Episode 92: Unclear Boundaries

Sometimes people are jerks and sometimes experiences help us learn when we can also step away.

Sometimes people are jerks and sometimes experiences help us learn when we can also step away.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

How do you feel about long distance relationships?

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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

My ex (33M) just broke up with me (22F) after I visited him in the US. He didn’t break up with me while I stayed with him but he broke up with me after I came back to my country on the phone. We were in a long distance relationship for 1 year, and he doesn’t wanna do online date nights or text frequently anymore because he feels forced.

I met him in Australia 2 years ago. I usually went to his place once or twice a week. We didn’t really discuss [our] relationship but I really liked him. And he said “ do you like being my girl?” by voice chat. So I thought I was dating with him at the time. But he had been seeing some girls as well which he had never mentioned.

When he left Australia, he asked me that if I wanna continue this relationship. I said yes, and I asked him “Are you my boyfriend?” And he said yes. So we started dating officially?? Also, he wrote a letter that said “I’ve never liked anyone as much as I like you”. Even though, he married twice (He had divorced already tho).

After he went back to the US, he started to hike on the Appalachian trail. And he started ignoring my texts and stopped contacting me. We talked about me visiting him and hiking together before he started hiking, but he said it’s not a good idea because hiking is too tough. Then he suggested me to see other people and he told me that he is now seeing the girl on the trail. When he mentioned about her, he described her as “just a hiking things”.

After that, he said he wanted to try poly[am] relationship. This is the first time I heard about polyamory from him. But later, he told me he was solo poly[am] in Australia which I didn’t know.

I still really liked him. So I decided to try [a] poly[am] relationship. But I was struggling with jealousy and insecurity probably because I didn’t see him for a year and he and the girl from the trail live in the same city. But anyway, finally, I would be able to visit him in the US and stay for few weeks.

I really enjoyed spending time with him. We went to a lot of places and had wonderful dinner. But when we went out, he used his phone a lot and I wasn’t really sure if he is enjoying or not. And one time I saw him texting his other partner when we went on the date. I felt like he cannot stop thinking of other partner[s] even we went on the date. Also, once he told me that he doesn’t use his phone when he is with someone. But when he is with me, he uses his phone a lot?? I wasn’t sure that if I am his important person or not, then I felt insecure about it.

I wasn’t so mature and I cried a lot because of my insecurities. I should’ve told him that how I felt more. But it’s too late.

I wanted to continue this relationship even we are [long distance] So I asked him that what’s gonna be like before I left. But he just said “ it’s going to be less cuddling and we could talk about it later when you get back home.”

It was a painful flight and I messaged him on the plane. I asked him that I wanna know when I can see you again. Then he said he hasn’t known yet, but probably in Europe or my country.

After I got back home, we talked on the phone. He asked me about my plan first. I told him that not seeing him for a year was too tough. I wanna see you at least twice a year. Then he started talking about his thoughts.

What he was saying is,

  1. He doesn’t [want] online date nights or frequent text, because he feels forced.
  2. He has been expected me to be his vacation friend. (not frequently talking each other but traveling together sometime)
  3. When we stayed together, I was so insecure and it was annoying. He lost interest in me.
  4. Staying in other countries for few weeks cost us a lot. And he cannot do that.
  5. If I could move to the US, he would like to see me again.

Then he just broke up with me after I got back home. I paid for airplane, visa, COVID test (It’s so expensive actually), taxi (from airport to his place, and his place to airport), some souvenirs for him.

Also, even though he is 11 years older than me, he is broke. So I tried not to be burden financially. I got some lunch, dinner, drinks.

I thought I did almost everything I could do for him. But I felt like I lost a lot of things, money, time, great memories…

And I wish he broke up with me before I left in the US, then I didn’t have to drag this feeling into my country.

Now, I hate him so much. The more I hate him, the more I will become the person I don’t wanna be. I just wanna know how to forget those memories and just move on.

He promised me that he won’t break up with my after this visit. I don’t know why this guy could easily promise what he couldn’t. But I should be glad not to be dragged by this guy anymore.

