What happens when you’re trying non-monogamy for the first time, but you and your partner can’t come to an agreement on things like not going to the same places they’ve taken a metamour?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
How much do you value new or “first time” experiences with partners?
Non-Monogamy Help is a relationship advice podcast for people in non-monogamous or polyamorous relationships. With the help of a therapist with over a decade of experience, your host Lola Phoenix, answers the questions your questions about rules, hierarchies, unicorns and more.
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I’m 28 and I started dating my boyfriend who is 45 about 8 months ago. When we first met he told me upfront that he wasn’t into monogamy and I was okay with that because I was casually dating and wasn’t looking for anything serious.
When we started spending more time together, I was aware of another woman he was seeing before he met me, but it seemed casual. Things started to bug me a little bit though because a lot of experiences or dates him and I had were at the same places he would then take her to. I told him that I understand the idea of having two different relationships because if you don’t get something from one person you can get from another.
However everything seems copy-paste with us. His defence is that you can go to the same place with two different people and have different experiences which is valid however in my perception her and I are getting the same experience and it’s only different for him because we are two different vessels of a human.
He compared it to watching a movie multiple times which made me feel like my feelings weren’t being validated because a movie pauses a moment in time, it’s not a life experience. He said he would be better about finding things for just us. (I should mention, I’m not dating other people and this non-monogamy thing is super new for me). Of course the monogamous person of me is also saying in order to grow in a relationship you have to tell me if you’re not getting something from me so we can grow together.
Anyways, we have been on many trips together including going out of the country and him and her have never gone on trips together, and when him and I are gone, she’s his cat sitter. I can’t help but compare her and myself which I know is shitty of me. He’s told me that she had jealousy issues as well so that doesn’t really make me feel better because if anything I feel more competitive and threatened.
I want to be that person that is supportive of connections and bonds, but I also told him I would feel more comfortable if the emotional bond was just between us and other partners were more of a physical bond. It doesn’t help that he’s not using protection with her when having sex and not with me either because both of us are “monogamous” to him but he has other pleasure buddies that he does wear protection with and if I were to date someone else then he would wear protection which is a double standard to me because it’s like saying he will never be monogamous with me but knows I am with him. Not only that but I do have HSV1 and he knows that.
I’ve told him that maybe I would feel more comfortable with honesty all the way through and telling me more information about his other relationships because then I don’t have to make up my own conclusions or assumptions but he says we are at a catch 22 because he doesn’t want to share that with me because I’m a jealous person.
We have talked about his thoughts of marriage and if that’s something he wants and he said he would want that but I’m afraid to keep growing emotionally if [there are] limitations from his end because he’s also emotionally involved with someone else.
I just don’t know what to do because I do love him and he says he loves me, but I’m scared of what if the inevitable is that I’m going to be hurt in the end not because his actions but because of my own insecurities and anxieties are going to consume my thoughts.
So there are a couple of things about your letter that I want to address. The first thing is your idea of having two different relationships because different relationships meet different needs. This isn’t necessarily true for every person who does polyamory. And personally, I feel like that was a quite popular way of looking at polyamory that I feel like it’s actually quite reductive and is just not necessarily the way human beings work.
Yes, there are a lot of situations sometimes in polyamory where people choose to open that relationship from a monogamous relationship because of something they’re not getting from that monogamous relationship. And they don’t want to lose that monogamous relationship. But that isn’t necessarily why everyone does polyamory. It’s not as simple as “Oh, I don’t like this and this person likes this”.
I feel like that is a way of explaining polyamory to people who are monogamous, that sometimes works, but it’s not necessarily how it works in practice with every single person, and it’s a little bit of a reductive way to look at it. And the thing that I always tell people is that polyamory shouldn’t be about finding multiple semi-sustaining relationships so that you can reach some level of permissible stasis. It’s not about you know, like this weird puzzle matching of needs and just Pokemon-ing your way into finding different partners who meet different needs. Like that’s not really how everyone does it.
