How to define cheating

Here is my situation. I’ve been with my partner for four months, we started our relationship as another one of mine was ending. I definitely jumped in full force to the relationship, partly because of my heartbreak over the previous one. It turned out to work out really well, however, as I feel so cared for and valued by my partner. At the time we started dating, they were casually dating a couple of people, and I was still dating a person casually (outside of my more serious relationship that was ending).

My partner and I discussed what would be cheating in our relationship: breaking agreements, lying, not updating relationship statuses with someone. Not long after this discussion, my partner broke an agreement by sleeping with a mutual friend while intoxicated. We had previously spoken (as in very very recently) about not having anything happen with that person more then a fun drunken party make out, as that would be really messy within the friend group and too much to navigate.

My partner assured me that they do not have romantic feelings towards this person, but that they are just friends, however I know the person has feelings for my partner. Before the hookup, I had an understanding that they were just friends but now I find myself not fully trusting that that’s been always the case (on my partners side). My partner is adamant that that is their feeling towards that person despite the person being attractive.

Anyway, my question is: how do you rebuild trust when an agreement has been broken? If there was never an agreement I still would have been uncomfortable as this is a mutual friend in our circle, however I don’t think I would have felt betrayed. Since the cheating my partner has done mostly a good job of taking ownership, setting boundaries with the person, and explaining to me what happened (which I accept and have understanding for). All this aside, how do I work through my feelings of betrayal? Are their tools for people for when cheating happens and you’re not monogamous?

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves if the rules we’ve put in place really serve us. ‘Cheating’ can be defined in all sorts of different ways. It’s not up to me to tell you how to define ‘cheating’ for you, but I can say that for me, the biggest part — and really the only part — of what makes something cheating is deception and lying or aiding someone else in their deception and lying knowingly.

You’ve chosen to define cheating among each other as ‘breaking agreements’, not just lying, as well as ‘not updating relationship statuses with someone’ (which also seems like lying to me). My problem with this is that one can break an agreement in a variety of circumstances without necessarily participating in an willing deception and this is such a case. No doubt, an agreement you made was broken, but it doesn’t seem like your partner did it with their full sober mind nor did they hide it or lie to you about it once it happened.

That’s not to say you don’t have the right to feel upset, but ask yourself if putting the label of ‘cheating’ on this is further inflaming those feelings by making you feel like there is more of a betrayal than there actually was. Is this more of a mistake, especially if your partner is taking ownership, settling the boundaries and didn’t at all hide it from you? Why is it that you are defining ‘breaking agreements’ specifically as cheating and is that really going to help you out in the long run? In this case, I think slapping the label of ‘cheating’ onto this situation is reinforcing what you’ve probably learned and understood about cheating through the monogamous lens that society has given you.

As someone who has a lot of strong feelings about cheating, I can understand this. Some people don’t consider cheating a big deal and have no problems participating in it, even if they don’t try to do it. I consider cheating, and by that I mean lying and deceiving a partner about anything (doesn’t have to be sex) to be one of the worst things someone can do and helping someone do that is equally as bad. But then there are some people who consider their partner watching porn as ‘cheating’ and I don’t.

It’s not as if those people who consider their partner watching porn as ‘cheating’ are wrong in their feeling of betrayal if that happens, but what I would encourage them to do is think about the assumptions they are making in this situation (e.g. being sexually attracted to someone other than your partner is something one can completely prevent in all situations and watching porn means that you’re less attracted to your partner or it affects the integrity of the attraction to your partner) and hope that through breaking that down, they can come to understand the source of the betrayal. Because often when we expand the net of ‘cheating’ to encompass more and more things, it can say a lot about our assumptions.

Likewise, in this situation, I think you need to take a good hard look at this rule and understand why you’ve put it there. What are you assuming when it comes to breaking agreements? Maybe you have a relationship with cheating in the past that you haven’t mentioned. Maybe this is part of your inherent fear that non-monogamy is unsustainable and your brain is creating rules to try and prevent something from happening. Accidents can and do happen and they don’t have to be devastating and destructive if we take people off of their pedestals, understand that we’re all humans and make mistakes, and figure out how what we’ve learned about certain concepts influences our behaviours.

But in non-monogamy we may be less inclined to see a simple accident as just that if we have such a small cultural script to pull from to define what commitment to each other means if we’re not using sexual exclusivity. If you’re not defining what makes a non-monogamous special by sexual exclusivity you may be searching for another place to put the meaning society has told you is important in and you may be doing that with the idea that breaking an agreement is tantamount to ‘cheating’.

It’s natural, whether you define a breaking of an agreement as cheating or not, for you to feel nervous and untrusting after that violation. It’s also natural for the fact that, regardless of how your partner feels, you know that this person is interested in your partner for that to kick up a lot of anxiety for you. But at some point, you also need to realise that there is only so much that you can control. The fact that your partner is taking ownership of this will help you rebuild that trust over time but it can also be helpful for you to realise that trust is really all you’ve ever had to begin with.

Even before this breach happened, none of us can prevent our partners from falling in love with someone else. Even if this person your partner slept with moved away and you never saw them again, another equally challenging or ‘messy’ person could come along in two months time. You can only prevent so much from happening. And rules certainly can’t prevent mistakes from happening.

Allow yourself to feel anxious and scared, but come back to the truth that, what little can be controlled is being controlled. Your partner is taking ownership and setting boundaries. Don’t prevent or berate yourself for having feelings. It’s very understandable. But also think about the way you’re classifying this situation and its impact on your relationship and whether or not your current definitions are really serving you.

People can break agreements in relationships unintentionally and without hiding that from a partner. Rethinking the labelling you’re adding to this will also help ground you a bit in understanding that while you may very well and validly feel betrayed because an agreement has been broken, you also need to zoom out and see the bigger picture of everything else that is going on around you to help you not get trapped in the undertow anxiety will try to pull you into.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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

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

Polyamory and the LGBTQ community

My question is this, why are most polyamory relationships associated with the gay, or lesbian society. I’m not prejudice[d] against anyone’s sexual preferences.

Currently, I am on house arrest. Because of a situation I put myself in. Since my first marriage I’ve had a belief that a man can love more than one woman.

I’m currently dating a woman of 52 years of age. We have known one another for almost 20 years. And have always been able talk and express our feelings to one another. We’ve always enjoyed a great sexual relationship also.

Right now, we see each other when we can. I love her very much, I’m not at all jealous of her seeing other men. And she feels the same way about me.

I guess what I want to know is why do you hear more about polyamory in the LGBT than you do with the heterosexual society?

Quite often in my column I say that polyamory can be a postcode lottery, meaning that the type of community that you find locally can be a lottery. Sometimes it’s very open minded and welcoming — sometimes not. While I wouldn’t say that I have experienced polyamory being more prevalent or discussed in the LGBTQ community, and in fact I’ve left quite a lot of online polyamory spaces because they were homophobic, biphobic and transphobic places, I do think that there probably is a trend where LGBTQ people are more open to the concept of polyamory.

There are a lot of reasons for this. I think socially as a whole if there is an aspect of your identity which you can’t change which is marginalised, you’re more likely to question the power structures that society puts into place, including the rules society places on how one should behave. To put it in a more simpler term, if the way you love another grown and consenting human being naturally is seen as ‘deviant’, then you’re going to question a lot about the society that has decided there is something wrong with other forms of love between consenting adults.

Furthermore, I think you also find this among people who are hypersexualised in society. If your baseline sexuality is seen as ‘too sexual’ then you might find that you’re more free to challenge some of the sex negative concepts the society hypersexualising you throws back at you. If you’re already on the margins and derided by society when you are harming no one, it gives you a better way of looking at other practices which aren’t harming anyone.

There’s also the pure and simple fact that LGBTQ people have a long history of not having the privilege to practice monogamy in the way society says one should practice it. Specifically in the US, queer people growing up the same time you did would face permanent disowning not just by their parents but also society. In many states in the US when you grew up, it was perfectly legal to arrest consenting people for having queer sex which would be sometimes called a ‘crime against nature’. In some places, if you were arrested for a ‘crime against nature’ you could have your name and picture printed in a newspaper and be forbidden from getting any form of job or license. Some queer people were lobotomised, castrated or given drugs that simulated waterboarding as a form of adverse conditioning to ‘cure’ them of being queer. Have a Google of the Atescodero State Mental Hospital which was known as ‘the Dachau for queers’.

And this isn’t isolated to the US. Many countries have a long history of either conversion therapy or execution for LGBTQ people daring to live their lives in the open. Alan Turing in the UK was condemned to chemical castration for homosexuality despite saving over 2 million lives through his contributions against the Nazis in WW2. Queer people were a target of Nazi Germany and, even after the concentration camps were liberated, many of the queer people in the concentration camps for being queer were immediately sent to jail and not liberated. The infamous picture of the Nazis burning books is actually a photo of them burning the books of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexuality which was making pioneering efforts of its time in transgender medical care.

So, suffice to say, many LGBTQ people did not have the option to marry and settle down with an individual, even if they wanted to, in a monogamous partnership for many years. This is a struggle that many people of colour had with interracial marriage in the US and in other places. And that’s not to say this struggle is over either. I know in the UK in particular, individuals fleeing countries where they would be murdered for being gay struggle to ‘prove’ their gayness to the Home Office to claim asylum. One person I met felt she had to submit a pornographic video of her and her partner in order to effectively claim asylum.

For many LGBTQ people, having a long term monogamous partnership wasn’t a realistic possibility. ‘Hooking up’ in semi public places like parks or closed down buildings was the only option a lot of people had for any form of sexual or romantic partnership. And I think the history of that has meant that over time many LGBTQ people have either been forced into a situation where their relationships had to be ‘open’ in the case of needing to marry or present a straight front to the world in order to prevent themselves from complete ruin or they just haven’t seen monogamy as something realistic and therefore have had a more open approach to relationships.

Still, while there is this history, I wouldn’t say that LGBTQ people are any more likely to be polyamorous or have open relationships than straight people. And in general, there are physically more straight people and therefore more likely to be straight polyamorous people than queer polyamorous people. But, to sum up the idea, it’s a lot more easy to see the validity of other lifestyles that harm absolutely no one when they involve consenting adults and not immediately dismiss it if you’re also immediately dismissed by society.

I want to add one last comment regarding your situation, even though you didn’t ask about it. You’re not required to stay in a monogamous relationship if that’s not what you want and you most certainly shouldn’t feel your current relationship is holding you literal hostage. It is possible to find people your age who are interested in polyamory and if that’s what you want to do, that’s what you should do.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

In my experience to date, most of the LGBT+ folks I encounter in the polyamorous world are bisexual/pansexual, not gay or lesbian. Some of the early leaders of polyamory, like Deborah Anapol who I believe coined the term polyamory, identified as bisexual. Someone who is sexually and romantically drawn to more than one gender may well have a higher innate interest in open relationships so they can satisfy a broader range of their interests and desires. Now this is not to say that all or even most bisexual or pansexual folks aren’t monogamous. Many are.

When I attended a polyamory conference in Ohio a couple of years ago, most of the dyads present were heterosexual pairings and yet most “polycules” (their extended network of relationships) contained at least one “queer” dyad as well. That seems to be a pretty common demographic breakdown here in the Midwest.

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.

Overcoming vaginismus in polyamory

I’ve had vaginismus and vulvodynia for the past few years which made vaginal sex impossible for me due to the pain. I’ve been in love and a relationship through this with my partner who as a consequence of my health has also been sexually dormant for about 6 years. I feel such a strong sense of shame and failure in writing this. I have not had, not been able to have, sex for 6 years. It haunts me that that is who I am right now.

Through many different treatments and therapies I am now at a point where I feel confident about being able to have pain free intercourse and definitely need it. My partner, however, is not there yet. He isn’t being able to shake off the sexual dormancy. In the meantime, in an effort to refashion my sexual self, I began first with chatting up with strangers on naughty forums. That felt electric and made me reconnect with a version of myself I simply have not been — flirty, cheeky, aware of my desires, even giving them shape through words.

