Should you go along with polyamory to keep someone you love in your life?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: What does being “in a relationship” mean to you?
I started dating this guy freshman year of high school. But he had problems with depression and broke up with me my junior year. Even though we broke up we continued to date. We would see each other as often as we could and we’d talk as much as normal and we even had sex for the first time (both of our first times). Now I’ve graduated high school but he’s a senior and a lot of things have changed. We don’t see each other as often and we don’t talk as often and I’ve had problems with trust because a while ago he had a fling with someone else.
He always reminds me that we aren’t actually together. And I try to remind myself too. Lately we’ve been talking about just cutting each other out of our lives. But I don’t want to lose him. I just can’t be friends with him because I don’t want to see him being in a new relationship. The problem is he’s okay with continuing being “together” but he also wants to be able to see other people. I just don’t know how to be open to that. How do I stop fearing that he’ll fall in love with someone else?
He isn’t good at communicating, I always try to talk to him but we end up with nothing. I want to give it a shot at dating multiple people at once but I’m scared of losing him. He told me that he doesn’t believe in forever and that he needs to know what life has to offer, he needs constant change. Should I just let him go instead? I still love him and he still loves me. I’m not good with jealousy but I also want to still be with him. Do you think I might be holding on to something dead?
I hope you answer my email because I’m kind of lost and I need help with these thoughts. Thank you for taking your time reading this.
So the first thing about this that I noticed is that you're not necessarily interested in non monogamy. You're interested in him, which isn't a horrible thing. There are a lot of times where people you know— rarely is there a case where both people in a couple are interested in non monogamy and they both come together and they both decide that this is a good choice. Like that very rarely happens. Generally speaking, when you have a couple or two people who are interested in each other, it's one person that's kind of more interested in non monogamy that kind of encourages the other person to try it.
So it's not necessarily a horrible thing if— or even a doomed thing if one person isn't that interested in non-monogamy or is mostly interested in non-monogamy because they don't want to lose the other person. But I do think that in general, for it to work, one of two things has to be true. One of those things is that there has to be something for that person in it. You know, they have to see some benefit in it either there. You know, even— it doesn't even necessarily have to be an incredible interest in dating other people. You know, if you had said something in your letter where it's like, where you were like, “Well, I'm young too, and I am interested in seeing other people and I don't just want to be with this one person for the rest of my life”, then I could see that there is something about non-monogamy that appeals to you as an individual outside of the influence of this one other person.
The second thing that I think that has to be true if the first one is not true— if you're only interested in non monogamy in order to keep one person in your life or vice versa, like you're only interested— you're not that interested in non monogamy but you're dating someone who really, really is and you care about that person and you don't mind them dating other people whilst you are monogamous because that is a situation quite a lot of people— I mean, I don't know how many I haven't taken a census but I do hear of many situations where one partner is monogamous to that person and the other person is polyamorous and has multiple partners. I think that can work.
But that doesn't really seem like what your interest is, you know. There isn't anything outside of this guy that you're kind of still have a lot of feelings for that motivates you to try non-monogamy. So that's the biggest and first thing that I notice in your letter. The second thing is that you say he isn't good at communicating. And that really isn't a good sign. Like, you know, people who— I'm not saying that people who are non-monogamous are necessarily better at communicating. But there are a lot of things about non-monogamy because of the nature of it not being very common.
When you're in a monogamous relationship that's kind of socially and culturally endorsed. There are a lot of assumptions that people make and I think that ends up being a problem in monogamous really ships to that there is a shared cultural narrative of what monogamy is. There's a shared idea of milestones. There are a lot of shared cultural things that make people go, “Okay. This is what this is, this is what that is”. And that does end up causing monogamous people a lot of problems when one partner makes an assumption that something is this way, and the other partner doesn't agree.
However, when you're in a non-monogamous relationship, you can't rely on those assumptions. And so there often needs to be a lot more communication around the basic foundations of the relationship. And you know, what progress is if there is progress, what certain things mean how you define non-monogamy, all that sorts of stuff, and also the different style of relationship that you want to have. And if he's not good at communicating at all, if you often try to talk to him, and you're getting nowhere and the only thing he seems to be very good at communicating to you is that you actually aren't together. Like that's the only thing that you're getting really loud and clear from him is that you aren't together.
I don't think that spells out very good things for the future. If you wanted to try non-monogamy, I think you should try it with someone who was very good at communicating their thoughts and their feelings throughout the process. And this doesn't seem to be like that kind of a person. The only thing he's very clearly communicated to you is that you're not “together”, but he has no problem being together and seeing other people. I'm sure he doesn't have a problem with that. I'm sure that is very, very convenient for him. However, that's not the issue here. It's not— it shouldn't be about his convenience. It should also be about your feelings as well.
And so if he's very poor at communicating in general, that just doesn’t— even for a monogamous relationship that just doesn't spell good things. And you all seem quite young, you know, you're starting… you're talking about high school and I don't even know if you're at uni yet or at college yet. So you've graduated high school, you're quite young, like I don't expect him to be a stellar communicator, you know, coming out of high school, but if you can't even talk to him now about this kind of stuff. I just don't think that this is about a good way to go about it.