So that may comfort you to look at it because you may think, “Oh, well, I provide something that that other person doesn’t”. But it’s not as simple as that. So I wouldn’t choose to look at it this way. And I wouldn’t choose to assume that that’s how your partner does it. I would ask specifically. I think when it comes to unique experiences, I absolutely understand your side of things. Because, even when you’re watching a movie, you can only watch a movie the first time once.
Like I was explaining in the question that we just had. I like sometimes watching something for the first time or showing my partner something for the first time. And I like that with friends too. It’s not just partners, but on the same side, I also wouldn’t assume that you and her are the exact same person getting the exact same experience. You need to have a little bit more context with this. He might be taking you to these places because he likes them.
Not necessarily because he doesn’t have any creative ideas or he thinks that you and his other partner are the same person. I’m fairly certain you’ve had a restaurant that you like or a place that you like to go and you’ve taken multiple friends there. And it doesn’t mean that the first person you took there meant something more than the last person you took there. So I wouldn’t necessarily make that assumption on your part, but it’s also okay for you to want unique things.
It’s very important within a non-monogamous relationship, for some people, to have some uniqueness within that. And I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think that that makes a lot of sense. I feel like the more comfortable you probably are with non-monogamy, the less you kind of need specific unique things that’s just for you. But it’s okay to want that and it’s not too much to ask for. The thing is that within monogamy you have what’s called “the relationship escalator” and you should google that concept if you’ve never heard of it.
But it’s this idea like within monogamy you have a pre-planned structure for how things go. You meet someone, you date, you maybe move in together, you get married, you have kids, you know. This idea of a script, what I call a cultural script that gives you more a sort of an idea of stability. And also the exclusivity within monogamy makes you feel unique and makes you feel important. If you don’t have that exclusivity, you may need something else that makes you feel unique and makes you feel important. And that’s okay to want.
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it’s good that he’s helping you find that. It’s not so great that he’s trying to make you change your mind about what things mean. Like it’s fine if taking people to multiple places doesn’t mean anything less for him, but it’s also okay for you to feel different. The other thing I want to point out is that you said, “It may be the monogamous person in me but we should share something if I’m not getting something from you, you should share that”.
That’s not a monogamous thing at all. That’s a good thing for anyone to do in any kind of relationship. If you are not being satisfied by a relationship, if there’s something in it that you’re not getting, it is absolutely 100% good to tell your partner that and not keep that inside. That is a great thing to do. So that is that isn’t a monogamous side of you. That is whatever great communication skills someone taught you coming out, which is very good. So don’t suppress that.
Because you do not want to sit in a relationship, monogamous or polyamorous, that doesn’t actually serve you. The other thing I want to say is that you said it’s shitty to compare yourself. It’s not shitty. It is normal to do and it also doesn’t make you a jealous person. It doesn’t characterize you as a complete person. It makes sense to compare yourself and everybody does it whether it’s in relationships or in life or— like it’s a normal human thing to look at another person and compare yourself and contrast yourself. That is a normal thing to do.
What you need to learn how to do is, if it makes you feel shitty to do that, then you need to learn how to set healthy boundaries with yourself and figure out okay, when I compare myself I know I feel shit and make steps towards seeing the value within yourself and looking at yourself. I do think that he has a point in that comparing yourself — and I’ll address the not wanting to tell you details about other relationships in a bit — but I do think it makes sense that if you compare yourself to other people, having more things to compare yourself and contrast yourself is only going to make that impulse worse.
But beating yourself up for it doesn’t make it better. Beating yourself up and calling it shitty that you’re doing this isn’t going to help you learn how to stop just accept that it’s normal to do that. And that it is something that you do and it’s something that you’re learning to step away from. It’s your survival brain. Okay. Your brain right now, if you’ve grown up in a monogamous centric society, and most people who write to me have if you’ve grown up in a monogamous centric society, you have learned that monogamy is safe even if it necessarily isn’t.
