Introducing non-monogamy

You're attracted to someone else and wonder if it's a good idea to bring up non-monogamy in your current relationship -- and should you?

My partner and I have been together for three years now. I love him and am very happy with our relationship and have - until now - never had the desire to be romantically or sexually involved with more than one person at a time. I've felt attracted to a few other people but thought it harmless and "normal" as long as I wouldn't do anything about it.

I now find myself attracted to a mutual friend of ours and, to put it frankly, feel the desire to sleep with him. This has never happened to me before while being in a relationship. I don't think I want to date him but I am aware that sex always has an emotional component and I shouldn't make promises of not developing romantic feelings for someone else if I sleep with them.

Up to now, we have been very open about our struggles and doubts and we always encouraged each other to bring up things that bother us early on so that we can work on it together. But I'm afraid to bring up this topic about exploring the possibilities of opening our relationship because it is so existential and would change our relationship completely.

I am sure that this has nothing to do with me feeling like my boyfriend doesn't fulfill my needs or something lacking in our relationship. But even if this "crush" fades, I cannot be sure it wouldn't happen again and so I feel like I need to talk to him about it.

At the same time I don't want to hurt him and should be sure about what exactly it is that I want. Would I even be okay with him seeing other people as well? Do I feel like this because I only see my boyfriend every two weeks (we are currently doing long-distance) and would like to have the opportunity to have sex with another person more often than that? Do I want to sleep with another person because I (unconsciously) feel like I'm missing out/should not be in a monogamous-relationship in my twenties (I'm 24)?

I guess I'm looking for some guidance on how to bring all of this up to my boyfriend because I already feel like I'm hiding something from him. This is all really new and complicated to me. Any advice will be much appreciated.

First thing I would say is that it’s pretty normal for people to have crushes and attraction to other people outside of their monogamous relationship and whether or not you choose to tell your partner about that really comes down to individual preferences.

It’s easy to feel like you’re “hiding” something, but the definition of the expectation of privacy within your relationship is really down to what you’ve agreed upon or negotiated — and quite a lot off people don’t negotiate this at all because the expectation is often that there are no boundaries within a monogamous relationship.

But actually, you do have a reasonable expectation of privacy within your own head. You’re not required to disclose everything to your partner just because you’re together. And you may actually have a partner who would rather not know something like this all around.

But it really depends on the status of your relationship that you’re in and how much your partner buys into the idea that monogamous people should only ever be sexually attracted to their partner. This is an idea society sells us which is pretty unrealistic but a lot of people very much buy into it.

I think the first thing to think about within this situation, which may be the reason why your mind is considering alternatives, is the nature of your long distance relationship. While I don’t believe polyamory is monogamy with an upgrade or requires any kind of expert level of relationship skills, I do believe that in a society that normalises monogamy and quite often echoes the idea that “open relationships don’t work” it takes a certain amount of willing to be honest with yourself about your needs and your wants to even be able to acknowledge you’re interested in and want to pursue polyamory in the first place.

So, maybe there’s a reckoning you need to make with yourself before you even consider opening the relationship — because polyamory also is not just a way to avoid breaking up. How long will this long distance last? Are you happy with it being long distance?

Are you afraid of being alone? Are you making decisions based on what you actually want or are you making decisions based on what you’re trying to avoid? I believe when you’re making decisions based on avoidance rather than your actual needs, you’re going to betray yourself in the end.

Before you get into the ins and outs of polyamory and whether or not you want to ask to open your relationship, ask yourself if this is a relationship that you see yourself in long term. A relationship doesn’t have to be sour or bad for you to want to end it, though it can be more difficult to end a relationship that isn’t necessarily going badly than one that is. It comes down to what you actually want in life and I think that is something that you maybe need to explore before deciding whether or not you’re going to introduce the concept to your partner.

At the end of the day, you can’t completely avoid hurting your partner and actually, consider the reverse. Would you want someone to be with you because they’re afraid to break up with you? Is that really kindness or consideration at the end of the day?

Obviously we care about our partners and we want them to be happy, but sacrificing our own needs consistently out of fear of the relationship ending really isn’t actually about protecting our partners — it’s more about protecting oneself.

On the surface, people-pleasing seems to be about caring for others more than one cares for oneself, but actually people pleasing is inherently about trying to protect oneself from pain. I would definitely check out Hailey Magee’s account on Instagram to explore the concepts of people-pleasing.

If you do some exploration and you do want to stay in this relationship, but have a curiosity for others there are sometimes ways to introduce the concept to your partner to gauge their general reactions to the concept of non-monogamy.

You could ask about the concept of a “hall pass” which a lot of people have in monogamy where, within a couple both of them have a person, usually a celebrity, that they’re allowed to sleep with if the opportunity arises. If your partner has a vehement dislike for the topic, then I would probably avoid suggesting opening your relationship and ending it instead exploring to you is worth it. Whether or not it’s worth it comes down to your personal preference.

But weary that just as maybe you agreed to go long distance to avoid ending the relationship, a lot of people will agree to an open relationship to avoid ending the relationship. Introduce the topic roughly through a concept like the “hall pass” and then, if the reaction to that isn’t repulsion, take a little bit of time to think about what it is that you might want.

Do you want a relationship where you for the most part have emotional monogamy (or intend to have that) and then have the freedom to sexually explore and what you might do if you find emotions cropping up? How will you divide your time? My book The Anxious Person’s Guide to Non-Monogamy goes into some details of figuring out between you if your non-monogamies are actually compatible — because two people can be non-monogamous but still not compatible.

In the end, there’s a lot of exploration here for you to do for yourself and a lot of things to think about. But also, as much as this may be distressing, try to remember that you’re in a very good position.

Some people deny their needs to themselves for their whole lives and find themselves married for over a decade with several children and houses and other real physical ties with a person only to finally be able to assert their needs in a way that creates a lot of friction in their life. You’re at a good point in your life to begin this type of self-exploration and being willing to do it right now, I believe, will make the future a lot more bright.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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