Episode 11: Long Distance Lament

How do you negotiate more time in a long distance relationship against new relationship energy? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

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Episode 11 – Long Distance Lament

Your relationship has moved to long distance and your partner has a new partner… and is now ignoring your needs. What do you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

So bit of background, I’m a demisexual, married to a pansexual. We’ve been somewhat talking about trying poly[am] for years, with a few forays into it where we’ve both had other relationships that were short-term — me with a mutual friend I was close to, and my partner finding casual relationships through dating apps and such. Recently it’s felt like it’s moved very quickly. In part because we’re currently long-distance — I’m half a continent away finishing up grad school, while they’re living on their own looking for work.

A big part of the change is that this is the first time my partner has developed genuine feelings for someone else. It’s not something I want to stifle, and I truly want them to be happy, but I feel… Left behind. Abandoned. They’re caught up in that “new relationship energy” and putting all of their focus on the new person. Normally, it’d be okay, it wouldn’t be a huge deal, and I would be happy for them. But normally we also are communicating a lot face-to-face. Normally after the early dates they’d come home to me and we’d be able to talk about it. Normally I may even get some opportunity to casually get to know the person early on. But not while long distance. But they met this person a few months ago after I’d already been gone for a month, and I’m lucky if I get a few texts and a 5 minute phone call from my partner in a regular day.

I definitely feel like I’m not being heard. I know everyone has bias, and everyone has something that they want out of relationships. My partner and I both have biases, as does the third person. But it feels like my side isn’t as prevalent because I don’t get the same say. Because I’m a ways away. Already this month their boyfriend spent 3 nights in a row at our apartment (out of only 4 since I returned to school), and had more than 72 hours straight that the two of them were hanging out almost constantly. During the same period of time we had a handful of texts a day, a couple of short phone calls, and that’s it. And when I was at our apartment in person over the break, they were spending as much time with the other person as with me, even though we had been apart for so much and were about to spend 2 more months apart.

And we make plans sometimes, ranging from a quick 5-minute phone call to spending a whole day together, that are pushed aside by my partner. Like… If I’m told you’re spending the whole day with me to go on adventures and have a date-day & date-night, I’d expect that you’re back from your boyfriends before 4. But instead they sent me a text at about 2 asking basically what the latest was that they could show up and still make the two definite parts of our plan — dinner early enough to make it to one of those painting classes. It made me feel so undervalued.

In terms of boundaries, they’ve been… pushed… more than I’m happy with. We’ve been fairly open with where boundaries are at. As long as what is happening is communicated. Sex for instance: if we think we’ve found someone we’re interested in sleeping with and it may happen, we communicate it’s possible. If it happens more unexpectedly, we communicate as soon as reasonable that it did. My partner never voiced anything about sex until weeks after they’d started hooking up regularly. Because they thought the conversation would be “uncomfortable”. Which it was, because they waited so long to finally say anything. Plus, they also broke our only real solid boundary by not using protection for most of those hook-ups.

I know part of our issues is that we have a very different perspective on sex. That I have a very high, yet demisexual, sex drive — I would like to share that bond as much as possible. On the other hand, they would perhaps rather find new people to sleep with. And so in that sense I feel… replaced… I can’t have as physically intimate a relationship with them from a long distance, and sex has always strengthened our bond, always been such a powerful experience for both of us. And without that.. I feel lonely a lot. Feel more isolated. And act more emotionally needy, which I know pushes them away.

I don’t really know what to do — because of the distance we can’t start couples counseling for a few months. And I feel like when I try to communicate my wants and needs I get push-back. Or I’m not given the time to really communicate. And whenever I do get my wants and needs expressed, such as needing more communication, wanting to know if someone I don’t really know is sleeping in our apartment, etc., I get treated like I’m interfering in their life.

I keep reading and re-reading that, and I’m not sure how much sense it makes. It feels broken and I feel like I’m all over the place. But thank you so much.

Response:

There are a few things here. There are a lot of red flags in terms of your partner’s behaviour and big, big problems that I want to talk about. But the first thing that I want to address, are some things in general that I think would help you regardless of this relationship or other relationships. I think in general they would help you and anyone in your situation with or without these red flags.

