings”. There are certain people who are aware enough of how they operate where they can say, “I can have sex with this person and not have any romantic feelings for them” Some people can do that. Some people are very self-aware and that’s just how they operate. I just generally feel like you cannot predict whether or not you’re going to fall in love with someone. You really can’t. You can see signs of it happening and you can kind of be a little bit wanting to disregard that in this kind of situation and wanting to kind of like, “Okay, if I were single and I met this person I would probably say that I was developing a crush and developing feelings for them but because I’m in a situation where I’m not allowed to develop feelings, I’m gonna be like ‘This is happening!’”. Same thing I mentioned in the last episode of the dog sitting in the fire saying, “This is fine.”

I think that rule of you only love one person and have sex with other people doesn’t always work and people develop feelings and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. You can— if you’re self-aware enough and you see yourself having feelings and you decide, “I don’t want to do this” you can break it off with that person. You can do whatever it is that you need to do to stop those— I don’t know how to stop those feelings. I don’t feel like I have any control over my feelings when I fall in love with someone or develop feelings. If I had control over that, that’d be fucking great! That means that I could pick people I knew who were amazing, great wonderful people and I could just fall in love with them and I… if that was the way the world worked, that’d be fucking great. It’d be not so great in some ways.

Anyway, the point is that you can’t control this so you really need to have a discussion about what it is— where the boundaries are and what it is that you both expect. Are you both on the same page about, “Yes, the type of non-monogamy we are is a type of swinger setup where we only have sex with other people but our emotional and romantic feelings are only for each other and that’s the boundary”. It’s difficult because theoretically, this woman is his friend so if he were texting— Put yourself in that situation as well. If he were texting a buddy and not this woman, would you feel the same way? Because people have different feelings about how friendship works in their life but some people have really close friendships and some people get really weird about that because they think that all romantic relationships basically replace your friendships and you stop having really close friends and having really close friends when you have a romantic relationship isn’t okay.

And that’s not true. I’m very against that. I think friends can be just as important as romantic relationships and maybe he’s friends with this girl and that means something to him and he doesn’t wanna stop texting her because they’re friends. It’s not— There may not necessarily be a romantic thing. They’re just friends. And if he was texting a buddy, not outside of his bedroom, would you have a problem with that? So think about that. Because it is a discussion worth having to make sure you’re on the same page about what kind of non-monogamy you want but you also need to keep in mind that your feelings around all this other stuff are going to kind of  influence how you feel and just put yourself— Is he doing something that wouldn’t be okay if he were ignoring you for a friend? Would that still not be okay? Then it’s the behaviour that’s the problem, not the person. So just think about is it the person or is the behaviour? And maybe then you decide— If he was texting a friend, if you were out to dinner together and he was txting a friend instead of talking to you, that still would be a problem. Unless there’s an emergency, it would still be a problem because it’s the behaviour that’s the problem. So just think about that. Get on the same page about what you want out of non-monogamy but think about, is it the behaviour or is it the person?

The other thing that I wanted to mention, because this is the kind of thing— When I talk about relationship anarchy and hierarchies and why I think there are hierarchies that exist— this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. When you say you feel like an outsider walking into a situation where everyone knows one another, which make you feel weird and left out, there are real imbalances here that can’t really be necessarily, completely fixed. When you walk into this situation, they’re always going to have known him for longer than you have. That’s not ever going to change and if it helps, put that in the context of family and friends. What if he had a friend that he’s known for decades longer than he’s known you? And that’s why this hierarchy thing isn’t that simple and why it’s complicated and why, to me it feels weird to put all relationships on the exact same level.

Because how we value romantic vs. friendship relationships really depends on the person and the situation. I think the point is to understand and acknowledge when there’s going to be a hierarchy because if you’re in this situation and your boyfriend and your boyfriend is trying to say, “Oh no I care just as much about you as I do about the other people” and that might be logically true and that’s fine and I think it’s valid for him to say he values you as much as he values other people but it’s totally also understandable for you to feel at odds because these three people have known each other for a long ass time and you’re just walking into it. You’re just two months into this situation so it’s totally understandable regardless of what anyone says for you to feel like, “I’m the newbie here”. Especially as well if you’re a newbie to non-monogamy. Trying new things and you’re a new person in this relationship, even if you have this past experience, and you’re open to it, you’re still new to it in a lot of ways and that’s okay.

