Episode 9: Winning Gold Medals

Are you giving your partner a gold medal for doing something they should be doing anyway? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.


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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript


Me and my boyfriend are together for over two years and living together for almost one, both of us had previous experiences with non monogamy so it was a non brainer and since the beginning we have an arrangement of being each others primary partner and having secondary sexual partners.

But maybe because it is my first long term relationship it is also the first time I experience jealousy, we mostly deal well with it with lots of communication and all, but I fear I may be taking some of the fun for him and it makes me feel really bad because he works hard to give me the most amount of fun.

One of my biggest issues is that he doesn’t really like having one night stands or casual sex, he prefers friends with benefits because he needs to enjoy talking with a person in order to want sex. I actually have no problem with a friend with benefit he has since before we started dating, my problem is when he is flirting with someone new.

We actually had an argument over the last person he was interested in because he wanted to bail on a date he had with me to have a date with her, we solved it but in the end he stopped pursuing her, because of the argument but also because he was already losing interest for other reasons. Well it was almost a year ago and after that both of us only had sex with someone else when we had a threesome.

For context neither of us really had tons of sex before it, I had with 5 people and he had with 2 and the fact we live together now also plays a part in making it harder for either of us to have sex outside the relationship. But I can't stop feeling guilty about how I reacted when he was looking for someone and feeling that I am the reason he doesn’t look for other people anymore, My boyfriend tells me he is fine, because I have a higher sex drive he is very much satisfied with me and does not feel like looking for other people at the moment and says it is okay if I do, I actually feel ungrateful because he knows and respect me so much that he will go out of his way to help me feel comfortable with my sexuality and with the fact that I am a highly sexual person, he introduced me to a non monogamous community and loosed up one of his rules in the relationship.

He does all of this and I could not even give him some support in his pursuit, in the end I feel a bit sexually frustrated because I miss having sex with other people but at the same time I feel too guilty to have sex with other people, I really don’t know how to deal with those feelings.


So there's a couple of things going on in this one. First off ,it's not uncommon and it is absolutely on 100% fine that you and your boyfriend are different in terms of how you like to do relationships or even hookups. That's absolutely fine. I am in a similar situation but reverse. I'm the kind of person where I don't really do casual hookups or things like that. I kind of prefer to have relationships with people and that’s… It's even weird to say that to me because I feel like saying that means that the relationships that my domestic partner has with the people that he considers more casual aren’t as deep when they may be. But I kind of like to have that you know… we’re in a “relationship” and there is… what it means to me is there's like more emotional support, you know?

There's a bit more commitment in what it looks like. My partner isn't really like that. And it's not to say that my partner doesn't want to have relationships but it's just that he likes casual things and that has a benefit for him. And that's ok like… I think in the situation when you have kind of different motivations, it’s sometimes hard to understand one another and that may be why it's hard for you to understand or feel like you can really believe when your boyfriend's like “I’m not really interested in looking for anyone right now. It's it's not something I'm that concerned about.”

I think I still have the same kind of situation with my domestic partner where he’s sort of like, “Oh you should just go out me people”. Like…occasionally I get the urge to do that but sometimes it’s just like, do you know what? I just don't really feel up to it. It can be quite hard. I'm not saying it can’t be hard to want casual things. I don't know how hard it is because it's not kind of where I'm coming from. But I kind of feel like from my perspective like… because I'm very romantic in how I pursue things it can get quite sad. And you know if you put a lot… if you want kind of the emotional investment and you kind of need that in order to have sex with someone… if you kind of emotionally invest in someone and then they pull away or it doesn't work out it can be quite like emotionally difficult.

So I’ve definitely been in that situation. So I think firstly, a way to kind of dial down your guilt is to realise that your boyfriend has different motivations and that's ok. And you don't have to have the same motivations. And also you aren't an imbalance. You know you might be interested in having more casual sex. That doesn't mean that you… I kind of feel like you’re always almost weighing this up as a you know a tick box exercise, the way you kind of say say like I've had sex with five people, he's had sex with two. Like it's not a competition and you always don't have to come out equal in terms of how many people you’ve slept with. If I had to come out as equal to all the partners that I had…  it just would never work. Just because I don't tend to have casual things and that’s cool. That's fine. So that's like a first thing that will help.

A second thing that kind of jumped out at me is obviously the issue that you're having is you mention two things: one, when your when your partner flirts with new people, that's when you kind of have experience the jealousy. And then the other thing you mentioned was that your partner wanted to bail on a date with you, to have a date with another person. The first thing is the that jealousy and that fear over new people is totally… it makes total sense. I know a lot of people tend to feel like your emotions aren’t logical or that logic and emotion are two separate things but actually it's quite logical in many situations to be emotional. Because you know, we’re not Vulcans. We’re human beings. A new person coming along… it's something new and that's scary and that's an unknown and that is going to trigger a lot of fear. And that is totally understandable. So it's actually, even though you kinda see this as jealousy… is a jealousy?

