Episode 45: Sex Work and Polyamory

What resources are available for someone who asks about dating a sex worker?

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

Discussion Topic: What do you blame your parents for?

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

Episode 45 – Sex Work and Polyamory

What resources are available for someone who asks about dating a sex worker? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What do you blame your parents for?

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m wondering if you have any advice or experience with this.  My partner does sex work, and it causes me a lot of anxiety.  They were doing it prior to us getting together, and have been great in talking to me about it and trying to assuage my anxiety.  In looking for resources online, everything I can find deals with either polyamory or non-monogamy, where both partners are exploring with other people.  I’ve found a few things speaking about situations where one partner is non-monogamous and the other is monogamous, but my situation doesn’t really fit any of these.

Response:

So first and foremost, I will fully admit at this point that I haven’t dated a sex worker, so I won’t know exactly the kind of things that you might be feeling. However, I think that what might be helpful is for you to talk about what causes you anxiety about this because there’s lots of different things that could be causing you anxiety, and some things you can look into with regards to, let’s say you have anxieties about STI fears or things like that. You can actually do more research about STIs.

You can talk to your partner about the barrier methods that they use with clients. You can you know research a bit about sexual health because there’s actually a study that they did recently that shows that sex workers — and I don’t think they use that term unfortunately — have, well in that study they found that the sex worker group they studied versus the swinger group they studied— the sex workers had a lower STI rate.

That isn’t to say that having an STI is a shameful thing and that’s kind of what I feel is kind of implied by that study. But still if STI fears are your worry, then you can do more research about STIs. You could also consider the fact that STI risk is always there whether or not you’re dating a sex worker or not. So I do think sometimes that’s kind of like the first thing people jump to, if they were thinking about dating a sex worker.

So that might be something to challenge within your brain like, you know, you have no idea if you meet someone, unless you personally take a sexual history of every single person you sleep with, you don’t necessarily know how many people that they’ve slept with and I don’t know how many clients your partner has. Literally like, it could be the same level of risk, but you don’t think that it’s the same level because your brain has said “Oh a sex worker is inherently going to have a lot more risk” when actually a lot of sex workers are very responsible about their sexual health. And some people who aren’t sex workers aren’t. So there’s a lot to unpack there about STI shame, about, you know, sex work shame that could be going on in that anxiety.

Or maybe you are having anxiety because you come from a more traditional conservative religious background and the idea of sex work has always been really, you know, you’ve sort of been taught to be ashamed of it. And so you’re kind of worried about that. I mean I kind of assume if you use the word “sex work” that you are more aware than most people might be. But you still might have that kind of… causing that anxiety.

You could also feel a very understandable concern, where, you know, if you have a partner that is in a job that you know— any job. Doesn’t have to just be sex work. You could have a partner who— I think one of the most dangerous professions in America at least is like working at a gas station or working at an oil rig. You know, I think you can ask yourself, obviously there are very specific dangers with sex work that aren’t involved in working on oil rig. There’s lots of dangerous jobs, but you might be worried about your partner’s safety and that’s understandable but that’s also something you know, to talk with your partner about.

It’s not really clear what kind of sex work your partner does. Maybe they can talk to you about what’s involved. I also think you kind of— You don’t want to put all the burden on your partner as well to like make you feel better about their profession, because it’s not really fair on them. So I think that having some basic conversations so that you just understand a little bit more about their work might be good for you to kind of take away and deal with on your own. But it just, it really depends on what’s causing your anxiety.

In terms of resources. I think that you need to find a sex worker rights group in your area, and you should do volunteer work and contribute to that organisation in order to make sure that,  throughout that process you will understand more about sex work and the different sort of challenges that sex workers have in your local area. Because it really depends on your location.

Are you living in an area you know where being a client is criminalised? Are you living in the area where the entire process is criminalised? Are you living in an area where street work is criminalised but doing it at home isn’t but then doing it at home with other sex workers is? Like it’s very complicated, and it will be very dependent upon the area that you’re in.

If you were aware, I am in the UK, then I would tell you to check out SWARM. So people who are in the UK can check out SWARM, I think that even if you’re not in the UK, SWARM has some really great resources. It’s swarmcollective.org. They’ve got a whole resources section. Specifically they have a zine called “Ho Lover” about dating and befriending sex workers.

Just to note on the word “ho” — it’s not something that other people who aren’t sex workers should call other people, even though it’s kind of— some people do use it colloquially, that’s considered a specific word for sex workers. But this zine is about how to be a friend and partner to sex workers, and it says “Many of us carry internalised biases and whorephobia. We can bring those things into our relationships. This zine helps us unpack that baggage and create considerate and caring environments for those we love who do sex work”.

I’m only familiar with some of this stuff because I have tried to unpack my own biases, but it’s hard for me to be able to tell you whether or not your anxieties come from those biases, they come from concern about your partner in general, or from combination of all of those. But I think that really sex worker activist groups are the best places to find resources about sex work in general.

Your specific local sex work activist group may not have something like this where it’s a zine specifically for people who are dating and friending sex workers, but they could have just resources about sex work and the local things that are challenges. And I think in general if you care, then you should just care about it in general. You should try and be more educated as you can be as possible about what’s going on around you and what kind of barriers that your partner might be facing and what kind of situations that you might be able to help with. Just understanding it in general will be better for you.

I think it’s really important to kind of want to re-emphasise not fully relying on your partner to kind of get rid of this anxiety. It doesn’t sound like you’re doing that. But I do think sometimes like having some of these discussions can turn into a little bit of a therapy session for you and it’s just— it is really important that— you know you can ask questions about stuff and see what they are comfortable telling you and ask questions about you know barrier methods if you want or ask what barriers they’ll be using with you or things like that.

But it’s just really important that you do the work, to understand what sex workers go through in general as well as the specific things in your local area that they will be faced with, so that you can just have a better all around understanding the issue. That’s kind of my best advice. It’s kind of short because I’m not a sex worker and I haven’t dated sex workers so I don’t necessarily— I’ve been involved in some amounts of sex worker activism and in general I’m quite a sex worker positive person.

And I believe in full decriminalisation and I believe that sex work is work and sex workers should be respected. And not treated the way that society treats them. But I can’t speak with any education about it and if I’ve fucked up in this episode in any way and anyone who wants to tweet at me. Or tell me or send me a message to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com and say, “This thing you said was whorephobic. This thing you said was wrong”, Please, please do, because I will write a follow up episode. I will release something else, because I’m not necessarily knowledgeable about this whole thing.

But I do want to use this chance for people who listen to me to understand that those resources are out there, and that if they—  even if they’re not dating sex worker and they’re just interested in seeing a sex worker, please care about these issues and locally reach out to those organisations. If you can’t give time, donate to them, and do your part to help out in the situation as much as you can help out. Yep, that’s my advice for this specific situation.

I hope it helps. Try and find a local organisation that can help educate you about this. Take charge of that. Don’t put the whole burden on your partner to educate you. Have some conversations with your partner about stuff that concerns you but be very very wary of trying to make them be forced into a position to reassure you. Especially like if you think about it and you think, because we’re kind of socialised to believe that sex work is, like— people don’t make it as a job like any other job, you know.

There are dangers to a lot of jobs. And some of those things I this may be coming from that. And if you think, “oh, what I’d be sitting down and having this conversation if my partner had a different job”, you know. And you might. You might like, you know, if I had a partner who worked late nights in petrol station, I would be a little bit worried about their safety. I’m also kind of generally paranoid about things. But just try and kind of self examine that a little bit and just make sure that you’re not basically just assuming what their job is like when you don’t necessarily know. Do you know I mean? All right, I’m blathering now.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Gender roles and non-monogamy

I’m in a monogamous relationship and I’ve been in this relationship for 4+ years. We’ve talked about non-monogamy but my partner is quite against it. What makes things worse is I cheated on her last year with a man. We slept together twice before I told her and broke it off with him.

I’ve had a hard time in monogamous relationships in the past because I feel like I get put into a gender role box. If I’m dating a woman, im put into the role of the man, and vise versa.

In my ideal world, I would be either in a triad with a woman and a man, or I would be in a primary relationship with a partner of one sex open to other relations.

My partner doesn’t really understand the gender stuff, even though she tries to. She is really good about treating me how I want to be treated, but a big part of it too is how I’ve been raised. I feel like when I’m with her, I /want/ to do the “manly things” because it makes me feel like a good partner. But it makes me sad that nobody does those “manly things” with me.

And, sex has been… sparse. We have sex maybe once a month if everything aligns. (Double periods makes things a bit tricker plus my partner is super delicate and only wants sex when everything is perfect.) For me, this can be quite hard because physical touch is really important for me to feel bonded with someone and feel happy in general. She does like things like hugging, hand holding, and small kisses (like a peck on the lips.) But sometimes it makes me feel undesired when someone doesn’t want more than that from me.

Anyway, I don’t really know what my question or issue is. Right now I’ve pushed aside any thoughts of the relationship opening up because I definitely shot that possibility in the foot when I cheated on my partner, and I’m fully aware of that. And, I haven’t been able to do much to increase our sexy times. These last few months I’ve decided to focus more on solo sessions and not think about sex with my partner and it’s been helping my mood a lot. But I’m still not fully satisfied.

Maybe my main question is, how long should I wait before mentioning non-monogamy again? It’s been about 6–8 months and she’s still quite hurt about it. I wont ever make the mistake of doing something behind her back again, but I also can’t stop fantasizing about having a man in the house. I also enjoy the thought of watching my partner with a guy. It sounds super fun and sexy.

There are a few key issues to address here but first and foremost, I wouldn’t necessarily say that infidelity means a non-monogamous relationship is completely off the table. I assume you live in a culture monogamy is really the only option is given to people and given that, a lot of people find their way towards feeling like non-monogamy is either part of their identity or works better for them through infidelity. It hurts and it’s unfortunate, but it happens.

Therapy to address infidelity

Any trauma or event in our lives that have had a very negative impact us can continue to impact us for years, decades, or even until the day we die. Some things we don’t “get over” and some healing experiences aren’t linear. What’s critical when it comes to being able to cope or move on from something like infidelity is being able to resolve the issue together. You don’t necessarily have to work with a therapist, but I do think that it is advisable if you can access it because there are some other issues here that need to be explored and sometimes a third party can help with that.

There isn’t a perfect amount of time to wait before mentioning non-monogamy. It’s really about whether or not your partner has had the space in her life and with you to work through these feelings. I think that mentioning non-monogamy may come up again if you’re talking with her about the reasons for infidelity.

Sometimes this does kind of feel like an ultimatum because… it can sometimes be and there isn’t anything you can do about it. If your partner has a naturally low sex drive, prefers to perform gender within a couple in a specific way and has zero interest in any form of non-monogamy that could be a compromise you are at an impasse.

However, before we assume that I think there are a few other things that need to be worked out together before non-monogamy becomes your only option — outside of her working on the pain that the infidelity may have caused her.

Therapy to address gender roles

As a non-binary person, I can understand feeling as though you’re being dictated in a relationship to a specific gender role. For me, this can add a layer of misgendering to a relationship. When I feel as though I’m being shoved in to specific activities that are generally associated with a woman’s role in a cisgender heterosexual relationship and I haven’t specifically chosen it… I do get tetchy about it.

However, I do think there’s a wider discussion to be had with a therapist about how you see yourself within a relationship and how to address your want to do “manly things” in a relationship and how you might be a good partner in other ways.

In some ways, I do think this is something we’re socially encouraged to do because we’re used to those tasks, but I do think this is something that can be addressed. If your partner is used to heterosexual relationships with people who are cisgender, it may be that she’s also doing what she’s used to do and things can change.

It might be worth exploring some of that because it seems like it’s not just an issue with regards to sexual incompatibility, but there’s also an issue with roles in the relationship and ways that you can be fulfilled in this relationship that may involve addressing some of your own specific issues and working those out.

Sexual incompatibility

Aside from working through some of your internal inclinations towards roles in relationships and working through your feelings together on the infidelity and resolving those problems, there is a wider issue of sexual incompatibility which is quite frequent in monogamous relationships. There are a few ways to address this.

First and foremost, seeing if your partner recognises that your differing libidos can create some stress and how they feel about it. Just as much as it is difficult to feel neglected or ignored, it can also not help in terms of having sex if you feel a constant pressure to do so. Is the current frequency something she’s happy with? Is it typical in the relationships she’s been in? Is the pressure of you wanting more sex something that makes it harder for her to want it?

If this is about physical touch and intimacy, is there a way she can be involved with your solo sessions where she doesn’t have to do anything but it still meets that need for you? Is that something she’s willing to do to kind of meet that need? You don’t mention what types of sex you’re doing or wanting and it may be repetitive to remind you that penetrative sex isn’t the only type of sex that can be had and many folks with vaginas may struggle to even get satisfaction from that type of sex — so maybe trying different types or focusing less on penetration and more on other things might make things work between you.

If you’ve tried to mix things up that way and it still doesn’t work because there are specific types of sex that you prefer to have that she doesn’t, then you may need to talk about compromises. Depending on the frequency you feel you need, you may not need to have another entire romantic relationship with another person or even a friends with benefits type of arrangement. You could potentially see a sex worker a few times a year, if that was something you found would help satisfy you.

Although a lot of people are whorephobic or anti-sex work because many societies are and believe a lot of incorrect information about sex workers, this situation could be something that might provide a better compromise than you having another romantic relationship or a friends with benefits situation that could get complicated or seem more threatening to your partner. A sex worker is there in a professional capacity and while I obviously can’t guarantee feelings will never develop on either side in this situation, I feel like that’s probably less likely if you hire a sex worker. And in terms of STI safety, a sex worker is actually far more likely to get checked frequently than other people and know how to use protection well.