And I think over time this may bother you less because the more you start building time with your partner, the more it seems like that difference isn’t so big especially as you have different experience with your partner and you establish your trust and you establish— you get a better idea of each other and you have new experiences and intimate experience and you get closer— things like that will bother you less but it totally makes sense for you to be slightly insecure about it now. That’s fine. As I said on a previous podcast and as I’ve said multiple times in the column, you’re going to feel anxious and scared when you’re starting out a new relationship. You’re going to— regardless. It doesn’t matter how secure you are as an individual or how much self-esteem you have. You’re starting a new experience. New things are scary and that’s okay. It’s okay. And don’t feel bad about being anxious. Don’t feel bad about being anxious about condoms. Don’t feel bad about being anxious about your body. Don’t feel bad about being anxious about the inherent imbalance there’s going to be between you and these other people. That’s legit.

And as long as you feel you can express this and as long as you have the money and the availability of getting a polyamory or non-monogamy friendly therapist who can help you this kind of stuff, that’s helpful but— the problem with I think a lot of people starting off in non-monogamy and polyamory and open relationships is that they set themselves up for failure because they think that they’re doing something that’s free and without all the shackles of monogamy. And they don’t expect that it will be hard and they don’t expect that it will make them miserable or sad. They think that they’re trying something new that’s free so they should feel happy and when they don’t feel happy they think that there’s something wrong with them. And that’s just not true.

It’s hard to do new things. It’s scary. You’re going to feel scared. You’re going to feel anxious. You’re gonna be like, “What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this when I can just fall back into the social structure of monogamy?” Because monogamy is reinforced by society, we’re sort of lulled into the idea that it’s a safer option when it’s not. Try to remind yourself of that. It’s really helpful. It sounds really morbid but it’s the truth and it’s that there aren’t any guarantees. You could leave these people now. You could leave them and you can go and find a monogamous person. You could settle down. Have a wonderful 20 year relationship, millions of babies, blah blah blah. And then could fall in love with someone and leave your ass. It’s not— Nothing is guaranteed. It sounds horrible. It sounds like the worst nightmare, but it happens to people. It’s shitty and unfortunate but it happens. People fall in love with new people and they change their mind. The only thing constant is change. And because monogamy has these trappings of marriage and the relationship escalator, and if you haven’t read that article, Google ‘relationship escalator’ and read about it. It has this culturally reinforced idea of stability and we sort of assume that if we follow the script, the movie will end the way we think it will and it doesn’t.

There’s no guarantee at all ever. In anything. So yeah, enjoy life! [laughs] I think basically, to sum up— STIs don’t give a shit about trust. They don’t give a shit about your feelings or who you have had sex with or how much you trust them. They’re just infections. They don’t care about any of that. So don’t rely on that to make your sexual health decisions. Identify what your risk level is, figure out what this couple do to handle sexual health risk. If you still feel like you want to be condomless with your boyfriend and you don’t want to tell him that he can’t be condomless and he doesn’t want to be condomless with these other people, maybe think about some rules you can all four establish for new risk coming in so that you can control a little bit of the risk and you don’t just feel like you’re flinging yourself into the wolf’s den at night with no idea of what the hell’s out thee. That will help make some of that anxiety go down a bit but like I said, you still will feel anxious.

Your body issues are understandable, don’t feel bad about that. With the texting, you need to have a discussion about what that means. What does i mean for you to play as a couple with other couples? Does that only mean sex? What do you count as a friendship? As a partner? As a play partner? Identify what that means because it may just be that this woman is his friend and he’s texting his friend. Think about, would you be this upset if it was another person? Is it the person or is it the behaviour?

And then yeah. Also your feelings of being anxious about the imbalance between you and your boyfriend and these other two people is legit and you’re gonna have that feeling and there’s not really much you can— You can get reassurance from your boyfriend but you’re gonna be anxious and that’s okay and it doesn’t mean that you’re terrible and you don’t trust people. It just means that you’re pretty much human. That’s what that means.