You’re not in a situation where your brain is saying “I’m safe. I’m fine”. Your brain is like “Crap. We have to survive. We have to make sure you’re okay. Okay, let’s look at this other person and let’s compare ourselves so that we can make sure that we don’t lose him”. Like it makes sense. It’s normal. Stop saying it’s shitty. It’s just a behaviour. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily helpful all the time, but beating yourself up for it is not going to help you.
The other thing I want to say is that your inclination — this is also part of the assumption that monogamy is safer. You wanting his bonds with other people to be physical and not emotional is assuming that physical bonds can’t be emotional, or that you’re safe if he has just physical bonds with other people. That’s not true. It’s just not true. People make this assumption — like the whole cultural script of monogamy makes people feel safe. And you know, obviously when they’re in a relationship with someone for years and years and years, it feels safe.
It feels — you know, you grow to be comfortable around each other. You grow to trust one another. But that doesn’t mean that nothing can happen. You know, somebody can have an emotional bond with a co-worker, somebody can have an emotional— they don’t have to have sex with someone to fall in love with them. They don’t have to have sex with someone to start feeling things for them. You are assuming that physical bonds are safer. And that the people who he’s just physical with aren’t a threat to you, which isn’t necessarily true.
If you want to be honest about it, everyone’s technically a threat. If you want to be honest about it, he’s a threat to you in a way because if he’s so happy that he doesn’t need any relationships, especially if you’re going off this assumption of polyamory as ways to meet your needs, then if he can meet all his needs himself, then why does he need anybody? But it’s not that simple. Physical bonds can still be emotional in a way. Just because he has play buddies doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about them as people.
So you know I think that you wanting this is understandable. Because you want some safety here. You want something to hold on to. That’s why you want these unique experiences. That’s why you’re comparing yourself because you need something that makes you feel safe, but understand that this is the illusion of safety. I have said on this podcast before. And I will remind people when I was getting a breast reduction, I went through stories of people who had radical mastectomies. Just because I was considering doing that because I had gender feels associated with my chest.
And I read stories of women who had to have radical mastectomies who lost marriages of 30, 15, 20 years. People who had been married for years and years. I read one story of a woman who went to the hospital. Her husband drove her to the hospital to have the procedure done, and she had to get a ride home. Because he went home, he packed all this stuff and he left. I would love for people to feel comfortable and safe within long term relationships, and it’s understandable to feel safe within that, but it is an illusion of safety.
You in the end cannot control whether or not your partner decides to stay with you or not. So please try to challenge yourself a little bit on that. The assumption that an emotional bond with you is somehow more likely to stick than a physical bond with somebody else. That physical and emotional can be separated like oil and water like this. It’s just not that simple. So that is a big thing. The other thing that I think that you need to accept is that he won’t be monogamous with you. He’s defined that from the beginning. He is not interested in monogamy.
If you are looking to find a monogamous way to be with him, then that is not going to work. When it comes to sexual health risk, he is allowed to choose his level of sexual health risk and you yours. What is sometimes helpful is if you can meet in the middle. It’s understandable that you may feel like it’s unfair if he doesn’t use protection with you. But to be fair, you have a history of monogamy and you aren’t necessarily dating other people. I don’t blame him for going, “Okay, this is how I’m going to do that”. That’s his risk level to set.
If you feel uncomfortable. If you feel put at a risk, then you can decide to increase the protection level that you use. But you can’t dictate to him how he sees his sexual health risk. And believe me, I understand this so much because I have a history of health anxiety. I am immunocompromised. I have had so much fear of having another condition that I’m going to have to manage my whole life. I already have so much medical admin to deal with because of my disorder. I do not want another condition to have to medically admin again.