The first thing is there a lot of situations where, as much as we would like everything to be equal in partnerships, there are what I call “imbalances”. So it’s not inequity is so much as it is an imbalance. This happens all the time. Like people get sick or in your situation you’re temporarily… basically your relationship is temporarily long-distance. There lots of situations where, for whatever reason, people are imbalanced in terms of their relationship. And I do think there are some aspects of this, even if there weren’t red flags or issues with the way your partner’s behaving, I still very much think that you would feel this imbalance and especially if you’re the kind of person where the face to face really means very much to you. And that’s the kind of exactly why some people don’t do long distance relationships, because they can’t really handle that imbalance. And it creates such an imbalance with them that it’s just… you know, it puts too much strain on the relationship.

So I think that the first thing that you kind of are gonna have to realise in all of this is that until you return to wherever your partner is,  you’re going to have that inherent imbalance and I think that’s something that you and any partner you have, whether it’s this partner or another partner, have to accept and be willing to address because that like… especially when there’s a new person on the scene. Like… it totally makes sense for you to feel unhappy about it even if you logically want the best for your partner and don’t have any hostility or anything towards this person. The fact that they can be physically there and you can’t is always going to create a kind of strain on you and that’s ok and as long as it’s addressed I think it can be worked around. There’s lots of different things that you can do to address this.

Like, you know, if you had written me before and said, “I’m about to go away and this relationship is gonna be long distance. I’m really scared. I don’t know what to do”, I would have suggested highly that you have specific scheduled times that you can count on especially when someone is dealing with new relationship energy because there are a lot of things that people do when they caught up in that that I think can be forgiven. That I think can be worked around. And I think sometimes people when they get in that new relationship energy situation they don’t really realise how much of a, for lack of a better word, jerk they’re being. And I think scheduled times like… hardline scheduled times can really help with that.

You don’t really say… like you say you get 5 minute phone calls and you talk a little bit about some of the situations where you’ve been pushed aside but I think like… if you said like every Thursday night for example we definitely talk to each other. We have a scheduled date, a scheduled phone date. I don’t know if this is something you are already doing. It doesn’t seem like these are necessarily repetitive. And maybe that’s because you haven’t had a chance to arrange that. But I think something like that like, that way you know for sure regardless of how nuts everything else can be, you know for sure that you have this time that’s scheduled.

It also helps demonstrate to you, by that person meeting that time, and… it helps you you feel valued. And it could be… and there are  other issues with the way that your partner is behaving that I want to address… but it could be that this kind of thing creates an anchor and makes it easier as well for your partner to honour you. It might be that they are swept up in this new relationship energy, swept up in missing you and needing as well that face-to-face and they’re getting it from this person in that’s really great for them. And having that really solid commitment and clear boundary of like, ok this is the day that we have a call, can really, really help with that.

Before I get into some of the problematic aspects of your partner’s behaviour, another thing that I really want you to think about… so you said you have this boundary… I would really call it a rule rather than a boundary that if you find someone you’re interested in sleeping with, you communicate it as soon as it happens and you communicated as soon as you did. Now, I’m not saying that your partner is right in terms of the way they handled this, but I do think that you need to explore why you have that rule. There are sexual health reasons to have rules like that. Like the rule that I have like… I would like to know if my partner sleeps with someone new not because that would make it easier for me and it’s not for emotional reasons. That’s not say that emotions are bad.

It’s for sexual health reasons because I just want to know as a person when technically my sexual health risk, because they slept with someone new, is a bit heightened. That actually helps my anxiety rather than… because if I don’t know then and then I know all of a sudden that there is four more people like… that will make me way more panicky than just knowing when it happens. And I kind of work is well with my partners in that… if I’m having a bad day like… I remember my partner wanted to tell me that they slept with someone new but that was like…  the day of the Orlando shooting and I was very upset and so they decided to wait until the next day to tell me. I think things like that are fine.