So yeah. As I say on the column, I hope this helps and good luck!

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STI boundaries and polyamory

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.

I really hope you read your inbox often because my partner and I are having a hard time processing some feelings about our newly ‘’non-monogamous’’ status. We both like having sex with other people together and separately, and we have recently discussed being ok with us having sex with other people, apart from one another. She seems to be ok with it without having any reservations about it, me on the other hand- I have been straight up about not wanting her to go down and have unprotected oral sex because we had a pretty big STI scare last year with a play partner. I am still trying to work through this problematic way of thinking, “scare…and, STI”, I know that fundamentally those two words shouldn’t be synonymous, but I can’t wrap my head around being ok or “just dealing” with having gonorrhea.

I’m poor and don’t have good access to healthcare and statistically, I am already projected to have a short lifespan anyway (poor, uneducated, queer, brown, fat, disabled cis-woman). I don’t want her going down on people because I am scared of contracting something, she says I am “picking and choosing”, and not “letting her” go down on folks. In the past I have expressed really wanting to go down on folks and taste as many as I could, that was before almost getting an STI, after the scare- the paranoia over contracting an STI has trumped the desire to eat hella pussy. So yes, my desire has changed and so I am not comfortable with her going down on folks. Why am I wrong? I don’t know how to deal with this. Am I being controlling?

I would seriously appreciate your feedback.

This one is a really difficult one and as someone with a compromised immune system who has a history of being extremely paranoid about STIs, I totally sympathise with you on this one.

Ultimately, you cannot actually control anything she does. That’s true for anyone with any partners. And forcing her to agree to something which is going to create resentment is pointless because, if she wants to do something that badly, she’s either going to not do it and feel irritated with you about it or she’s just going to do it anyway.

Without knowing what other types of agreements you have around sexual health and protection, it’s hard to know if you’re “picking and choosing”. One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with is the fact that herpes and HPV are both a risk, whether you use protection or not. And these are things which could have a potential to impact your life. Without access to healthcare, they threaten you just as much as any other STI. And, short of not having sex, there is very little you can do to protect yourself against them.

I could also mention that there is very little known into the risk of STIs and oral cancers… but the thing is, I don’t think thinking about everything that could be is really helping you here. But I also kind of feel like you know that. But it helps to really remind yourself of this. When I first became fluid bonded with my domestic partner, I was extremely nervous about my partner sleeping with new people. My brain had this belief that newer people more “more dangerous” somehow, even though people who he had slept with before could easily be with more “new” people than any other “new” person. Being confronted with that didn’t get rid of my paranoia — I’m still scared — but it helped me put it into context.

The only thing you can do, sort of trying to remind yourself that there are any numbers of STIs that could be contracted through different forms of sex and that the best thing you can do is remain vigilant and budget for getting yourself tested twice a year as well as reminding yourself that most STIs are curable and might be a slight trouble but not life threatening, is try to mitigate your own exposure to your girlfriend. Which sounds bad, but what I mean is that if she would like to go down on whomever she likes, then maybe she needs to use dental dams/condoms with you and you need to use dental dams/condoms with her. As less fun as that might seem, that’s really the only way to mitigate your own risk and exposure.

This doesn’t have to be forever. Perhaps you can do this for a few months until you feel more comfortable venturing out and then maybe you can decide you stop using dental dams/condoms with her and then maybe lose them all together. But it’s up to you to decide how to manage that.The only other option is to force yourself to sit with the discomfort and paranoia, cope with it and allow it to happen and then pass and find out you come out on the other side just fine.

That said, your partner, for as unfair as she may feels this is, could be a little bit more supportive towards you and your feelings. Maybe you are being paranoid, but so what? You have a legitimate reason to be afraid and even if your fear may not be “logical”, we’re not purely logical beings. You need the space to have your feelings, be afraid and she needs to be supportive of that and willing to comfort you rather than dismiss your fears.

It would be controlling to tell her what she can and can’t do with others. Just as it would be if I demanded that my partner only sleep with people they have known for awhile. You may have very different feelings about STI risk, but there are compromises you can make to meet in the middle and ways you can limit your own exposure that will allow her to do what she’d like without you having that extra anxiety.