It helped me realise that I want to have sex with other men, not just my husband. At least for some time. Partly because my husband has no interest in sex, partly because the new relationship energy is thrilling and largely because after 3 years of a lonely journey towards becoming healthy again, I would like to know if my vagina works, so to speak. We are speaking with a marriage therapist weekly to figure out our boundaries. My husband is monogamous, and would much prefer I be monogamous. I need physical contact and I need to see myself through the eyes of multiple sexual partners to again feel like a desirable, confident, sexual beast; how I felt before the vaginismus.

I recently made out with someone, someone who isnt my husband, for the first time in 10 years, and it was a powerful experience for me. But then they ghosted and I’ve been feeling stung and deflated by it. Since then I’ve lined up a few more potential lovers but I feel scared of rejection, I feel scared of my vagina failing me, I feel scared of being bad in bed, I feel scared. And yet, I am aching for physical contact.

In therapy my husband expressed fear of me falling for someone else or finding sex with someone else much better than with him. These are valid fears. I’ve told him in many many many loving ways that I recognize it is easy for me to find someone to have sex with versus finding a man I love, admire and want to build a life with, i.e. him. I guess what I need advice on is how do poly[am] people manage rejection and heartbreak from their secondaries or casual partners? How do I get over the fear of being bad in bed or my vgina failing on me? How do I find my sexual groove again? My husband noticed I was glum but because he has a preference for a don’t ask don’t tell dynamic, I couldn’t reach out to him for succour. Even though no one reassures and comforts me like he.

I’m sorry to hear you had such a long struggle with your own body. There are a few things here I want to address.

  • Ways we define ‘sex’
  • Agreements on non-monogamy
  • Options for exploration
  • Rejection while polyamorous

Ways we define ‘sex’

This may be something you’ve long explored during your period of time going through so much pain, but I wonder if part of the way that our society defines sex has been a reason why you’ve felt so restricted from having it. While I don’t mean to say that it’s silly or wrong for you to want to have vaginal sex, there are other ways to have sex or be sexual that don’t have to involve something that would have been painful for you. And it may be that the archaic way of defining sex that society outlines for us may be affecting your partner’s way of thinking as well.

We live in a society that gives us a lot of messed up ideas about relationships and sex and among those ideas are that sex that involves penetration is somehow better or is the only sex that matters. It also gives us a lot of incorrect ideas about how vaginas typically work and also tells us that we need to behave in certain ways to be ‘good’ at sex.

Even if you don’t logically subscribe to these ideas, you might still feel a lot of self-imposed pressure on yourself to perform in certain ways and likewise your partner may also be experiencing some of the negative messages told to men about their worth as it’s tied to their performance in bed.

It’s hard for me to say without knowing your full situation if there would have been ways you could have explored other forms of sex or sexual touch that could have been less or not painful for you and therefore wouldn’t have led to you feeling like you couldn’t have *any* sex at all. You may have done that.

But I do know that asking for a non-penetrative focus or exploration can be a hard ask for many cisgender heterosexual men who feel like utilising toys or doing other forms of sex are somehow “less” than penetrative sex. Most people with vaginas can’t actually orgasm from penetrative stimulation alone (and you may already know that) so it’s quite normal for many people with vaginas to struggle with penetrative forms of sex.

If this isn’t something your current therapist has brought up as an option or highlighted as a concern, I would consider finding a new therapist because I do think that you could have had some exploration of other facets of your sexuality during this time — and can still now! And that may take a lot of pressure off you to ‘perform’ in other ways. A quality therapist should have pointed this out or explored this as an option for both of you to rekindle things without necessarily leaping to non-monogamy as an option.

Lastly, on the subject of the fear of ‘not being good enough’, I would tackle this the way I tackle any fear of not being enough and this may seem counter productive but… there are billions of people on the planet and with that comes the absolute certainty that, in every facet of your life, there is most certainly a person who is ‘better’ at any given activity or skill you could possibly have.

The same culture which teaches you that sex is only defined within certain rigid categories also tells you that that, in order to find the right partner, you must be the ‘best’ at certain things (and of course, conveniently, there is a nice product you can buy if you’re currently not the best).

The truth is that we don’t choose our partners because they are ‘the best’ at everything they do. And to be honest, I don’t know if any of us can say exactly and specifically why it is we find the people we do attractive. Certainly there are a combination of social influences and factors, but it’s in no way as simple as ‘this person was the best at everything’. If it was, well… let’s just say there are a lot of men out there with one or more partners who are *certainly* not the best at anything I can see.

What makes someone ‘good’ in bed is subjective. It’s okay to be nervous and it’s okay to be scared. Anyone who is going to reject you for not coming out of the woodwork, especially given what you’ve gone through, and being some type of porn star is a jerk who doesn’t deserve you. You may be nervous and that’s okay. You don’t have to be bubbling with confidence all of the time. What will help you overcome that fear is accepting that it’s okay to have fear instead of demanding of yourself that you be confident in a situation where it makes total sense for you to be afraid. Give yourself permission to be afraid.

Agreements on non-monogamy

I think non-monogamy can be a good option for couples that currently struggle with a mismatch of preferences or drives sexually, but I wouldn’t say it’s a good reason to open your relationship up in the first place, especially because there may be ways to solve the problems without necessarily opening a relationship up fully. What concerns me here is that your partner is fundamentally uninterested in non-monogamy — or at least, that is what I’m assuming from the preference for a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ setup.

What this preference tells me is that there is some avoidance of the real issue and while I understand you have needs and desires you want to explore, opening your relationship isn’t going to solve the critical problem here, which is that your partner and you are no longer sexually compatible for whatever reason. You were at once and something changed and I do think things can go back to what they were before, but that needs to be a desire you both have and right now it’s unclear if your partner has a desire to work on the problem. And them begrudgingly letting you sleep with other people isn’t a solution. In fact, it might just be you both avoiding the thing you don’t want to do — breaking up. Which you may actually have to do if you’re inherently incompatible or if he refuses to engage in some willingness to solve the problem.

So I think before you worry about coping with rejection and even necessarily before you consider dating other people, you need to solve the problem of whether or not this is the situation you and your partner want to be in. This is not about holding him hostage to have more sex with you or else you’ll see other people, but it feels like this problem remains unsolved and I’m unsure of whether or not it’s wise to really pursue non-monogamy in a way that might further erode your partner’s trust and confidence.

His fears are very understandable — but they are based in something real that’s not being addressed. Has his sex drive changed? It’s possible that he is an asexual person who has always figured that sex must be part of a relationship and only now, after the years of not engaging, he has figured out it’s not something he actually wants. This may not be a problem he really wants to ‘solve’ but you should know what the reason for it is and either come to a different understanding of what your relationship might become (he could very well be a platonic romantic partner of yours, but he also has to be interested in being non-monogamous and not be just doing it to keep you in his life in a way that means the resentment will eventually take over), understand that you’ve become incompatible and split up, or recognise and identify the problem and be willing to work towards a solution.

Options of exploration

It’s very understandable that you should be interested in exploring your sexuality and, regardless of your partner’s issues, you do have a desire to have different sexual experiences with other people. Polyamory isn’t necessarily the solution for this unless what you explicitly want is romantic relationships with others. There are lots of different forms of non-monogamy that could work for you including swinging or even hiring a sex worker.

In fact, I would highly suggest you consider hiring a sex worker, especially given the amount of pressure you feel to ‘perform’. It’s not to say an individual couldn’t be respectful and sensitive towards you, but a sex worker in particular might take a bit of pressure off you in terms of worrying about messing up the opportunity to have a continued relationship. You could also find a sex worker who has experience working with clients who have or currently have vaginismus or vulvodynia and may know some techniques for relaxation or other things that have helped other clients.

There may also be some other solutions to try with your partner, if he’s open to them, including hiring a sex worker together or going to swingers clubs together or on your own. He is understandably worried about being replaced because there is a base incompatibility between you two right now. If he commits and wants to work on the reasons he may be feeling dormant, this may be something that you can do now or in the future that might re-awaken things for him or might be something that will make him feel less scared or threatened.

Which isn’t to say he won’t be scared or threatened. He absolutely will be. It’s understandable — especially if he doesn’t really want to be non-monogamous. But I think that opting for full polyamory when it sounds like what you really want are other sexual experiences rather than full on relationships with others, may be additionally threatening in a way that can be prevented. If he also has an interest in other sexual activities, this is something you could do together in the right setting in a way that works for you both — so long as that’s his interest. And that may work out for you better than trying to date other people.

This is all said with the caveat that it seems unclear why he’s feeling dormant still. And fundamentally if he doesn’t want any form of non-monogamy, as hard as it may be, you both may need to come to the agreement that you’ve grown apart and go your separate ways. Forcing someone into a non-monogamous situation, even through don’t ask don’t tell types of scenarios, will only just build resentment and hurt until it’s impossible for you to be together any further and have to break up out of pain rather than choice.

Rejection while polyamorous

Even though I’m not sure if polyamory is really the solution for you right now, what I will say about rejection is that there really is no easy way to come to terms with that. Flat out — the more people you date, the more likely it is that you will get your heart broken.

One of the inherent risks of polyamory is more heartbreak than you would have if you weren’t polyamorous. For many people the risks outweigh the benefits, just like dating in general as a monogamous person risks heartbreak, but it’s up to you if you want to take the additional risk that comes with that.

What helps for me personally is just being annoyed about it and getting that out somewhere. I know logically that if someone rejects me, it’s not always personal. I know that I have rejected people who I just didn’t feel and they didn’t do anything necessarily “wrong”.

Some people I’ve rejected are really lovely and kind people, I just don’t feel anything for them and I can’t fake that. But getting rejected still hurts and it’s okay to be upset about that and be a little sad or a little angry. As long as you don’t turn that into a raging sense of entitlement where you assume that people are machines that you put kindness coins in and sex falls out — you’re fine!

Find a friend or a confidante — or go to your therapist! You should be able to talk with them about these things. Or find a polyamory group and post a whinge post. All of that is fine and acceptable — but rejection sucks no matter what your relationship style is or how many times it happens to you.

I hope that helped to address some of your issues and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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

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

Parenting and polyamory

I’m a 34 year old female in a 14 year relationship with a man. We have one preschool age child. Before we got married, six + years ago, I was very clear that I was not interested in constant monogamy. My partner was equally not wanting an intimate relationship with anyone but me but also was not against this part of me. Before we had our kiddo I dated a bit, but once I was pregnant and absorbed by child rearing for the last four+ years, I didn’t think about it for awhile. Now I am coming back to myself. I’m still a mom of course, work full time, but have the brain power to consider dating other people. My husband is still supportive, still not interested himself, what are some things I should consider when navigating this world with a kid at home? I’m currently flirting with an old friend who lives across the country and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle maybe, but what about more local people?

Many parents feel a significant amount of worry about how to navigate parenthood and polyamory. While I wouldn’t describe my biological parents’ relationship as ‘polyamorous’, I did live in a house where I believed my parents were together and knew my mother dated other people.

I’ve always said quite frequently on the column and the podcast that this was never an issue and I think, although I’m not a parent, I can say that the most important thing in a child’s life is having people there for them who follow through rather than having any particular family structure that looks in any particular way. And in that regard, there are a few basic things to consider.

First and foremost are the physical aspects of non-monogamy. Agreeing to non-monogamy, whether you are interested in dating other people or not, inevitably means that you agree that your partner will not spend as much time with you as they would if you were monogamous. As I’m sure you know, children take a lot of time and require a lot of time. Figuring out with your partner how you’re going to balance childcare and time is going to be one of the things that can facilitate establishing some solid boundaries with your partner or it can cause a lot of arguments.

It’s worth your partner considering how this would fare if you had a time intensive career. If you were a doctor or a lawyer or an actor and had to disappear for long periods of time, how would you balance childcare? It’s important to not forget that, even if your partner is not dating other people, they can’t just be stuck with the duty of childcare all of the time and it needs to be fair and balanced so that they can also go out and do things they want to do as well.