What he did to me is not what non-monogamous people [do] right? I am interested in the lifestyle but I don’t know how to handle current emotions and trust someone again…


Um, no. This is not what non-monogamous people do. This is what people who are kind of jerks do and jerks can unfortunately come in all flavours: non monogamous, monogamous, any type of person in any type of “lifestyle”. I know it's a lifestyle. I just hate that word for personal reasons. Any kind of person can be a jerk.

I would say that you were insecure, but you had a lot of reasons to be insecure. There are lots of things that could have happened to help you feel a little bit more secure in this relationship, both things you could have done and also things he could have done. But one big thing about this is that you beating yourself up about this by saying you weren't mature for crying is really really not fair to yourself.

You're allowed to have emotions and regardless of whether you continue to be monogamous or be non-monogamous, you should be allowed to get upset without you beating yourself up in such a way and maybe there's a problem with sort of English translation on this. That is possible, but saying that you were not being mature and just the way that you talked about being upset is really harsh on yourself.

Being polyamorous and being monogamous— being in any type of relationship is not about handling your emotions to the point where you don't have any. We have emotions, we have feelings. We are human beings. We're not Vulcans. We have feelings and it's okay to have feelings and it is not immature to be upset. So first thing — no matter what kind of relationship style you plan on continuing, please give yourself the permission to have feelings.

Because regardless of you know all of the options that could have happened between you and this person, one thing is for absolutely certain: you need to allow yourself the permission to have feelings and not beat yourself up for them. He's allowed to be turned off by insecurity. If he said that you were “annoying” and your feelings were “annoying”, and that turned him off, that is a jerk way of saying that. There are better ways to deal with it. And you know what?

If he doesn't want— and some people… some people are interested in non-monogamy because they can have sex and have some amount of romance in their lives without necessarily taking on the responsibility of what I call emotional management. So they can be— there's a thing called “comet partners” and that's a person that just sort of comes in and out of people's lives and maybe hangs out with them for a bit maybe is a kind of friends with benefits situation.

Doesn't have to like go to your parents funeral with you. Doesn't have to have any emotional responsibility. And if both people consent to that, that is 100% fine. The problem that I have is when somebody assumes this role without informing the people or is so unaware of themselves that they are doing this and think that that's polyamory and just go about their lives as if people who have any kind of emotional expectations of them are immature or insecure or they're the problem

and it's not the case.

Okay? I find it really really bizarre that he suddenly mentions polyamory to you. And then says he was solo polyamory when he was in Australia and you find out that he was seeing other people— granted, it didn't really seem like you were very clear with each other about whether or not your relationship was actually a “relationship” and that gets really dicey because, yes, on the one hand, I do think that most people are monogamous.

So if you are kind of flirting with the boundaries around “Are we a thing or are we not a thing?” There needs to be some clarification there because most people will expect being a “thing” or being in a relationship to being monogamous and if you have no intention of doing that, purely for the sake of STI risk and being clear about sexual health, you should be clear with people that you're sleeping with that you're also sleeping with other people, just so that they can assess their risk.

And I don't really buy from this guy that “Oh, I was solo polyamory and now I want to try polyamory with you”. I don't know. I don't really necessarily buy that. But I do think it sounds like this guy wanted something more casual. And maybe there were opportunities for you to break this off way before it got to this point. Like when you found out that he was sleeping with other people in Australia without telling you. You could have been like, “Okay, I don't really like the fact that I wasn't told about this”.

And that could have been the end of it. But I understand why you kept going because you like this person and you wanted to see where it went. And also, he could have told you. I feel like there were times when you assumed that there were exclusivity feelings from him when there weren't and there were times when it seemed like he was able to have his cake and eat it too.

And so he's not going to mess that up. It's okay for him to want to have less serious things and flings. I feel like it probably was clear that you weren't interested in that. Like it doesn't really seem like you are actually interested in that you were willing to try polyamory but only for the sake of keeping this relationship not necessarily because you had any interest in it. And I feel like okay, so he found your insecurities “annoying” — which by the way, if he really said that really gets on my nerves, but it was very clear that this wasn't something that you necessarily were that gung-ho about.