If you require something a bit more frequent or a sex worker is out of the question, then you might look into getting involved in swinger communities — however, I generally would advise that, unless you live in an area where it’s an exception, most swinger communities are very cishet focused. From what I’ve seen and read, they don’t necessarily feel like welcoming spaces for non-binary people and specifically I have heard that single bisexual men struggle to find couples or people to swap with.

It’s worth a shot in case you find a couple that has an interest and in a way a swinger community might feel safer for your girlfriend because you will be likely getting involved with people who are already in committed relationships who aren’t looking for other romantic connections and are just looking for sexual hookups.

If all of those options don’t work for you and what you actually want — given you’ve mentioned gender roles are part of a reason why you cheated — is a romantic relationship or the ideal scenario you’ve put out then you may just be at an impasse in terms of your compatibility with your partner.

In summary

I think it’s worth you finding a therapist who is non-monogamy positive and sex work positive and going through the issues of healing from the infidelity, addressing gender roles within your relationship (possibly seeing a therapist individually to discuss your inclination towards taking on a specific role and how to fight against that a bit better), as well as establishing how your partner feels about your sexual incompatibility. Once you’ve kind of addressed these three issues, you can begin working through some compromises in each field.

You can figure out what she needs from you to heal from the infidelity, you can work out compromises you can make together to make you feel like you’re not taking on a specific gender role and work through some ways you can have different forms of sex together in a way where she feels less pressured, if she does feel pressured, and you both are satisfied. If those don’t work out, you could address sexual compromises by looking at options like sex work or swinging and then consider non-monogamy or polyamory as a kind of last resort of none of these situations really help you.

I think you also need to do some introspection. You’ve been with this person for four years and that is quite a long time, but it’s not as if you’re discovering this about yourself after being together for 25 years with a lot of children and a house together. You don’t really state whether or not you have any immediate ties together.

So it’s worth you really thinking it’s worth compromising so much to ensure that this relationship stays alive. Because you could work through all of these issues and find out you’re just not compatible. So it’s worth you thinking about whether or not multiple romantic relationships are the thing you actually want and need out of relationship and whether you want to compromise not having that for the rest of your life.

And again, I don’t think infidelity means non-monogamy is out of the question. A lot of people can and do start from that point — but it is important that you’ve taken the steps together to address the infidelity in a way that allows for healing as much as possible.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Age gaps in polyamory

I am a bisexual female and my partner of 2 years is a heterosexual male. I am 28, he is 53. We recently (4 months ago) moved across the country and moved in together. I have never been poly[am] or had an open relationship and don’t see myself as poly[am]. He has been very open minded throughout our relationship sexually. He has been open to swinging, threesomes with other men, and me being with females alone — though we still have yet to experience any of this.

I am very much into kinks he is not into, however. And while he has known I have a very large sexual appetite, it is starting to become something we have to face head on. I want to have sex with men, 2–3 times a month, who can provide me with types of sex he cannot. This may be BDSM related or just harder and more intense sex (something his age and his more playful personality prevents him from).

This has been a source of anxiety for him and he says that he knows I need this but that he doesn’t think he could handle it. He has denied couple’s sex therapy in the past though he recently has mentioned potentially going to it. He is open to reading about it and finding out tools to make him feel more comfortable, if possible. Which is how I ended up finding your podcast.

I want to know if what I am asking is too much, if I am just being selfish, if there is any possibility it sounds like we could make this work for us?

While I don’t unilaterally condemn massive age gaps, I do tend to think a massive age gap between yourself and your partner really is only an issue if one of the people is in their 20s because people in their 20s are still, in a lot of ways, and especially if they’ve gone through a lot of trauma, still working out a lot of things about themselves.

You’ve been with him since you were 26 and he was 51. To put that in perspective for you, if you haven’t really thought about it, he was your age *when you were born*. So he has a good 25 years of learning and growing and exploring that you haven’t and a lot of actual power over you. I’m not trying to say you’re ignorant or misguided or that you don’t know what you’re getting to. What I’m trying to say is that it’s pretty unwise from his perspective at the grand age of 51 to date a 26 year old precisely because of what’s going on now.

He’s more misguided than you are about what he should be doing and that’s what the problem is. Especially if he’s claiming he’s interested in more open forms of relationships — but not to couple’s therapy in the past. It’s good that he’s open to it now, but it concerns me that, and I’m only guessing here, he’s never been to therapy at all, which I think most people should, even if they don’t think they need it desperately. If he’s a decent guy, he will not have a problem with this being an issue that’s addressed and should not get defensive or angry when this obvious power differential is pointed out.

It also really concerns me that you feel like putting forward what you want and need is a problem. This is one of the reasons why there’s a particular problem with an older man dating a younger woman. Society tells you to feel like demanding your wants and needs is an issue and makes you selfish. If you were 10 years older, you would be more confident in demanding what you want and you’d have a better idea of what you want.

I’m not saying this is the case with your current partner, but many older men date younger women precisely because they don’t have the confidence often to be more assertive with their wants and needs. And then those older men don’t tend to be very open to those women going out and finding what it is that they want.

The other thing that’s throwing up red flags for me is that what little open forms of relationship he’s said he’s interested in the past have been what’s essentially known as a ‘one penis policy’. He’s fine with you sleeping with people in areas he can get something out of it (threesomes) or with you seeing only women on your own which indicates he’s going to have a huge problem with you seeing other men as and when you’d like.

While it is understandable for men to feel anxious about this (the same society that tells you that you putting forward your needs makes you selfish is the same society that tells him that he needs to be worried about being replaced by a ‘better’ man), the solution to anxiety is not to control your partner and their behaviours. It’s to address this anxiety head on.

With all of these issues acknowledged, what’s needed here is more work on both of your parts to understand what it is that you ideally want out of polyamory or an open relationship. It might be that you’re not 100% sure of what you want right now or need to explore more to figure this out, but having a good idea of what motivates you to try an open relationship or polyamory will help anchor you when anxiety comes on both of your sides.

Ask yourselves what it is you get out of this situation. Presumably, if you open your relationship in an egalitarian way, he is also allowed to date and sleep with others. Do you want established other partners? Is this about romance? Or more about exploration? What will you do if romantic feelings begin to develop?

I would heavily advise you against “compromising” and trying to address his anxieties and fears by sacrificing what it is you want and agreeing to a one penis policy or his right to “veto” any relationship you have. While many people feel this “works” because it makes their domestic partner less anxious about things, it’s not egalitarian or fair and will eventually come back to bite either one of you in the butt. You need to be free to explore what you would otherwise be able to explore if you weren’t in this relationship. It’s also incredibly unfair to anyone you or him end up dating. If there is an urge to make a “rule”, ask yourself if the rule will prevent what it is you want to happen.

Neither one of you can prevent, even now in your current relationship, one of you falling in love with someone else. Neither one of you can prevent, even now, being ‘replaced’ if that’s what’s going to happen. So it’s important to avoid putting forth rules that only function to delay the inevitable or prevent something from happening that they cannot prevent.

I’d also suggest you find a polyamory friendly couples therapist, if this is accessible to you, and especially one that understands the problems with veto power and a “one penis policy” so that they can avoid you going down this route. I’d also suggest, if it is accessible to both of you, you seeing therapists individually so that you have somewhere private to talk about concerns and issues without having to bring everything to the couples therapy sessions that may not be helpful.

And lastly, if you’re not already doing this, make absolutely sure that you avoid being completely and utterly reliant on this person. Make sure you have a separate bank account. Stay in touch with your friends and family. Make sure you can work and make your own money. Read “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft. While I’m not trying to say your current relationship is abusive, because it doesn’t sound like it on the surface, sometimes abusers can bide their time and wait or slowly and slowly isolate you before you realise what’s going on.

Always ensure you have your own independence and if he has a negative reaction to you having your own independence, if he attempts to bad talk all of your friends and acquaintances or stir up drama between you and your family (if you’re still in touch with them), be very, very wary. Even men who do not violently express themselves can still manipulate through emotional blackmail at first and then get violent later.

Once you’ve initially decided what it is you both want out of polyamory or an open relationship, you can figure out the physicality of all of the things you want such as which nights you might go, what your STI protection practices will be, etc. You likely will feel anxious. Both of you will. This doesn’t mean you’re bad at it or that this isn’t the right choice. The important thing is to work on coping strategies for anxiety rather than allowing it to dictate your actions.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Episode 31: So Uncomfortable

You’re trying polyamory but you’re struggling with discomfort every time your partner shows interest in someone else. Does this mean it’s not for you?

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

Discussion Topic: If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

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

Episode 31 – So Uncomfortable

You’re trying polyamory but you’re struggling with discomfort every time your partner shows interest in someone else. Does this mean it’s not for you? 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:

I (27F) am a lesbian with limited dating experience due to being partially closeted and anxious about it until this year. I recently started dating a bisexual woman with considerably more sexual experience who I met online. The last few months have been dreamy, domestic, intense, and erotic. When we started hooking up, I knew she was non-monogamous but I was unconcerned other than discussing the usual safety stuff.

Our relationship quickly grew more emotionally deep and we are compatible in ways that I never knew I could be. We are on the same page that we feel we want to make a long-term commitment happen, and with the full knowledge that I am queer, in requited love for the first time, and probably still in some sort of honeymoon phase, I think I want to keep this woman.

That being said, the one persistent issue we’ve been having is regarding the open or closed status of our relationship. I’ve been trying to warm to the idea of being open because I know that she is a sexual person and variety is really important for her wellbeing. I also recognized that my initial discomfort with the idea could have been due to my unfamiliarity with poly[am] dynamics.

We have talked about it extensively and set up boundaries that would mean we are each other’s primaries, and casual dating and hooking up with others would be allowed, although neither of us has taken advantage of this yet. I am unsure if I even want to do so although I am curious what sleeping with other women might be like. I know she definitely has been testing the waters but has refrained from meeting anyone yet so as not to hurt me.

I realized I couldn’t abide by our agreed terms recently when she was testing the waters again and telling me about flirting and being interested in hooking up with someone. I felt my stomach curl in on itself and betrayal fill me, even though I knew she was fine by our terms.

We had a long talk and are currently considering two options that we would try out as trial runs before sitting down and having that real, heart crushing talk about whether we need to part ways. The first, her idea, is that she would try out monogamy with me, super communicating to make sure resentment wasn’t building and adjusting accordingly. The second, my idea, was that I’d let go and let her pursue whoever with the request that she tell me no other details than bare bones, for health purposes and to make sure she’s happy.

I know that I would not be able to handle if I made her persistently unhappy and know she currently feels guilty because that’s part of how I’ve been feeling this whole time. I have to hope that by normalizing it to myself, working through my hang ups, and giving my unconscious time to settle into the idea that she is here to stay and is proving that by staying, I can begin to let go and let her do what makes her happy while also being happy and secure myself in what we have.

Am I missing something? How can I make myself (and therefore her) more comfortable here? Are there any reading resources? I am aware enough to know that there’s only so long we can carry on like this, and I am determined to put in my best effort to figure this out before either of us gets hurt any more than we need to. My heart has already been working through some rough truths and to me, she is worth every scuff.

Please give me some hope or guidance here.

Response:

So I have to say like, there’s barely anything for me to say here, because honestly, I think you have nailed it. I don’t think it’s a good idea for her to try monogamy. It seems like she’s pretty well versed in the fact that polyamory is, or at least an open relationship, is what she wants. And I think that your suggestion makes a hell of a lot of sense.

It might be that over time, you’re more comfortable hearing some details or just kind of more than the bare bones. But I think, in the meantime, that actually works really, really well. She and you both need to stop avoiding things though. She’s avoiding going out with other people to avoid hurting you. And that’s totally understandable. And I’m not saying that’s wrong.

But eventually like… basically, the more you avoid that kind of thing, the worse and worse the buildup gets, and the more and more anxiety sets in, and the more and more discomfort you feel. So she has to stop avoiding meeting people because she’s afraid it might hurt you. She kind of has to accept the fact that you may have to experience polyamory before you really really know if it’s not for you or not.

Unfortunately, that’s kind of how it has to be. And there’s no… there’s no real easy way to do that. And the most— most of the time, when people try to find easy ways into polyamory, it just tends to be more avoidance. So I do think that your option makes the most sense. You’re going to feel uncomfortable, though. You know, you ask, “How can I make myself more comfortable?” You’re gonna feel uncomfortable, like that’s just… that— This is a new, completely new relationship for you actually. It’s new ground because it’s actually the first kind of real deep relationship that seems like you’ve had.

And you’re trying out an open relationship, you’re gonna be uncomfortable, like you’re just gonna. The problem is, is that the discomfort that you probably felt and having this first requited— you know, you probably felt some discomfort when you started off in this relationship or some fear. But you expected that to certain extent, or that was seen as culturally appropriate. But the problem is, is that you are, you’ve been living in a society that tells you that love, you know— part of love is exclusivity. Part of love is someone only wanting to date or have sex with you.

And so you’re fighting against this messaging you’ve been giving your whole life, so you’re gonna feel even more uncomfortable. And I think you can kind of appreciate, as a queer woman, you know— you don’t really— you talk about how you’ve been, you know, partially closeted. So you know what it feels like to kind of be afraid because you’ve had society telling you something is wrong, wrong wrong. So you know what that feels like.