It’s not really clear to me why you have this rule. If it’s for a sexual health reason or if it’s for another reason. And the fact that your partner was avoiding bringing it up because they thought it would make you uncomfortable makes me wonder if there were slightly more emotional reasons behind it then just solid sexual health reasons. And I do think that when you put rules in place you definitely have to make sure they aren’t rules that will prevent you from experiencing negative emotions. I think the biggest reason people say “Rules don’t work. I don’t do any rules, blah blah blah”.  I think it’s because they’re used to the kind of rules that are put in place… they’re used to those rules being for preventing people from feeling jealousy, from feeling anxious, from feeling sad. You can’t prevent those things and I think sometimes the more you prevent them, the worst things become. Which is one of the reasons why your partner probably avoided it, because it was uncomfortable.

And this is another thing that a lot of people who try and polyamory for the first time do. It’s really weird because you would think that if you sat together and you said “Ok we’re doing polyamory. That’s fine. Just let me know when you’ve slept with someone new… blah blah blah… ok”. When you actually have to let someone know that you’ve slept with someone new, it’s very very awkward. There’s no real blueprints to how this is done and so you know… people are so used to that conversation being an end to a relationship. Because if you’re monogamous and you sleep with someone new and you tell your partner that’s usually the end of your relationship. So they have this kind of fear that if they talk about it, even though they’re fine to do this and even though they know it’s OK, they have this real fear that is going to end the relationship and so they avoid it and then it sort of snowballs.

I can kind of understand that discretion because that does happen to a lot of people when they start polyamory. They’re scared to have an uncomfortable conversation and honestly a lot of people do this even when it’s not disclosing that they had sex with someone. A lot of people, including myself… I find it really really hard to confront people or to tell people that they’ve hurt my feelings and it’s so hard for me because I’m so used to living in an environment where if I told someone that I hurt my feelings not only would they not care at all but they might actually use the fact that I’ve said my feelings are hurt to hurt me further.

So I have a really really hard time being able to tell someone honestly they’ve hurt my feelings and sometimes I just wait and wait until something so uncomfortable happens that it all just comes out and I say “This is my problem and this and this and this and this” or I will sometimes try to manipulate the situation so that things happen the way that I want them to without me having to ask for what I want.

So you know that kind of thing I can totally understand them doing and I think it makes a lot of sense especially if this rule or this kind of thing that they’re supposed to do is put in place to address an emotional problem. If you’re thinking that this will somehow help with jealousy, I don’t necessarily know if that’s true. I’m not saying that you should go the opposite way and have a don’t ask don’t tell relationship. That’s not what I’m suggesting. But I do think that you need to kind of think about the flexibility around it and make it really clear between the two of you why it is put in place and that might mean that there is less uncomfortable feeling around why they don’t want to talk to you about it. That will really help. If you make it just like about pure sexual health risk and I think if you both expect and accept that it will be an uncomfortable conversation… you just have to accept that. If it’s not uncomfortable, it’s a bit awkward.

Like I don’t get upset or jealous necessarily. There might be certain situations where I do get upset or jealous if my partner’s that I live with has been with someone new. But if they tell me it… I don’t want to be also forced into a situation where I’m not allowed to have any feelings about it. But I think if you kind of decide what the reasons for it are and it’s not like “oh you know you need to tell me as soon as we can discuss it and handle any jealousy”, they might be worried that every single time you’re going to be upset. And you can’t really predict how you’re going to feel necessarily. You could have a bad day. So if the reasons are more around “ok it’s just good for me to know” and you accept that it might be an awkward conversation then yeah… you know maybe there’s some flexibility around like… you know if I’m having a bad day I don’t necessarily want to know right away. Maybe if they’re having a bad day, maybe put it off for another day. There are ways you can work around it and ways that you can do it in a way where you’re both in an ok state enough to potentially have a difficult conversation. But you can’t completely avoid it and they have to be willing to not completely avoid uncomfortable conversations because that’s really really not a good sign in general.

So those things are in general good for you to think about and to know. But I think that all of this… even if you were to work it perfectly becomes moot if your partner is unwilling to A: admit that when they’ve messed up and B: be willing to fix it. And a couple of things that your partner has done has made me a little bit worried for you in that regard.

