I have been sleeping with my neighbour since Oct last year and a strong connection has grown. Neither of us is very vocal about our feelings and usually hide behind humour when we express these feelings, although, our actions consistently show high levels of mutual care and respect. 

Our dynamic seems to have unfolded naturally and approaches to feelings have not been too sudden.

Since deciding to go to a couple of festivals together this summer we have had our first conversation of any real depth. Other than that we only ever established that neither of us wants to feel trapped in a dynamic as we agree new interactions and energy keep things fresh and reduce tendencies to get complacent or stop trying. 

In that chat, it was communicated that she has planned to see someone else at a small festival and we have said that we will not sleep together over that weekend. There will be a huge number of my friends attending and I had already bought a ticket. I am desperate to catch up with many old friends especially due to lockdown and missing that festival the previous summer due to exams for my degree (which I have now completed, yay!).

The relief of finishing the course and isolation from my social circle makes me really want to attend. However, I am really worried about how I will feel if I bump into them together or see their intimacy in the festival. As it’s a fairly small festival and we will both be camping in the crew field this is quite likely.

I expressed my feelings of not really wanting to see anything and she suggested that we could use a safe word to let the other know if they are going to be hanging out with someone with a likelihood of intimacy which also helps in the future for the fact that we are neighbours. This could help me avoid situations if I am anxious etc. 

I have heard that not wanting to know or see what someone else in a non-monogamous dynamic is doing can be a form of control and would really like to come to terms with that and be happy to know/witness that they are happily exploring. Social circles are finite and there is bound to be some overlap so I feel that it is something I should reflect on. 

We have also talked about going to a kink night and I feel that the freedom to explore others that aren’t in our overlapping friend circles whilst also attending together and going home together would be a good way to cultivate this security in myself. Although, there will not be a chance to do that before the festival. 

My biggest concern is how I might react if I see them kissing etc. as I care for this person deeply. I am wary that if I do not process these emotions before attending then it could be expressed in self-destructive patterns that have been used in the past to hide/ignore emotional unrest and previously unaddressed childhood traumas.

This makes me wary of attending because I don’t want to cause myself unnecessary upset and harm. However, I really want to see my friends as festivals like this are my only opportunity to get healthy social interactions with many of my oldest and dearest friends. If I do go I am conscious that I will make a real effort to make the time about hanging out with friends and strengthening our bonds. 

I would love to hear your perspective on the matter and am especially keen to know of any frameworks and coping techniques that you think could be of use.

I would disagree with the idea that not wanting to know or see your partner with another person is a “form of control”. I think it’s an understandable fear that a lot of people have. It doesn’t make sense to me that a person who is raised in a monogamous-centric society and has grown up being told that monogamy is the only way and that if their partner is into someone else that this is a threat for this to suddenly disappear because one chooses non-monogamy. Socially you have been taught to fear your partner being with somebody else. It makes perfect sense to be worried about what will happen to you emotionally if you see someone you care for being intimate with somebody else.

When it crosses the line is when someone is so afraid of this that they demand their partner do X, Y and Z. Or they make a scene if they see it intentionally as a way to pull their partner back to them. And anybody can do something like that. I see no desire from you to control what this person does, just an understandable fear that you may have a reaction. A safe word is an interesting approach to this and might help you be able to prepare emotionally for the eventuality of it happening, especially since you are neighbours.

There have been many times with an ex that I did see them kissing other people and to be honest sometimes the fear that I might become jealous was way more overwhelming for me than the reality of seeing them do something with someone else. There were times when I didn’t go to things because I didn’t want to have to see this or if we went somewhere with each other, it was clear that we weren’t going “together”. It’s equally awful to walk up to your partner during an event and see them separate from someone they’re dancing with like they’re two teenagers caught at a school dance. Not a great feeling.

While it makes sense for you to want to avoid unnecessary hurt, this festival is important to you. And avoiding it sounds like it comes with an equal amount of hurt, but very different. I think that you should go and see your friends and agree to go as separate people and not as a couple. Accept that you may in fact see your partner with someone else and accept that you may go through feelings. They may not be fun. But have a plan for how you can deal with those emotions and reassure yourself.

Even if you’re going separately, maybe you both can have a call before you go to bed. Or you can carve out a specific time during that day to reconnect. Tell her that this is a challenge for you, that you’re afraid. You’re not telling her this to encourage her to limit her time with others, but that when you do reconnect, you may need some care and reassurance. Don’t beat yourself up about feeling scared or even uncomfortable or even crying if you see her with someone else! You’ve grown up in a monogamous-centric society with a lizard brain that wants to protect you and keep you safe. 

Just like you’re going to be anxious when you have a job interview, you’re also going to be anxious here. You’re going into the unknown. And this is where the rubber meets the road. All of the things you’ve learned all your life about how much of a threat this is are going to be proven. And just like exposure therapy for someone who has anxiety, (though I am not suggesting you intentionally watch your partner to try and bootcamp your way into feeling better) the more that you face this fear and see that your partner is still there for you and still cares for you, the less fear you will feel over time.

If your partner is there for you, willing to give you the comfort you need during your time together, listens and is soft with your feelings, then I feel like you may experience some difficulty, but it is nothing that you can’t get through. However, overall it might feel a little more secure for you in the long run if you both concealed your emotions with humour less and you talked to each other more about your fears and concerns. Because not being vocal about your feelings honestly isn’t helpful for your anxiety and trust with one another. Also, talk with your friends and, if they are not too judgemental about non-monogamy, let them know this is something you’re worried about and you may need their support. 

Overall, part of this is sitting in some discomfort and also getting a better grounding from your partner by telling them your feelings. You may find that it’s not as scary as you thought it was, but it’s okay if it is. You haven’t done anything wrong by being afraid and asking your partner for some time together during the festival might help you get some reassurance that you need. And also asking your friends for company, distraction, or having one of them to call on if you find yourself overwhelmed with emotions and need to decompress is fine too. Have faith in yourself! This might be a difficult thing to deal with, but it isn’t anything you can’t handle.

I hope this helps and good luck!