And this is, in a way, not exactly identical, but it is similar to that. You don’t have any models for this. You don’t have any guidance in it. So you are going to feel a little lost and a little scared and that’s okay. Doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean that this isn’t necessarily for you. And the good thing here is that you know, you’ve already decided what you’re going to get out of this. I think it’s really great that you’ve talked about kind of— the kind of relationship structure that you want. I think it’s worth considering, you know— it doesn’t sound like you’ve set up any rules of like, “I won’t fall in love with anyone”.

It doesn’t sound like you’ve set up rules that have to do with things you can’t control. You know, you’ve decided, “Okay, we’re going to be each other’s primaries, this is what that means: casual dating and hooking up is something that is allowed”. And, you know, it seems like you’re communicating enough to where if things seem to be getting more serious with someone else, you’d have a talk about that and you kind of explore that.

So, you know, you’ve already decided what kind of relationship structure you want. It seems like you’ve decided the physical aspects of that. It seems like you’re talking about safety, which is really, really great. It seems like as well, you’re thinking about what you can get out of polyamory. So you’re— even though you’re kind of, you know, not keen on the idea at first, now you’re sort of realizing, “Oh, okay, maybe it might be interesting to date other people”. You can see where you can go with that.

So honestly, you’ve done pretty much all you can. You’re in an excellent position, like you’re— even though it may not feel like that right now, because you are really nervous and really uncomfortable. This is just a necessary part of the process. Like you’re gonna feel uncomfortable when you’re trying something new. You’re both, you know, you have this really strong connection. You’re really really afraid to hurt one another. You’re really really afraid of losing one another. But what I see that’s really awesome about this is that, you know, you both are understanding that there is a potential that you might be incompatible, and you’re not hiding that from one another.

You’re very, very honest about that. You’re like, you know, I’m, you know, we may have to have that heartbreaking conversation about whether we need to part ways, but you’re trying really hard to make sure that you’re doing the best you can to figure things out before you hurt one

another. And hopefully, it seems like you’re your girlfriend is also committed to doing that. I honestly think that’s the best thing you can do. Like you’re both— if your girlfriend is approaching this as emotionally aware as you are, then you’re both in a really, really great place.

You know, there won’t be anything you can do to prevent complete and incompatibility. But you’ve got pretty much everything going here. So yeah, I would say like, I don’t advise that she try monogamy. I just feel like, you know, if she’s had a lot of experience, and you don’t say whether or not she’s tried monogamy before, but if she’s had a lot of experience, and she, you know, unless she’s kind of a bit older and is feeling like I don’t really feel like dating very much anymore.

You know, it’d be one thing if she had all this experience and was kind of reaching a point in her life where she wasn’t that interested in going out and doing anything with anyone anymore. It would be one thing for her to try monogamy, but that just doesn’t seem like where she is right now. And I don’t think it’s really good for her to deny that aspect of herself. Because even though you know, it’s kind of– resentment as kind of a hard thing to figure out, like, when is it coming up, because it’s a kind of thing that builds slowly and slowly.

And I just don’t know if even with constant communication, you’re going to necessarily be able to prevent that. It’s just going to lead to a

bit of unhappiness. And I think it’s— it’s probably more likely that you might be… you know, because you do have some interest in seeing other people because you also don’t necessarily have a lot of experience yourself, a lot of people end up being interested in polyamory down the line, because they don’t have a lot of experience. And because they, you know, didn’t really think about marriage and kind of, you know, sexual monogamy for the rest of their life.

They kind of go “Oh, wait, I don’t know if that’s really something that you know, I want to do in my life”. So it makes a lot more sense from your end to for you to be potentially interested in sleeping with other people in the future. Maybe you won’t be that keen on it right this minute. And maybe you might be the kind of person like me where, you know, I don’t find partners very frequently because that’s just not how things go for me and that’s fine.

But either way, you’re approaching this honestly like in one of the best ways that you can. If you have access to therapy, I definitely think you should still try and see a polyamory friendly couples therapist that can kind of help you talk about things. That therapist may feel like the bare bones kind of— because you’re not asking for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. You’re not basically asking her to lie.

And I think you just want to know the basics of things for health purposes. And just to know that she’s happy and that she’s okay. And I think that’s fair enough. And you might find that as you you know, as you said— You said it perfectly like, you know, you just have to settle into the idea. See that she’s here to stay and have her prove that by staying and then you’ll begin to feel a lot less anxious. I think that’s really, really true. And I think as you become more comfortable with her, you establish a foundation

together.

You probably will find that you’re okay with hearing a little bit more. It’s okay if you don’t want to know the intimate details. I don’t want to know the intimate details. I’m not interested in that. It doesn’t, you know— some people are really interested in that either way is fine, but you might feel later down the line that you’re a little bit more settled and you feel a little bit more established with her and it doesn’t feel quite as scary to hear that stuff.

That description of you— you know your say your stomach curling in on itself and having all those emotions— that’s totally normal. And I think if you read anything or you understand anything, make sure you avoid anything that makes you feel like there’s something wrong with you for having a bad feeling or that having any kind of negative reaction to your partner dating or seeing someone else means that you’re not polyamorous because it’s completely understandable for you to have these feelings, you know, you—

I feel like, you know, with being a queer woman and knowing what it’s like to be closeted, like you know what it’s like to be influenced by a culture that’s around you and to feel really bad. You know, I can’t speak for you, but I know that I’ve heard from a lot of people were the first queer feelings that they had were coupled with a lot of shame and a lot of guilt and a lot of negative feelings. And again, I’m not saying being queer is the same thing as being polyamorous because I don’t feel that that’s the same.

But what I’m saying is that you can— if you can kind of look to that experience, if you did experience something like that, and kind of understand that these reactions and feelings you’re having partially are fear, understandable fear, because you’re with this new person, and you haven’t really established your foundation yet, and you’re scared, and that’s understandable. But also partly because you live in a society that’s told you your whole life that exclusivity means that someone loves you. So it’s hard for you to just, you know, turn overnight and magically believe the opposite.

So, yeah, to sum it up, I think that you’re in a really, really good place. And I think your idea sounds the best. And I think you should see if you can get a polyamory friendly couples therapist to kind of help you walk through

stuff. She needs to stop avoiding this. You know, you’re gonna have to bite the bullet and go with it at some point. You can’t avoid hurting someone. Unfortunately, that’s just how things happen. It’s totally understandable.

I’m not saying that she’s in any way you know, being bad or whatever, but you gotta jump in at some point. And just expect that you’re feeling comfortable. Learn how to cope with that. Realize that being uncomfortable doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s just part of, you know, part of the experience. There’s also a good book called “Rewriting the Rules” by Meg-John Barker, I definitely recommend that one. And yeah, in general, just kind of go with it.

And trust that you’ve done the work. You’ve set the foundation. You’ve decided what kind of relationship you want. You see the benefits you can get out of it. And just try to, you know, learn how to cope with that anxiety, and eventually that anxiety will get better. Like, in my experience, it does. And you may unfortunately find out that polyamory isn’t for you. And that’s also okay, too. And it really does sound like if you do figure that out, like you both seem communicative enough where it doesn’t have to be this horrible, you know, life altering, cataclysmic sad thing, it sounds like you part in a fairly amicable way. So try to as well keep that in mind. All right. I hope that helps. And good luck.

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Episode 27: Signs of Seriousness

How do you know your relationship is ‘serious’? Is asking about it going to bug your partner too much?

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

Discussion Topic: Would you lie to make your partner happy? When does a good lie become a bad lie?

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

Episode 27 – Signs of Seriousness

How do you know your relationship is ‘serious’? Is asking about it going to bug your partner too much? 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 – Would you lie to make your partner happy?

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 partner and I have been dating for more than two years, almost three years now, if we count the long distance time. I’m female hetero flexible, I tend to have just one main partner and just enjoy some occasional ONS, fwb, or threesomes with my partner.

My partner is poly[am], straight male. He’s said that he has romantic feelings for several girls at the same time. He’s never defined any of his relationships, he calls all of the girls he’s seeing “friends”. Although I feel and I’ve told him that I see him as my main partner, and I feel that he sees me most often.

We’ve been always open. He vaguely lets me know that he was seeing someone else, on and off, through social media posts. But he seldom talks directly about his feelings. I tried to ask many questions in the beginning, but I realized that he is just not the person who could talk clearly about his own feelings, so I stopped to ask those questions that I know will never get any clear response.

If I don’t ask questions such as… “How do you perceive our relationship?” “How do you feel about the other girls that you’re dating?” “What are your relationships with others like?” etc… things would be fine. But he asks me those questions when I start to see other people, and I would always answer them as clearly as I could. So in regards to information equality, I feel unbalanced, but I can’t change it.

Yesterday we went to an orgy party that his friends held. We had a very good time there.  It was good vibe, really exciting, arousing and relaxing. After that he went on to a road trip with the group of friends. I have to work so I came back to the city. I know that he’s had a romantic history with a girl who’s also going on that road trip. I don’t know what their relationship is like nowadays… I guess they might rekindle a bit during this trip.

But I feel like… I hope he’s more “serious” with me than with others. We’ve talked about plans like having kids or maybe marriage, or maybe cohabitation…but it just never happened.

I know he would be turned off if I express my insecurity… especially when he’s on a trip with another lover. I’ve never gone on a trip with him because I always have to work. And apparently his other lover is way successful than me career-wise…

Should I tell him all these feelings that are bugging me? Or should I just let go of them and keep the peace when he comes back?

Response:

So there’s a couple of things going on here. I think that your biggest problem is the communication and equality, which you point out. I think some people— and I think it’s fair that if your partner doesn’t really define relationships in the same way that you do, you’re never going to be able to force him to define things. In some relationships, that’s kind of the case like for me, I definitely define relationships very clearly. But I’ve dated people who, you know, if it were me in that situation, I would consider the people they see my partners, but they don’t really consider them to be partners.

How people define a relationship is really, really subjective. And it can probably be really hard if someone says like, “How do you perceive our relationship? How do you feel about the other people you’re seeing?” Sometimes you don’t really know and sometimes, especially for some people, probing too much into that kind of ruins things a bit because they kind of want to let things organically go on their own.

I’m in a situation where I do understand where you’re coming from— where you kind of, you want to have a bit of an anchor. And you want to have a good idea of, you know, how you are in your partner’s life. But I think that you should probably examine a little bit more where this anxiety comes from, because right now you’re in a relationship, which doesn’t give you a lot of easy signs of security.

So there’s a concept called the relationship escalator, which is really, really, really, really great. I suggest you Google it. And it’s all about how the society that we live in unless you live in a completely different society. And if you do then, I apologise. But a society at least that I live in. We have the signs of security within a relationship or the stages of relationship, which is called the “relationship escalator”. And it’s these things which in monogamy, you have a hint of how serious something is. And so you feel more grounded and more stable because these little things that you do like such as moving in such as you know, becoming exclusive, such as doing this or

that— the things you talk about, like having kids, maybe marriage, cohabitation.

Those are really kind of landmarks on this journey. And those ground you and help you figure out whether or not things are serious with this person. And that’s very understandable of a thing to want. But within non-monogamy and polyamory, people may not want those same things and they may not have those same kind of markers of stability. So you kind of have to learn how to create your own stability within things. And I think maybe you’re clinging a bit to these kind of definitions of what makes you serious, because you’re anxious, you know, and it It makes total sense.

There’s nothing wrong with you being anxious, like you’re— you’ve been together two to three years. And, you know, that is a fair amount of time. But it’s— you’re still kind of building your relationship with each other. So you’re trying to figure out, you know, what— how stable is the situation? And you want to have that stability because it’s a scary situation to be in. It’s always scary when we try new things ao we’re always trying to look for that stability.

So you’re trying to find these— you’re trying to find out if you are more serious than other relationships because you’re scared that you’re going to be replaced by these other relationships. And the thing that I think would be helpful for you to realise is that, separate to what you want out of a out of a relationship structure, there is this constant fear that people have, even if they are monogamous, of being replaced by someone and… ultimately, there isn’t anything that you can do to be— to avoid being replaced. And that can be a really hard pill to swallow.

I think what you’re trying to do by sort of asking these questions and trying to figure out where you are, as far as how serious he is with you, is you’re trying to figure out a way for you to feel more secure in this. For you to sort of quiet that fear inside you that’s sort of worried about being replaced. But the thing of it is, is people have been in like 25 year relationships, where they have houses and cars and children with people, and their marriages have broken up. So I think that what you need to remember when you’re kind of grasping for this is that regardless of whether or not you have kids, whether you co-habitate, whether you do all of these things that signify seriousness, that isn’t going to completely and utterly prevent him from leaving you.

There’s nothing that you can do that is going to prevent that from happening. And even though that’s really, really scary, it can actually be really, really freeing for you. Because right now, you know, when your mind is going, “Oh, I’m scared, I’m going to be replaced. I’m scared, I’m going to be replaced”. It’s sort of going, what can I do to stop that from happening? I know, I’ll ask him, I’ll make sure that I’m in a serious place in his life. I’ll do all these little things. And I’ll, you know, I’ll make sure that I’m, you know, well glued into his life and then I won’t be replaced because it’ll be hard to replace me.

And it’s— that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. It’s a lot of pressure to put on your shoulders that you have to prevent someone from leaving you by being the best partner in the world, by providing, by doing this, by doing that, and really, it’s easier to take the pressure off yourself. So that’s kind of one aspect of this is that you are kind of clinging to some seriousness in this so that you can feel more stable with him. And, you know, you— I think when you ask these questions of him, what you’re trying to find is him saying that you are really important to him.

And if that’s what you want from those discussions, then that’s maybe what you need to ask. Instead of trying to figure out how he feels about other people, maybe you should only focus with him on, you know, how he feels about you. But at the same time, like I said before, you really need to remember that like… some people— when he asks you these questions, you have a clear answer, because this is how you think, but this may not be how he thinks, and that doesn’t mean that you aren’t important to him.