The first thing is you sort of casually mention… and maybe it’s just because of how you feel… you mention that they didn’t use protection with this person even though that’s a very clear sexual health rule that you have. For me, personally, if this was broken, it would be a huge deal for me. I’d be really really upset about that. I might be a little bit more paranoid about sexual health than some people are but the fact that they knew this was a rule and knew this was important to me and just completely disregarded it and potentially put my health at risk, I would be really really upset about it. I’m not saying you have to be as upset about it as I would, but I do think that that’s a big thing.

It’s one thing to avoid telling you something because they’re not really experienced in this so they’re just trying to get a handle on it and they just didn’t want upset you. That I can understand. But it’s another thing to purposefully, knowingly violate a boundary like that. Violate or broke a rule about that… that is that is worrying. Because that to me shows that they don’t really care what the rules are if it means that they get what they want. Which is a huge problem and you don’t really talk about that and whether or not they acknowledged it or apologised for it. But they have to be willing to acknowledge or apologise for it.

The other thing… some of the things that they’ve done in terms of like ditching you and sort of not really valuing your time… I don’t really necessarily blame them for spending an equal amount of time with you and the other person when you were there even though you know you felt there was a bit more reason why they should spend more time with you. But I guess what really worries me about the situation is less that they’re kind of ditching you which I do think they could fix and sometimes people kinda get in a bit over their head and I can understand that. But the issue is… the biggest issue is for me that they’re pushing back on your requests for… to talk about how upset you are or when you ask for something, they’re sort of suggesting that the problem is with you, that you’re interfering.

You might feel that you… maybe get more needy than you would in this situation but that’s still valid just because it might be more or less needy, you’re still you know… like I said, there is an inherent imbalance here and it has to be accepted on both sides. If there is an inherent balance, your partner is going to have to be willing to address it. If they’re not going to address it that speaks a bigger problems that are much more of a worry down the line.

I think the fact that they’re kind of… not only just blowing you off in terms of dates, which they could do if they kinda get over their head, but also not really willing to talk about this with you is a really.. is not a great sign. You could go back and you could have the best couples therapist in the world, it will not matter if this person is unwilling to address or fix anything. No therapist can force them to do that. So I really think that this is kind of the biggest crucial issue here.

I think in terms of what you should do is I think you really need to put your foot down and have your boundaries addressed and realised and not stand for it being ignored. What I mean by that is, I would say “On this date, or whenever time that is soon works for you, we need to have a discussion because I am unhappy and there are problems and there are things that are making me upset and we need to have this discussion and we need to have it soon”. You can flexible in terms of if they can’t have it right away but you need to say that this has to happen. No excuses. No exceptions. No ditching it. It has to happen because this has to be addressed before you return and you want it to be addressed.

And you know if at that point they’re not willing to do that, that really really speaks for some serious problems that you are not going to be able to fix. It has to come from both sides. You have to work together. If they’re not willing to work with you at all then you know… It doesn’t sound happy to break up but at least you know about this now rather than later. So that’s the first thing you need to do. Be very very clear and say, “We need to have a discussion about our relationship. I need to talk to you about this. We have to have it”. Be a little flexible about a times because I can understand if they can do it right away but it has to happen and has to happen soon. You know, it can’t happen 3 weeks from now. It can’t happen when you get back. It has to happen soon and it has to be uninterrupted and it has to be serious.

I think before that meeting if and when it’s agreed upon, you need to work out some things yourself. Think about, like I said, the rules around disclosing about sex, why you have that rule. You need to bring up the parts were they have really kind of completely violated your boundary and I don’t mean like bring them a laundry list of all of the terrible shit they’ve done in the past few months but like… that violating your sexual health rule is a big big deal.

It doesn’t sound like, because you mentioned it, it doesn’t sound like to me they’ve apologised for it and promised not to do it again. If you feel like they’ve apologised enough that you don’t feel insecure about it or if they’ve addressed it and they have apologised and they’ve taken some steps then you don’t have to mention it. But if they haven’t then they really need to be able to address it and I think in that discussion you need to say like, “Look. You have broken this boundary and that’s really not acceptable for me”.