I understand being nervous about sexual health risk, but I have chosen to accept that if I’m going to have sex, there is a level of risk that I can’t escape. And in terms of what you’re talking about HSV 1 is not the same as HSV 2. Generally speaking, HSV 1 doesn’t tend to like genitalia. So I don’t necessarily think that just because you have HSV 1 that doesn’t mean that he you know needs to have more protection. Also HSV can be passed (HSV 2 usually that is HSV within the genitalia) can be passed while using condoms.
Him using condoms with other people, if he has HSV 1 in his genitals, isn’t going to prevent him from passing HSV 1 to other people. So yes, protection helps but it’s only with certain STIs. As long as he’s getting regular testing, then that’s fine. But it’s understandable that you might feel like “Oh, this isn’t fair because I’m taking a huge risk and you’re not” but that’s that’s your risk to take. And he wanting to use protection if you decide to date somebody else is his decision for his body.
If you decide that you are uncomfortable with him having play partners and want to have more protection for yourself, then you can use protection with him if you want. You can instigate your own rules around your own body, but you can’t choose his level of sexual health risk and what he’s comfortable with. I have had— my ex had a lot of interesting casual sex. I had originally— when we first got together I was like, “I would like you to wait for a period before sleeping with anyone and make sure you’re both tested” and all this and that and that wasn’t what my partner wanted to do.
And he challenged me on my assumption that knowing someone for a few weeks means that an STI is less likely. It’s not. So I had a few things to work on myself around my sexual health understanding and even though as a peer sexual health educator, in some ways, knowing more about knowing more about STIs made to be more scared. So you kind of need to to figure out what your sexual health risk is. And you can’t dictate that to somebody else.
And if you have a meaning around not using protection with somebody, then that is your meaning and he may not have that same meaning. You can’t also assign meaning to not using protection that he doesn’t have if he doesn’t have that. So you need to negotiate better with yourselves about what your sexual health boundaries are and you kind of have to let go of what it is that you want him to do. You can come to a happy medium and I had a partner— my ex who liked casual sex, we didn’t use protection with each other because I can’t get pregnant accidentally.
But then when we couldn’t figure out a good medium between ourselves and some rules around sexual health. I decided we would use the most protection for each other. And then, you know, then that way he could dictate whatever he wanted to do and I wouldn’t have to worry as much about it. So that may be something that you have to do.
The next thing is you want more information. I say no, no, no more information. First and foremost, other people deserve privacy. You don’t necessarily have the automatic right to know about other things that he’s doing with other people. That is whether— they may not feel comfortable with you knowing. It’s not just about you being a jealous person, which I very much disagree with him saying that about you. But they also deserve privacy. You don’t have an inherent right to know all the details of relationships that he has with other people.
And I don’t think more information is going to help if your brain is creating stories out of a vacuum, then the solution to that isn’t in this case to fill that vacuum with “honesty”. Because you’re still going to spin that “honesty” into the narratives that scare you. You need to control and learn how to— learn how to kind of accept this fear that you have. And I’ll get into a little bit of how you can do that in a second. But you need to do that. Instead of trying to solve that by knowing more information.
I can guarantee you 100% If you think you have a problem comparing yourself now, just wait until you have more information to compare yourself. That will not help. That will not help in the slightest. So no, I don’t think you need any more information about his other relationships. I think that the idea that you’re a jealous person is unhelpful. He has some communication issues. Him trying to force you to see things his way.
Being not necessarily like— he doesn’t have to agree with you about everything but he can be a little bit more comforting and supportive than it seems like he’s being from what I’m reading from you and I could be wrong. It doesn’t seem like he’s giving you a lot of emotional reassurance. He’s just sort of going, “No, I’m not going to give you more information because you’re a jealous person”. Thats… that’s… that’s no. If he really thought you were a jealous person, then why is he with you? Like that’s not cool? You’re not a jealous person.
This isn’t an inherent quality of you as a person. You are having a normal reaction to being new to non-monogamy and he needs to be a little bit more sympathetic and kind to you about it. And it does worry me a little bit that he’s repeatedly — even though yes, he’s done like individual things with you when you requested that. You shouldn’t feel like your partner basically discounts your feelings or, like invalidates your feelings. It’s not necessarily your partner’s job to completely validate you all the time.