It just may mean that, you know, he just doesn’t have that kind of a mind or he doesn’t really think of things in that way. He kind of maybe sounds like a person that likes to let things happen organically. However, all that said, I do think that it’s fair for you to want some idea of you know, what your plan is as well as what his plan is. And I think that’s really what you can do. You know, you can’t really make him talk if he’s not willing to talk. And that’s an issue. And I’m going to address that a little bit later on.

But what you can do is you can try to be a little bit more clear about what you want. So rather than just trying to figure out where he’s going with this, try to examine what your ideal relationship structure is like. So do you want to be more serious with him? Because you’re nervous about being replaced? Or do you want to be more serious with him because what you want is a domestic relationship with one person? You know, you said— You said in the beginning, you tend to have just one partner and enjoy occasion— I don’t know what ONS is admittedly, but you like to just have kind of occasional other sexual partnerships, but you kind of want a structure where you have one main partner.

Is that because you’re afraid of being replaced or is that because that is definitely something that you want? And I think that if that is something you’re sure that you want, then what you need to do is you need to come to him and you need to say, “Hey, this is the kind of structure that I want”. It might be that that’s not the kind of structure that he wants. So you might not ever get that reassurance from him that you are “the serious relationship” because that might not be how he wants to operate.

He might be kind of more of a relationship anarchist where he sees, you know, all of his romantic and relationships as well as friendships— You know, you said he calls all of the girls he’s seeing or women he’s seeing friends and that may be his true feelings about it. He doesn’t do one relationship as more serious than another relationship. And it’s not that any one of you is wrong in terms of how you want to do relationships. It’s just that you do them differently.

So if you know that then you can then decide okay, I might continue to have a relationship with this person, but is this going to be my one main partner? Or is this more of a relationship that would operate better for me and I would have way less anxiety if it was one of those occasional relationships? And he might have less anxiety because, you know, you have this really— you have this separation between your main partner and your other partners, and he just doesn’t have that. And that just may be how he does things. And that’s okay.

I do think, though, that you’re completely fair and feeling unbalanced as far as the communication goes. And I think it’s fair enough that you investigate that a little bit. So you know, you— it’d be one thing if you like, asked him all these probing questions about like, “How do you perceive our relationship? And how do you feel about the other people you’re seeing?” And he never asked you any of that, but he’s asking you that and it might be that he’s asking you that because he knows— He’s also anxious about being replaced, but he knows that you do this kind of structure and you do operate this way.

So he’s asking you that because he knows he’ll get the reassurance that he needs by asking you that. But you need to talk to him a little bit. Point this incongruity out to him and say, “Hey, I noticed that, like, I try to figure out where your other relationships are and where I am in your life. And you don’t really give me answers. But when you know, when I see someone new, you ask me these questions, and I do give you answers and I feel that that’s unbalanced”. And I think that you— you’re fair to ask that.

And you might want to, if you have the option, find a polyamory friendly therapist who can like sit down and talk to you both about this kind of communication and equity that you have. Because I think it might— it’s one thing if he just doesn’t do relationships that way, and that’s fine. But he needs to also understand that it’s not really fair, in terms of him seeking reassurance from you. Like you need to find a way to seek reassurance from him. And it might be that the reassurance that you need, if you need reassurance that you know, you’re one main partner and that’s the agreement that you have, then you’re not going to be able to get that reassurance from him if that’s not how he does relationships.

But what— if you want reassurance that you are— that he cares about you, you’re gonna have to find some way of doing that that isn’t focused around these kind of traditional means of seriousness that’s cohabitation or children or marriage. It might be that he doesn’t have any interest in those things or that those things just don’t represent the same things to him as they do to you.

So, you know, and also, I think you need to just accept a bit that you’re going to have anxiety about this. You’re going to have feelings that are bugging you, even when he’s on a trip with another person that he fancies, like, it’s gonna— It’s going to make you anxious no matter what, even if you— I think even if you did have these, like, serious signs from him, or even if he said, “You know, listen, you’re my one partner, other people are casual”. I think you would still feel anxious about that, and that’s okay.

And I think that the biggest thing that a lot of people don’t do when they do open their relationships or they practice polyamory or they’re non-monogamous is they don’t really give themselves permission to be anxious about anything, because you’re kind of expected to be happy about everything. And to be anxious about anything, it makes it seem like you’re trying to control things. And— so give yourself permission to be anxious.

The other thing that’s kind of— and I don’t know if this is something that he’s made you feel or if it’s something that you’re just kind of thinking that will happen, you said, “I know he would be turned off if I express my insecurity”. That’s not a really great sign. Like I feel like people need to be— if they’re going to practice polyamory, and if they’re going to have multiple relationships, sometimes what I find is that there are people who get into polyamory or who get into non-monogamy, because they— It’s not that they don’t want one relationship or that they want multiple relationships. It’s that they want to have all of the good parts of a relationship, but they don’t want to have to deal with the emotional responsibility that often comes with having a relationship.

So they are non-monogamous in a way that allows them to have all the good parts of everybody. But not have to deal with anybody’s, you know, emotional reassurance, the sort of effort and input that it takes to have a have a romantic relationship. They may not do well with monogamy, because it’s intense in that one to one connection. You definitely have to provide that. So they’ll move into a non a non-monogamy space, because they can then find these sort of other smaller connections where they can just have fun, and they can just do whatever and they don’t have to be an emotional source of comfort or security for anybody.

And you know, if that’s how people want to live their life, it’s absolutely fine. But I do think that people need to be a little bit more upfront about that. And what worries me about the situation and the things that you’ve described is that you’ve talked about how, you know, he calls all the people that he’s seeing friends, he doesn’t seem to want to give you a reassurance about the seriousness of your relationship. He doesn’t really answer questions about how he feels about other people versus you.

You’re seeking this kind of serious level with him that he’s not reciprocating. And then on top of this, he— you feel like he wouldn’t respond well to you coming to him with with your fears. And that’s really not a good sign in general like I— even, you know, even your friends, you should be able to come to your friends and say, “I’m really scared about this”. If you can’t come to him with your fears and your insecurities, then why are you in a relationship with him, essentially? Like you shouldn’t— your partner, someone that you’re romantically involved with. Like, you know, you may do friendships just as deeply as you do romantic partnerships. But regardless, like your partner should be the person that you can come to with your insecurity.

And I don’t know if this is because of the things he said or maybe I also feel like for a lot of people, expressing your insecurity and expressing a need is a really scary thing to do and I think sometimes the polyamory advice that you get is always, “Talk to them about it, talk to them about it. Talk to them about it.” And it kind of ignores how really difficult that is. It’s really hard to talk about the things that you need. So it might be that you’re afraid that he’s going to be turned off, but he has never expressed that. But I think that’s something to really think about. Like, is it just that you’re scared to say something about it? Because you’re afraid that, you know, you shouldn’t be insecure or you think you should just be able to deal with it? Or is it that he doesn’t react well, to you coming up to him and saying, “I’m scared”.

Because if he doesn’t react well to that, then a lot of this stuff is moot. And I— because what you really need it sounds like from— even if he was an occasional partner, you should still feel comfortable enough to come to him with fears. That should just be— that should be a thing that should feel comfortable to come to a friend with. So you should feel comfortable coming to him. And if he’s doing something that makes you think that he won’t respond well, or he hasn’t responded well in the past to you saying “I’m really scared about this” then maybe he isn’t the relationship that you need right now.

So to kind of sum up everything here, I think first and foremost, it would be helpful for you to figure out if this concept of one main partner and some occasional other partners that are kind of more sexually based is the structure that you definitely want. And if it’s something that you want, because it’s something that you want— it’s not something that you want, because you’re afraid of losing him. It’s definitely like a structure that you want, and it might be hard to parse. But I think that that’s really helpful because what you don’t want to do is make decisions based upon being afraid of being replaced and based upon just serving him. You want to make decisions that are based on serving your needs.

So figure out if that’s the structure that you want. Then I think that you need to think about the communication inequalities here and you need to directly address that with him and you need to say, “This is the structure that I want. This is what I want you to be as a partner. This is, you know, maybe we can work together to figure out what ‘serious’ means with each other. But this is what I want”. And you need to figure out if that’s actually what he wants. And he needs to be able to say it because sometimes— sometimes people don’t have the gumption.

And they just sort of allow people to get to a point where they break up with them, because they don’t have the ability within themselves to come to that person and say, “Actually, do you know what, this isn’t the kind of relationship that I want. And I don’t think that we should have that kind of relationship”. He might kind of make it be you that has to do that, unfortunately. So you kind of have to figure that out.

Maybe he isn’t that one main partner that you need, because he’s a kind of person that just doesn’t have that kind of structure and doesn’t want that kind of structure. And that is okay, but he really should communicate that clearly instead of kind of leaving you in the dark, and I think that you should really address that.

I lastly, think that— really explore this issue with being afraid to come to him with your insecurity. I think in terms of like physicality, like, you know— it’s probably not helpful to bring this up while he’s on a road trip and while he’s not physically with you because this is quite a serious kind of in person sit down discussion, and unfortunately might just kind of have to bite the bullet while he’s off on this road trip. But remember, as I said before, in terms of being replaced like nothing— nothing you do— you can’t prevent being replaced. And putting that burden on your shoulders is partially what’s giving you so much anxiety because you’re trying to find purchase. You’re trying to figure out how can I make sure that I’m secure and stable in this? And you’re putting that responsibility on you.

And if you take a step back and you reframe it and you say, “Okay, I can’t be responsible for ensuring that this person never will never leave me”. You can’t be responsible for that. There’s nothing you can do to prevent that. There have been people in relationships with kids with houses with the most tied together lives you could ever imagine whose partners fall out of love with them. And that just happens. There isn’t anything that you can actually do to prevent that. And once you take that responsibility off yourself, I think you might find actually that your anxiety goes down a little bit, and it can go down a little bit temporarily, while he’s on this road trip.

And then when he comes back, you need to kind of address these inequities and the different ways that you see relationships. I think, honestly, what it sounds like is that he does relationships a little bit differently than you do. And you just— you kind of want this structure and he doesn’t necessarily operate that way. And he just hasn’t been able to say, “Hey, look, this isn’t how I do things. This is how I do things”. And it would be a lot easier for you if he did that. So maybe you in this case need to

just come to him and say “Hey, this is the kind of relationship structure that I want. Is this what you want?” And if it isn’t what he wants and maybe you need to— he can be an occasional partner and you can find that one partner who can give you that reassurance and that stability that you need. Yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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Episode 24: Rules Won’t Save You

Can you make enough rules to prevent your partner from leaving you?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Check out the Patreon for the discussion topic.

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: Which better describes you? When my partner disappoints me… 1. I go cold, tend to withdraw and like to be alone… 2. I feel panicked and explode into rage with them…

Episode 24 – Rules Won’t Save You

Can you make enough rules to prevent your partner from leaving you? 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 – Which better describes you? When my partner disappoints me… 1. I go cold, tend to withdraw and like to be alone…

 

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 X and I’m from Brazil. Now I’m living in United States for like a month already, and I’m gonna be here for 1 or 2 years for an exchange program. I have a girlfriend called P, we’ve been together for almost 3 years and she’s in Brazil. I started to have conversations with her about non monogamy relationships at the start of our relationship, like, in the first year (because I always loved the idea of those kind of relationships) at the beginning she didn’t accept the idea very well and she didn’t show interest about those conversations.

Then she began to accept better the idea, and we always talked about it, like, it would be good for us if we could see someone, go out with someone and stuff like that, but nothing happened and everything was just a theory, but we kept talking about this, and reading stuff online, seeing videos, etc to understand better everything. So, everything started this one day we were at the LBTQ+ parade in Brazil and we met this girl, L.

We were enjoying the party and we looked at each other and we said that we wanted to kiss L. So we kissed her, but separately. and everything was really cool, we enjoyed it very much. After that day of the parade, we went out with L 3 more times, and we had sex with her, it was a new experience for all of us; I liked it, but I was a little bit scared and uncomfortable and I can not be totally comfortable with the sex itself, and my girlfriend loved everything and wanted to continue seeing L.

After this third time, I realized that my girlfriend was enjoying a lot more than I was, and I didn’t enjoy the sex, like “the best time of my life” you know? I liked it but it was not one of the best experiences, I just felt weird after that. So I talked to my girlfriend and told her that I was not enjoying having sex with L and that I thought we should stop going out with her because we could end up creating some feeling and everything would be a mess because I was afraid of hurting L.

She’s much younger than me, and she never dated anyone; anyway, I was afraid to continue and make her create expectations that my girlfriend and I could not keep. And when I talked to my girlfriend about it, I was already creating a very emotional connection with L, I forgot to mention the fact that I’m demissexual, haha, continuing, I was beginning to have feelings for her, and I did not know how to deal with all this, mainly because I already knew that I would move to the United States at that time, so everything would be very confusing for us.

I told this to my girlfriend she agreed that we had to stop, but despite agreeing she did not want to. then I proposed to her, that if she wanted to, she could still see L, but she didn’t want to. then we stopped to see L, and we became friends with her, we decided that our relationship would be open, but soon after I changed my mind, because I was very scared and afraid and with a thousand things to solve in Brazil so that I could come to US and I didn’t want to deal with the problems of open relationship in the midst of a lot of things going on in my life.