You need to bring up the not disclosing it to you cause, like I said, I’m not saying that you should move to don’t and don’t ask don’t tell situation, but I do think that you can be a bit more flexible about when they tell you. But it can’t be that they avoided telling you. And that, like I said, it’s understandable to do that. So you know it doesn’t have to be that they were terrible mean person and they were trying to hurt you, but you need to like… I think you need to address the fact that they avoid conversations and that’s something that, when you do return, you can work with a therapist on. If all else goes well and there are they are willing to address it. You can say like, “Look, you avoided having this conversation because it was uncomfortable for you. We have to be able to have uncomfortable conversations. It’s part of life. You can’t avoid it and if we can work around you know finding a good time or you know you can check in with me if I’m feeling ok and have that discussion but you can’t just avoid it”. And they kinda have to recognise and realise and be willing to accept that they have a tendency to avoid things rather than discuss them and you need their word that they will work on it.

I think that you also need to, in this discussion, maybe suggest that you have a standing date night. Like bring up that you feel pushed aside. That you’ve had… like it’s unacceptable for them to try and basically either blow you off or not take your meeting times or when you commit to a time seriously. They need to commit to that time. That you know… this is an imbalance and it can be addressed by you both but they also have to be willing to realise that you know they may be cuckoo about this new partner and that’s great but they have someone they can kind of have that face-to-face thing with. You don’t. And they need to be kind of willing to acknowledge that and acknowledge that you don’t have that and be willing to be more serious about the times that you do have to spend together and really commit to those times.

I think it’s great for you both to talk about the inherent imbalance and how it’s impacting you because they very well might miss you too and they very well might be struggling and that might be why they’ve gone a little bit kind of new relationship energy intense with this new person is because they’ve lacked that. And all of those are understandable reasons for why they’ve behaved that way and I think that you can be forgiving about that, but they have to be like I said… part of dealing with problems is acknowledging that they exist. If you don’t acknowledge they exist and you have no willingness to commit to change them then there isn’t anything you can do.

Overall, I think first thing you have to figure out as whether or not your partner is willing to acknowledge and commit to changing things otherwise it… I really would suggest that you consider finding someone else because, monogamous or polyamorous, it doesn’t matter like… if you’re with someone who just refuses to address problems and work with you to solve them that just won’t be well for any kind of relationship.

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Incompatibility and polyamory

I have a very unique and complicated relationship that I need help with. I am M, 23, and my partner is F, 25. I read in some of your posts that just because you’re different doesn’t mean you’re incompatible. I want to start by listing some of our major differences. I come from a conservative Christian community, and monogamy is all I have ever known. My partner comes from a very sex-positive background, and is set in her identity as polyamorous, (solo polyamorous to be exact, which means she values independence and doesn’t have any primary partners, and feels like she can’t emotionally stay with one person too long). To complicate things further, I identify as demisexual, which means I need to develop an intimate emotional connection before I feel sexual attraction. Now to add the icing on the cake, I am nomadic, and the max I’ve stayed at one location in the past two years is 2 months. She is pretty much tethered permanently to her home (student loans, work placement etc..).

We may have the chance to travel together in the near future, but I don’t think it’s going to happen often. We are madly in love with each other, and have been trying hard to express that love regardless of our differences. What is the best thing we can do for our relationship, without hurting the other? Thank you for any help!

There are a few things here that I want to discuss.

  • Differences in backgrounds
  • Solo polyamory
  • Long distance relationships

Differences in backgrounds

You mention in your letter that you come from different backgrounds, but I don’t see this as a potential incompatibility. We all have to start somewhere in our lives and I don’t think that where you grow up is necessarily an indication of where you will end up in any sense of the word. When I was young, I was very anti-choice because it was an opinion that had been passed on to me by the adults in my life, but I don’t feel that way now. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that polyamory comes easier for some people of different backgrounds because it really depends on the person. So don’t count that necessarily as a massive difference.

While it’s true that coming from a very conservative Christian community might present some obstacles for you personally that you have to work through, I wouldn’t assume that is exclusive to this relationship. If it doesn’t work out with you and your partner, you may end up in another relationship where it challenges this more than your current one does. It’s worth thinking about it that way rather than an obstacle.