And I do feel like for anyone who's interested in polyamory, and is in a monogamous relationship or some relationship of any type, if they are introducing it to somebody and somebody is trying it for the first time, mostly for the sake of keeping the relationship. You would expect the person to be super anxious and super insecure. It's to be expected so I… you know, again, it's not a problem that he doesn't want to have a serious relationship with you. It sucks that he didn't cut you off.

But equally, I also think that you put up with some of this for way too long. He was kind of a jerk. I don't think that he was very clear. I think he allowed the sort of mystique of the situation and some of his excuses of, “oh, I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail and blah, blah”. You know, I think he allowed some of that to obscure what it is that he was doing. And I think he wanted to have his cake with you and eat it too when he wants— and the fact that like… I just I wish that I could like hug you because the fact that he's broke, and you flew over there and you paid for shit.

And put yourself out there and like he didn't seem to— It doesn't seem like from your letter, he seemed to acknowledge even the fact that you were basically out of pocket or that there was some, there was some kind of inequality in that situation. There's a lot that you put into that. And there were moments when you could have stepped back. Now that doesn't mean that's acceptable in terms of like, it doesn't mean that it's okay for him to be a jerk because you went along with it maybe longer than you should. He is still a jerk.

Unfortunately, I don't necessarily think there's anything you can do about that at this point. I think that in the future, use this as an opportunity… Use this as a kind of learning point to demand more clarity for yourself. If people— if you're not sure if you're in a relationship with someone or if you're not sure, demand that clarity from them. I would also say be very, very cautious — and I feel like you brought this up for a reason — around people who say things like “I don't like anybody else except you”. Especially if those people are polyamorous.

Now sometimes people say things like that because it's very reassuring at times and it's the sort of thing that you hear in films and you know, people like to say that, you know, and it might be true. I'm not denying that some people will, you know, have sort of relationships where they don't really click with someone and then they find someone they truly click with and then you know, they do have that experience.

But just be very, very wary of anyone who puts you on a pedestal just because even if they're doing it for the reasons of trying to reassure you and make you feel better, I feel like anytime somebody puts you in the position of most valuable partner and VIP, you will understandably have a lot of anxiety about that because if there's only one person that he feels super strongly about then as much as you may be in that spot, now you can be replaced. And then it also creates these comparisons like you were saying of like “He said he doesn't text anyone when he's on a date with me but or when he's on dates with people but yet he's texting people while we're on dates”.

So that kind of thing doesn't help. But in the future, like remember this situation and try and use it to demand more clarity for yourself. If you're wanting to explore non-monogamy, that's fine. But I think that in general, regardless of whatever relationship style you choose, it would be helpful for you to be able to assert your needs a little bit more and to understand that —And I really, really relate to you right now. I'm not going to go into my personal life, but I really relate to you. It is extremely difficult to step away from a situation where you very very much like somebody, but they are not giving you what you need.

And it is very, very, very easy to allow the feelings you have about them to wash away, temporarily, all of your needs and your concerns and like,
“Yeah, but I can deal with it because I like this person”. It's very, very, very easy to do that. And it's very, very, very hard— It's very easy to step away from someone who's a dickhead. It's very easy to step away from someone who's a jerk. It’s— and this guy is kind of a jerk like in my opinion, but you know, when you have the love goggles on, it's hard to see that someone is treating you badly.

But if somebody isn't actually treating you all that badly, and I'm saying this because it will get more complicated than this. You might meet somebody who is not as much of a jerk as this guy, but still wants to have these types of less serious flings things and it will be very, very tempting for you to just go along with it just so you can keep this person in your life. And it takes a lot to learn how to go, “You know what I know I really like you and I really, really want to be with you and there is a huge part of me that says, I know that this isn't the type of relationship that I want but I'm willing to go with it because I think that this temporary happiness will last forever and it won't and it sucks”.