The third thing that I noticed here is that you know, people can tangentially be interested in non-monogamy without really actually wanting non-monogamy. And what I mean by that is that there are quite a lot of people who would find it very convenient and very easy for them to have and be able to date multiple people. It seems very convenient and very easy and it seems like something that they want because of all of the things that you've said that he said— that he needs to change and he doesn't believe in forever and he needs to go out there and take life by the horns and all that crap. That's very well and good.
However, when you look at it on the outside and you think that non-monogamy is just about being able to sleep with multiple people, you know, while no one gets mad, that's really not what non-monogamy is. I don't really think that he wants non-monogamy I just think he doesn't want to have to commit to anybody. And he doesn't want to actually have a relationship where he needs to do some emotional labor for somebody else. That's what he wants. He wants to be able to come and go as he pleases, which isn't necessarily what non-monogamy is. I mean, there are quite a few people who would be absolutely fine with no strings attached sex and all that kinds of stuff. And that's fine. I'm not saying that's, that's not a valid thing to want.
But what I'm saying is that that's definitely not what you want. And that's definitely not what polyamory is, in particular. It's usually about having multiple relationships and a person who is afraid to commit to one relationship isn't kind of going to be able to commit to multiple relationships. That's not how it works. So in general, I think that yes, you are holding on to something dead. And I don't think that that is out of character, to be quite honest with you. I mean, you've just graduated high school. This guy represents a lot for you. This is like, you know— This is the first person you've slept with, you know, it's someone that you still have quite strong feelings for and that is very, very understandable.
It's totally understandable that you would want to make this work because someone that you have a familiarity with someone that you have all of this history with, is a lot less scary than a brand new person. But I just don't think that trying to make this work is going to work. I mean, you know, you broke up it when you were in your junior year because he had problems with depression. I'm not really sure what that means. Plenty of people with depression can have relationships, but for whatever reason, he's just not in the position that you want him to be in. He’s just not in a position to be what you want.
And I don't think— I don't really think what you want is non-monogamy. I don't think that you want to date multiple people. I think that you just want it so that you can keep him in your life and you're already struggling. You know, when you're friends with him and you see him with other people. I don't think that situation is going to be made any better than you know, if you're together, and he's also with another person. Like, I think that's just gonna make it worse, I don't think that's necessarily gonna improve over time. I mean, yes, you could work on jealousy. You could work on, you know, examining your assumptions about your fear that he's going to leave you.
You know, you could work on that. But I think at the end of the day, there's no real point in doing all of that work for someone who is making it quite clear, even though he's bad at communicating, he's still making it quite clear that he doesn't want the things that you want in a relationship. He doesn't want to settle down. He doesn't want to do the things that you want him to do. So it's not really worth it, to keep putting yourself in this situation, because it's just you know, even though it seems like dragging something along is actually going to be easier for you. And that might be why he hasn't explicitly spelled out to you that this isn't going to work.
And it might be that he just likes being friends with you and doesn't want to lose that but sometimes, the easiest way to get over something is actually by having a clear and clean break, so that you can go, “Okay, we're broken up now”. It might be good for you to have some distance from him. And you might get that distance from from college, if you do go to college, or if he goes to college. You might get that distance. But, you know, you need to have some of that distance away from him. Because I think that there's a lot of emotions here. There's a lot of, you know, love that you have for this person that you know, that you still are holding on to because it's comfortable in a way, but I think in the end, at the end of the day, it's going to be not that comfortable for you if you keep holding on to it.
So yeah, to kind of sum up, I don't think that you're interested in non-monogamy really, I think you're just interested in keeping him in your life. And while I can understand why you would want to do that, I don't think it's in the end going to work out. Secondly, if he were good at communicating with you, it would be one thing for you to consider are trying an open relationship or some form of non-monogamy.
But the fact that he's not good at communicating his feelings to you, that doesn't spell very good things for even a monogamous relationship. And last but not least, him not wanting to commit to you isn't really the same as wanting multiple relationships. Usually people who don't want to commit to one relationship would probably also struggle to commit to multiple relationships. And I don't think that that is something that he's really interested in. And I think as well if, if you're already struggling in terms of seeing him with other people, I don't think that allowing him to— giving him permission to do that so that he stays with you is really going to help the situation.
You're so young. You're gonna find other people. You're gonna get over this. It's really hard. I know, personally, for me, the first kind of huge relationship that I had in terms of, you know, impact in my life and this person being someone that I actually loved. I tried as hard as I could to keep hold of that. So hard. And I think that in the end, it made it worse for myself a little bit, which wasn't the other person's fault. It was more just me, I just wanted to keep this person in my life. And I think that in the end that just made it that much harder when it was quite obvious to me that they couldn't stay in my life.
So yeah, I think it's best— you are kind of holding on to something dead. And it might be best to give yourself some space from him. Give yourself some time, get used to being alone, you know, learn how to be alone. I think that's probably the most healthy thing that a person can do when it comes to relationships is actually learning how to be alone, because so many people end up in not great relationships because they're scared to be alone. And if you can learn how to be alone, and how to be fine with being alone, that could actually be hugely beneficial for you.
So I think that's the route you should go rather than trying non-monogamy just to make this person happy or just to basically give this person permission to cheat. That would probably end up making you a lot happier to separate and learn how to be single and be happy to be single for a short period of time and find someone else later down the line if that suits you. I hope that helps and good luck.