Solo polyamory

I’m a tiny bit confused by your partner’s definition of solo polyamory because it doesn’t seem to be accurate. I don’t know if this is your assumption or her definition, but I would definitely recommend having a discussion with her about, specifically the idea that solo polyamory people ‘can’t emotionally stay with one person too long’. It’s hard for me to even parse what that exactly means. It doesn’t sound like solo polyamory to me. It sounds like someone afraid of commitment or wanting to avoid emotional labour and responsibility that a relationship can often include.

Solo polyamory is literally just about not necessarily wanting or having a ‘primary’ partner and living independently. I know many solo polyamorous people who are very emotionally invested in all of their relationships, they just don’t want that emotional investment to include cohabitation and prefer to live on their own. If your partner has explicitly told you that she doesn’t want to ‘emotionally stay with one person too long’, I think you need to have a discussion with her to understand what that means.

Individually, each of you need to think about and communicate to each other your expectations of what not only this relationship might look like as things develop but also what you want out of a relationship and what it means for you. You state you’re demisexual, which is fine, but do you have an interest in polyamory? Or are you only doing it so you can have her as a partner because you’re already emotionally invested? Have you really considered how you might feel if/when she begins to date other people and how that might affect you? Because if you aren’t interested or motivated towards polyamory on your own, this might be a much bigger obstacle than anything else you’ve listed here.

Once you’ve both thought about that, then you can decide how your relationship can or can’t take form in the future, which leads me to the next topic.

Long distance relationships

Your nomadic lifestyle is what it is and it doesn’t sound like this is going to change any time in the future, but it might be worth thinking about if this will be true for the rest of your life or if you will, for lack of a better expression, ‘settle down’ one day. Can your partner do long distance? Have you talked about this?

Polyamory isn’t a stop gap or a life raft. And it’s really important to not consider it a stop-gap solution to keep a relationship alive or to give a relationship which won’t work a chance. You might be motivated toward polyamory because your relationship with this person will be long distance and because you are demisexual and aren’t frequently attracted to people so you might be thinking about all of the ways you can make this work and it might very well work for a good period of time while you are nomadic. It may be possible you don’t mind at all her dating other people and things work fine.

But what happens when you want to settle down and you’ve spent years in a relationship with someone who has absolutely no interest in ‘settling down’ in the way you are going to want? What are you going to do then?

You need to really think about not just whether or not you and your partner can do a long distance relationship if your nomadic lifestyle continues, but also what happens if and when you no longer become nomadic. I don’t believe relationships have to last until you die to be ‘successful’. I think that there is a possibility you both can approach this like adults, have a good relationship and then understand that when you decide to be less nomadic, things might fundamentally change to the point where the relationship ends. I would not put your bets on her changing her mind and wanting to ‘settle down’ too in the future and focus on what information you have now.

To summarise, I think you need to think about what you want out of polyamory, if you want polyamory and she likewise needs to think about what kind of relationship structure she does want and what that means for someone wanting to be with her. You both need to think about whether you can do long distance and what happens if and when you become less nomadic.

The last thing I’d add is that pain is an inherent risk of meeting new people and developing feelings for them. You already have feelings for one another and I don’t think that there is anything you’re going to do to be able to prevent hurt. Hurt can and does happen. Instead of trying to avoid it completely, try to think about how you might cope if and when the hurt does happen.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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

Do you have a question?

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

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

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

How to get over your partner seeing other people

I’ve been in a relationship with my high school sweetheart for about 10 years now. A couple of years ago we started to go abroad, on exchange and live in other countries. The distance opened the relationship. She had sex with another person for the first time ever (I was her first), and that hit me like a train. But I recovered. She fell in love with someone else, that hit me like a truck, but I recovered from that as well. I’ve also had my dalliances with other women (and men), but none as serious as her.

I tend to be more of a serial one-night stander/flinger. I’ve only fallen in love with one other woman, but that fizzled out pretty quickly. After everything, me and my girlfriend always gravitate towards each other again, with new lessons about the world, other people, and ourselves. And through that we’ve grown closer.