It might be worth considering how you’ll handle date nights, overnight stays and of course physical protection from STIs, testing and how to disclose or manage risk. You might consider slowly escalating the amount of time you spend out just as how you now have the mental space to date more people and didn’t before. Definitely talk it through with your partner and think about how you want to arrange things and how that agreement might change over time. Once you figure that out, it’s good for you to be honest with future partners about what they should expect.

The second thing to consider is what role your partners will or won’t play in your child’s life and how your partner feels about that. Because this is also really important to communicate to future partners so they don’t go into this with you expecting something that they’ll never get. You may have heard of “the relationship escalator” which refers to the cultural script we have around monogamous relationships where there are milestones that indicate the ‘seriousness’ of a relationship that help ground us and create security that doesn’t have to be built.

You meet someone, you get into a monogamous relationship, you move in, you marry, you have kids, etc. and all of those steps represent the level of commitment of a relationship and sometimes within polyamory because you don’t have these same milestones, you have to figure out what represents commitment for you and what represents seriousness for you. One of these milestones may be being introduced to your child and it’s worth thinking about what that means and what role they will take on.

I emphasise this because I was personally impacted by adults who came into my life and communicated that they were to be like parents to me and then left me and never communicated with me again and that cause a lot of devastation and negative impact in my life. That made it hard for me to trust people in the future. So I always feel like it’s important to be mindful of who and how you introduce people to your child.

Having more adults to trust and rely on are always positive things for children, but having those people leave can have a really horrible impact, in my experience. Anyone who is not willing to consider being part of your child’s life even after your relationship with them ends but wants to be introduced as or function in the role of a parent… that’s going to be an issue.

Whether you date people locally or far away depends on the compromise of time you make with your current partner and child care needs. It’s worth also planning for and talking about future anxieties. Your partner may have not had any severe anxiety before because you didn’t, as it sounds like, have any ‘serious’ relationships.

And now, with a child, he has a lot more to lose in this scenario. Thinking about how to manage that in the future and preparing for it would be helpful. It might be useful for your partner to have something to do, other than childcare, while you’re on your first date nights or overnight stays.

Those are some basic things that you can consider on the outset of getting back out there and navigating parenthood and polyamory. It’s worth considering a polyamory friendly therapist that also works with couples who might be able to help both you and your partner navigate some of this, if that’s an option available for you.

Otherwise, I think thinking about the physicality of what this means, the role your partners play in your child’s life, and the way you’re going to manage anxiety in this relationship is a great start.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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

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

Episode 17: Delaying The Inevitable

Your partner has agreed to open your relationship, but you’re afraid to make the first leap. Should you wait until they have a date first?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 17 – Delaying The Inevitable

Your partner has agreed to open your relationship, but you’re afraid to make the first leap. Should you wait until they have a date first? 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 am 25 and married, and me and my partner (a 24 year old male, we’ll call him Lewis) are very close and very happy. We’ve known each other since middle school, began dating in college and were married 2 years ago — so essentially we’ve been together and monogamous our entire adult lives. I had a small hand full of sexual partners before we got together, but Lewis had just one before we met and it wasn’t very healthy.

Lewis and I got married because we love being together, we’ve lived together for five years and it has never been hard. We fight well, we communicate well, and have bonded HARD over the years. We could see very clearly that we wanted to go through life together and could holistically trust one another. What I could NOT see is that I would still develop feelings for other people despite being so happy with Lewis.

Marriage as a goal was pushed very hard in my family. My parents framed a romantic partner as the only “real friend” you’ll have in life, and that if you’re happy with your partner, you will not be interested in other people. But as time has gone on, there are one or two friends in our social orbit which I have developed strong feelings for — strong enough that, despite my efforts, I haven’t been able to bury or ignore in the interest of protecting my marriage.

I came to my partner with this very quickly, I am not very adept at hiding my emotions so it felt important that I explain myself to him before he noticed it on his own and felt deceived or that I was hiding something. I expressed my desire to connect with other people and he completely understood. He expressed that he knew it was natural, and trusted that if I let other people into my/our life, he would still remain a, if not the, priority in my life.

With all that background established, the problem itself: I feel that I am going to have a much easier time with establishing additional partners than Lewis, and I fear hurting him in seeing other people. Lewis is handsome and well liked, but socially anxious and a bit insecure. He, in his own words “can’t see anyone being interested in him” in the immediate future. I disagree with him, but I also know that posturing yourself as open to new connections is a large part of successfully meeting romantic partners, and I don’t think he’s comfortable with the vulnerability right now.

I, on the other hand, have already started very passively engaging with someone I know is interested in me — a male in our social circle who Lewis likes and respects. Nothing has actually happened between us, but our chemistry is very very strong, and I can see him trying to capture my attention to the extent he feels in appropriate at the moment. I would very much like to start seeing this friend of ours, but doing so means really initiating something me and Lewis have only talked about. None of our friends know that we have agreed to open up our relationship, including the one I am interested in.

Because my relationship has been monogamous so far, I have this emotional perception that I cannot reach out to new partners until Lewis is poised to do so too — that non-monogamy is still something we should be doing together. I do not know if that’s realistic, but attempting to connect someone other than Lewis feels wrong, despite our agreement on non-monogamy, so long as he isn’t also in his own process of connecting with someone other than me.

So, I guess the advice I’m looking for is how to effectively navigate this transition so that I am able to claim the freedom to connect with other people without making my partner feel left behind. I feel unsure how to ask for time alone with someone, how to set or talk about boundaries, etc.. We are both so young and I think both our lives could be enriched by opening ourselves up, but it clearly isn’t going to come as naturally to Lewis as it is to me. I do not know any non-monogamists in my life, so any guidance/analysis you can offer would be much appreciated.

Response:

So the first thing, before I get into kinda… cause I think that you’re facing a situation that quite a lot of people face. The first thing, just the tiniest little red flag that shows up to me, is that you say that none of your friends know that you have agreed to opening up your relationship, including the person you’re interested in, but you do feel like he… you can see him capturing your attention to the extent he feels is appropriate at the moment.

Some weird thing about the way monogamy works in culture is that some people feel way more comfortable with cheating than they do with what would be called “ethical non-monogamy”. I don’t really like saying “ethical non-monogamy” cause I do feel like non-monogamy should be in end of it self ethical. If it’s not ethical than it’s cheating.

And weirdly enough some people are are ok with cheating, but not ok with non-monogamy and I’m not saying that this person is necessarily cheating, but it… and I’m not sure, you know, what it means that he is “trying to capture your attention”.  I don’t know. It just strikes me as something to think about because you know you might prepare yourself and get yourself already to open up and approach this person, you might find that when you tell them that you’re in an open relationship and Lewis knows and is fine with it… they aren’t fine with that.

And then you end up in this very weird situation where someone in your social circle who is friends with you and Louis was totally cool with with betraying Lewis by helping you cheat essentially but wasn’t okay with everything being above board. It’s just something to think about. I’m not saying that’s definitely what’s going on.

Some people do do playful flirting and they are… some people flirt even if they are in a monogamous relationship. And it’s not necessarily… it doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re interested in a relationship. They just enjoy flirting so that, you know… It could be nothing but I just think that’s worth you preparing yourself for. Because, especially if you’re going to date with in your social circle, especially if you’re not going to seek out people within non-monogamy communities who are already in that vein and interested in that.

I don’t know if dating friends and dating people you both know is a good first shot. I mean it could be that this person is also non-monogamous and they just haven’t told anyone as well. I mean, you don’t know but just bear in mind that even for people who are sort of seasoned, I guess, as you would say, “non-monogamists”, their partners dating their friends can be a touchy subject. Because, you know, if things don’t go right with that partner than it feels very awkward. So those are just some things just to keep in mind before you pursue this relationship.

Because I don’t want you to get all your hopes up and get ready and do all this preparation and communication build up and then “oh whoops” it turns out that that person that you consider friend is totally okay with cheating but isn’t okay with non-monogamy. It’s weird but it happens. So that’s the first thing.

Second thing I want to say is that… I think that there are quite a lot of people in situations with a domestic partner or an anchor partner where one person inevitably has more partners than the other. That’s not always true but I do think that it’s a quite common thing. And it’s certainly common for me. So I’m kind of in almost Lewis’ position, but a little bit different. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I can’t see anyone being interested in me but I know that I am not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s not necessarily a dash at myself. I just know that I am an introvert so I don’t really like doing a lot of the things that people my age might like doing. I know I can be quite picky and I also you know… I can be quite difficult sometimes I think to get to know me and that’s just who I am. It’s just part of me.

If my partners had to wait… I think people feel like that all the time. You know, they gotta wait until their partners has had an equal about of dates because they’re worried that the attention might upset their partner. And it might do. You know that is a very real thing. I think it’s usually the case where you know… Usually you have a lot of situations where men open up the relationship and then the woman that they’re with get tons and tons of dates and tons and tons of attention and they immediately want to close the relationship because they get nothing.

It happens, but I do think that like sometimes that’s just an inherent part of things. Like, you are a person who… maybe you are just a person who is a little bit easier to get to know. Maybe you feel more comfortable in social situations. Like you said, he’s a little more socially anxious and I just don’t think that you know… It’s not to say people can’t get over social anxiety but that just might be part of just how you relate to other people and you don’t want to put Lewis in a position where he has to be someone that he’s not.

He might just meet you know… I haven’t been able to find like a steady second partner really. I’ve gone on dates. I’ve had some things with some people. But it just takes me awhile. You know, that’s just how it is. And I might not ever meet another person that I can have as a long-term partner but that’s just how it is sometimes. And I used to get really anxious about it. And I still like… you know, it is a very big discrepancy between you know… My partner is more interested in… my anchor partner is more interested in casual things. I’m not really that interested in that.

So there’s always going to be a discrepancy between us and if we were gonna tally things up and keep score in that manner, there’s always going to be that discrepancy and I think sometimes it’s an issue that you have to talk about but I don’t think that you should respond to that by holding back.

Because I think that you know, you’re taking a lot of responsibility in this situation for Lewis’s actions and I see this a lot with people with people who are may identify as women or are read as women. I do feel like in a lot of different cases the responsibility that… you know because society is kind of encouraged them to take on everyone else’s emotional labour, they do feel a responsibility to kind of help their partner do stuff.

And it’s very tricky because obviously you love your partner and you want… The way that you phrase it is just really perfect. You’re sort of like, “I don’t think that he’s never gonna find anyone”. And, you know, you want to help them out. You wanna be their like wing man so to speak. But you just can’t. You can’t take responsibility for that. You have to let Lewis make his decisions and let the chips fall where they may. If Lewis has agreed to this situation and you know it is…  Practising it is not the same as, you know, it happening. Theoretical is not the same as actual, but you never gonna find that out if you don’t do it.

And you can’t… you know which is kind of like my second point, you need to like abandon the notion that you can prevent some unhappy reaction from happening. This is kind of like one of the biggest things I struggle with with my anchor partner is that they are always trying to make an attempt to safeguard my emotions to the point where they’re trying to, you know… The next steps on that can sometimes lead to you behaving in ways that you know you think “I’m going to do this in a way that you know will protect my partner”. And it’s one thing to be considerate of people’s emotions and I do think that you should be considerate. I don’t think that you should be like, “Well screw him. I’m gonna do what I want”.

But you can’t prevent… you need to realise what you can’t prevent. If you go out and start dating people and he has a bad reaction to that, you cannot prevent that. It might be, you know, he’s agreed to it but you have to kind of accept the reality that he may find out through practice that it’s not for him and that he can’t go down this way. And I think that you’re trying to prevent that because you love him and you love this relationship. You have this great relationship together and you don’t want there to be an irreconcilable difference between the two of you that could drive you apart but you kinda have to accept that that is a risk. That is a risk— But that is a risk regardless of what you do. You can put non-monogamy on the shelf and you can say, “Alright. I don’t want to risk losing Lewis over this”. And then years and years down the line and he randomly decides to go scuba diving and he figures out this scuba diving is the shit and he loves it. And he wants to spend his life scuba diving and he wants to move you to a beach and you fucking hate the beach and there’s no way you’re going to move to a beach. And then that’s the irreconcilable difference that you have.