Therapist comments

My girlfriend’s boundary might be of use to this person. Here’s how it works: we all expect each other to ask about testing history with everyone we have sex with. If we don’t/can’t OR that person’s answers seem sketchy, we are to use barriers, even for oral. If we ask and everything seems safe, then we should still use barriers for penetration. If we have unbarriered penetration or oral in risky situations (didn’t ask or it was risky), then we use barriers with her for everything for 6 weeks and get tested. Assuming test is clear, we resume unbarriered contact with her.

It’s one of the best, cautious safer sex boundaries I’ve heard of, personally or professionally. In short, it allows us to choose what we do and allows her to use barriers if she’s not comfortable with the choice we made.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2018, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.

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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Cheating in polyamory

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.

I’ve been seeing someone for about 7 months now. About 2.5 months ago we discussed our relationship, and the outcome of the conversation was that he doesn’t want to be exclusive. I have never been in a non monogamous relationship but I told him that I was open to it, and was willing to do that.

During our discussion I said that being sexually exclusive was not something that I needed to have, but that I just didn’t want to be emotionally blindsided by finding out through a third party or other means that he was seeing someone else. I told him I just wanted honesty of if he was seeing or sleeping with other people but that I didn’t know the details. He told me that he hadn’t been pursuing anyone else, and that he hadn’t slept with anyone else in the recent months.

In the past month I’ve come to the conclusion that he is indeed sleeping with and seeing someone else through social media. It also seems that they have a deeper connection than just sex, which is something I struggle with. I told him in our initial conversation that I would feel jealous if I found out, but that I could deal with those feelings and try and see how it goes if it did happen.

It wasn’t very hard for me to figure it out, but I’m feeling incredibly anxious because I don’t know how to bring it up. I haven’t let on that I know, and while there’s a slight chance that I could be wrong, I’m almost 99.99% sure that I’m correct in my assumptions.

I don’t know how to broach the subject without sounding like a stalker, and I’m not sure what I even want to hear from him, except for the truth. I don’t like feeling like I’ve been lied to , but for some reason I’m hesitating bringing up the conversation even though its hurting me.

You’ve got a lot going on here that I want to address but the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s really hard for me, without understanding what you saw on social media which would make you feel so confident that there is something going on, whether or not this is something which is very likely or a result of being paranoid. However, here is what I’ll address:

  • Non-monogamy instead of breaking up
  • Cheating in polyamory and non-monogamy
  • Your wants and needs

Non-monogamy instead of breaking up

What strikes me about the agreement you have with your partner is that he introduced non-monogamy and you agreed to it. It very much feels like a situation where you do not have a real drive to be non-monogamous nor do you see any benefits to it. There is no right way for someone to come into non-monogamy, but I do think that what is necessary for anyone introducing any amount of non-monogamy into their relationship is a very clear idea of what they want or an ability and space to be self-reflective enough to know when you’re not getting what you want.

You set up non-monogamy, but I don’t know if you really talked enough about what you expected or how this would eventually change your relationship. I’m completely guessing here, but it sounds like he introduced non-monogamy, you said it was fine for him to sleep with someone else but not fall in love and then I’d bet money on the fact that he may have not had a sexual relationship with this person you think he’s cheating with but he was already emotionally invested and felt like trying to ask for that right away would not work. Or, conversely, he could just be a cheater.

Either way, what you want is specifically swinging and what you want can only happen with someone who wants the same thing. No one controls their emotions and who they have feelings for. And it’s important for you to understand that monogamy isn’t going to protect you from that. People can and do fall in love with people without ever having a sexual relationship with them or that even being an option. I’m very, very hesitant of rules about emotions because you just cannot control them.

However, there are some people out there who know themselves well enough to know how their emotions work and who can and do have a more swinging based relationship where they have sex with other people but they don’t really develop deep emotional connections with them — and that’s cool.