So being able to assert your needs, being able to know— and maybe you didn't necessarily know. You were trying polyamory. Sometimes you don't know what you need until you're not getting it but being able to assert that and being able to say like, “Okay, I would like someone who doesn't text people when we're on dates together. Can you please do that? I would like someone who actually wants to be in a committed relationship and like likes to define that clearly. Are you willing to do that? I would like someone who is willing to talk about the economics of the situation that we're in. You don't have a lot of money but I don't necessarily want to pay for everything”.

You are not a burden. Anyone who makes you feel like you are a burden to them— Like I don't know if he said that. If he said that you're a burden like or you said you didn't want to be a financial burden to him. A partnership should be a place where you could you should be able to come into that and say, “Okay, I know you don't have a lot of money, But I also don't have a lot of money. So how are we going to work this out?”

Like you have to be able to say that and if you can't talk about that, then— and whether that's because he is kind of putting up walls or it's also a little bit of yourself, being scared to scare him away. You have to be able to assert your needs a little bit more. And I think that you're going to find relationships of any kind a little bit difficult if you're unable to do that because you're going to go along with stuff that doesn't actually suit you because you're too afraid to scare that other person off. And it's okay. It’s not— it's a very human thing.

Please don't beat yourself up about this. It's a lesson that even myself, I am still trying very much to learn. Like I'm still I just like— I wish that every single person who was not fully compatible with me was just a total jerk because then it would be so much easier to just be like bleh. But it's not. It's really hard and it will get harder when you meet people who don't fully meet your needs. So it'll take some time. It's not an overnight process.

You're also only 22 so it makes sense that you feel a little bit of a more difficult time asserting your needs. You will get there. But I think that this situation, it's very unfortunate. He was kind of a jerk, but it's something that you can use as a reminder of why it's really important for you to step away from situations that don't serve you. Lastly, I have to say if you are interested in non-monogamy still I would check out the 101 and 102 articles I have on NonMonogamyHelp.com

If you're interested that will give you a kind of springboard to examine what might interest you about non-monogamy. Because the thing that I think is really important is having a personal reason for being interested in non-monogamy and a lot of people— I fully acknowledge this — a lot of people don't know about non-monogamy, get introduced to it when they're in a relationship and their primary reason for wanting to try it is to save a relationship that otherwise might be ended. However, I think that it's really really important to find a personal reason to be interested in non-monogamy and you might have that reason.

So if you check out those articles, you might get to learn a bit more about like, what you should think about, what you might be interested in, and then you can kind of explore if non-monogamy is for you. But yeah, to sum up, no this isn't what non-monogamous people do. I definitely feel like this guy has been a jerk to you in many, many ways. You were insecure. You had a lot of valid reasons to be insecure and you beating yourself up about having feelings isn't fair to yourself.

And I very, very much hope you take the lesson— the biggest lesson from this and that you're allowed to have emotions, You're allowed to have feelings. I feel like this guy wanted something more casual and there were boundaries. He didn't make clear and boundaries that you could have made clearer and yeah I — overall yeah, he's definitely a jerk and you not really sure how to put down some of these boundaries as an excuse his behaviour, but I'm hoping that learning about this and thinking about this situation might help you in the future be able to sit down those boundaries.

And I'm sorry that you went through this because this sounds like an absolute pain in the ass. And you don't deserve to have gone through this. And last but not least, if you want to explore non-monogamy do check out those resources, have a think about it. No matter what I think that you will get better from this. Things will get better. It sucks right now. I'm again so sorry that you went through this. I'm really angry on your behalf.

Um, I really want to give you a hug when you were saying like that you didn't want to be a burden to him and you've done so much and you were annoying and you were you were immature by crying like— No, no, you weren't. It's okay for you to have feelings. And I really hope that things get better from here on out and I really really want things to be well with you. And people don't generally follow up. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't but take this as definite invitation to send me a message later on because I think part of your letter was just you telling somebody about this happening to you and that is absolutely fine.

But please, please check in later on and let me know how things are going for you. And I genuinely hope that they get better and I do think they will get better from here on out. I hope this helps and good luck.

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