My girlfriend was always very understanding but I thought it was very bad this attitude that I had, like, to open and close the relationship very fast, I think a lot in things, I rationalize a lot and I change my mind very fast LOL my zodiac sign is Gemini (just so you have an idea) Anyway, we decided to close the relationship and we were fine with that. Before I came here, we talked a lot and thought it would be best to keep the relationship closed. that’s when all that idea came back again, I’ve been here for more than 1 month and this weekend me and my girlfriend had a talk, she started the subject in fact, that she was in the mood to go out with other people, because she was feeling needy, missing me, and missing have sex.

I agreed with her, because I miss all these things  too, and after spending hours talking we decided to open the relationship again. the first time we tried and I soon gave up, we put rules like: not being able to get emotionally involved with other people, and not having sex with other people if we could not be together, but how we closed the relationship two days later, nothing happened, we didn’t  know anyone and we didn’t have to apply any rules.

This time we decided that it won’t be any rules only regarding sex, for our sexual health care, we will try to avoid oral sex, we will ask people if they have been tested, etc. I’m very paranoid and worried about our sexual health, 6 months after we had sex with L (without protection, because, protection for lesbian sex in Brazil is almost non-existent), my partner and I did the tests, and everything was okay with us, but I was freaking out all the time before taking the test, I always have anxiety when I think about it and I believe it has messed me up too during sex with L because I did not feel safe at all, in fact, these questions about STI haunts me and torments me, sometimes I wonder if I should continue in a closed relationship than having this stress every time a new person comes along.

The question is, now my relationship is open; my partner and I agree that we will be able to stay with whoever we want if the opportunity arises and even stay with someone we have stayed [with] the past, there will be no rule about it. and we agree about having a emotional bonding with people, not just for sex.  But everything has been tormenting me because I’m afraid of my girlfriend falling madly in love with someone else and ending the relationship with me, I’m afraid that the open relationship will end everything we’ve built together, I’m afraid of losing it, I’m afraid of when I return to Brazil, she [won’t] want to be with me anymore.

I don’t know  if we will continue with the relationship open when I return, is it just a phase? Once you have a non-monogamous relationship things change forever? I do not know how everything works out in practice, because in theory things are pretty simple for me. I know that all these things I’m afraid of, can happen to me being in a closed relationship too, I know that. But I still feel stressed, scared, and anxious. This year is being a very different year for me because I am dealing with huge changes, different culture, different language and there is so much going on that I don’t  know if I made the right decision to open the relationship in this phase of my life that already it’s being crazy.

But I wanted to be able to continue with the relationship open, because I want to meet people here, etc. But it’s very hard, OMG!!! That’s it, thank you so much for reading all of this, I really appreciate it! I just need some advice because I don’t know what to do, I think my brain will explode in pieces.

Response:

So the very first thing that I see, which is like really really common with people opening their relationships, is… Rules and boundaries are good but if rules and boundaries are made in order to prevent something that is not preventable than that rule or boundary is kind of pointless. You’re creating a lot of rules and boundaries to prevent things from happening, to prevent your fears. You know, you’re afraid of your girlfriend finding someone new, leaving you, et cetera and so forth. And you do say that you realise that you can’t prevent that, even in a closed relationship, but you are still trying to prevent it.

You know, all these rules that you’re having about— the ones you spoke about that you had before about not falling in love with somebody else or even not been willing to have sex with someone unless you both were there— all of these are done to try and… because you’re afraid, to try and grasp some type of stability. And in the end, I think that these only delay the inevitable. These only make it more difficult for you to actually deal with the stress of being afraid. Because you’re going to be afraid. It’s very very logical to be afraid.

I can only speak for the countries that I have lived in and grown up in so I don’t know if this is necessarily true for you. I’m assuming. But… you know, we live in a society or I at least have lived in a society that’s told me that monogamy is the norm. It’s the standard. And it’s not only the norm and the standard, but it’s you know— being exclusive is the way that you show that you care about someone and that you can only show that you care about someone by promising to only be with them. And so you’re kind of flipping the script on that.

So you’re going to be afraid. It’s not completely illogical to think “If I let my partner sleep with other people, they may replace me”. You know, it’s not a completely illogical fear. That’s a very, very logical fear. However, it is helpful to continue to reframe that, and I’ll speak a little bit more about this in general. But alongside reframing, it’s going to help you cope with it better if you don’t try and prevent yourself from feeling it. In my experience with my anxiety, the more I try to prevent my anxiety from happening, the less it actually helps me cope with anxiety.

And especially with anxiety in particular, it’s kind of like you give it an inch and it will take a mile. The more you sort of go, “Okay, well I get anxious when I eat rice, so I won’t eat rice” and then you think you’re fine with the anxiety but then something else to kind of triggers it and okay, now I can’t eat, you know, beans. Now I can’t eat this. Now I can’t eat that. It just grows and grows and grows and I do very much feel like, you know, the more rules— “Okay, we can’t fall in love with someone else. We can’t do this. We can’t do that”. The more you try and prevent it, the more it just… it puts that responsibility on your shoulders and the more it actually just makes you more anxious in my opinion.

So even though you don’t have any rules right now, you’re still… you have opened and closed, and opened and closed, and opened and closed… because you still are under the belief that closing it is going to make things easier and it just isn’t necessarily going to make things easier. It will make things more familiar for you because that’s where your comfort zone is, but it won’t necessarily make things easier. And it isn’t necessarily a guarantee to prevent the things that you’re afraid of. So definitely think about any rules from here on out that you put in that you enforce.

Is it really about avoiding? Is it going to prevent something from happening? Like sexual health rules are a little bit more, you know, well placed because they are designed to prevent, you know, STI transmission and that is a kind of not always clear-cut. Like there’s always some risk but it is a bit more clear-cut. Whereas, if you could come up with a rule that’s like “We’re not going to fall in love with anybody else” there is… How are you going to even measure that? You know, you can’t take a test about whether or not you’ve fallen in love with someone. So it’s a very nebulous rule that’s really only designed to try and prevent you from falling in love with someone else or prevent your girlfriend from falling in love with someone else because you think that if they do it automatically means that they leave you and you’re afraid of that. So just be aware of that.

I think that the other really big problem that you are both having is that you are not operating as individuals. You are operating as a couple and if you think about the way that you’ve treated L in this, it’s not really fair. Even though you’ve tried to like prevent feelings from being hurt, you… I mean I can’t speak for L. I don’t know how L feels but it’s not really fair to L. Like you are deciding upon things as a group without consulting L. Deciding that “Okay, we’re going to close the relationship now because we don’t want to hurt L.” And this is “we” and L is separate from that and you’ve kind of created a system where L has no say and L is just kind of a pawn in your game and it’s not really cool.

You know, you are inherently separate now because you are in the States and your girlfriend is in Brazil, but your approach to this needs to be individualized. There are some people who date a couple and I think, if you want to date as a couple, then you need to present as “We are dating as a couple and we are looking for someone to be interested in both of us”. I think that’s very very hard to find— and especially like, when you present it that way, because, if you consider it from the point of view of someone like L, who isn’t in a couple, it can already be monotonous and scary to be involved in a single person relationship, let alone be in a situation where you feel like you have to fall in love with two people in order for this to work at all.

You didn’t have to break it off with her because you’re so afraid and you needed to act as a couple. You could have you know… You said you were fine with P, your partner, dating L on her own. And that would have been fine, but because you’re so acting as a couple as another form of protecting yourself from something terrible happening, you’re not really behaving in a way that’s going to be good for other people in the long-term— or be good for you because you’re so focused on protecting the mothership that you are treating other people like crap. And you shouldn’t do that.

So I think you need to start seeing other people not as additions onto your coupledom, but you need to separate yourselves from each other in your mind. You need to operate as individuals and you need to date individually and not date— You know, not say “We wanted to kiss her”. Like… you both wanted to kiss her as separate people. You need to think of yourselves as individuals and stop this— unless you’re going to fully present as a couple dating, looking for a third, which I don’t think you should because I think it’s impossible to find. And that’s not an appealing situation for anyone. You really need to date individually. Even though you say that you know that closing— being in a closed relationship doesn’t prevent you from being hurt, you are still operating in a way that as I said where you think that closing your relationship is going to protect you and as I said it may make things mentally easier for you because you aren’t as afraid or as vigilant if it’s closed because you’re luring yourself into a false sense of security and it is also more familiar for you.

So you think “Oh well, we’ve closed the relationship. I don’t have to worry about someone coming in and taking my girlfriend,” but you know logically that is not true. People in monogamous relationships all the time meet other people. You know, whether or not they have permission to have sex with that person or not, whether or not they have permission to fall in love with a person or not, they do fall in love with other people other than their partner. They do break up. There isn’t anything that you are going to be able to do to prevent that and I think you really really need to seep yourself into that.

Like don’t just say, “Oh well closing the relationship won’t stop it.” You need to acknowledge that you fully have no control whatsoever over whether or not your partner remains in love with you. That is just not something that you can control. Now, you know, you can act like a total ass and you can be mean to your partner. That’s pretty much going to guarantee that they don’t want to be around you. True, but that’s a little bit different.

Barring, you know, putting your best foot forward and being as receptive and as understanding as kind as you can be, regardless of that— if your partner doesn’t want to be with you, there is nothing you can do to prevent that from happening. You just can’t. And I think that really owning that is going to help you deal with a lot of the this anxiety. Because the reason you have all this anxiety, the reason you’re so scared and anxious, is because you feel like you can change it. When you think you can change it, either by closing the relationship, creating all these rules or whatever you want to do, you think “ I can change whether or not my partner falls in love with someone else. I can control that by putting in all these rules”. Well, we promised we will wouldn’t fall in love— your brain does not give a solid gold plated chicken fried fuck whether or not you have made a rule about whether you can fall in love with somebody or not. Your brain doesn’t care.

If we could control who we fell in love with, I probably wouldn’t have a column. Nobody would be writing to me for advice if people could easily control who they could fall in love with. It just isn’t something you can easily control so you have to really radically embrace that because– and it seems kind of contradictory but actually in my experience with my anxiety, the best thing that helps me deal with my anxiety was… I had to stop feeling like I was pushing this boulder up a hill, up a hill, up a hill and the second I had a panic attack, the ball rolled back and I would have to push it up and up again. I was continuously beating myself up because I kept feeling like anxiety made me a failure.

I kept feeling like, if I had a panic attack, it was a setback. If I had anxiety, it was a setback. If I had any kind of emotional breakdown or anything like that, it was a setback and I did something wrong and I wasn’t handling it right. And you can’t heal yourself if you’re too busy beating yourself up. So you cannot actually deal with all the this anxiety, if you’re putting the entire burden of this on your shoulders. And you are putting that burden on your shoulders. You say you know that it’ll happen if I’m in a closed relationship but you’re still putting that burden on your shoulders and you need to take that off of your shoulders.

And realise that opening and closing, opening and closing, all these rules— nothing is going to prevent it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and you will survive. You won’t die. I know that— I mean you’ve been in this relationship for 3 years and it feels intense. It is intense, but people have survived it and it sucks. Like I’m not going to be like, “Oh yeah breaking up is no big deal”. And I know like I always kind of encourage people not to feel like breaking up is always like a failure or that you know a relationship isn’t only a success if, you know, no one makes it out alive. You know, as Dan Savage says and I don’t really like Dan Savage but that quote is fine. Broken clocks.

The point is that, you know, it does still suck. Even if it isn’t a failure, it is sad and it is a loss but you cannot prevent it. You cannot… you know putting all that pressure on yourself, is probably what’s making the most of this worse and the fact that you think that you can prevent it when you do open your relationship… there’s all this stress on you. That’s like, “Ok I’ve got to be vigilant! I’ve got to make sure that this—“,  You know and you’re just putting so much pressure on yourself so please try to steep that— Get that really solidly in your mind that you cannot ultimately control this and closing it is not going to fix it. Closing it will not fix it. It can only delay the inevitable. You’re only temporarily relieving yourself of anxiety for a short period of time.

You know, you say that— I get that you’re in a new country. It’s complicated. There’s a lot of stuff going on. But there’s going to be a lot of stuff in life going on. If you spend the rest of your life with this person, with P, you know, when you have a baby— if you have a baby. If you decide to adopt or have a baby, that’s going to be a new change. Someone in your immediate family that you love very much could die at any point— that will be a huge change. You know, there’s all different kinds of things in life that are huge monumental changes and you can’t prevent that from happening and you can’t put your entire life on hold all the time for what is a little bit of change. It is more difficult. Like, I’m not gonna deny that dealing with this while you are in a new country and dealing with all that stress is a little bit more difficult but, you know, what you need to do is focus less on trying to prevent that difficultness from happening and more on strengthening whatever foundations you have with P.

Which also kinda brings me to my next point which will help ground you a little bit more. You know, you have introduced this idea of non-monogamy within your first year and she’s kind of slowly taken to it and she has kind of fully embraced it but it doesn’t sound like you really thought about what you want from non-monogamy. Like, what is your ideal situation? This is kind of something that I reiterate and I tell  people all the time because it is kind of a grounding exercise. We have to remember that when you live in a society where monogamy is the norm, where polyamory is not reflected in any form of media, were you don’t see any polyamorous people, you are operating without a cultural script. You are operating without any kind of basic steps into making a relationship feel more secure.

So there’s the “relationship escalator” and if you haven’t heard of it, look it up. It’s really great concept. It’s basically that, you know, the sort of societal script we have where it’s like okay, you date someone and then you move in and then you marry and then you have kids. You kind of have this already hewn path that you can go down that tells you, “Okay when you move in with someone, things are a little bit more secure.” You’re a little bit more committed to each other. There’s these symbolic, you know, stages that we go through that indicate that our lives are little bit more and enmeshed and we feel a lot more secure.

