You’re trying polyamory but you’re struggling with discomfort every time your partner shows interest in someone else. Does this mean it’s not for you?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
I (27F) am a lesbian with limited dating experience due to being partially closeted and anxious about it until this year. I recently started dating a bisexual woman with considerably more sexual experience who I met online. The last few months have been dreamy, domestic, intense, and erotic. When we started hooking up, I knew she was non-monogamous but I was unconcerned other than discussing the usual safety stuff.
Our relationship quickly grew more emotionally deep and we are compatible in ways that I never knew I could be. We are on the same page that we feel we want to make a long-term commitment happen, and with the full knowledge that I am queer, in requited love for the first time, and probably still in some sort of honeymoon phase, I think I want to keep this woman.
That being said, the one persistent issue we've been having is regarding the open or closed status of our relationship. I've been trying to warm to the idea of being open because I know that she is a sexual person and variety is really important for her wellbeing. I also recognized that my initial discomfort with the idea could have been due to my unfamiliarity with poly[am] dynamics.
We have talked about it extensively and set up boundaries that would mean we are each other's primaries, and casual dating and hooking up with others would be allowed, although neither of us has taken advantage of this yet. I am unsure if I even want to do so although I am curious what sleeping with other women might be like. I know she definitely has been testing the waters but has refrained from meeting anyone yet so as not to hurt me.
I realized I couldn't abide by our agreed terms recently when she was testing the waters again and telling me about flirting and being interested in hooking up with someone. I felt my stomach curl in on itself and betrayal fill me, even though I knew she was fine by our terms.
We had a long talk and are currently considering two options that we would try out as trial runs before sitting down and having that real, heart crushing talk about whether we need to part ways. The first, her idea, is that she would try out monogamy with me, super communicating to make sure resentment wasn't building and adjusting accordingly. The second, my idea, was that I'd let go and let her pursue whoever with the request that she tell me no other details than bare bones, for health purposes and to make sure she's happy.
I know that I would not be able to handle if I made her persistently unhappy and know she currently feels guilty because that's part of how I've been feeling this whole time. I have to hope that by normalizing it to myself, working through my hang ups, and giving my unconscious time to settle into the idea that she is here to stay and is proving that by staying, I can begin to let go and let her do what makes her happy while also being happy and secure myself in what we have.
Am I missing something? How can I make myself (and therefore her) more comfortable here? Are there any reading resources? I am aware enough to know that there's only so long we can carry on like this, and I am determined to put in my best effort to figure this out before either of us gets hurt any more than we need to. My heart has already been working through some rough truths and to me, she is worth every scuff.
Please give me some hope or guidance here.
So I have to say like, there's barely anything for me to say here, because honestly, I think you have nailed it. I don't think it's a good idea for her to try monogamy. It seems like she's pretty well versed in the fact that polyamory is, or at least an open relationship, is what she wants. And I think that your suggestion makes a hell of a lot of sense.
It might be that over time, you're more comfortable hearing some details or just kind of more than the bare bones. But I think, in the meantime, that actually works really, really well. She and you both need to stop avoiding things though. She's avoiding going out with other people to avoid hurting you. And that's totally understandable. And I'm not saying that's wrong.
But eventually like… basically, the more you avoid that kind of thing, the worse and worse the buildup gets, and the more and more anxiety sets in, and the more and more discomfort you feel. So she has to stop avoiding meeting people because she's afraid it might hurt you. She kind of has to accept the fact that you may have to experience polyamory before you really really know if it's not for you or not.
Unfortunately, that's kind of how it has to be. And there's no… there's no real easy way to do that. And the most— most of the time, when people try to find easy ways into polyamory, it just tends to be more avoidance. So I do think that your option makes the most sense. You're going to feel uncomfortable, though. You know, you ask, “How can I make myself more comfortable?” You're gonna feel uncomfortable, like that's just… that— This is a new, completely new relationship for you actually. It's new ground because it's actually the first kind of real deep relationship that seems like you've had.