But, I’m not sure if that’s actually what your partner wants. At this point, whether or not he’s cheating isn’t going to solve the crux of the issue which is whether or not he wants swinging or whether or not he actually wants polyamory. If you are uncomfortable with your primary partner sharing a deeper connection than just sex, then you don’t want polyamory. And the fact that you had no interest or drive to really seek this out to begin with sort of makes me think you barely tolerate swinging.

I could be wrong and maybe you are finding new people to date or sleep with and it’s going great, but clearly your exploration into non-monogamy right now is such that you want something like swinging. And the conversation I think you need to have with your partner is a clarification of what type of non-monogamy you want and also how that non-monogamy works with your life.

Cheating in polyamory and non-monogamy

In that regard, it’s also important for you to clarify what cheating is. “Cheating” is a boundary which even monogamous people take for granted. To some people, even watching pornography is “cheating”. While there is a debate to be had about what cheating is and isn’t, what’s relevant here is how each of you define cheating. And I’m wondering if you ever had this conversation.

For me, cheating is when a partner lies or hides something from me, whether actively or by omission. They don’t have to even sexually touch or meet someone else to cheat. It just involves actively hiding something from me and that to me is cheating. And I’ve made this clear to partners in the past — and to metamours — because it became very clear when I spoke to one metamour who didn’t think cheating was possible in non-monogamy who was likely facilitating cheating in one instance.

If you believe this is “cheating”, you can have this discussion with him about what he regards as cheating to ensure you’re on the same page. What counts as a “deep connection” really varies between individuals. And I don’t know what kind of person your partner is. It could be that he’s very flirty with people he considers friends. My domestic partner and I define a relationship in very different ways and we have an ongoing joke between us that the people I call his “partners”, he really doesn’t consider “partners” in that sense because the way relate to people is different.

This is a good way for you to introduce the subject. I think you need to be honest about snooping because I would consider a partner lying to me about something like that maybe not cheating per say, but still something which I would want to know was done to me and, even if it would upset me, I would need that person to be willing to make up for the violation of trust if I weren’t actually hiding anything. If he was hiding something from you and knowingly doing so and he is willing to admit that, it might be then important for you to think about how you’re going to deal with that. Violations of trust happen and sometimes it’s hard to know how we’re going to be able to process this. You may need the help of a non-monogamy friendly therapist to figure out how you’re both going to work from that.

Is this what you really want?

But, in bringing this back to my first point, I get the feeling that you and your partner, whether cheating is or isn’t happening, might not want the same things out of non-monogamy. I’m getting the feeling that you are agreeing to this to save a relationship which is barely even a year old. I’m wondering if it’s better for you to cut your losses and find someone who meets your needs more effectively. I do kind of feel like if, this early in the relationship, you have a partner who might already be violating your trust and you’re already violating his privacy by snooping… is it something that’s worth saving?

Even if this were a simple miscommunication, you are going to have to work at repairing the poor foundation of trust you already have and, if he is having a relationship with this other person, you’re going to be working at re-building your foundation while he’s with someone who represents a violation of your boundaries and a lot of negative feelings. Such a thing is possible, but it’s going to be very difficult for you to manage your emotions about his other partnership if he’s shown a disregard for you and your feelings. Likewise, If he feels particularly upset by your snooping or investigation, he’s going to have to rebuild that trust from you.

So, to recap, I think you first need to have a discussion about what you both want out of non-monogamy. Does he want something that is more like swinging or more like polyamory? If he says he’s fine with a more swinging type of scenario and, not that he’s not allowed to fall in love with someone, but that he’s not likely to (and you need to then think about what happens if either of you do develop feelings for someone), then you might then steer the conversation towards having a better understanding of cheating and see if you share that definition.

When you share that definition, explain that the reason you’re asking for clarification is because you noticed he’s done X Y Z on social media with a person and you want a better understanding of what that means. Allow him to explain the situation and if it comes out that he was hiding this from you, then you need to think about what that means for you.

But overall, I kind of am wondering if you’ll even need to get to your shared explanation of cheating because something kind of makes me think that he’s going to express wanting to be free to develop emotional connections with people and then you will have to come to the conclusion that you’re not compatible, making whether or not he is “cheating” a bit irrelevant.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2018, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.

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.