Are you really… I mean, we can split hairs about this all day because I have had discussions were I’ve split hairs about this all day… to me jealousy is wanting something that someone else has. That is to me what jealousy is. I feel like being afraid of losing a partner isn't jealousy and I feel like such so much of the beginner non-monogamy advice is so much like… jealousy jealousy jealousy and when people in polyamorous relationships get asked questions by journalists and shit, the first thing that they ask is “Aren't you jealous?”. Jealousy is like the big scary boogie monster that we’re trying to run away from and I sometimes think that any bad emotion, any sadness, any fear just gets automatically tarred with this jealousy brush even when it's not actually jealousy.

I don't think you being afraid of new people with jealousy. I just think you're afraid of new things and I think you're just starting together in this relationship. You don't have your foundations set with each other, so you're already going to be anxious about that. This relationship is new even though you've been together for a couple of years. It's still new in some ways and I think you'll find in my experience at least over time those fears get less and less. Because you're kind of… once you’re with somebody for a bit of time and you have seen that they're there for you and you’ve weathered problems and you still come out of it at the other, you stop feeling so afraid. But it's perfectly logical to be afraid.

But another big thing here is, it's not going to help your fear if you actually have situations where you are being replaced by someone. A big thing that I tried to… an exercise I try to encourage people to do is… would this bother you if it were a friend? That's kind of a thing where I think it’s a good way to figure out: is it the person or the behaviour that’s actually bothering you? Because I kind of feel like if your partner bailed on you on a date you planned together for going out with a friend, you'd still be upset. So is it really about this person? I mean obviously like it being another romantic interest adds a little bit kind of a twist to the knife, but it doesn't necessarily… it is not necessarily a nice thing for someone to do. And I think that's a discussion that you need to have with your partner.

What are the priorities? Where… and maybe you guys need to think about you know… you choose polyamory for different motivations and sometimes it’s gonna be really really hard to understand each other's motivations but you can get together and say, “ok what does it mean for us to be (if you call yourself) primary partners? What does that mean in real physical terms?” Does that mean that you can't rearrange dates? Does it mean that you know… It's kind of up to you what that means but you have to decide that and you have to understand your priorities and share your priorities and then situations like this won't happen.

But when you have situations like this happen, then you are going to be even more logically afraid that someone is going to come along and replace you. Because you've grown up… I mean correct me if I'm wrong. I don't know if you grew up in a different society than mine. But I would say most people in the same societies that I've grown up in, if monogamy is kind of the default, the idea is that you know being replaced is a thing that can happen. And that you know it's a competition. And monogamy and and dating is all about being the best to attract the best partner. Even though that's not actually the way people choose partners. But that whole thing is still going to be running in your head. So you’re still going to be afraid. And then when your fears can I come true… when you're literally being replaced it's going to reinforce them and it will take a while for you to dial it back.

Now this… the second thing I want to say is… or the third thing rather… Your partner, putting aside this whole bit in consideration for you… when you are replacing… I don't know what the circumstances around wanting to replace you, or you know wanting to cancel your date for another person was. Maybe this was the only night this other person could do it. I don't know. That was a bit inconsiderate but everything else to your partner is doing… like you’re kind of giving him this shiny gold medal for what this person *should* be doing.

You're acting like he is going above and beyond. He's not, with all due respect to him. I'm not trying to say he is not being a good partner. He is being a good partner and it's what he should be. He should be emotionally supporting you. He should be not holding a grudge over you for you having a bad reaction. He should be supportive and helpful. He should be trying to work with you even though you have differences in how your sexuality works. He should be being supportive and you're kind of acting like he's been… “Oh my God he's *so* helpful and I'm just as terrible human who has feelings and needs!”.

No no no no no no no no. He is doing what he should be doing, so stop acting like… first of all, stop acting like emotional support is like… a give and take where everything has to equal out. Sometimes one person needs more emotional support than the other. As long as that imbalance doesn't continue throughout the entire relationship or for a very very long time and it isn't a permanent fixture then sometimes a little bit imbalance just happens because… Like for example, say you know next week someone passed away in your family and you’re really really upset. You would need more emotional support at that time and it's not like… He would be a terrible human being if he was like, “Ok I gave you all this emotional support for when your family passed away. I'm going to need to collect on a debt”. That's not how this works.