There’s no way to prevent a difference that drives you apart. There’s no way to prevent that so don’t abandon or try and delay it… don’t delay the inevitable. If it’s going to happen… If it’s going to drive you apart, it’s going to drive you apart. Whether it happens because you tried it, he has a bad reaction to it, and he figures out through that it’s not for him or you decide not to do it and then you kind of continue to feel resentful and it drives you nuts like… If this is something that you, as you said, you cannot ignore or bury then you kind of have to let the chips fall where they may. And you can’t… you need to abandon the notion that you can control his emotions by delaying the inevitable or protecting him from this. He has to kind of deal with it.

Now that said, you know, like I said, you won’t know until you try. You got to jump in the water. You know, there’s just not any avoiding this. I don’t really think there’s an easy way to get into non-monogamy. I think that you just have to try it and see. That said I do think like you know… you can be considerate of him. There is something that you mention, you know, “I’m unsure of how to ask for time alone with someone.” Asking for permission is like the biggest thing that I would say don’t do. There’s being considerate… There’s kind of like a spectrum. On the one end there’s asking your partner for permission. In the middle is kind of like saying “This is a decision I’m going to do” and being respectful of each other schedules and trying to be compromising in a way that shows your partner that you value their emotions but that you are still making the decision. And then there is kind of like the complete opposite end of the spectrum where you just say “I’m doing this. Fuck you. Bye.”

I think that if you approach Lewis in terms of saying “Is it ok if I go on a date on Tuesday?”, Louis is not going to want to to say no to you, even if Lewis is unhappy or uncomfortable. He’s going to want to say yes because and that’s kind of like the general fear. I think that’s why you’re kind of avoiding it, because you know he’s agreed to all of this non-monogamy thing. He seems on board with it. How do you know if he’s just on board with it because he wants to save the relationship with you or he’s really on bored with it? And I think that you know like I said you won’t know until that happens but also asking for permission I don’t think helps because it’s going to make it awkward for you.

So you say, “Can I go on a date on Tuesday?” you know, or “Is it ok with you if I go on a date on Tuesday?”, And he says “Yes”. And then you go on the date on Tuesday and then in the middle of your date you get a call from him and he’s like “I’m having bad anxiety”. It can feel really annoying for you understandably, even though you care about your partner, because he did say it was ok and now it’s not ok. Emotions happen and I think that you need to… you both need to kind of expect the worst in some situations.

Even you. When Louis has his first date, you might freak out. It’s perfectly natural especially with coming from the background that you had where you were literally told that having feelings for someone else me you don’t give a shit about your partner or you’re not really attracted to them. Like you have to unpick and unpack that and part of that comes from, you know… part of anxiety and part of fear is just living through it and coming out of the other side and knowing that you survived it. You can’t really avoid having that fear.

So the first dates you have, he might be a nervous fucking wreck. That just may be how he is and you just have to let that happen and he has to learn how to manage that. You can give him reassurance like… Like I said, the opposite of the spectrum is “I’m going on a date on Tuesday. I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing”. The middle bit is going like… looking at his calendar or looking at the shared calendar you have together and going, “I would like to go on a Tuesday. Is there anything in your schedule that might conflict with this? No? Okay, brilliant”. Think about it and then you can be considerate about it.

A lot of people find that the first time that a partner does go on a date with someone else, it is… you know I find, even as someone who has been in previous non-monogamous relationships, when I established a relationship with my domestic partner, the first couple of times if they went out all night or went to a party or did something, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t get any sleep. Because initially like… the thing that I’m freaking out is that like “I’m not fun enough” and this might be something that Lewis deals with. If you’re the partner who doesn’t you know… you’re a little introvert dating extrovert, you’re not a party person, your partner is. I think it’s understandable to have that feeling of like “What if they meet another party person and they’re tired of my boring staying at home-ness and they want to just get rid of me cause I’m dragging them down or whenever.” Those are legitimate fears to have.

And it’s going to be very legitimate for you and Lewis to fear losing one another and I think you need to accept and anticipate that anxiety. And you need to allow him to find the tools to deal with that just like you need to allow him to find the tools to deal with the vulnerability, to deal with the way he looks at himself. You cannot be his therapist. If he needs a therapist and you can afford it and it’s accessible to you, he needs to find one and he needs to make that choice himself. You can’t make that decision for him and you also like… it sounds really callous in a way but like if he can’t be bothered to unpack that and if he doesn’t want to… if he feels too scared to put himself out there, you know, then that’s his deal.

You can’t you know… It’s one thing to care and you can make suggestions. You can be encouraging you know. The thing that I always to partner that think “Oh I don’t think that I’m you know…”. I say “Well I chose you and I’m picky as fuck” so… There’s encouragement and encouragement can happen. You don’t have to be totally cold and go, “Well it’s your deal. suck it up”. But you can’t put the responsibility on your shoulders and I do feel like you’re doing that a bit here. You’re sort of like… If you limit your own activities because you’re scared that he doesn’t have his own thing you know, you can’t let that be the deciding factor for you.

If he’s chosen non-monogamy, he’s chosen it. He’s aware of what you’re going to do. He’s agreed to it and you can be considerate and you can be kind but at the end of the day, you can’t… All of that stuff will not prevent it if it’s just not for him and all that stuff won’t prevent him from being afraid the first couple times to go on dates and stuff. That’s just going to happen like… Accept that it’s going to happen and try and find strategies to deal with it and cope with it rather than thinking you can prevent it.

I think it might be helpful because you say like you know “I’m not sure how to navigate the situation. I don’t know how to ask for time or set or talk about boundaries”. I think… A couple of things that I think that I tend to advise people when they’re starting out is think about the ideal situation, your ideal situation. How do you figure other partners fitting into your life with Lewis? What kind of situation do you want? You say that Lewis is your kind of like basically your domestic partner or your primary (and I’m gonna say more about that in a minute) but what does that mean? Does that mean that you know you spend most of your time with him? Does that mean that you know you are emotionally kind of more… respon—  not responsible but like that you give emotional support a little bit more to him? Where do you navigate your own kind of what you envision in your own head as being the ideal situation for you ?

And you might not know that but it’s worth kind of thinking about it and I just think start small and work your way up. Set out some some nights aside that can be date nights. Thinking about physical tangibilities, I find makes the situation little bit more easier because you can’t really measure emotions and feelings and I really always generally advise people to get away from promises like “I’ll only really love you” and stuff like that.

Because you can’t control that as you well know. You clearly can’t pick and choose the level of your emotional attraction or any kind of attraction to somebody but you can decide like “Okay this night is going to be date night” and I set outside these hours. I’m going to have some basic things… And another big thing is you know sometimes you don’t know that you have a boundary until it’s been crossed and I think that’s the kind of thing that you need to be aware of with one another.

He might not know that he has a problem with you doing something until you’ve already done it. And that’s kind of something to be aware of and think about, okay, how is he gonna tell you if he has a problem with something? And that’s going to be really tricky and it’s ok that It’s tricky. So you know you might stumble a lot but I think you’ve established really good communication with one another before this. And you’ve already established a lot of trust with one another. You’ve already kind of built your house in a really solid foundation. I think that’s going to help you and because if you can trust one another and you know when to communicate things I will help you a lot more any situations.

I think just keeping that line of communication open this really really important like… Don’t ask for permission but do check in and do say “I’m going on a date on Tuesday. How do you feel about this? Do you need any  reassurance?” People make the joke that polyamorous people like to communicate way too much. I think that’s just because it’s helpful sometimes in these situations to just keep that line open.

And last but not least, you know if you are going to have a hierarchical situation or any kind of you know… I’m not sure what it means for someone to be “a priority” or “the priority” in your life and I think you need to really think about what that means. And I think that you need to effectively communicate that to other people that you date so that they don’t end up getting the wrong impression and that they can decide if that’s something for them. And you can let them know like, “Look, we’re just opening up. This is our first situation. My partner is a little anxious. This is how I’m doing this situation”. Decide kind of boundaries. Like if Lewis calls you on a date, are you going to answer? Are you going to answer right away or are you gonna wait until you have a moment to excuse yourself from whatever you’re doing?

Think about things like that and just make that other person aware that this is where you’re at. And some people, for that, they might be like “Mm, I don’t want to deal with that” and that’s you know— that’s fine. You know, that’s their choice. But I think it always helps I think where— I don’t think hierarchy is inevitably a problem or inevitably has to be bad because I do think that sometimes like… people don’t have the resources always to—  or their  resources are focused on one area or you know it’s sort of like… if you know… If a bad situation happens like… if someone dies or something, automatically your kind of priorities shift and I think sometimes for some people… and I know especially for my situation like… I need really clear boundaries and hierarchy helps me navigate those boundaries and roles and expectations. But I try to be clear about what that means that the people because I’ve been in that situation where I thought I meant more and I thought I had more say because that person didn’t really communicate to me what I was to them.

And that’s where I think people who are “secondaries”— I don’t necessarily like the term but it does convey the idea easily— I think that that’s were people like that in that situation feel unfairly treated because nobody is going to agree to a situation where you know you are dating them and they put emotional investment in you and then they always have a risk of sort of being, as I say, jettisoned liked a defective warp core if the mother ship is in trouble. If you’re not like a geek, that basically means basically tossed out the second there’s trouble in your relationship. And there might be some temptation to do that.

It might be in that exploring this you know… a lot of people open up and then they close. And I… Generally I think that closing a relationship if there are problems, the problems will be right there when you open it back up again. Closing it doesn’t really fix anything. It just delays the inevitable. And if the problems are there when a relationship is open then closing it might solve it but only because it’s closed and then when you open it back up the problems are right there again like I said.

That’s why I said it’s also good for you to think about what your ideal is, what you plan on, and how other partners play in your life and what that means for you. And you might not know all the answers but I think it’s important for you to explain that to someone coming in your life so their expectations are managed and they don’t feel hard done by because they thought that they had more sway when they don’t really or they thought that they meant something he that they didn’t.

Like I said, I’ll kind of recap. First thing— it’s a bit of a red flag if your friend’s showing interest in you but doesn’t know that you’re non-monogamous. Like I said, it might not be a thing. Maybe they’re non-monogamous. Who knows? But just kind of be aware of that and be aware of the tendency of people to be more okay with cheating than they are with non-monogamy.

Really caution about dating friends, shared friends between meet you and Lewis. I mean it can work. You know that’s something maybe you and Lewis should talk about like what happens? If you can get a polyamory friendly couples therapist… and don’t be dissuaded by location like… I know a lot of people need to see a therapist in person and I respect that but there is also Skype therapy. So if you don’t have a polyamory friendly therapist in your area, you could find one who does Skype sessions, couple sessions which I think could help you guys work things out.

There might be an imbalance between the two of you simply because of the way you’re hardwired and I don’t think that you should prevent yourself from doing things until there’s kind of like equal partners on both sides because, like I said, in my situation, if my partner had to wait until I was interested in as many people as they’re interested in, they’d be waiting for a very very long time and there’s just no point in that.

You need to abandon the notion that you can control your partner’s emotions by your actions. Unfortunately if Lewis can’t do non monogamy, you’re not going to know until you try. You’re not really going to know for sure. So you just gonna have to take that leap. Jump in the water and see where it takes you.

Avoid setting up situations where Lewis has to give you permission to do things or you have to give him permission because I don’t think that generally works. Check in with feelings. Make sure your communication is constant because people can ok something and feel ok with something one day and feel very different the next and that’s just how people are. So check in rather than asking for permission.

Start small and work your way up. Think about maybe one date night a week maybe that, you know… things like that can really help you kind of figure out how… where you want to go and what your ideal is or whatever situation like you think you want in the future and how other partners play a part in your wife. And that might also help, you know, help you negotiate boundaries and what you want with Lewis if you know what it is that you want. And you might not immediately know but have some kind of picture. You can start, you know, start small and in your work your way up if it’s up is where you want to go.

And then last but not least, as I said, always make sure that the people that you date are aware of the situation and are aware of what your expectation is and they can make a decision about whether or not that’s something that they want to do or not do. Some people are so quite against hierarchy that they probably wouldn’t date someone who has any kind of hierarchy and that’s fine. That’s their decision but communicating that as early as possible I think it is really helpful for people so they don’t kind of end up projecting their own expectations of what they think that the relationship with you means that may not match up to what it actually does mean.