And he may not have those same feelings. So he may not be like “Oh, I get it”. He may not get it, but he can at least be kind about it. Is he being kind about it to say someone’s a jealous person to me doesn’t sound kind but maybe a little bit more harsh over texts than it is in person. So yeah, I get it. You will assume things based off of this information, your comparisons will get worse. Your feelings of fear and anxiety — It’s not jealousy, in my opinion. I don’t really feel like this is jealousy completely. I think that there’s a lot more going on but I think that it will only get worse if you have more information.
You do need to focus on your relationship with him and how it feels instead of trying to compare it to others. Also, I think that there’s a little bit of you trying to make monogamy fit non-monogamy. You’re talking about marriage. I think that this is a really big call for you to find your anchor and if you go to my website nonmonogamyhelp.com, there’s a 101 article that’s linked on the front page. And that 101 article talks about finding your anchor. You may be new to non-monogamy but you need a reason why you’re actually interested in it.
People can be monogamous to non-monogamous people. But I very much feel like you have to find a personal reason for being interested in non-monogamy. And that personal reason cannot be to save a relationship. Like it just can’t be to save a relationship. It has to be “oh I get more free time. I like being on my own or I like the fact that I can have friendships that maybe go a little bit into the flirty category without being worried”. There has to be a reason why you personally are interested in non-monogamy.
And once you have that reason, that’s going to help you figure out what kind of non-monogamy you want. How does non-monogamy fit into your life? What is your ideal? The thing that I worry about both with the uniqueness thing — Not that that’s a bad want or a need — but you want unique things you’re concerned about other relationships, you want him to have only emotional bonds with you and physical bonds with others. I feel like there’s a little bit of you trying to turn him into a monogamous person. And he has made that very, very clear to you from the beginning that he is not that.
So there are ways to figure this out. But you need to figure out what do you see? If your picture right now is of you getting married and him spending most of his time with you, that may be very unrealistic. And your relationship may not end because of your jealousy. That’s not the issue here. It may end because you don’t actually want non-monogamy You just want a relationship with him. And you’re just willing to put up with some of this fear and anxiety to have it. Now it’s okay if you want to be monogamous to him and not really seek out other partners yourself. But I do think you still need to have some aspect of polyamory or non-monogamy that fits for you.
So a lot of times I compare this like some monogamous people have relationships where their partner doesn’t spend 100% of their time with them. They’re with people who have like high demanding careers, sometimes people who are dating people in the military that go overseas. And not every monogamous person wants that type of relationship. Not every monogamous person wants to have a partner that has such a demanding other life that they can’t focus more attention on their romantic relationships.
So I think the big question is, can you handle a relationship where your partner doesn’t spend the vast majority of their time with you? Can you handle a relationship where your partner has other huge commitments? And I think if you could handle that monogamously, then you probably could handle non-monogamy, but I still think that there needs to be something in it for you other than just keeping your— because when you agree to non-monogamy on the basis that you want to save a relationship, you’re wanting to save a relationship that doesn’t exist.
You’re wanting to save the relationship that you think you have with a non-monogamous person. But really, you don’t have that because they’re not going to be spending that time with you. And so you’re going to be like, “Oh, I’ll do this to save the relationship”, but then you’re going to experience them not being there anymore, and all this other sorts of stuff and then you’re going to be like “Oh crap, I didn’t know it was gonna be like this”. So I think that finding that will help.
I think also you need to have a little bit more confidence, you will build this confidence within yourself, but in general, whether you have monogamous or polyamorous relationships, you need to let go of the idea that you can control whether or not you get hurt. Sometimes you get hurt, and it’s not necessarily about doing something wrong. Hurt can sometimes be a little bit inevitable and conflict is inevitable in our lives. But if you have faith in yourself, that’s the thing that can always stay the same.