That’s not to say you know, you get married to someone. You’re married for 30 years. They could totally cheat on you and your relationship could end. But because we have all these little rights of passage that we go through that sort of reinforce the idea of security to us, we are less afraid. We don’t angst about it all the time because it’s kind of culturally inferred. When you’re polyamorous or when you have an open relationship, that is not culturally inferred so you have to figure out what your ideal looks like and where, you know, what roll non-monogamy plays in your life. And that can sometimes really help ground you. It can help you figure out who you want to date and help you explain to people what your needs are and just help you get more established as a couple and figure out, you know, what is your ideal situation.

If your partner doesn’t want to date L, what does that look like? Instead of thinking about that… even individually and then coming together as you know a unit that’s already kind of established and thinking about how that plays into how you interact. You didn’t really think of a situation where L could coexist and you could have had a situation where you thought, “Okay, well maybe P dates L and they spend Tuesdays and Fridays together”. Whatever. You know, thinking about that kind of thing what is it that you think is ideal for you. First and foremost think about that. Ask your partner to think about that and then come together and have a discussion about it and that will help you feel more grounded.

You won’t feel quite so anxious and terrified about the all these questions you have about what if she change her mind when I go back to Brazil? What if she’s going to be with me? If you kind of come together and figured out what it is that you both are interested in and how you see non-monogamy working in your life, it might you know pull up some things where you’re directly not compatible on and then maybe this entire point is moot because it turns out like maybe she wants five kids and you don’t want any kids. You may have already had that discussion but what I’m saying is that figure out what that ideal is and talk about it and see if you can establish, you know, not necessarily a plan that you have to stick to. You know, it’s not meant to be something… to dictate your future but it’s meant to just give you more grounding because right now you don’t have any grounding.

That’s why you’re so freaked out. That’s why you have all these questions and you’re not sure. You think, “Oh, maybe I should open it, I should close it”. Because when you close it, you have that script more or less even though you know obviously being lesbian or being LGBTQ in society kind of differs from that cultural script in some ways. But you still kind of have a little bit of a script to go by so you feel a little bit more secure in that. So you’ve got to create that script and that will make you feel a lot more secure.

I think that another thing that you should also address in terms of your fears is you need to learn a little bit more about STIs. And the thing that you always have to remember and I’m not sure how it is in Brazil but I know at least in the US, there is a lot of fear mongering and that means that people basically make STIs out to be a lot more terrifying than they are. And obviously there are permanent STIs in terms of things that aren’t curable but you know the way the medicine has developed, depending on your circumstance— You know I can’t say what it will be like when you go back to Brazil. Obviously there might be more things you have to worry about in terms of healthcare. Not sure. But not everything is a death sentence. There is risk with all sexual activity but there are certain acts that you can do that are less of a risk for certain things than others.

There’s great resources in the US. There’s Scarleteen which you can look for online. There’s also San Francisco Sex Information. There are a lot of sites you can find that would delineate what kind of risks are involved with certain sexual acts depending on you and your partner’s genitalia and that can help you figure out things that you’re a bit more comfortable with. But I also think that you need to remember that all sexual activity comes with some risk. You can’t completely eliminate all risk.

And it’s also worth you remembering that the vast majority of STIs are not that big of a deal. People make them way more bigger of a deal than they actually are. Most things are curable and there are some things that are— you know there’s an antibiotic resistance and some issues going on with that in terms of chlamydia and some other STIs but for the most part it’s not— you know, it’s sort of like driving. You know, driving is— I’m not sure again in Brazil if it’s different— driving is a cultural norm.

People think that you have to, you know… especially the US, like you go to school and you learn how to drive when you’re 16. And that’s kind of a rite of passage. Like, I think if I remember correctly and I could be wrong about this but if I remember correctly, most young people… like the highest risk of death for young people is actually car accidents in the US. If I’m not mistaken, that’s like the number one way that kids die and people, you know, when they talk to you about driving they don’t you know show you pictures of people have been in car accidents. They don’t describe to you all of the injuries you could get if your car crashes.

I mean, generally speaking, maybe they do in some places you know. They tell you to buckle up and they reinforce things that will make driving more dangerous. Like driving when you’re extremely exhausted, obviously drunk driving, you know. Not texting while you’re driving. There are lots of different things, but it’s all from a place of accepting the fact that you’re going to drive and trying to protect you and trying to make you aware. And we also don’t blame people like, in general, if someone gets hit by a car. We don’t, you know, we accept that, yeah, depending on the situation there might have been something you could do to avoid it but we aren’t as stigmatizing about that experience as we are about STIs.

And I think it would help if you kind of think of STIs in the same when you do car accidents. Like you know— I think car accidents are even more dangerous because car accidents result in, you know, if not death than some serious injury. But the point of it is, is having that approach of like, “Okay, I’m going to drive therefore there is some inherent risk of that that I cannot, no matter how much I wear my seatbelt, no matter how many times I check my mirrors, no matter how many traffic laws I obey, there is nothing I can do to ultimately prevent being in a car accident”. So I think you should also take that approach with you…

I mean this might be terrible. Maybe you are also terrified of being in cars. I don’t know. But I think it helps that kind of realise that we have been, especially in the US (again, can’t say for sure about Brazil), generally speaking when people teach sex ed in a lot of places, they teach it from the standpoint of using STIs to make people feel afraid to have sex. And it’s just not helpful and just complete bullocks. So try to… learn a bit more about STIs if you don’t already. I mean, you say “STI” so that leads me to believe you do know a little bit more about STIs than most people who continue to say STDs today.

But learn as much as you can. Learn about different things. You know, if you’re in the US now, see if you can get some dental dams or some finger cots if you want. Learn which acts come with what risk and generally speaking, I just don’t think that there are a lot of things that you have to worry about. Especially if you use… if you do have any kind of penetrative sex and you use condoms, you know, some of the things like HPV or herpes, you know, a lot of people— most people have HPV. A lot of people have herpes. Like it is very very common with herpes. It’s like more of the stigma that’s the problem then it is the actual condition.

So just try and keep that in mind. Like, and if you use protection, there are a lot of things that, you know, you are protected from. So if you kind of figure out you know what sort of risk you are risking then you can use that to calm yourself a little bit.

But yeah, just to recap. I think that, you know, one last thing I kind of want to reiterate is that your feeling anxious and scared is very very normal. Even though you’ve been in this relationship for 3 years, you are in a position where a lot of things are up in the air. You’re in a whole new country. You’re now in a long distance relationship which makes things a little bit more difficult. It makes total sense that you would feel scared and stressed and anxious. That isn’t abnormal so try not to set up that expectation of yourself.

I do sometimes think when people open their relationship, especially if they’ve had this— if they’ve done it for a person and they’ve had a really good, you know, good experiences with that person, they get a little bit scared. They tend to think that opening a relationship will always come with more happy feelings but sometimes it does come with a lot of fear. Especially if you’re just starting to open your relationship with one person and you’re kind of— you’re trying something new and you’re sort of going into a different area of trust that you kind of have to build together. So it makes sense that you would be scared and anxious so don’t kick yourself for that is the first big thing.

Again, to recap, stop creating rules to prevent what you can’t prevent. Stop making rules that will prevent your girlfriend from falling in love with someone else,  that prevent you from falling in love with someone else. You can’t prevent that. So just don’t make any rules. Whenever you decide to make a new rule, really examine it. Really ask yourself if this rule— what is this rule for? What is it trying to prevent? Will it actually prevent that? Because I think you’ll find that there quite a lot of rules, you know, that you feel like you should put in place to kind of make yourself feel better but in the end if it’s designed to prevent you from experiencing the fear, I don’t think that helps.

Because you’ll just continue to kind of not fully get into the fear. Not know fully what it means to be in a non-monogamous relationship where you don’t have rules and you won’t be able to be prepared for it. It’ll just kind of delay it. It will delay you actually getting used to it.

Again, I you need to see people as people. You need to see— date as individuals. I think now that you’re in separate countries, that’s probably gonna not be such an issue but do keep that in mind when you get back together, when you’re back in Brazil. Like, dating as a couple… if you want to date as a couple, then date as a couple. Again, I don’t think you should do that because I don’t think that’s an appealing arrangement for a lot of people. Date individually. Date as people and don’t consider another person as an accessory to your couple relationship or assume that your couple relationship is kind of like the mothership that needs to be saved at all costs and any other relationship is just, you know, disposable.

Because it really sucks. It really really sucks to be a person who is dating someone and dating two people and having a good time and then all of a sudden you know you can’t do anything romantic anymore or you can have sex anymore because for whatever reason these two people decided that you’re not allowed to have that anymore and you’ve had no say. It really really sucks to be put in that position. I don’t think you’d want to be put that position if you really think about it so try not to put other people in that position. Because especially if you’re going to go out and try and date while you’re back in Brazil and you’re together, you’re gonna really struggle to find people who are going to be receptive to that and you’re gonna… you can potentially really hurt some people’s feelings if you don’t treat them you know as individuals and your relationships as separate. Unless they’ve agreed to date you as a couple and that’s what they expect and that sort of thing. Please date as individuals.

Again, closing a relationship is not protecting you from anything. Even though you kinda say that you know that all of it can happen when you’re in a closed relationship, you are still opening and closing as if it’s going to protect you, so try and really steep yourself into that. Because it will take so much off your shoulders. Like it will take so much of the responsibility of keeping your partner and making sure that you’re interesting enough. It will take so much weight off of your shoulders and I think you’ll find that it will relieve some of that anxiety.

Again, anchor yourself by figuring out what it is that you want from non-monogamy, asking your partner to think about what she wants, coming together and having a discussion about where you see your relationship, where you see, you know, your individual dating going on in your relationship. Maybe think about some physical things like, especially now that your long-distance, those physical things will get really important. Maybe you have a standing date always on Thursday evening that you have a call together and those kind of anchors will really really help you not just in feeling a little bit more relaxed about where your relationship is going but also the fact that you’re so far apart, having those scheduled date times will really help you feel valued.

And especially if she’s going to off dating some other people, what you don’t want is to set up in a situation where you haven’t really established how important that is with each other and so she kind of ends up blowing you off a bit— kind of getting caught up in a new relationship energy and feeling excited about having dates and maybe she kind of accidentally blows you off then maybe you do that to her. That can often happen to people in long distance relationships so try and establish yourself and ground yourself together a little bit by sharing what you kind of want out of this, where you see your future going, what your ideal situation is.

Really think about that kind of stuff. That will help you figure out— As well, you know, if this relationship doesn’t work out, if you have a good idea of what you want from a relationship instead of just being in one because society said you should be, that will help you, in the future if things don’t work out. Because at least then you have a clear picture of what it is that you want and it will help you a lot more in the future.

Last but not least, learn more about sexual health so that you don’t feel quite so scared. It’s ok to be scared. Like, I have a weakened immune system so I am really really super paranoid about STIs as well and it is really hard, but I at least, in my personal experience, like… I had to just you know… know as much as I can know. I did learn as much as I could, but I also just had to go through it. Sometimes with anxiety, the only way out is through. The only way to deal with it is to go through it and come out the other end and know that you survived and you haven’t died and the world is ending and you’re ok.

And I think that in my experience with STIs, when I was fluid bonded with someone, it was… Every time they slept with someone new, it  was so much anxiety. So much fear of like… and I just had to like realise that you know me being anxious isn’t going to stop it. You know, there’s nothing… Again it’s about relinquishing that control from your shoulders. Like you know I had to accept the fact that all sex came with some kind of risk and that unless I was going to be you know completely celibate person, I had to just accept that the risk is going to happen.

And just… As time goes on, as you kind of build-up that, you know, stability with your partner and also as you build up more experience in being more exposed to sexual health risk, it will not be so anxiety provoking in the future. But it is something new for now. You’re trying something new. You’re also dealing with a really big stressful thing of being in another country so there’s going to be a lot of things anxiety flowing. And with some things, you’re going to have to just go with it and experience the anxiety. Stop preventing yourself so much from experiencing it just deal with it. Expect that you’ll be anxious and just embrace it and you know see that you come out the other side.

Because it does get better. Like I can… even in the first kind of bits of relationships I’ve had where either we’ve opened up the relationship or I’ve started a new non-monogamous relationship with someone, always wicked anxious with that because it’s just… it’s a different thing. It’s not better. It’s not worse but it’s a different thing. And because it’s so uncommon, you have to kind of build that within yourself. That all those kind of given things that create that feeling of stability, you kind of just have to build those yourself and that’s tough but you can do it. It’s not the end of the world, but you definitely have to just let yourself feel that.

You have to face it. You can’t prevent it by opening and closing things and putting all these rules. It hasn’t helped you because now you’re in a situation where you’re facing that anxiety. You don’t have any rules now. Your relationship’s open and you’ve just got to bite the bullet and go in and deal with some of the fear. But it will, you know, all things change. Like, change is a constant and it will change and things— you will get over it and things will… the anxiety will pass. You will not be stressed forever. Just try and use that as an anchor as well as some of the other things I mentioned.

So, yeah. I really hope this helps and good luck.

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Are your needs ‘reasonable’?

My sense is that all triangulation is somewhat dysfunctional, but I’m not sure. For example, if I ask my partner out on a certain night, he can say “Let me check my calendar and get back to you”, or he can say “I want to but my other partner thinks you’re asking for too much time”. Is the first response “healthy” (non-triangulating) and the second response triangulating (or otherwise wrong)?

Another question I have is about boundaries. When I’m with my non-monogamous partner (i.e. it’s our date night), is it reasonable for me to ask him to not receive or send texts from my metamour? My BF has one other partner. We’re in a “V” relationship for now.