So yeah that’s basically what I have to say with regards to this I really hope that helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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

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

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

Rushing into polyamory

I’ve been dating a guy for a few months now, he’s non monogamous and that has been clear from the beginning, though he doesn’t have other partners at the moment.

I have myself been interested in non monogamy since I was a teenager and read and talked about it a lot over the past four years, but a very bad, borderline abusive, “non monogamous” experience with my ex left me with deep trust issues and a sort of light PTSD (I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last year). I was also clear about this from the beginning.

I’m wondering how to deal with these issues and anxiety all the while being in a non monogamous relationship with someone I really like and value:

He went on a date not long ago and my trauma kicked in. For me, this translates mostly in a deep, freezing fear of being told one thing and done another as well as fear of a new love interest wiping me off the map.

I don’t rationally think this would be his style.

But I was also a bit caught by surprise when he announced his date because I thought (he told me, I think) he wasn’t looking for another partner at the time being (trigger here for “being told one thing and done another”).

My anxiety was so strong it made me wonder if this is the right time for me (I still feel pretty shaken from my last experience) but I definitely don’t want to ask him to be someone he’s not. I’m also afraid (though this is not at all the same kind of fear I previously named) that if he starts dating right now, a new partner would interrupt the NRE we’re still having and that I enjoy (even if it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming). I know there’s no “right way” to do this but I also think a common mistake (that I made myself) is to rush things. A lot of people in non monogamous relationships that work for more than a few months seem to have progressively “added” people to their lives and not rushed into a couple relationships in a short period.

So I’d want to take things slowly, but don’t know if this would be a fair thing to ask.

I value my relationship with him a lot, I see a lot of potential for us (whatever form this takes in the future) and don’t want to jeopardize that, and I would like to try a non monogamous, healthy relationship… I just want to make sure it doesn’t become toxic for me (I can only deal with so much anxiety).

I’ve talked to him about this and he’s being reassuring, but I’m wondering what to do about it myself.

There are a couple of things here that are jumping out at me that I’ll address:

  • Rushing into relationships
  • Fear of being replaced
  • Being “ready” for non-monogamy

Rushing into relationships

You mention how one of the things you want to do is to ask your partner if things can go slower, but, and I’ll be quite blunt here and hope you won’t take it the wrong way, I think you and your anxiety are what’s rushing things. He only has another date and another interest in someone else — not another partner. But you’re already battening down the hatches and preparing for your NRE to be ruined over what might be just a one off date that may not even go anywhere.

I think that ‘taking things slowly’ is a really nebulous ask, because what is ‘slow’ for one person is ‘fast’ for another and visa versa. And ultimately, what you’re trying to do is regain control over something that you have no control over. Neither of you can control how fast or hard you fall for another person. The only things you can control are the time commitments you make with one another, and that’s really what you should be focusing on.

You’ve only just been dating for a few months and you’re new to non-monogamy and on top of it, you mentioned not having the best experiences with it and all of that is going to mean that you’re just building your foundation with this person. It might be worth thinking about what you mean by your potential with this person. What form would you like your relationship to take? Do you both share that ideal? Are you both interested in the same type of lifestyle? No amount of slow moving will change a thing if you have fundamentally different ideas on what you want your relationship to look like.

Those are the types of things that are going to help combat your anxiety, rather than trying to put restrictions on how fast other relationships your partner has progress. Because if you decide, for example, that you both have two set date nights per week, then maybe you can start with one for a few weeks and then progress to two, if you need some type of progression. But try to make it less about how feelings develop with other people, which neither of you can control, and more about the time commitment.

If your partner manages your relationship correctly and if you both communicate, what goes on in other relationships he has really shouldn’t have any bearing or impact on you. Obviously as both he and you date other people, you will spend less time with one another, but if you figure out what that might look like and discuss the physical realities of that, it’ll be less scary of a change when it does happen. And that leads me to the next topic.

Fear of being replaced

Most people have this fear and it’s very understandable, but the truth of the matter is that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Your brain is hyper focusing on things like worrying that your partner has drastically changed just because he said he wasn’t really looking for a partner but wants to go on a date now which… isn’t really someone telling you one thing and doing another. He may not be looking for a partner actively, but that doesn’t mean he can’t meet someone in happenstance and schedule a date. But when you focus on little things like this, it’s your brain trying to convince you that you can control the ultimate outcome — being replaced — by controlling little things like this.

And while it may be more helpful for your partner to be aware of his words and how literally you will take them, it’s also more helpful for you in the long run if you face and recognise your fear head on. You cannot control whether or not a new love interest takes your place. Even returning to monogamy is not going to mean this isn’t going to happen either. Likewise, nothing you can do is going to stop your NRE with him, at some point, coming to an end. And at this point, you’re so entrenched in these fears, you’re spending less time enjoying yourself and more time worrying and trying to prevent things that you absolutely have no power to prevent.

Part of managing anxiety is experiencing it and seeing yourself come out of the other side and knowing you survived it. You’re going to have to go through some anxiety and fear in order to overcome it. I’m afraid there really isn’t any way to prevent than anxiety from happening. And even ‘going slowly’ is only going to continue to allow you to believe you have some control over the anxiety, which generally, in my experience, just makes the anxiety much worse. So, with that in mind, it leads me to the final topic.

Being “ready” for non-monogamy

If you have trouble with anxiety and PTSD, you might think it’s a good time to allow things to progress when you feel centred and settled and, while I would agree that maybe pursuing something stressful like opening your relationship right after or during an equally or more stressful life event isn’t ideal, I don’t ever think there is a perfect time for one to be “ready” mentally for non-monogamy.

I think putting things like dates and exploring other partners on hold for short periods of time only delays the inevitable, rather than giving someone space to ‘prepare’, because you just can’t prepare yourself for the oncoming anxiety. It’s much better of an approach to just accept that this is going to be something that gives you anxiety and try and learn coping strategies for dealing with it. Over time it lessens.

That said, I do think working on building a better understanding of what your partnership means to each other with your partner will give you more solid anchors that will help reassure you when you are coping with anxiety. I also think, if you have the resources, a polyamory friendly therapist could help be a sounding board to discuss your worries and fears, help deal with anxiety in general, and help you work through some of your issues from the past.

Definitely anticipate that the first couple of nights he spends with someone else will probably cause you a lot of anxiety and plan for that. And most of all, don’t kick yourself for this. It’s perfectly natural and normal to be afraid in this situation, especially with the experiences you’ve had. It doesn’t make you less polyamorous or less capable of being in a non-monogamous relationship.

In summary

Overall, I think you need to not rush in your own mind first when your partner is interested in someone else or has another date, because you never know what’s going to become of that. I think it would be beneficial for you to speak to your partner about what type of relationship you might eventually want so you feel more grounded, but ultimately delaying any action on his part in terms of relationships he can pursue just isn’t going to actually stop what you’re afraid will happen.

Seek a polyamory friendly therapist if you can to help you manage your anxiety and PTSD overall, but don’t beat yourself up for feeling anxious. Expect to feel anxious and try focusing less on preventing it and more on learning to cope with it and knowing you can and will come out of it alive. Try and accept what is causing you the most fear: that there is nothing you can do in this or any relationship to prevent being replaced by someone else. All you can do is focus on strengthening the relationship you have.

And, as trite as this might sound, try to remember that if someone does just think you’re replaceable, they probably aren’t a very good person to be with in general anyway. The therapist I work with wanted to add: “Because of the PTSD, I might encourage them to pursue things that help soothe them and increase their connection with themselves as part of managing their anxiety.”

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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

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

Three truths in non-monogamy

I have always been against dating or getting in a relationship. I’m too insecure and weirded out with sex (I hate nudity and vulnerability, it makes me uncomfortable as well as scared about possible sex diseases) and knew deep down that it would make me go crazy like it did for my older sisters after witnessing their toxic relationships and their prominent mental illnesses.

One day though, 2 years ago, I met a guy at a halloween show, we hit it off immediately, I even told him I was “strictly platonic and only seeking friendship” and this was a week before I was moving to start my next chapter across the country in Nov 2016 for a job. We talked non stop. He 26. I 22. (currently 28 and 24) He was clearly very persistent in getting to know me and I had about a thousand walls up. But each day, it was getting steamier, more intense, more flirting.

I was developing feelings which I never had before, and even when I was pushing him away out of a defense mechanism or my mental issues were apparent, he stuck around. Eventually, by January, he flew down to see me. Things were good but I was also like “omg what am I doing with this guy? I am interested but I know he’s not exactly my type. I love tall/dark/handsome/tatted/pierced/fashionable dudes and this guy was opposite in every way” yet that spark was there. We had skype dates, and talked on the phone more frequently and I was falling more and more in love with him.

Then we both found out we had a very open mind in terms of dating. He said he was polyamorous and I said I was too but more so in meaningless ways. As in, If i was in a relationship, I wouldn’t be pursuing connections with people, more just meaningless stuff like a kiss at the club, or perhaps experimenting with girls which i’d still like to do and not make a big deal of it. He is the opposite. He seeks meaningful connection with people. So in March 22, we decided to make us official “long distance partner’s” after much hesitation on my end. He called me one night and told me he and his friend (a girl) hung out and got off beside each other on the bed but drove her home asap and had to tell me.

I wasn’t TOO hurt but I definitely felt … weird. It was an interesting year. Lots of opening up, me getting used to PDA and sex a bit more, and him flying down 3 more times. Nov 2017 hit and my contract ended. I got an IUD (since we were going to be together, and I never want babies but lo-and behold I was in pain for a solid year with whack hormones) My heart was with him back home and I was hurting. Decided to drive back across the country and move in with him thinking it was the better choice to be near friends/family/him. We also started our own company together to throw music events monthly in our city.

We recognized that due to being poly[am], the conversation would be a common topic that takes lots of communication and will be ever-changing. However, this year we saw the worst of each other. I struggled to find a job (for 8 months and then went on city social assistance and was/is severely depressed). His mom, grandmother, and best friend’s brother had died, which I was there for and we were both struggling with depression while spending every day with each other.

Summer came, and we were struggling to find our independence, but trying. In the beginning it was hard because I felt like I was his babysitter, constantly asking him to do basic tasks, clean up after himself, think outside the box. Yes, I had certain expectations but he always saw them as unattainable or too high and would get defensive when I’d point out habits. He had moments where he went to a friend’s house, and cuddled her because he felt “she needed it”, and told me after and I wanted to get mad but realized his intentions were in the right place, so It only bothered me for a bit until it passed.

Things took a downfall though when we went to our friend’s cottage for the weekend. Things were all good and fun. I went to sleep, he stayed up a bit later. Then when we got home he told me he kissed one of our friends there. At first, I was shocked, but it felt worse and worse the more i thought of it. I realized how disrespected I felt that he did that while I was waiting in bed for him, and he went off and did that. Then my trust for him dropped. I looked at his phone and realized majority of his conversations were with girls, flirting, complimenting them “heart eye emojis” very persistent in getting to know them and keeping up a conversation.

It hurt me so much. Made me feel like he was bored of me, and just wanted the next new and shiny thing. My fault though since I snooped. But that feeling became addicting, and I caught myself wondering what he was saying, who was he talking to now. So I did it a couple times, hated myself for it because I was becoming the girl I didn’t want to become (that crazy girl i mentioned in the beginning). I told him what I did, then he lost trust in me. It’s been a downward hill since then- it’s never been the same. We would take time a part (we live in a two story apartment and sleep in separate rooms), write letters to each other, have better, more calm talks explaining ourselves.

Lots of crying though. Lots of hurt. Eventually, end of August came and we were heading to a festival across the country. We were both at our wits end. Everything he did annoyed me. I questioned why I was with him and how much longer could I take feeling like I’m babying someone and constantly catering to their over-sensitivity. He said he is okay with me being fully open and exploring with other people, and he would consider being monogamous, not pursuing anything until I’m at a better comfort-ability with myself. We decided for the festival to be fully open. Rules would complicate things. It was alright- nothing happened with anyone and coming home we were a little more at peace after having made some cool memories.