That’s the thing that you can be sure about. Your relationship with yourself. You supporting yourself, you’re going to be there for yourself. If you have faith that you’ll be there for yourself, then other stuff becomes less anxiety inducing. It’s not to say you’re not afraid but you have less anxiety because you are actually afraid of the change but you know that the thing that won’t change is that you are there for yourself. I included it in my book, but a big quote that I really really love and the thing that kind of blew my mind with regards to my anxiety is the idea that I’m not anxious because of the thing that I think I’m anxious about.
I’m scared that I won’t be able to handle it. If you know that you can handle things, if you remind yourself of that, then you will not be so scared of the idea of losing your partner the idea of of being hurt. You know that you’ll always be there for yourself. That doesn’t mean that all experiences will be easy, but it will make things less scary.
So to recap, I think you need to find your anchor and find what you’re actually interested in. That is going to be the thing that will help ground you. That is going to be the thing that will help you stop the comparing as much, to stop worrying so much. You still are going to worry. You’re still going to have negative and unhappy feelings. It’s not going to completely just go away overnight. It is what it is. It’s not shitty. You know, it’s just what you do because you’re trying to help— your brain is just trying to help you survive.
Accept that you compare yourself. Stop damning yourself for your feelings. Stop making yourself into this person who’s going to ruin your relationships because of your jealousy. No, you have feelings. You have feelings and that’s normal. There isn’t anything wrong with you. So control what you can control in terms of your emotion and what you learn. Like you don’t have to learn— I know I don’t like knowing details. I don’t want to know them because I know I compare myself because I know I have anxiety especially when a relationship is just starting out and I’m just like building trust with the person.
I don’t want to know the details of the relationships that they’re in not only because of the privacy of the other person but also because I know what I’ll do with it. So accept that like “Okay, I can’t necessarily always control that I compare myself but I can control how much I know”. And also sexual health risk like you can’t, you know, force him to have your definition of risk. He knows you have HSV 1, if he thinks he has HSV 1, it’s his body and therefore his decision how he discloses that or manages that risk with other partners. It’s not your decision.
So you have to let some of that go and come up with a solution that means something good between the two of you in terms of your sexual health risk and is a compromise. There’s a little bit of sitting in discomfort with that. I think once you find your anchor if you have realised that non-monogamy is something you want to do, that you see benefit in and isn’t just you wanting to stay in this relationship, then I think that you will then be able to decide “okay, I now can sit in some of this discomfort”.
Sitting in discomfort is easier to do if you have an anchor, and I do think the discomfort will go away. I do think eventually you get to a place where you trust your partner a little bit more, you’re a little less scared. I feel like if you had a perfect emotional memory, you could probably go back to the first time you had a monogamous relationship. You were probably very scared. You’re probably very worried. We have all of those feelings when we first start out in any relationship but I think we forget about it once we get used to monogamy.
And then it comes back kind of again once we’re trying non-monogamy and then we’re like “oh crap, I’ve never felt this before” but you probably have so you will be able to sit in some of that discomfort a little bit easier, but you need to figure out if polyamory or non-monogamy is actually what you want. Because if it isn’t, then you may need to walk out of this relationship and step away. And it’s not because you’re a jealous and horrible person that can’t handle it. It’s because this isn’t what you want.
Some people don’t want non-monogamy. Some people want exclusivity. That means something to them and that isn’t because they’re wildly jealous or a caveman, you know, or sexually repressed or any of that. They just want that and that is a valid thing to want. And if it is something you want, then that’s fine. It just may be that this isn’t the relationship for you. So I hope that helps and good luck.
If you’re looking to start exploring polyamory or you’ve been non-monogamous for awhile and struggle with anxiety, The Anxious Person’s Guide to Non-Monogamy may be for you. Even if you aren’t exactly struggling with anxiety, it could be a great book for beginners.