There are two very common things I find people ask me that I feel can be traced back to who gets the message from society that their needs are ‘too much’. All sorts of people can get this message regardless of how society reads them in terms of gender identity.

Certain circumstances in our lives as well as the effects of living in a society which, in my opinion anyway, fetishises ‘individualism’ over community means that we’re often expected in relationships to somehow be able to get on without ‘bothering’ our partners with our needs.

A lot of polyamory advice compounds this pressure because it ads this element to where if you ask for your needs to be met, you become ‘controlling’ or ‘manipulative’. Many people receive the tacit message through popular advice that they should just not have any needs and, if they do have them, they should take care of them themselves.

‘Reasonable’ needs

While I can easily say to you, “It doesn’t matter if your needs are *too much*. They are your needs,” sometimes that doesn’t seem tenable or realistic. Especially if you struggle with mental health issues like I have and do in the past. Some of my needs are literally about the fact that, for example, if my partner doesn’t tell me they’re okay when they’re out after a certain hour, I start imagining them dead in a ditch. Is that too much? Well, yeah. It is. But I also can’t help having those thoughts to a certain extent.

Personally, I don’t think it’s ‘unreasonable’ to request someone’s full attention when they are with you. Some people may not mind that, but for me, someone’s attention means a lot to me. A good yardstick to apply when thinking about your needs is to think about how this might apply in a friendship. I would also be bothered if I were out with a friend and they spent the entire time texting on their phone or seemed distracted or busy. I think when thinking about whether needs are ‘reasonable’, it’s more about understanding the reasons behind it. For me, time is one of those things I value the most with partners — more than anything else. So that’s why it means a lot to me.

But equally, the thing that concerns me about this situation is whether or not your need is ‘reasonable’ but also the way your partner chooses to respond to meeting it — which is the second common thing I’ve referenced in the beginning of this response: a lack of emotional responsibility in relationships.

Polyamory and responsibility

People go on and on about how bad hierarchy is and it’s situations like this that they point to as reasons for why hierarchy doesn’t work. But this isn’t a situation of a problem with hierarchy in and of itself. It’s a failure of your partner to take responsibility for their choices. Imagine you had a friend who you enjoyed hanging out with (that yardstick!) and every time you made plans, they cancelled on you. After awhile, you get frustrated and say “What gives?” and your friend goes, “Well my partner says I spend too much time with you.”

The problem with that response isn’t only that someone else is dictating to someone who they can spend time with — but they are listening to that dictation. Abusive situations aside, people are responsible for who they choose to spend time with. It’s only acceptable to say that someone thinks that they’re spending too much time with you if you’re both under the age of 18 and it’s a parent deciding who their child can hang out with — and even then, it’s probably not the best way to get that message through to a child.

Your partner has a choice in taking responsibility for their choices and owning up to their choice to decide to text during your dates or make time for you. Their partner may very well have feelings about the time your partner is spending with you, but that’s neither your concern nor your business. What the problem is is that your partner avoiding the heat of their decisions by blaming their partner for what is essentially their choice.

Now, as I’ve said, this is abusive situations aside. Abusive partners can and do try to control who their partners see, even as friends. What I find is that sometimes people struggle with knowing how to hear that their partner is struggling without taking an immediate action to solve it. Many times I see situations in polyamory where people do not want to sit with or explore discomfort and instead, knee jerk react to stop it for fear it might end their relationship. And the more wobbly the foundations of the relationship are and the more uneasy the people in it are to manage discomfort, the more likely that anything which causes a ‘threat’, no matter how minor, will be disposed of without thought.

To your partner’s credit, they may not feel like they can do very much about their partner’s emotions but cancel your dates. They may be stuck in a very difficult situation where their partner is telling them about the sadness and difficulties they’re going through, and they are unsure of what to do but may feel they need to do something in response. Unfortunately, they have their own journey to go down with regards to figuring out how to manage difficult feelings without resorting to allowing one person’s emotions to, intentionally or not, control their actions. Sometimes the only way out is through, as I’ve said, and it may be that your metamour has to sit with their anxiety to learn they’ll survive it.

Being your metamour’s therapist

But ultimately none of this is within your control. You cannot and should not be your metamour’s therapist. And you should not have to accept being jerked back and forth because your partner cannot manage the feelings within their other relationships without allowing it to impact you. At the very least, your partner could fully admit that cancelling your dates or doing whatever they’ve done is their choice. You don’t need to know that your metamour is unhappy about things. And adding that to the situation wreaks of trying to prevent you from being angry with them because it isn’t their ‘fault’.

Ultimately, whether your needs are ‘reasonable’ or not, you have a partner who is not willing to take responsibility for not meeting them. And that spells difficulty for future things regardless of whether they’re ‘reasonable’ or not. Your metamour is not your partner’s mother and it’s high time they grew up and took responsibility for their choices instead of breeding resentment between you and your metamour.

Think about what your needs are, maybe a bit as to why you need them, and also demand that, if your partner doesn’t want to meet them, they stop blaming their metamour. And then think about the consequences of what happens when your partner continues to not meet your needs and whether or not they have the capacity for a relationship with you.

I hope that helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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Can I be replaced?

I have been in a poly relationship for six months now and just recently, my boyfriend started having two other serious relationships. Before that, he just had flings.

And I feel so threatened by these other women. I know my bf loves me and he cares a lot about me but it’s been difficult to do my own things when I know he is with one of his other girlfriends.

I KNOW they can’t replace me but I feel threatened anyway. How can I feel less threatened ? I know it has to do with a poor sense of self. But I’m already working on it with a therapist. What else could I do ?

I also feel a bit jealous of him. He has other meaningful relationships and I don’t and it’s been hard on me. I remember how hard it was before we started dating, how lonely I felt. And, even if it is not to the same degree, I still feel lonely sometimes when he’s not with me.

It’s like I need to have other relationships. But it’s been hard putting myself out there and finding someone I actually like. Moreover, I don’t want flings.

I’m sorry, it’s kind of a rant more than a question per se.

Your letter is such a perfect example of why I feel like most polyamory beginner advice doesn’t work properly for a lot of people. I could be guessing incorrectly, but I’m imagining that you read some advice regarding your feeling of being threatened and they told you to focus on the fact that you’re unique and what you should focus on is remembering that you hold a special place in your life that no one else can fill and so you *can’t* be replaced, right?

Unfortunately for you and a lot of other polyamorous people, that advice is trash.

And here’s why.

Being replaced in polyamory

The first reason your brain is not digesting this information is because your brain knows it’s not true. I mean, sure, yes, on some sort of deep philosophical level we’re all these amazingly unique individuals that deeply impact every person we meet in such a way that no other person can… sure. But when it comes to the position of ‘loving partner’, you can, in a way, be “replaced” in the sense that there is absolutely, fundamentally nothing you can do to prevent someone from falling out of love with you.

We all want to be good partners and we all want to have positive relationship with people. There are obviously things we can do as individuals to make ourselves more agreeable or more in tune with the needs of our partners, but on a basic level we have little control over whether or not someone ultimately decides to stay with us because they don’t necessarily have complete control over who they feel love for.

It’s never going to work to tell your brain that you can’t be replaced because you can. But this isn’t unique to polyamory, this is true of any relationship style and any relationship type. Your parents can decide to ‘replace’ you emotionally with another child. Your best friend can find a new best friend. And even if you return to monogamy, that will not guarantee that you will never be ‘replaced’ in a sense. The only reason you are fearing it so much more now in terms of your romantic relationships is because you don’t have the cultural backing behind non-monogamy to give you stability.

Building your foundation

On top of not having the culture around you telling you that non-monogamy is secure (and, in fact, sometimes giving you the opposite message) or having markers of ‘commitment’ that have cultural weight (such as the steps on what’s known as the relationship escalator), you’re also dealing with the fact that you’ve only been together for six months.

For as much as you may like each other, you’re still getting to know one another. Every new relationship, even if people wildly get along, has to begin by growing a foundation of trust between the people involved. Sometimes that trust is encouraged in monogamous relationships through the promise of exclusivity, but you don’t have that. So it makes complete and total sense that you would feel scared.

Additionally, you, like many other people starting out in non-monogamy, have a situation of partner imbalance. It’s very usual for two people who opened their relationship to end up with a disparity in partner numbers and it’s very rational and understandable that you would have some feelings about this. If your partner, let’s say, got a huge bonus from work and was able to buy, for example, a very expensive signed memorabilia from his favourite artist — you might be jealous too! Especially if you wanted something very similar to that.

Jealousy is not irrational

While I’m not your therapist and am not going to tell you the status of your self esteem, what I can tell you is that regardless of your ‘self image’ status currently, any person in the same combination of situations you’re in right now would rationally and logically be threatened *and* jealous. Unfortunately, a lot of polyamory advice encourages people not only to see all fear as jealousy but also to see jealousy as some type of character flaw or issue you have to ‘work on’ and not a very understandable response to a number of situations.

You feeling threatened is not likely due to a poor sense of self, but due to the fact that you’re afraid of losing someone you care about, you’re just starting to establish trust with someone new, and you’re also dealing with very understandable feelings of loneliness and jealousy. Especially if it’s hard for you to get out there.

I currently, due to the way I prefer to do relationships, deal with a lot of frustrations with not being able to have as many relationships as my partners do. Initially it caused me a lot of heartache, jealousy and sometimes made me feel self-conscious — especially since it really seems like your level of ‘success’ in polyamory directly correlates with the number of partners you can maintain.

I want you to re-read your question: “How do I feel less threatened?”. The only way to feel less threatened initially is to feel less — which some people can do but others may not be able to do.

How to feel less jealous

Fundamentally, you can’t feel less. You can’t stop your feelings like a tap but what you can do is reframe your perspective. The first step in doing that is, instead of trying to stop yourself from feeling or convince yourself that your feelings are unfounded or a result of a personal issue with yourself, is *accept* your feelings and validate them.

It makes sense for you to feel threatened, jealous and scared. Give yourself permission to feel these things. You cannot work with feelings you refuse to accept you have. Once you validate your feelings to yourself, you can then work on finding ways of coping with them rather than trying to reason your way out of them. It seems contrary to how you should work with anxiety, but my experience with anxiety has always been that avoiding or trying to reason my way out of anxiety has never worked very well.

At this point, it helps me to remind myself that there is nothing I can do to prevent my fears and, even though that sounds a little hopeless, it actually helps take the burden off of my shoulders. Accept that, if someone really wants to ‘replace’ you, they can and will and there isn’t anything you can do to stop that.

And even if you could, if someone wants to ‘replace’ you so badly… would you want to stop them? This is a roundabout and, in my opinion, more sound way of comforting yourself. Especially if you struggle with affirmations and feeling worthy of things. Rather than making it about how amazing you are in comparison with others, simply refuse to do any kind of comparison at all.

Distractions and coping

The next point and what I find really helps when I’m feeling anxious about any situation within polyamory is having a distraction. You can’t necessarily ensure you always have romantic dates at the same time your partner is out — but you can still have plans! Do something fun with yourself, go out with friends, start a new hobby, etc. Find something that you can do to take up your time and it will be more likely to fly by.

Other than that, the last step is really just coping. You can’t stop yourself from feeling threatened or scared, but you can survive it. Sometimes I find that with anxiety and all of these types of feelings, once I have them and I go through them, it gets easier to cope with over time. And that’s part of building that foundation with your partner. You have to go through trials and tests of trust and know that they will be there for you in the end. That will help you counteract anxiety in the future and help you feel less threatened over time.

Last but not least, try to reassure yourself that you are not a bad person for having feelings and that the feelings you have are very normal to feel. Someone doesn’t have to be terrified of heights to not want to skydive. And you don’t have to have an inherent character flaw in order to feel terrified of being replaced when you’re both new to polyamory and new to this relationship.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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When polyamory makes you feel inadequate

My wife just dropped this on me.

We have experimented with swinging, and we have gone to a swing club a few times, and I was ok with it.

But she had also been talking to various individuals online, and had been wanted to be dominated (BDSM stuff), which I also have a problem with doing. I can’t slap my wife, it just feels wrong. I can’t choke her or anything like that, I could spank her, but that’s about the extent of it.

So we went to the Swing Club on NYE, and she ended up walking around topless much of the night and just in her underwear. I didn’t have much of a problem with this, as I got to touch her boobs all night. We even fooled around a little in the open in front of people.

Then we swung with another couple that we had been talking to. I was not interested in the girl at all, but whatever, that’s beside the point.

That’s where the pain happened for me. My wife had what appeared to be mind-blowing orgasms with the other two people, the guy and the girl. And I was crushed.

Then the following day, she said how free she felt and that she’s never felt that way before. And she was so happy, but here I was not feeling like myself anymore, even though we had swing previously with other people, and I was fine then.

Then she drops a bombshell on me, that she wants to be non-monogamous and that she would love to be poly[am] and be dominated by others and all that stuff.

And I was destroyed, felt inadequate, I was bawling uncontrollably, and I felt complete betrayal. I told her I didn’t think I could do that anymore and I wanted to just go back to being monogamous, and now there is this HUGE divide between us. I don’t want to swing anymore, I don’t want her talking to guys online anymore, and I don’t want to feel this pain anymore.

We have kids, and that’s why I’m even still here at this point. I want to make my marriage work and I want us to be able to get things back into Pandora’s box. I don’t want to feel like I’m not worth anything, and I want to have these same people in my life in a normal marriage, like it used to be. What can I do to get back to that? Or is it a lost cause? I love my wife and don’t want to lose her, and I love my kids and don’t want to lose them either. I don’t want them to grow up without a dad. Please help.

