I’m very much in love with my partner. We’ve tried to go from a monogamous relationship to poly[am], to just open to no title at all, just free flowing love. I know I’m interested in a poly[am] relationship because I love to fall in love. Honestly, the past 3 of my relationships have ended due to me falling in love with someone else.
The relationship I’m in now can be perfect though we are very challenging for one another. I’m a bisexual woman, my partner a straight man, and I’m interested in being as open as possible. My partner is also interested in poly[am], or non-monogamy because he doesn’t really believe in society’s ethics of how love and relationships should be.
For the most part we agree on the idea, but every time we decide on non-monogamy and I find myself interested in someone, I panic and back out. I feel guilty no matter if my partner tells me it’s okay or not. I also find myself being more nosey and insecure about who he is talking to or having interest in. I’m confused because truthfully I don’t want to feel obligated to suppress my feelings for someone else because of a monogamous relationship but the issue is, I’m the one making myself feel that way.
My partner is free as a bird, I’m the one insecure. I’m afraid of being replaced. Or that I may end up competing for his love one day. No matter how many times he has to reassure me my place is my place I can’t help but feel someone is going to swoop his right out of my arms.
Also, I’m interested in both men and woman and we have discussed being in a poly[am] relationship with a woman we both find ourselves interested in, if it’s mutual, and even then I find myself in fear. I don’t understand because I know this is what I want..
Without being too harsh here, I honestly feel like your biggest problem is some of your chickens coming home to roost when it comes to your previous relationships.
Is polyamory freedom?
While you say you haven’t been “free” in your previous relationships, if you basically ended each relationship because you fell for someone else, then you kind of were free in a way. That’s the thing about monogamy and what I always tell people who think it’s ‘safer’. Monogamy or any rules cannot stop you from falling in love with someone else. You can be monogamous and fall in love with someone else. The only thing that changes is what you do about it.
In the back of your mind, you must realise the difficulty that you caused in people’s lives when you decided to end your relationship with them to be with someone else. You must realise that you ended up with a brand shiny new partner, but they ended up heartbroken. It’s one thing if you’re going to continue on in monogamy where people are going to expect you to stay with them and only be in love with them, but now you’re in a situation where that is not guaranteed or expected and, now, the tables have turned.
You are worried about being replaced because you have ‘replaced’ many people in your life. Even if now you’re free to love new people without feeling obligated to end your current relationship, at some point you must’ve made some decisions about who you wanted to keep and why, weighed some pros and cons, and now you are understandably worried that you will not be up to scratch. I don’t know if there is anything you can do to really get over this fear because it’s very logical.
I think you’re going to have this fear for awhile and instead of trying to get rid of it, you have to embrace and accept that you have this fear and control your actions in response to this fear instead.
Breaking down your fear
The theories you both have about polyamory are probably a decent source of the problems you’re facing as well. You have this misconception of polyamory as ‘freer’ than monogamy and your partner as well believes that monogamy always has to come with society’s ethics about love and relationships, when it really doesn’t. Polyamory being ‘freer’ really depends on your wants and needs in your life. It isn’t inherently freer.
The reason I’m challenging this is because when you set yourself up for the idea that the relationship style you’re choosing now is ‘better’ than monogamy, you’re also subconsciously setting yourself up for believing you should be happier being polyamorous, when that’s not always going to be true. How happy you are has to do with a range of factors. Changing your style of relationships may solve some problems, but it may also cause others.
You mention backing out when you feel afraid, and I believe this is largely because you believe you shouldn’t be afraid because you’re thinking that because you are freer than you were before to fall in love with new people, everything should be perfect, right? But that’s not right at all. I’m assuming in the past when you fell in love with new people while in monogamous relationships, you weren’t intending on doing so. And that is a lot different than purposefully dating. You’re doing something new which society has told you isn’t the ‘right’ way to do relationships, so you are going to feel insecure and unsure of yourself. What you need to do is stop expecting to not feel worried, allow yourself to feel worry and fear, and embrace it by breaking it down.
I find it useful to break down my fear of being replaced by reminding myself that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this. Ask yourself, was there anything your previous monogamous partners could do to stop you from falling in love with someone else? If they had specific skills or were better at X, Y, Z… would that have changed anything? You’re afraid now of being replaced because the shoe is on the other foot and there is more of a risk in your mind now of what you’ve done to others happening to you — but the truth is that in every relationship you’ve been in, being replaced has always been something that could happen. You’re only more worried now because it feels like a more likely possibility.
When you really examine your fears and think about it in the context of the fact that you’re in a world with very little you can control, it becomes a lot easier for you to accept that you’re afraid and cope with it because you can’t even control that. Your partner can reassure you and that can help, but you need to rid yourself of the expectation that you shouldn’t have fears or that they should go away immediately. They may very well go away, but putting yourself under pressure to not be afraid isn’t what’s going to make them go away.
Is monogamy ethical?
Aside from challenging your fear, I think it’s worth you and your partner really thinking about your misconceptions about polyamory and monogamy, because I can see this likely being a problem down the road. Your partner may be fine now, but I tend to find that my insecurities flare up when there are other big scary life changes going on and it can leave me feeling confused as to why I can’t just be okay with things.
Society’s ethics around love and relationships have more to do with misogyny and sexism than just monogamy. There are a lot of really negative things that are taught, but I wouldn’t say monogamy is inherent unethical or that by choosing monogamy, someone is also buying into all of the societal expectations and thoughts around them. And I wouldn’t assume that choosing polyamory instantly means you count yourself out of range of some of those destructive attitudes.
Even just thinking about what ‘falling in love’ means, for example, that is in and of itself just emotions and feeling. It is society’s expectation that feeling love and romance for someone must end in a partnership together that has pushed you into leaving other relationships and into polyamory, but this hasn’t disappeared. Some of your fear and trepidation around new relationships may very well be about your expectations of what dating and falling in love with another person must mean. In the past, falling in love with a new person has always meant that you had to end the other relationship, but why? What do you need when you fall in love with someone?
It might be worth you really examining that and instead of being stuck in this thinking that you’ve moved from one inherently unethical lifestyle to one that is ‘just free flowing love’, you need to accept that nothing as inherently changed about the feelings you’re experiencing, just your expectation of what they should mean.
For some people, monogamy works for them. They may only be in love with one person at a time. While monogamy may cause you to repress feelings, that isn’t true of all people. And I often find that even when people are in polyamory, they still take with them many of the misconceptions and ideals that monogamy drills in, including an assumption of what need happen as soon as they develop feelings for someone.
‘Freedom’ sometimes has a sour taste for me because what a lot of people mean by ‘freedom’ is that they expect that polyamory will allow them to date as many people as they want while being free of the expectation to support those people emotionally. But that’s not what polyamory is about. If anything, I’d say polyamory involves more commitment and time spent, more requirements to support and help others than monogamy does. In many ways, it is less ‘free’ than monogamy because you are going to be in multiple relationships where more than one person may need you.
It sounds like you haven’t given much thought to what multiple relationships mean, other than the assumption that you will be ‘freer’. You may want to think about what exactly you want from relationships, how you want your life to be, and what that might look like. That might help you feel a bit less unsteady.
So, to sum up things, I think that you need to accept your fear as a consequence of not only trying something new, but also being in a position that people who have dated you in the past have been in. Re-contextualise your fear so it doesn’t feel quite so strong. And then, lastly, think realistically about what this new lifestyle means for you in the vein of how you want to be in relationships and what you want to do.
It might be that when you get a more solid grip on this, you will find yourself feeling less secure and more sure of 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 email@example.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.