It's not a debt. It's not… you know, you weren’t a bad person for having feelings or for making… even if you have no reason to dislike this person. Even if it was an outburst and you shouldn’t have reacted that way and yada yada yada… you allowed to be human and make mistakes. And that's kind of part of living life and he has to… if he wants to have a relationship with someone that… you know if anyone wants to have a relationship with someone that isn't you know… I mean, I guess you can have a relationship that doesn't have any form of emotional support whatsoever. That's fine if that's how you want to do things. Doesn't sound like that's how you’re doing things.

So stop giving him super uber amounts of credit for just doing what he should do. I know you feel like all this guilt but like think about where this guilt is coming from. Because he is doing what he should do and you shouldn't have to feel guilty about that. You don't owe him anything. You don't owe him recompense for you know… it is not how this works. If you stop thinking about it as a competition then you know it makes you go “oh ok well he's doing what he should have been doing, so why do I have to feel guilty about the fact that he is not going out having loads of sex with other people?”.

First of all, that's not what he wants to do anyway and second of all like… it's ok to feel like a little guilty. Like I'm not trying to urge you to stop all emotions in that way either. But if you… I think maybe you came from a situation in your life where you're not used to people doing the basics of what they should do in in terms of emotional support and I've been there so I get that. I've been in that situation of like “Hey this person doesn't hit me. They’re great at relationships.” But that's not where you want to be, because this is what should happen.

Except for the whole ditching you for another person thing. That's not what should happen. But the whole… being supportive of you should happen. That's a good thing, so stop making it seem like he's slaving every day over a hot stove while you're out cavorting with the local bar… I don't know. I'm trying to come up with a stereotype and it's failing. But my point is he's doing what he should be doing so don't feel guilty about that. And the last thing is that you’re going to feel guilty and sometimes when it comes to bad feelings or feeling bad.. I shouldn’t say “bad feelings”. It's not “bad feelings”. It's feeling bad. You just have to go through it and it will get better. In my experience, whether it's sadness, anxiety, all of that like… the only way to deal with it is to deal with it. So you're going to feel guilty. Accept that you're gonna feel guilty and try and your best to cope with it.

Because the thing about anxiety is that if you give anxiety an inch, it will take a whole damn mile and everything else to be honest. It will take more than a mile. If you try to avoid the things that make you anxious, you will just…  the amount of things that you can be around will shrink and shrink and shrink. And the amount of things that you have to avoid will grow and grow and grow. So… you're going to feel guilty so just… try going out. Try meeting someone. Try having a casual thing and experience it. Feel the guilt. You’ll feel guilty but you’ll come out of it at the other end and I think when you realise that it doesn't destroy everything and that you're ok and that your partner isn't resentful and it's ok, it will get better. But I think if you avoid it… you keep avoiding it's just going to keep… that guilt’s just gonna stay right where it is. So yeah unfortunately, you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and go through it.

To summarise like… it's totally ok for you and your partner (or partners) to have different motivations, different reasons why you do polyamory or different ways of doing it. It’s ok that you're into more casual things. You just have to kind of re-remember when you're thinking about your partner that he doesn't want the same things as you. So the fact that he is only had sex with this many amount of people when you've had sex with more is ok. If he doesn't want that then he doesn't want that. So try to remember that. Both of you are valid in what you want. It’s just you want different things and it's really hard sometimes. I have a hard time thinking that…and I think any time you do have that kind of… it's not incompatibility but it's a difference in how you’re reasoning behind things. I think just bears keeping it in mind and remembering.

Second thing is that whole like being replaced… you know that bailing on a date with you to have one with someone else… again I don't know what the circumstances were around it. Maybe that… he was having a date with someone and that was like the only night they could make it but you need to have a discussion about priorities and about what happened. If you need a polyamory friendly therapist, find one. But I think you need to address that and figure out why that happened and talk about your feelings about  it in order to figure out how to stop it from happening again. Either by you working out circumstances were it ok to cancel or re-arrange dates or figuring out like… ok Tuesdays is our date night. No other plans on that night. So work that out.

Third, stop giving people gold medals for shit they should be doing. That I think will help your guilt a lot to be honest. Because I think so much of your guilt comes from the fact that he's done so much for you and you've had this bad reaction like… your reaction is understandable and what he's doing is what he should be doing so… stop giving people gold medals for things that they should be doing anyway.

And the last but not least, like when it comes to some of this guilt, you’re just gonna have to bite the bullet and go through it. I think once you kind of realise that what's happening should be happening and he is… other than bailing on you.. he's being really supportive and that’s what he should be doing, maybe some of that guilt will kind of dial it back a bit. But I do think that you might just… sometimes brains are trying to help and they're not helping and you kind of have to go through it come out at the other end and say “hey I felt pretty freaking terrible but I survived and nothing terrible happened and I'm ok”. Sometimes you just have to do that with some of these feelings and then your brain will realise, “oh ok I don't need to sound the alarm for this”.

I really hope this helps and good luck!

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