I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through so much pain. There are a couple of things that I can see in your letter that might help you figure out what to do next:

  • Polyamory vs. swinging
  • Inadequacy and competition
  • Wants and needs
  • Parenting agreements

Polyamory vs. swinging

The first thing that I have to say to get it out of the way and because it’s really important is that there isn’t going to be a way to make things go back completely to how they were. Things can definitely change for you for the better, but in many cases, ‘closing’ a relationship after opening it isn’t really returning back to a state a relationship was in before it was opened.

‘Non-monogamy’ is a wide umbrella that covers both polyamory and swinging, but the two are not the same in terms of what actually happens and what it means for you emotionally. So it’s important to nail down and understand what it is that your wife wants. Does she actually want other romantic relationships with other people? Or does she want to do more swinging? Does she want to do things with you? Or is she fine operating independently? Is she interested in an ‘anchor’ style relationship with you or is she wanting to create a fundamental change in how your lives are organised (assuming you live together with your children)?

Whenever a massive change happens in your life, anxiety and pain is likely going to follow. Change is difficult to cope with. Sometimes a big change can be welcoming and be happy, but it still creates fear and anxiety. So even if you were happy with the swinging and had a good time and your wife suggested being polyamorous — you might still end up feeling scared by the change. I don’t want you to think of your anxiety as necessarily a bad sign. It’s very normal. What helps to moor you when you’re lost among all of this anxiety is getting a good idea of how things are going to change and how you can cope with it.

It’s also going to help you realise what you want to do next if you understand what it is your partner wants. While you can’t go back to your relationship before you opened it, all of the things you’re afraid of losing if she, for example, just wants to swing with more people, you may not lose at all. It all really depends on what she wants to try. And she may not have all of the answers now, she just might want more of the experiences she had on New Year’s Eve, and that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘polyamory’ and it doesn’t necessarily mean your life will change. Which brings me to the next topic.

Inadequacy and competition

While part of your anxiety is coming from the unknown, a good part of your pain is coming from the idea you have that your wife wanting to have sexual experiences with others — or having good sexual experiences with others — is inherently a judgement on you as a person. This isn’t a ridiculous feeling to have. It’s a feeling that, unless you grew up in a completely different society, a monogamous-centric society will have endorsed in as many narratives as possible.

Many of us grow up with narratives that tell us there is ‘the one’ for us and that narrative comes with competition. We’re not inherently ‘the one’ for someone, not if capitalism has anything to do with it. We have to become ‘the one’ by being the best looking, the best in bed, the best in so many other ways, etc. But the reality of the situation is that — whether you are monogamous or non-monogamous — one partner you have will not be the best at every single thing they do. Even if you were to break up with your wife, date someone knew, they might’ve had more mind blowing orgasms with another person before you, and there’s little to nothing you can do about it.

It’s completely understandable to feel self-conscious if your partner has an amazing sexual experience with someone else. A lot of polyamory advice would tell you, “But hey isn’t it great because then you can learn what made them have these great orgasm and you can do the same thing”. And yeah, theoretically that does work… sometimes. But you’re going to have feelings about that, and that’s understandable.

Underneath all of that pain, it’s important for you to remember though that you cannot control who is ‘better’ than you at anything, whether it’s orgasms or cooking. Other polyamory advice would tell you “you have a lot to offer, not just one thing and you’re worth more than just one thing”, but it’s not easy to feel that when you know you haven’t measured up in one way — especially when sex is involved because it can be so personal.

The reason why I think it’s important for you to remember that you can’t control how you compare to others is because inadequacy and fear will be something you will still come up against, even if you were to divorce your wife and be monogamous. Many monogamous people struggle with this as well, so it’s very common. But, if you want to stay with her and work things out, understanding you can’t control this will help you out immensely in the future.

What may also help as well is that you don’t need to know things like that either. There may be all sorts of reasons that your partner might have had this great experience. It might be the rush of a new experience, incorporating some fantasy things you don’t wish to participate in, or it being a threesome — who knows? But in the future, your partner can have these other experiences and maybe tell you if there are things you can do to make things more exciting between the two of you that you can do, but she doesn’t have to share things that are inevitably unhelpful. Some people like hearing the details and it’s okay if you don’t.

A lot of your pain and fear comes from the idea of you being replaceable. And while the advice that you’re one of a kind and not replaceable, which many polyamory advice says, may be logically sound, it doesn’t always help with your feelings. I find it more helpful to accept that I have absolutely no control over whether or not I ‘measure up’ to someone else, especially since no matter how good I am at anything, given the billions of people living on the planet, there will almost definitely be someone who is better. And, more importantly and contrary to what the mono-centric narrative encourages folks to think, we don’t pick or fall in love with people because they are ‘the best’ at everything. That leads me to the next point.

Wants and needs

At this point, you can’t change what has happened, but you and your wife can decide what it is that you both actually want and how you want to proceed. And that means some explorations about your wants and needs instead of just your fears. You have perfectly understandable fears of being replaced or that you’re not ‘enough’, but think more deeply about what you want. You say you want to make your marriage ‘work’. And it’s very possible that you can make that happen and your partner can get what she wants as well.

Are you at all interested in any form of non-monogamy? You said you weren’t interested in the woman who you swung with on NYE and I would suggest in the future you not push yourself into situations where you’re not into it because that will only compound anxiety. But have you ever enjoyed the swinging elements? Are you interested in other relationships or other sexual experiences? It might be that you’re not terribly interested in that, but even so, it can still work.

Your wife is clearly interested in a non-monogamous situation. While you need to clarify whether it’s swinging or polyamory she wants, that does mean that she will not be devoting 100% of her attention to you in the way someone who is monogamous and doesn’t have a time consuming job or hobby would. You may have to decide if that’s something that you want or not. It might be that you don’t necessarily need that from your wife — you just want the stability of her being there for your children and also to feel like a solid partner in her life, which can be done through other means than just focusing all of her time on you.

Once you have a good idea of what you both need, you can negotiate what that looks like in the real world. You have children you should both be focusing the majority of your energies on, but what would your relationship look like if, for example, your wife was to swing? Or have another partner? Would you prefer to have an anchor/primary style relationship where you still live together but she spends some of her time with another partner or swinging? Maybe you’ll decide that she can go to swinging clubs on her own (if you’re not into it) one weekend a month. You might agree on safer sex rules.

This type of solution may actually help your relationship because it is clear that your wife has interests sexually that you don’t have. That isn’t necessarily such an incompatibility that you have to break your current relationship over, but it does mean that things won’t be exactly the same as they were before you opened your relationship because you do have inherently different wants. It just comes down to how you negotiate this. Depending on what your wife feels she wants, you might be able to come to agreement that works for both of you and still allows you to stay together and, more importantly, remain happy together. Which brings me to my final point.

Parenting agreements

I don’t understand why you would be worried that your children would grow up without a father. Because, even if your relationship with your wife doesn’t work out, nothing stops you from being a father in your child’s life except yourself — barring maybe a court that orders you to stay away. You have control over that. And what worries me about this statement is that either you feel an urge to abandon the situation all together or you have reason to fear your wife would ‘take’ your children from you and cause a problem.

Regardless of what happens in your sexual relationship together, you both need to be on the same page of committing to be good parents. And that means trying to give your children the best life that you possibly can. It is better for you to be separated and stable individually as parents than force yourselves to pretend you’re together and create an unhappy and unstable coupling. Take it from a person whose parents stayed together ‘for the kids’ — it’s not always the best option if the people involved are completely unhappy with one another.

It’s important to remember, even in the discussion of your wants and your needs, that providing a stable and happy home is also very important and sometimes that may mean you aren’t together but that doesn’t have to mean your children go without loving and caring people in their lives. So it’s important that you both remember that throughout your negotiations and you don’t involve the children in any of the pain and hurt feelings going on.

In summation

Overall, your feelings are completely understandable, but your situation isn’t completely unworkable. It all comes down to what it is that your wife is interested in and how you feel about the situation in your life changing — it’s going to change regardless, but there are different ways it can change that might not be as terrifying and as painful as what you’re going through now.

You’re going to experience anxiety and fear, and this is true in general even if you were to start a new monogamous relationship. See if you can find a polyamory friendly couples therapist that can walk you both through a discussion of your wants and negotiation, as well as addressing your fears. They might be able to help you work out a solution that can work for you both or work out a way you can separate and still create a stable and happy environment for your child.

Things around you are shifting and changing and this is going to cause you a lot of fear and pain, but I want you to remember that you’re always able to be a good father for your child if you put forth the effort. As scary as it might seem, especially given the way this society also makes it seem like a ‘broken’ home is a divorced home, what children need in their lives are consistent loving people who care about that. They can have that even if their parents divorce. It might be difficult for their lives to change in such a big way, but a home can be ‘broken’ even if the parents are married. No matter what happens between your wife and you, you can still be great parents.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Can one person fulfil every need?

I’m in a partnership with my nonbinary trans partner for over a year almost two. They have been stating from the beginning that they would want to be in a open relationship but we never discussed anything further.

Recently it’s been pressed and they want to start ironing out the next steps…

I understand everything logically (opening our relationship)from them stating how no one is enough for anyone and cant fulfill every need… I feel like then what’s the point in any relationship then.. What makes me so special to be the primary if they can get their needs met by anyone and everyone else. How do I figure what I need to feel validated from them?

I also feel I could be in an open relationship, I like other people…I know time is short and all of this is small in the worlds problems.. but I guess I feel like I just don’t matter, if I left we’d both be fine and that makes me feel so empty.

Am I doing this relationship injustice for questioning how much love I should give to partner now. I feel the need to protect myself which in turn makes me want to do less loving things to them because well they could find someone else and I like any human want to protect myself.

I look for your response, thank you for reading..

This is a philosophy I see going around in polyamory circles a lot and I’ve written about it before, the idea that one person can’t possibly fulfil every person’s need. And I honestly and truly feel it’s 100% bullshit when applied to every single human being.

It’s sort of like people who say monogamy doesn’t work because there is cheating and dishonesty in the world. I don’t think one relationship style or way of living works for everyone because people are individuals and everybody is different. Different people have different needs. And different people have different reasons for choosing non-monogamy.

I, personally, am not a person who chose non-monogamy because I have a burning need to be with multiple partners. I could be monogamous (provided that monogamy didn’t include some of the more negative and unhealthy attitudes that usually accompany monogamy), but I just don’t want to be. And I don’t have to *need* to do something for it to be a reasonable and valid choice in my life.

But I know many people who physically feel they cannot be monogamous because fundamentally it isn’t how they operate. And that’s also valid. My great grandmother was ‘successful’ at monogamy: she was with my great grandfather until in died in the 60s and then spent the rest of her life alone until she died in the way many people think you ought to. If you’d have asked her if she was going to find someone new to marry after her husband died, she would have said she was already married. To her, his death didn’t matter so she held true to that.

The idea behind this philosophy is that all relationships require some form of compromise because it’s very, very rare that two people — in *any* kind of relationship — are completely and totally compatible or have a relationship that doesn’t have any kind of arguments, disagreements or ‘rifts’. And that’s pretty true. Most people will not get along all of the time, whether they are friends, friends with benefits, dating, etc. And I think it’s very healthy to have as many relationships as is reasonable for one person to sustain because the more people you know and talk to, the more perspectives you’ll have in life and the wiser you’ll be.

But whether or not you get along all the time with someone is not the same as whether or not you have a deeper need or desire for different types of romantic partnerships or sexual encounters. That’s a separate thing. While I understand where people are going with the idea that no one person can fill one person’s needs completely, because that’s also a lot of pressure to put on one person’s shoulders… it also assumes everyone has the same needs and they just don’t.

It may be for your partner that one romantic relationship just isn’t what they either need or want in their life — and that’s valid. It may not have to do with you being ‘enough’. People who want more than one child don’t want another child because one is not ‘enough’ for them. People who want more than one friendship don’t want that because one best friend isn’t ‘enough’ for them. There isn’t a scarcity here that applies. And I don’t want more romantic relationships because one is not ‘enough’ for me. Nor do my partners want other partners because I’m not ‘enough’.

For me, I also want my romantic relationships to have significance in my life and meaning. I don’t really want to be interchangeable to someone. I want my presence to matter. And many people feel that way. And how they feel as though they matter to someone is through exclusivity. Other people like myself who are non-monogamous use other ways to gain this meaning. Usually, for me, it’s about time and emotional effort put into me. Someone can make me feel important without only dating to me by spending time talking to me, engaging with my life, and showing up when I need them. That to me is more important than exclusivity.

For you, exclusivity might be important — and that is just as valid as your partner’s want for multiple romantic relationships. Both of your ways of thinking and rationales and feelings are valid. You just have a basic inherent incompatibility, unfortunately.

Given you’ve only spent almost two years in this relationship and it doesn’t sound like either of you have necessarily begun any nesting or permanent bonding type of activities (buying a house together, starting a family) I think it might be worth seeing this as an incompatibility and, as tough as it might be, parting ways. If there was more in what you wrote that indicated that you either could get something personally out of polyamory or that you didn’t have a problem with your partner being not exclusive, I would encourage you to try it at first.

But your letter really sounds to me like you need and want someone to be exclusive with you and that has a lot of significance to you in terms of how you feel about your relationships — and that’s totally fine. Maybe for you, one person *can* meet your needs because part of your needs are exclusivity. That’s legitimate and totally okay. And if that’s definitely the case, trying this, in the end, will only result in more hurt feelings and confusion than it’s worth. It’s better to end a relationship on a simple incompatibility than it is to end it among pain and difficulty.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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