And yet, I still can’t shake my crippling anxiety. She’s been abroad since August now, and though she now draws the line between love and lust, I still can’t internalize our open relationship to the point where I can feel comfortable. Everyone tells me (her as well), I have the best deal in the world, I can date and have sex with other women, it’s a dream. Or at least it should be.

But it’s mostly a nightmare, every time I hear about her being with other people. As we literally talk about everything and she wants to tell me everything (and I masochistically want her to), I can see a new lover coming from a mile away. And I’m never off. And she always ends up telling me after I badger her about it. I’m paranoid, images and thoughts torment me at night.

But then, on the flip side, I do explore with other women. Frequently. I have since the beginning of our relationship (only back then it was called ‘cheating’), and continue so now. But I always have a nagging feeling before/afterward/in between. That I miss my gf, that I want to just be with her and it just be the two of us. And yet, I think that if we were physically together, I’d still be open to explore other people. But letting her do that without me is the scariest thing ever.

I think my question is: why can I be with other people and still love her and trust in that, but when she does the same, my world ends? And: how do I get rid of the nagging feeling? Breaking up with my girlfriend is not an option. It’s really annoying and I want to be ok with it, because every time she’s with other people my world stops. I have a JOB, after all, can’t have too many days where I’m depressed. 🙂

There’s a lot going on here that’s understandably causing you some anxiety so I’m going to hopefully address the main things and that will help ease things up a bit. But before I do, I just want to say that I do think you love and trust your partner. There’s an assumption here that feeling anxious or paranoid means you don’t trust your partner and it’s just not that simple.

A lack of a foundation

The thing that strikes me about your relationship with your high school sweetheart is that you don’t really have a clear foundation or an idea of what the relationship means to either of you, or at least it seems that way. You mention her sleeping and falling in love with new people and that hitting you really hard. You may have ‘recovered’ from that, but you’re treating the symptoms here, rather than the disease.

You have no real understanding of where your relationship is going. It sounds like you’re kind of just going with the flow and while that can be beneficial for some people, it also has the result of a massive load of worry and fear. Even if we’re not monogamous, many of us have grown up within a culture that produces what’s called The Relationship Escalator. When we’re in monogamous relationships, we take for granted what society has built up for us in terms of structure.

We know that, in the monogamy society encourages, there are steps towards committing which symbolise that commitment. But with non-monogamy, that’s not the same. There are things here like becoming sexually intimate or falling in love, which tend to represent ‘commitment’. My instinct is that when you realised that these individual things didn’t necessarily represent a commitment to someone else and thus a change in the relationship you have with your sweetheart, you ‘recovered’ from the shock of these things.

But unless you really work with your sweetheart to come to an understanding of what your relationship means to them and to you and what that will eventually evolve into, you’re going to continue to fear what’s on the horizon — and that’s perfectly logical. For all you know, she could meet someone new tomorrow who convinces her to go with monogamy and you could be dumped. It makes perfect sense to have this nagging feeling, even as you explore other relationships, because you don’t have that clarity with this relationship.

Sometimes this is hard to define. Maybe you both don’t know where you want this relationship to end up. Maybe you and her both need to give yourself a little bit of leeway to have this fear, deal with it as and when it comes and have her reassure you that you do mean something to her. Which brings me to the next point which may be causing you anxiety.

Clearer understandings of disclosure

Disclosure is such an awkward thing for a lot of people just starting out in non-monogamy. I think that’s why so many in monogamous relationships that shift into non-monogamy they decide to make the rule of, “I won’t pursue any relationships without your okay”. Because when do you disclose a budding relationship? Well, it comes down to when someone becomes ‘more than a friend’ and that boundary is different for so many people.

Fundamentally, what it comes down to and what people want to know is when something is going to change. Maybe you are masochistically agreeing to hear all of the details because you think somehow it will steel your resolves for when she comes to you and tells you that she doesn’t want to see you anymore. I don’t think this is going to help you. You’re always going to feel sad if and when a relationship ends. Hearing all of the nitty gritty details is not going to give you a baptism of fire against jealousy. It’s not as if you’re giving yourself cognitive behavioural therapy by exposing yourself to these details — especially because cognitive behavioural therapy is all about exposing someone to what they’re afraid of slowly and in a controlled environment.