And you're trying out an open relationship, you're gonna be uncomfortable, like you're just gonna. The problem is, is that the discomfort that you probably felt and having this first requited— you know, you probably felt some discomfort when you started off in this relationship or some fear. But you expected that to certain extent, or that was seen as culturally appropriate. But the problem is, is that you are, you've been living in a society that tells you that love, you know— part of love is exclusivity. Part of love is someone only wanting to date or have sex with you.
And so you're fighting against this messaging you've been giving your whole life, so you're gonna feel even more uncomfortable. And I think you can kind of appreciate, as a queer woman, you know— you don't really— you talk about how you've been, you know, partially closeted. So you know what it feels like to kind of be afraid because you've had society telling you something is wrong, wrong wrong. So you know what that feels like.
And this is, in a way, not exactly identical, but it is similar to that. You don't have any models for this. You don't have any guidance in it. So you are going to feel a little lost and a little scared and that's okay. Doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you. It doesn't mean that this isn't necessarily for you. And the good thing here is that you know, you've already decided what you're going to get out of this. I think it's really great that you've talked about kind of— the kind of relationship structure that you want. I think it's worth considering, you know— it doesn't sound like you've set up any rules of like, “I won't fall in love with anyone”.
It doesn’t sound like you've set up rules that have to do with things you can't control. You know, you've decided, “Okay, we're going to be each other's primaries, this is what that means: casual dating and hooking up is something that is allowed”. And, you know, it seems like you're communicating enough to where if things seem to be getting more serious with someone else, you'd have a talk about that and you kind of explore that.
So, you know, you've already decided what kind of relationship structure you want. It seems like you've decided the physical aspects of that. It seems like you're talking about safety, which is really, really great. It seems like as well, you're thinking about what you can get out of polyamory. So you're— even though you're kind of, you know, not keen on the idea at first, now you're sort of realizing, “Oh, okay, maybe it might be interesting to date other people”. You can see where you can go with that.
So honestly, you've done pretty much all you can. You're in an excellent position, like you're— even though it may not feel like that right now, because you are really nervous and really uncomfortable. This is just a necessary part of the process. Like you're gonna feel uncomfortable when you're trying something new. You're both, you know, you have this really strong connection. You're really really afraid to hurt one another. You're really really afraid of losing one another. But what I see that's really awesome about this is that, you know, you both are understanding that there is a potential that you might be incompatible, and you're not hiding that from one another.
You're very, very honest about that. You're like, you know, I'm, you know, we may have to have that heartbreaking conversation about whether we need to part ways, but you're trying really hard to make sure that you're doing the best you can to figure things out before you hurt one
another. And hopefully, it seems like you're your girlfriend is also committed to doing that. I honestly think that's the best thing you can do. Like you're both— if your girlfriend is approaching this as emotionally aware as you are, then you're both in a really, really great place.
You know, there won't be anything you can do to prevent complete and incompatibility. But you've got pretty much everything going here. So yeah, I would say like, I don't advise that she try monogamy. I just feel like, you know, if she's had a lot of experience, and you don't say whether or not she's tried monogamy before, but if she's had a lot of experience, and she, you know, unless she's kind of a bit older and is feeling like I don't really feel like dating very much anymore.
You know, it'd be one thing if she had all this experience and was kind of reaching a point in her life where she wasn't that interested in going out and doing anything with anyone anymore. It would be one thing for her to try monogamy, but that just doesn't seem like where she is right now. And I don't think it's really good for her to deny that aspect of herself. Because even though you know, it's kind of-- resentment as kind of a hard thing to figure out, like, when is it coming up, because it's a kind of thing that builds slowly and slowly.
And I just don't know if even with constant communication, you're going to necessarily be able to prevent that. It's just going to lead to a
bit of unhappiness. And I think it’s— it's probably more likely that you might be… you know, because you do have some interest in seeing other people because you also don't necessarily have a lot of experience yourself, a lot of people end up being interested in polyamory down the line, because they don't have a lot of experience. And because they, you know, didn't really think about marriage and kind of, you know, sexual monogamy for the rest of their life.