Then after spending 8 months together every day, I finally got hired and started my new job, and he went back to his job after his doctor/insurance denied him his work leave (which all year I was on his back to stay on top of and be persistent and because he didn’t, he got cheated out of thousands of dollars).

So now…I am isolated at my job and feel alone because of petty people at a place I’ve always wanted to work and dread going to work. We work different hours and don’t even have weekends together. I miss him so much and feel that we abruptly started our lives again too soon. We were always in a grey-area about our terms. We had a conversation how I met a random dude one night at a bar, and he’s been flirting with me.

I was open about the whole thing. My partner encouraged me to get out and do things while he remained monogomous. But yet, I still feel guilty. I know it’ll change things. It feels dirty and because i’m still so insecure with myself, who I am, every part of my body, I don’t want to engage in random sex. I don’t want to be seen naked and do naked things with strange naked (and possibly diseased/bad intentioned) people???

We threw our event on the weekend. We were out for a smoke, and my partner came to me to tell me he was talking with a girl and she told him she was open and my partner was really enjoying talking with her and even said “I want to kiss you really badly” but didn’t. So… I was kind of annoyed? But it triggered me. It got worse and worse. I was annoyed because he told me he wasn’t going to pursue anything, he was going to dim down how flirtacious he is.

He told me at a terrible time when we’re running an event/business. He said I shouldn’t be upset because he didn’t DO anything and was open and honest… but he still said it and was pursuing it? That’s like cheating on someone, telling your partner, then getting defensive about it because you “were honest about it, so that makes it okay”. I don’t think it does.

My ego was getting in the way telling me I didn’t even want to go to an after party with him. I was avoiding him because I was thinking. Why was I upset? Am I allowed to be bothered? Is this that big of a deal? He didn’t even drive me home and I ubered- which set me off more. I got home and bawled my eyes out until I fell asleep.

The whole weekend, I was crying my eyes out. Feelings of unworthiness, feelings that we just can’t make this work. I’m too insecure now that every girl he talks to, every interaction he has, I’m scared. I feel my depression is finally getting a hold of me to push him away more. I went to my dad’s for an oil change, and we got into a fight about my job/lack of education and that I blame him for my feelings of unworthiness because all he cares about is what we do for a living and that we’re not as successful as he is. (which has ruined all my older siblings). And I bawled my eyes out even more to my mom.

Just in sooo much pain from my relationship. I see the inevitable end but I’m not ready to let go and neither is he. We want to fix things and work on things and come to compromises, but because we’re so lost, co-dependent, have no healthy regimes…. it’s feeling bleak that we can work on ourselves while still together. Not only that but we have an awesome apartment, close to both our jobs, cheap and we own 2 cats. I’ve looked for apartments and they’re all minimum 900–1400$ for a one bedroom and he still owes me $1200 from the festival- so moving out would be a terrible idea financially.

We would talk non stop though about our wants, needs but I’m so exhausted. He said he knows he’s polyamorous to the core and he CONSTANTLY brings up how he got with me because I said I was poly[am] too which is annoying because he doesn’t realize that people change. Things change. I know i’m holding on, and even using him as a crutch to not move out but i’ll be dammed if I just moved my whole life for this dude to only move everything out and have everything fall apart again.

He says he’d like to move out for once on his own and be responsible for himself, learn independence and still stay together. I just imagine the break up, and then I break down and just feel hurt. I love this guy so much for reasons I don’t know why, and I feel my insecurities are ruining this relationship. I don’t want another relationship after this. I can’t. I’m trying to change and get better but I told him it doesn’t happen overnight. I’m trying to find counselling appointments.

Trying to go on pinterest to find good health regimes. Creating ideas that will help his own routine (like, let’s buy our own groceries and split the fridge- work on our independence in smaller increments). But then I just imagine him meeting someone who is more attractive than me, and immediately feel dread. I also have no idea how much of my emotions are being controlled by the IUD which is annoying to tell what’s going on. Add that to my depression, suicidal thinking.. it’s hurtful and tough for me to think what’s next and trying to be logical about things.

Is it possible I can learn to love better? Be more open? Be less judgemental of myself and others and be happier with how he connects with people rather than immediately take it to a bad place? I understand not everyone is meant for this lifestyle… But I STILL want to flirt too, I still want to experiment and fantasize.. I just don’t think I ever will. It’s not fair that I want that, but then when he gets that, I get jealous/upset.

I’m suggesting we go to couples counselling. That we sit down, and make a plan that’ll help us better our time. Do a couples massage. Reconnect again. I just don’t want it to always be me implementing. Is it possible to stay best friends and still live together?

Do we HAVE to move out? Our business will stop. I won’t be able to attend shows anymore because I already know he’ll be out looking for people to connect with and I’m hurt and feeling stuck. Are we doomed? We’ve gone through immaculate changes this year, why should it end here?! What will “good” look like in this relationship from here on out?

I don’t want a marriage/or kids which he thinks will eventually be a breaking point for us waaaaaay down the line. Sucks that’s being held over my head that I dont’ want to pop out god-awful kids in this world and that’ll break people up. but I told him when he’s ready for it, let’s see where we’re at.

First, let me say that I’m really sorry that you’re going through this right now because it sounds like you’re in a lot of pain. There are a few things that I’d like to address:

  • Uncomfortable truths
  • Understandable responses
  • Future plans
  • Unhelpful stereotypes

Uncomfortable truths

A lot of what you describe in terms of the emotional turmoil you’re facing is actually extremely understandable and not at all surprising for someone who is trying out non-monogamy for the first time. There are very conflicting and contradictory messages in polyamory literature. On the one hand, people act like polyamory is more “natural” for human beings and somehow a default state of being that we’ve been socialised to not do and then at the same time, it’s also very discouraged to the point where people feel afraid to talk about it. It’s lauded as this socially ‘free’ and ‘open’ choice, so people get totally thrown off when they try it and immediately they don’t feel better or it doesn’t solve their problems.

The first truth that’s the most helpful for you to accept is that you’re going to feel nervous and scared about losing your partner — and that’s not horrible jealousy or you being a terrible person. It’s a normal response to a new situation you are not used to. Especially if your relationship with this person is in and of itself just beginning. Being nervous and scared in a new situation is totally normal. When you’re starting off in a new relationship, you’re just starting to establish trust and boundaries with one another. You’re learning how different things work with each other and that can be an anxious process.

The second truth that’s the most helpful for you to accept is that your partner will absolutely meet someone who is more -anything- than you: more attractive, better adjusted, wealthier, physically fitter, better at cooking, better and cleaning… anything. The world has billions of human beings and within that there will always be someone who is “better” than you at anything you can think of. Growing up in a capitalist society encourages us to see everything as a competition — including relationships. We assume that our partners are with us because we are “better” than others in these really tangible and socially beneficial ways. And obviously there is an ‘economy’ of traits which society has considered ‘valuable’ and ‘attractive’ which, if you really break it down, are based off of some of the worst bigotries in the world. Beauty standards are racist, sexist, fatphobic, ableist… anything you can think of. And we’re socially encouraged our whole lives to be beholden to this competition — but the truth is that we don’t have to compete actually.

Falling in love isn’t always something that’s within our control. And while our ability to see people as viable partners is influenced by the society we grow up in, we can’t exactly pick and choose who we develop attachments with. If we could, there would be so fewer relationship problems in the world. When you realise that the economy of ‘attractiveness’ and everything you’ve been told you have to do in order to be a ‘good’ is a false economy based on bullshit, it helps you realise that you don’t have to be more attractive, more fit, more anything than other people for your partner to be interested in you. Because is that really the reason you fell in love with your partner? We all have things we admire and love about their partners, but no one is perfect. Everyone has faults. And it’s not as simple as you being more attractive than someone else.

The third truth that is helpful for you to accept, following on from the last, is that there is nothing that you can do to prevent your partner from falling out of love with you. Part of this system of false economy is convincing you that you can earn or win other people’s love. And I’m not sure about you, but this is something that’s been reinforced to me through the way I grew up. The idea that I need to change me in order to make someone else like me and there isn’t anything inherently valuable about myself to attract someone so I have to do something in order to make myself valuable. And it’s very possible that you might also have a lot of this going on in your head.

It seems really counter-intuitive, but actually realising and accepting that you don’t have immediate control over all of this is going to help your anxiety massively and you won’t feel such a strong pressure to see other partners as an inherent threat and competition. A lot of polyamory advice tends to say something like, “Realise that you are wonderful and beautiful just the way you are and your partner has every reason to want to be in love with you and value you” and it sounds really nice but… if you, like myself, struggle having anything resembling a self-esteem, this advice doesn’t actually help. So I find, going the exact opposite direction is far more helpful.

The fourth and final truth that I think would be helpful for you to realise is that none of the above three truths change if you suddenly go back to monogamy. I realise that your partner had good intentions in being ‘monogamous’ while the ‘dust settles’ so to speak, but this is just delaying the inevitable because monogamy in and of itself will not stop your partner from seeing and finding other people. Monogamous people all of the time end up in situations where their partner falls in love with someone else — even if they didn’t cheat on them, and they end up breaking up. Nothing will change or stop that from happening.

The only reason monogamy seems like less of a threat is because it’s normalised and socially encouraged. I always encourage people to check out the concept of ‘the relationship escalator’ and understand the way that society encourages people to take these specific steps towards having a relationship. This creates a lot of comfort and safety for people and re-assures them of the solidity of their relationship, but it’s not any more of a guarantee than anything else is. So going back to monogamy as an option within your current relationship or outside of it won’t necessarily protect you from any of these things.

Understandable responses

Given you’re understandably going through all of this stress and fear, I think another big mistake you’re making is not really seeing and understanding the things that trigger more fear and stress and learning how to avoid them where possible. The biggest problem I see here in your relationship is that, for some reason, you both have this given where your partner shares with you every time he’s interested or kisses someone else.

In general, the process for your partner to tell you about other people is such a strange and awkward thing and it’s easier to accept that it’s going to be awkward. You have to work out with your partner when it’s important for you to know but for me, I don’t need to know every single time my partner kisses someone or is interested in someone. The only reason I need to know about any sex they have is due to sexual health reasons and just keeping me up to date. But I don’t even need to know if they are for sure dating someone else. Like they don’t have to announce it because I assume that in the process of them letting me know about visiting other people (since we live together and it’d be kinda hard to hide that), I would understand if he was having a relationship with someone else.

And the reason this is difficult is because you don’t always know for sure if you’re going to be in a relationship with someone. At some point it becomes ‘official’ but in that whole lead up process, anything could happen. I don’t really know why it’s so necessary for you to know when your partner is into someone else or when he’s kissed someone else. I get that he’s trying to be open and honest but… when you think about it, what is supposed to be the reaction? And especially if it just unnecessarily starts you worrying about everything, what’s the point in it? As long as he’s not hiding anything, there isn’t any reason to necessarily confess everything to you. This is polyamory, not that kind of religion.

You need to work out with each other when is the best time to tell each other about new people and really re-think the idea that he has to basically confess immediately after doing anything with someone else. There’s absolutely no reason to do that, especially if all it does is start that abusive cycle in your head.

Future plans

All of the above is going to help you generally, regardless of where you go in your life and what type of relationship style you choose. But I see two main issues in your current relationship that, even outside of the invasion of privacy issues or the communication problems, may create larger and unavoidable issues for you in the future.

The first issue is his lack of willingness to devote time into your relationship. As you said, you don’t want to be the person to initiate everything and he really needs to be willing to demonstrate that he’s willing to initiate things too and make things work. You could work on yourself completely and be totally at peace, but if he is giving nothing into your relationship, it’s only going to crash and burn. This is definitely outside of your control and you can’t force this to happen, but it may be something you want to address with a non-monogamy friendly therapist to help you work through that.

It’s totally fair to want that and I’ve been in situations where I feel like the individual I love is not putting anything in and it’s so difficult to cope with. It’s sad and hard but there is nothing you can do to force that person to put in the effort. But you can work with a therapist, help him realise how important this is, give examples of things you want him to do without prompting, and then give him some time to demonstrate that he’s doing this before you decide to give up on everything.