You are lacking that controlled environment. You’re asking for all of the details but what you really want to know is if and when your partner feels your relationship might change. You tend to operate on a basis of maybe having sexual relationships with multiple people, but having an emotional bond with fewer people. What this is about is emotional responsibility and a mutual understanding of commitment. You’re too busy talking about who’s she’s doing what with to get to the detail that matters — what it means for you.

Instead of asking her for details, you both need to sit down and think about what you want out of non-monogamy. What do other relationships look like? How do you want to practice this? It doesn’t mean you both have to practice non-monogamy in the same way. Maybe you do more casual things and her ideal is to find one other emotional and sexual based romantic partner. But it might be good for you to figure out how time is going to be split between you and future partners. Once you have a better understanding of where you fit in each other’s lives and futures, you might not need or want to know details. Which brings me to my next point.

How long distance impacts polyamory

You’ve shifted from an in-person relationship to a long distance relationship and this will have a large impact on you both. Some people are capable of doing long distance but many are not. You need to understand that not having each other there physically is going to radically alter any foundation that you’ve spent the rest of the time building.

And whenever something major happens in your relationships that shifts foundations, you need to make sure you’re addressing it. The distance has opened your relationship, which is also fundamentally shifting everything. You’ve gone from, what sounds like, a monogamous relationship to not only being long distance, which adds a stressor, but changing the very nature of the relationship, which adds stress on top of stress — of course you’re anxious as a result.

You need to make sure you make time for each other. Whether it’s having a scheduled date night over Skype or definite future plans to meet physically, it’s going to take some extra effort on both of your parts to continue to keep the relationship alive. You may have a lot of feelings and while absence does make the heart grow fonder, it’s important, especially if another real relationship does happen for you or your partner, to ensure you’ve got the basics of upkeep in your relationship solid.

If you don’t, what I foresee happening is New Relationship Energy (NRE) sweeping one or both of you up. NRE can cause people to neglect their partners they live with or see every day and it can add a layer of complexity onto a relationship that is long distance. You will naturally be sad that any new person your partner dates has the benefit of being physically near them, and visa versa. It would be wise to discuss this, to make some plans for addressing these feelings.

But mostly, just make sure you’re both stepping up and keeping your relationship alive so that neither of you feel neglected, especially if you’ve opened the relationship.

Addressing anxiety within a relationship

You might find that once you have some clarity from your partner about what your relationship means, once you’ve got reassurance of that on a consistent basis and a better understanding of non-monogamy and what it means to the both of you as well as a little bit more effort to bridge the gap that the distance is causing you, you may feel a lot less anxious.

But the most important thing for the both of you is to give yourself permission to feel anxious and scared. You’re going long distance and that’s a big step. You’re making a big change to the very foundation of how your relationship operates. You’ve made a lot of big changes all at once and you’ve shifted things, so you’re naturally going to feel insecure. Don’t automatically interpret your negative feelings as you distrusting your partner or as bad faith when you both are doing your best to maintain that.

You might consider one of your bonding activities to be meeting on Skype with a relationship counsellor or therapist, if that’s an option for both of you. It might give you a space to talk about your feelings and work through them together.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Therapist comments

It sounds like this guy is pretty intuitive and good at anticipating her future connections. It’s entirely possible he’s picking up on that possibility much, much earlier than she is. Which means it looks like she’s withholding information, when it may well be that she’s just unaware.

I see potential love connections for my partners way faster than they do, and I’ve had to adjust my expectations accordingly. Now when they come to me and they’re all like, I’m Into This Person… inside I’m thinking, yea, I’ve known that for a month, welcome to the party. I used to think they were aware of it and afraid to tell me, now I know that they really are telling me as soon as they’re aware.

Note: I wrote this column in 2017, so it’s possible my perspective has shifted or changed. Please feel free to re-ask a similar question.

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