The right reason to do polyamory

This content is 3 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

I’ve been 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.

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An easy way into polyamory

This content is 3 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

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

This content is 4 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

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.