They kind of go “Oh, wait, I don't know if that's really something that you know, I want to do in my life”. So it makes a lot more sense from your end to for you to be potentially interested in sleeping with other people in the future. Maybe you won't be that keen on it right this minute. And maybe you might be the kind of person like me where, you know, I don't find partners very frequently because that's just not how things go for me and that's fine.
But either way, you're approaching this honestly like in one of the best ways that you can. If you have access to therapy, I definitely think you should still try and see a polyamory friendly couples therapist that can kind of help you talk about things. That therapist may feel like the bare bones kind of— because you're not asking for Don't Ask, Don't Tell. You're not basically asking her to lie.
And I think you just want to know the basics of things for health purposes. And just to know that she's happy and that she's okay. And I think that's fair enough. And you might find that as you you know, as you said— You said it perfectly like, you know, you just have to settle into the idea. See that she's here to stay and have her prove that by staying and then you'll begin to feel a lot less anxious. I think that's really, really true. And I think as you become more comfortable with her, you establish a foundation
You probably will find that you're okay with hearing a little bit more. It's okay if you don't want to know the intimate details. I don't want to know the intimate details. I'm not interested in that. It doesn't, you know— some people are really interested in that either way is fine, but you might feel later down the line that you're a little bit more settled and you feel a little bit more established with her and it doesn't feel quite as scary to hear that stuff.
That description of you— you know your say your stomach curling in on itself and having all those emotions— that's totally normal. And I think if you read anything or you understand anything, make sure you avoid anything that makes you feel like there's something wrong with you for having a bad feeling or that having any kind of negative reaction to your partner dating or seeing someone else means that you're not polyamorous because it's completely understandable for you to have these feelings, you know, you—
I feel like, you know, with being a queer woman and knowing what it's like to be closeted, like you know what it's like to be influenced by a culture that's around you and to feel really bad. You know, I can't speak for you, but I know that I've heard from a lot of people were the first queer feelings that they had were coupled with a lot of shame and a lot of guilt and a lot of negative feelings. And again, I'm not saying being queer is the same thing as being polyamorous because I don't feel that that's the same.
But what I'm saying is that you can— if you can kind of look to that experience, if you did experience something like that, and kind of understand that these reactions and feelings you're having partially are fear, understandable fear, because you're with this new person, and you haven't really established your foundation yet, and you're scared, and that's understandable. But also partly because you live in a society that's told you your whole life that exclusivity means that someone loves you. So it's hard for you to just, you know, turn overnight and magically believe the opposite.
So, yeah, to sum it up, I think that you're in a really, really good place. And I think your idea sounds the best. And I think you should see if you can get a polyamory friendly couples therapist to kind of help you walk through
stuff. She needs to stop avoiding this. You know, you're gonna have to bite the bullet and go with it at some point. You can't avoid hurting someone. Unfortunately, that's just how things happen. It's totally understandable.
I'm not saying that she's in any way you know, being bad or whatever, but you gotta jump in at some point. And just expect that you're feeling comfortable. Learn how to cope with that. Realize that being uncomfortable doesn't make you a bad person. It's just part of, you know, part of the experience. There's also a good book called “Rewriting the Rules” by Meg-John Barker, I definitely recommend that one. And yeah, in general, just kind of go with it.
And trust that you've done the work. You've set the foundation. You've decided what kind of relationship you want. You see the benefits you can get out of it. And just try to, you know, learn how to cope with that anxiety, and eventually that anxiety will get better. Like, in my experience, it does. And you may unfortunately find out that polyamory isn't for you. And that's also okay, too. And it really does sound like if you do figure that out, like you both seem communicative enough where it doesn't have to be this horrible, you know, life altering, cataclysmic sad thing, it sounds like you part in a fairly amicable way. So try to as well keep that in mind. All right. I hope that helps. And good luck.