Age gaps in polyamory

I am a bisexual female and my partner of 2 years is a heterosexual male. I am 28, he is 53. We recently (4 months ago) moved across the country and moved in together. I have never been poly[am] or had an open relationship and don’t see myself as poly[am]. He has been very open minded throughout our relationship sexually. He has been open to swinging, threesomes with other men, and me being with females alone — though we still have yet to experience any of this.
I am very much into kinks he is not into, however. And while he has known I have a very large sexual appetite, it is starting to become something we have to face head on. I want to have sex with men, 2–3 times a month, who can provide me with types of sex he cannot. This may be BDSM related or just harder and more intense sex (something his age and his more playful personality prevents him from).
This has been a source of anxiety for him and he says that he knows I need this but that he doesn’t think he could handle it. He has denied couple’s sex therapy in the past though he recently has mentioned potentially going to it. He is open to reading about it and finding out tools to make him feel more comfortable, if possible. Which is how I ended up finding your podcast.
I want to know if what I am asking is too much, if I am just being selfish, if there is any possibility it sounds like we could make this work for us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck!

Subscribe to Non-Monogamy Help

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.