The second biggest issue is what you mentioned: marriage and children. You said yourself you don’t know what you want your life to look like, what you want out of polyamory more or less and that’s important for you to think about but these larger issues of marriage and children are also things to think about because if you fundamentally disagree on this, it will cause a breakup in the end.

I don’t think that’s always a terrible thing. I think if you both decide that you want to be together for a few years and then check where you feel on marriage/children in the future. When I was with a partner and wanted children and they didn’t, I didn’t want to break up but I decided we would wait and see if we were together in five years and then if we differed on children, we would break up. It still sucks, don’t get me wrong, but that kind of option does give you the opportunity to mutually accept that this might be an issue that splits you and handle it hopefully in a less painful way in the future.

The other main issue I see here that I think, regardless of what happens in your relationship, you should work is primarily the co-dependency. Some people can live together and work together and not drive each other crazy, but others cannot. I think you should definitely start now if you can working towards being more independent in your work life. Devote your energies to finding a job that doesn’t involve him and is something you’re not miserable at and throw yourself into that. Look into the options of breaking your lease if necessary and try to think about people you could live with or look for house shares and see where your budget lies.

I definitely think whether you are non-monogamous or not, you should always try and keep some level of independence in your life, especially because people also pass away all of the time and you don’t want to be put in a situation where your life falls apart because something like that happens. So focus on moving towards independence in general, in addition to seeking help for your current relationship.

Unhelpful stereotypes

There are a couple of stereotypes that I also think you should question that showed themselves in your letter. Firstly, the ‘crazy girl’ stereotype really comes from a place of internalised misogyny. We’re very much socially encouraged to see women as ‘too needy’ in relationships even when their needs are very basic and understandable. A lot of women feel like they have to stifle or ignore their needs in relationships to make themselves more suitable or date-able to their partners. And I do think a lot of abusive and shitty people take advantage of this stereotype to gaslight women into being silent about their needs in relationships — as if having them or having emotional reactions to things is ‘crazy’.

What you did, even in terms of violating your partner’s privacy, maybe isn’t the behaviour that you want to have for very understandable reasons, but definitely try to be aware of the kind of standards you’re holding yourself to vs. how you hold your partner. Your partner may have negative reactions to things and doesn’t risk being called ‘crazy’ in the same ways. And definitely be wary of anyone you meet who describes all of their exes as ‘crazy’.

The second stereotype that’s prevalent in your letter is one regarding ‘sex diseases’. Firstly, ‘STD’ is a bit of a misnomer, which is why many sexual health educators say STI or sexually transmitted infections. As someone who’s very paranoid about my health and with disabilities that cause me to be very vigilant about it, I totally get the fear of getting an STI, but it’s important that we don’t assume that people who get or have gotten an STI are similar to people with bad intentions. Yes, there are people who are cavalier about their sexual health and a very small number of people who know they have an STI and choose not to disclose that and put someone at risk — but having an STI does not inherently mean someone is necessarily irresponsible or has negative intentions.

STIs are very common and some you can get even with protection, such as herpes or HPV. The most life threatening of them, HIV, can be managed with medication and isn’t the death sentence it was decades ago. STIs are definitely things to be aware of, but they aren’t death sentences. Every part of your life is going to involve some level of risk. A lot of sex negative cultures overhype the risk of STIs and also create a stigma around the people who have had them or have them currently.

I’d advise you to check out Scarleteen and San Francisco Safer Sex Information and learn more about how to protect yourself from STIs, safer sex approaches, and that might help you deconstruct some of the fear and anxiety you have around it.

In summary

Many of the anxieties and fears you have are very understandable and recognising that there are so many things you can’t control and realising that is going to help relieve some of that anxiety, as well as avoiding doing things that just exacerbate it. Find a counsellor for you and your partner, but also start thinking about some of these larger problems and a more independent future for yourself.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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

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

The right reason to do polyamory

I’ve been dating my partner for almost 1 1/2 years. For most of it, we have been completely in love. Big plans for our future. Starting bands together. Lots of time spent with family. Making plans to move together and leave the country. We have the same values, same cultural background, as far as men go I never thought I’d find one so perfect for me. We even lived together for some period of time. Through it all, communication has been what I thought we had as our strength.

Some issues came up when someone asked him out and asked what our boundaries were. They were in an open relationship and were trying to be respectful and considerate. We had discussed specifically that being open wasn’t best for us but that’s not what my partner conveyed to this new love interest. He didn’t cheat but still broke a bit of trust. It took time but I got over that. A few months ago he moved in with and became surrounded by some people that identified as poly[am], a situation that gave me some anxiety but we communicated and he assured me that he wasn’t just going to get up and change his mind about our relationship and boundaries all of the sudden.

After a few hectic weeks there, he said he needed space, while I was in the midst of a personal crisis. After some time we met up and he assured me that everything would be okay. Nothings changed. Just time apart. Slowly but suddenly lack of communication grew and finally one drunken night at a party he broke up with me. In a week he pursued many women and wasn’t treating me too well, without going into too much detail. We ended up talking and deciding that we loved each other enough to try to do this the right way and continue communicating and trying to be mindful and preserve our love.

But it makes me fearful, he was able to treat me very badly, worse than I thought he ever would. Now it’s being non monogamous that’s going to fix it? I pursued a few people but didn’t find anyone who I liked enough to be intimate with or even hang out with again. I’m very good in monogamous relationships, they’re all I’ve ever known. I’m the intense “love at first sight” hopeless romantic it takes a lot for me to open up to someone in any way.

But I’m also open minded, I identify as queer and there’s a whole world out their I haven’t experienced (relationships with women). I want to try this out and it makes sense to do it with someone I love so deeply, but I feel like I was kind of forced into it. And if my partner can manipulate me like that (even without meaning to) how can I get over that and trust them this deeply so soon? I think I can do this. I want to. But it hurts me seeing him go on dates in the midst of my mistrust and emotional turmoil. I feel like I got the short end of the stick. Like I am making sacrifices while he gets everything he wants (even though he has made changes and been treating me well).

Is their any advice on how to rectify this imbalance? I have expressed that I feel like it’s either his way or no way and he says that’s not true. He says he’d be respectful of any boundaries but now says he wouldn’t trust himself in monogamy again. Can open relationships with such a shaky foundation be rectified and one day be healthy? How can I best move forward? I proposed having a one sided open relationship, letting me figure out if I could do this while he stayed within previous set boundaries, but it felt weird because I knew he wanted other things and I didn’t meet a single person who spiked my interest. I’m trying to preserve things, but don’t know where to go from here.

First off, I’m sorry that you’re going through this right now. It’s sounds difficult and painful and I can see why this would be confusing.

The crux of your problem really feels like your inability to hold your partner to account. I’m not one to really tell you how you get to define cheating, but your partner demonstrated to you from very early on in your relationship that he valued what he wanted to do over any preferences you had. Whether or not you want to define it as cheating, it pretty much spells out very clearly that any bond of trust that you have with him is going to be broken if he wants what he wants bad enough.

Then, you move in with a bunch of other polyam people and he swears with the same mouth he swore an open relationship wasn’t suitable for you all, he promises that he won’t abandon you for anyone else. He constantly promises to you that everything is okay and then… it’s not. He breaks up with you. And then you get back together, but what essentially has changed?

Non-monogamy or monogamy will not fix his behaviour and I’m not very convinced that there is anything that you can do to fix his behaviour and yet, you’re putting it all on your shoulders and you know it and feel it. It’s now your responsibility to be able to cope with non-monogamy? It’s all very valid that non-monogamy doesn’t work for him, but that really doesn’t excuse his behaviour and it doesn’t seem like he’s really owning up to it. Blaming your behaviour on an inability to do monogamy is not owning up to one’s behaviour.

In all of this, you’re not really sure if this is even something you want. You’re just doing it because, as you’ve put it, you don’t really have any other choice. And just because you’re queer doesn’t mean non-monogamy is right for you. Is it right for you? It’s one thing to be interested in pursuing other relationships, but it’s another to be put in a position where you have no other choice and you really don’t have any other choice.

If you had been dating your partner for longer, I would have suggested maybe working on re-building what you have together, but I’m wondering if it’s worth it if you can’t even be sure that your partner is serious about actually keeping his word to you. It’s going to take an enormous leap of faith and a lot of anxiety on your part to be able to trust him again and the only way out is through. The only way for you to build up trust again is for you to trust and have that trust be tested, come out of the other side and see if he’s kept his word. There’s nothing, even a relationship setup where only you are “allowed” to date other people, is going to quickly build that. You just have to build it up again.

I would ask yourself if this is really worth it, especially if you actually might be interested in pursuing relationships with other people. You don’t have to do non-monogamy to do that and you’ve got plenty of time to do that. Think really hard about whether non-monogamy is what you want and if it’s worth trying with someone who, even if you love, has proven to you time and time again that you can’t trust his word.

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.

An easy way into polyamory

Just wanted to say thoughtful, and thought provoking article, but WOW, it was amazing how you managed to work a misplaced dig on capitalism. So let me ask you this; what in the heck does the voluntary exchange of goods or services at a mutually beneficial and agreed upon price have to do with someone’s insecurities, anxieties, and/or need for fulfilling relationships, or more specifically relationships being about “…trophies and rewards for being the -best- at anything.”????

The concept of being ‘King of the Hill’ or the champion that brings home the trophies has nothing to do with capitalism, and I would argue that as capitalism (true capitalism) is a win-win deal where both parties get what they want, or neither do. This seems more akin to what both you and the person who wrote the question to you, are seeking (and I would include myself in there as well).

That said, I am in a monogamous relationship purely by default. My partner and I both recognize that monogamy has worked for neither of us in the past, and we both have been considering “non-traditional” relationships, but I believe that the very anxiety of which you speak is what has been making it so hard for both of us to move forward. I believe that we both have the trust, honesty has been rule #1 for us both, both having come from relationships where our significant others lied and broke that trust. It is just that this is all new to us and we are afraid of taking those steps which might do more harm than good as we move forward with our relationship.

I agree with your points that a partner leaving (or cheating) is not in our control, and it has taken some time for me to come to accept this. By the same token, our actions speak louder than our words, and it is normal, and I would argue healthy, to exercise caution so that our actions do not give the wrong signal to our partners to let them believe that we care for them less than we do. It is normal for a person who’s ego has been hurt to lash out and do something painful to the other partner. Note that I said “normal” not “healthy”. It is for this reason that I think that both my partner and I are both very cautious to dip the toe too deeply into the proverbial pool.

I’m not sure that there is a question here, other than “any advice for a new couple exploring ‘alternative relationships’?”, but I wanted to thank you for the column because it helps me at least to identify the roots of some of my feelings.

First, let me say that my dig against capitalism was very well placed. Every aspect of our society is affected by the economic system we live in, as it is affected by every aspect of how we live. These things don’t exist in vacuums. We don’t live in “true capitalism”, we live in the capitalism we live in. And it’s my opinion that the profit motive and the way that we live has a massive, overwhelmingly negative influence on people’s self perception.

And when this comes to relationships, people often see relationships as extensions of their personhood and status — which is due to capitalism’s influence on us. I believe in a society which focused more on community, humanity and building a better life for everyone rather than profit, we would not be driven to see relationships as signs and symbols of our “success” as people.

But, to answer your question.

The bad news is this there isn’t really an easy way to get into non-monogamy. There is no safe way which will guarantee that you and your partner will remain the same as you are now. Once you try non-monogamy, that’s it. To quote one of my favourite films, “That ain’t no Etch a Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.”

The good news is… that’s pretty much true about any decision you and your partner will make in the future. There is no safe way to move to a new neighbourhood. There is no safe way to try a new job. There is no safe way to have a child. A lot of the decisions you make together could have the potential impact to completely change your relationship. The only difference between the decision to be non-monogamous and any other decision, is that you have a lot of cultural scripts telling you either that something is a good decision and what you should do, or you have a realistic understanding that the decision, such as to have a child for example, will have both positive and negative effects on your life. The problem with people trying non-monogamy is that they either don’t have these cultural scripts to fall back on, so they experience more anxiety, or they don’t have realistic goals for what transitioning to non-monogamy should be like.

What will help you is to make your goal posts clear. If you expect to try non-monogamy and experience all the good things and never the bad, then any attempt you have will be a failure. You need to take a realistic approach to it and realise that this will change your relationship. Try to figure out what your needs are for your current relationship. What don’t you want to change? What do you need from your current partner? What does your ideal setup look like? I always advise people to think of this in terms of tangibles. Where and how will you spend your time?

It might make you feel less anxious if you understand what you want out of non-monogamy, what your partner wants and how you can go about finding it. It’ll also be clearer for people who you’re looking to date which might make it easier as well to find what you want. You can also consider starting to see a non-monogamy friendly couples therapist and talk about your concerns there. Even if you’re not technically non-monogamous *yet*, it still might be a good way to field out your concerns and have a safe place to talk about them.

Most of all, give yourself a break if you “mess up”. Not everything is meant to be perfect and we’re certainly not perfect. Anxiety is not something you can control or master in and of itself. We all have good days and bad days and sometimes the bad ones can get the best of us.

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 start being polyamorous

For the first time in my life, my paradigms about monogamy vs non-monogamy have been broken. They have been eroded because I seem to meet MANY non-monogamous women which have chipped at my wall of monogamy. I also read the book “Sex At Dawn”.

I have three questions I would really appreciate your help on.

Bringing Up The Subject Of Non-Monogamy

I am in a long-distance (12–15 hour away) relationship. So far I have visited her (A) for ten days and she has visited me for ten days. We have a great relationship with incredible commonality. During her last trip to visit me, I brought up the topic of what are our boundaries and expectations for our relationship. I was pushing more for monogamy, but she wanted to keep things open. We talked about health risks and ways to mitigate that. As well as the fact that I want her to tell me about others. I accepted this non-monogamy deal.

In talking with her more over the oncoming weeks, I am getting the impression that she wants to be more monogamous with me (though never said explicitly). We talk almost everyday. She wants me to meet her dad. She talks about long future with me and even moving in together.

Alas, another woman (B)(who lives much closer) has entered my life who has expressed serious interest in becoming intimate with me. While I would like to pursue that with her, I don’t want to hurt my existing partner or break some unspoken boundary.

I am planning on bringing up the boundaries and expectations conversation when I see her (A) again in two weeks. Should I bring up the fact that another woman (B) has entered my life as the reason why I am interested in non-monogamy? Or should I just bring it up generally and not include the fact that I have another in the wings? “B” wants me to bring up this conversation sooner than later via phone call with “A”, but I think this sensitive topic is better in person. What do you think?

Equality vs Primary/Secondary

My other problem I have is both women want to be my primary. I say the best I can do is hold them at equal value; but that doesn’t seem to be good enough for them. “B” had a bad experience in her last monogamous relationship where the guy completely ignored her in the presence of his primary. What is the resolution to this?

Priorities

When you have multiple partners, how do you decide which one to spend holidays with? Likewise, when spending the day with one partner (B) and the other partner (A) expects a usual phone call from you; How do you excuse yourself from “B” to talk with “A”? What do you say to “A”? “I can’t talk long, I’m with another person”?

I just don’t want to cause jealousy or hurt feelings yet I strive to be transparent about everything. This is a balance point I am trying to resolve.

Health

One of my biggest concerns about non-monogamy is the exponential increase for potential STI/STD risk. Sex is messy even with condoms. Foreplay and oral sex usually don’t include condoms thereby being a potential avenue for exposure. I trust my partners but I don’t necessarily trust theirs. I have non-mongamous friends who caught herpes as a result of a tertiary person. What can be done to mitigate risk? Is a condom contract enough? Testing is good, but what about accounting for incubation periods?

There are a couple of points here to address:

 

  • Sex and Dawn and polyamory
  • Introducing non-monogamy and boundaries
  • Being realistic about time and emotions
  • STIs and polyamory

Sex At Dawn and polyamory

Sex At Dawn is one of the big books people are recommended in the polyamory communities and, having read it myself, it is a pretty intriguing book. However, I urge you and other polyamorous people to also consider valid criticisms of the book which are covered in Sex At Dusk.

I would really also heavily caution anyone seeking to ‘explain’ away human behaviour by finding examples of it happening ‘naturally’ in animals to just… not use that approach. Animals do all sorts of things that we consider morally abhorrent and they just… aren’t the same as we are in some aspects. If we let things go ‘naturally’, I would be dead. I require the help of modern medicine to live. Many of us require glasses to see. We don’t live ‘natural’ lives.

The inclination to try and validate promiscuity and sexuality through the lens of nature, especially since that is the lens that is applied in the reverse, is something I totally get. People have been saying that it is unnatural for women to be promiscuous for a while but… actually, if you look further back into history, one of the reasons why women were considered inappropriate for leadership positions is because they were too naturally promiscuous. Computer programming used to be seen as naturally apter for women because it required concentration and attention to detail.

My goal would be for people to stop arbitrarily attributing natural qualities, states, or experiences to people just because of their genitalia. All of these discussions about ‘natural promiscuity’ are very white-centric, asexual-erasing and cis-normative and they ignore the very real experiences people have across varying cultures.

I’m glad you’ve broken through one paradigm, but I encourage you to not assume polyamory or non-monogamy is without its problems or, as I address in my ‘Thirteen things I wish I’d learned before choosing non-monogamy’. A lot of the old is still mixed in with the new.

Introducing non-monogamy and boundaries

Many of the issues you’re struggling with here are primarily due to unclear communication. Boundaries don’t have to be unspoken and so long as they remain unspoken, you are going to have issues where you’re worried about how to proceed with things.

The first thing you really need to do is ask yourself what you want out of polyamory. You know you’re interested in it, but have you thought of why that is? Have you considered what you want your relationships to look like? Do you want a primary/domestic type of relationship? What does it even mean for someone to be your ‘primary’ to you? Are you looking to live independently and date others in a solo polyamory type of way? It’s okay if you don’t know all of this, but you need to be prepared to communicate that to any potential partner and be real about the fact that you may try things and it might not work — and that can and will hurt people and yourself in the process, but that’s part of life.

Try to do some soul-searching. Think about your past relationships. Do you enjoy living with others? Are you drawn to polyamory merely because it sounds like a more liberated way to live your life (it really isn’t) or are you actually interested in devoting your heart to more than one person and can you handle the responsibility of providing emotional support to more than one person? Or are you just looking to have more sex? None of these choices are inherently invalid.

I do believe that problems arise not because one type of non-monogamy is ‘bad’ but because people are either unaware of their own wants and needs or they don’t communicate them. Case in point, your “B” partner had a situation where it’s likely that her partner didn’t know how to ‘handle’ being around his ‘primary’ and his ‘secondary’ and opted for the awkward ignore instead of trying to talk it out with all of them and figure out how to best handle the situation.

Being realistic about time and emotions

I may be a salty curmudgeon but one of the things I absolutely dislike about newly converted polyamorists is the phrase ‘Love is infinite’ because I believe it’s nothing but rose-tinted snake oil that ends up screwing over so many people. Unfortunately, in so many areas of life, the Venn diagram what you want and what you have time and capacity for is not a circle.

You’re going to have to balance and compromise your own wants and needs with other people’s wants and needs if you want things to work out, which… the more people there are, the more complicated it is. Maybe holidays are very important for one partner but not important for others. Maybe one of your partners has a strong family network they can return to where the other doesn’t. What you decide to prioritise is entirely up to you and the partners you have, but you will absolutely have to make decisions and communicate what you want.

Probably the most frustrating and irritating thing I can see from men who are in polyamory is an unwillingness to manage the emotional labour of their relationships. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I get way too many letters from women asking me how to manage their difficult relationships with their partner’s partner when it’s their partner who should be stepping in and managing the difficulties there.

*You* decide how you spend your time, not your partners. And you must be willing to make that choice and stand by it.

The only rules, as I’ve said before, that matter are these: what you can do and what you can’t do. Within the process of trying polyamory, you may find out that you can negotiate about when to take calls from one partner when you’re on a date with another but you do not enjoy spending time with in-laws and don’t want to have to do that with partners you’re not living with. What you decide is up to you. As long as you’re willing to make that decision and stick by it, you will be as transparent as possible.

But you also need to be more realistic about emotions and realistic about your own limits. The fact is that you cannot control emotions and feelings. Do not begin by putting the impetus on yourself or any partner to ‘prevent’ jealousy or hurt feelings. People’s feelings get hurt in relationships all of the time. That’s the way it goes. What you can do is, rather than prevent it, assume it will happen and decide how you’re going to cope and deal with it.

Also unless you are living with both of these people and keeping time with a stopwatch, you are not going to spend equal amounts of time with every single one of your partners. It’s just not realistic to expect that. So you need to assess what your partners need in terms of having a relationship with you, what you can and are willing to give and discuss that explicitly with them. In this process, you might find that you’re incompatible with one or both of them.

Or they may have to re-assess their own feelings and expectations around the relationship. But I believe it’s better to have this discussion and try to figure it out beforehand then just go with it and hope it will work out.

STI risk and polyamory

STIs are not a risk inherent to polyamory or non-monogamy alone. Non-monogamy was not the reason your friends contracted herpes, nor is it necessarily because of a third person. Obviously, the more people you sleep with, the more your risk factors will rise, but all sex is risky. And even within monogamy, you could only sleep with your partner and your partner could be having an affair.

Herpes is one of the most common STIs out there and one in four people have it — and honestly, it and most STIs are really not that big of a deal. Now, I have an immune system which doesn’t function as well as other people’s a load of other health concerns. I’m very concerned with STIs mostly because of my own health, but I have to accept that, unless I decide to have sex with no one but myself, I am going to be at risk of contracting an STI and I have to accept that risk.

STIs do not care if you trust anyone. They’re just infections. What you have to decide is what protocol you’re going to employ yourself and what protocol you expect your partners to follow. Are you going to be fluid bonded to anyone? I have an agreement with my fluid bonded partner about what barriers we use with other people for what sex acts.

Condoms will only prevent against certain STIs and incubation periods vary. A good rule of thumb is to get tested every three months if you have a lot of new partners, every six months if you have a few new partners, and at least once a year as a precaution. Keep an eye out for any basic infection symptoms such as abnormal discharge, difficulty peeing, fever, itchiness, rash, etc.

Condoms will protect against fluid contact, but not skin to skin contact. You can use gloves and dental dams (or a condom cut up the side) for rimming/oral/fingering and if you want to avoid any skin to skin contact, you can use toys that can be sterilised (glass, plastic, surgical silicone) and put a condom on those for extra protection. There’s more here on specific types of sex acts, what risks they pose, and how to mitigate those risks.

I’d advise you ask your partners how they mitigate risk and if necessary consider agreeing with your partners a unified approach to mitigating sexual health risk. For example, myself and my fluid bonded domestic partner, ask several questions to any new sexual partner about when they’ve been most recently tested, we make it clear that there is fluid bonding between us, and if a person seems shifty or hasn’t been tested in the past 3–6 months, we don’t have sex with that person or we only have sex with toys/fingers and other acts which are extremely low risk.

But again, most STIs are really not a big deal. It’s the stigma and the assumption of ‘failure’ that we give ourselves for having them that creates more of a problem. Do not assume that if you or any of your partners contract an STI that you have ‘failed’ in any way. Just like getting into a fender bender doesn’t make you a terrible driver, getting an STI doesn’t make you an immoral person.

In summation

Overall, I think that you could do with some self-exploration and some clarity on why it is that you want polyamory and what you want out of it. You need to step away from the assumption that you can prevent hurt feelings or jealousy and be honest with both of your partners about what it is that you want. I realise you’re in a situation where you’re not even sure if Person A is going to agree to non-monogamy, but I would encourage you to think a bit more about what you want first before introducing the concept.

It will be a lot easier for both of your potential partners to understand what a relationship with you will mean and whether or not they want it if you have a better idea of that yourself.

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.