Is polyamory just a phase?

I’m 53, South African born and bred, French nationality, living in France, working in Geneva in a respectable job that does not pay well. I am a father of 3 boys and 1 daughter and am divorced. I have a great relationship with my ex and her new husband and with all my kids.
My girlfriend, Sandra is Austrian and a very attractive girl and has been living in NYC for a few months. We have a 25 years age gap between us! We’ve been living together as a couple for 7 years. Sandra was 19 when we met and 20 when we moved in together. I was 45 at the time. Our relationship led to my divorce with my wife.
She was a student at the time we met. She moved to France to come live with me. She worked in Geneva and we also lived in Amsterdam at one stage while she was still studying. She moved to NYC in April.
I am not a wealthy guy. In fact for the last three years, she has been earning more than I. I encouraged her to apply internationally and take the job in NYC to advance her career and I feel it is important that she does well career-wise. I have visited for four weeks in total since her move. She has zero leave and gets paid a daily rate. Our holiday was good, but we travelled a lot and it was busy. I did feel some distance from her.
I have been unable to move my work to NYC and still do not have a concrete solution to be able to work in NYC. I told her this on our last visit in July.
During my visit in July, she asked me if she could start seeing other men. Our relationship is not an open relationship, but we have had sexual encounters with others. I’m not a jealous person. I’ve worked through that. It came as a bit of a shock, but I agreed to this with the understanding that she has social and perhaps sexual needs. It was in fact really hard to accept. I’m trying everything to get to NYC and it feels as if I’m being let down by my partner.
She is now actively seeing other men, men who have asked her for her number on the street, not colleagues, not people she meets socially, she has no friends in New York. She is saying that it is just for the sexual attraction and having a social life, but I’m obviously fearful that we will not survive this as a couple.
She responds to those men who she finds attractive and has been out for drinks with about 5 or 6 people. She has seen one person 3 times and another guy 2 times and had a passionate kiss with him on the second date and is planning to see one other guy again. This one she says is plainly only interested in a sexual encounter.
To me, she seemed to have found an independence and is enjoying the attention. Two weeks ago, about one week after I left and about one week into seeing and meeting other men, she started telling me that we are no longer a couple and that she is finally happy. This was really distressing. I urgently came to NYC last week, with her agreement, but she asked me not to stay at her place. I took a separate place, we went for dinner the first night (she cancelled something to go for dinner) and I ended up sleeping over and did so every night, except the Friday night when she decided to keep a prior engagement (the passionate kiss happened).
I find it thrilling to hear about her encounters and shared the intimate detail as sexual fantasy with her. It is clear that she still loves me and she explained that she just wanted to end the relationship because she did not want me to be hurt while she sees others.
I left on Tuesday evening and it seems that I have rescued for now at least a relationship. I have two more trips booked to NYC, nine nights in total. She is moving to a different area in NYC tomorrow and she is ok that I will be staying with her during these trips. We have also agreed to spend Christmas and new year in NYC together.
I have realised that she really needs space. It has been a problem from the beginning of our relationship. My ex-wife lost a father and brother in the years leading up to our marriage and consequently, we were always very close. This has been my habit…but now looking back I realise that Sandra has always enjoyed being on her own. She had no problem in not contacting me for a few days when she visits her parents, for example. This does stress me out when I don’t hear from her.
I find my thoughts overwhelmed by the problem of getting to NYC. I have now managed to come up with a possible solution to move to NYC. I need a work sponsor and that may be possible through my current employer, but it is really complex. Financially I have made some arrangements in order to travel regularly for the next few months until Dec. Where I currently live, I can take three months fully paid sick leave on the basis of a psychological issue and I already have a certificate, which I used to come to NYC last week and will have it in the future.
After this period I will lose my job, but will have an unemployment benefit paid to me for the next three years that will be sufficient to survive and live in New York City, as long as Sandra agrees that we can live together and share rent, else the rent in NYC might be just a bit too much.
I can see myself as being in a polyamorous relationship with Sandra while in NYC, but as the principle partner. I am not used to the “culture” of NYC. But dating and having multiple relationships seems ok. She is young, and has not had the experience of the dating game. I feel that if I’m wise and let her live this, we may be able to remain a couple.
In a way, she may become very bored with this new thrill very quickly, or is this just wishful thinking on my part. When talking to her over the last weekend when I visited and discussing some of her dates, I seemed to be able to put things into perspective for her. Know what the guys are after, see it for what it is, dating and flirting and not necessarily a search for love. In the one particular case, the older guy, I think she is seeing a reason not to pursue this.
Something that I have not mentioned is that she has always maintained that she does not want to get married and does not want kids. However, unaware to her, her feminine hormonal cycle may just be what is pushing her very hard now to look for a suitable partner. I have discussed this aspect with her and even if she initially did not think so, it seemed that in the logic there was something that may have just made her understand what is happening to her.
I know this is complicated and a bit much, but I’m hoping to find a way through this and come out with a relationship intact and as a person intact.

I’m breaking down my advice into the following points:

  • Beginning a relationship through infidelity
  • Age differences and power differentials
  • Differences in lifestyles and wants
  • Hormonal cycles and listening to women

Beginning a relationship through infidelity

First and foremost, your current relationship is the reason your relationship with your previous partner broke up. I’m going to assume there was infidelity taking place although you haven’t specifically said that. You essentially left a long and trusted relationship and family you had with a woman to date someone who was 25 years younger than you, fully seemingly aware she had no interest in marriage and that she was so young that there were many aspects of life she had yet to experience and would be nowhere near ready to ‘settle down’ in a way you had done with your partner.

The problem with this, non-monogamy or no, is that fundamentally it says something not only about your ethics but also your partner’s ethics. Unless she had no idea you were already in an established relationship, it means that she doesn’t necessarily have an issue with starting a relationship with someone who is married. And while she was 19 when she did this and we all tend to make poor choices at younger ages, it still is a very good reason why you might feel anxious about her dating around. If your relationship begins by breaking another one, then you’re going to have a worry that inevitably that will be how your relationship will end.

But another good reason you have to be anxious about this is the next issue that I want to discuss.

Age differences and power differentials

Working with young people ages 16–25 does make me have a lot of feelings about age differences in dating, I admit, specifically when it comes to people in their late teens and early twenties. People are capable of a level of maturity and intelligence at a young age, but in my opinion, through the ages of 18–25, people go through a rapid rate of maturity and learn a lot about life. Young people can vary wildly, but I consider a 30-year-old dating a 20-year-old to be very different than a 40-year-old dating a 30-year-old.

Someone who is 19 is definitely, even if they are mature and intelligent for their age, still really working out who they are in life. Their brain hasn’t even fully finished developing. They have not gone through several of life’s milestones and they are still very much a young person in my eyes. And I say that even being a 19-year-old who had gone through things many 45-year-olds on this planet hasn’t.

When you have two people who have a 25 year age gap where someone is a very young person, it creates a system of imbalance of power in not only life experiences but in society in general — even if she makes more money than you. I’m glad to say this situation doesn’t sound explicitly abusive. You’re not restricting her contact with family members or doing anything which raises a red flag to me but… fundamentally I have to ask what is it about you at 45 years old which decides to abandon a family you have built for someone who is incredibly young?

Even if she makes more money than you. Even if you aren’t being abusive or controlling, which is the reason a lot of older people date younger people (because they are easier to manipulate or control). There is something strange for me in a grown man choosing to date someone who is 25 years younger than him and not only that but someone who is 19 years old and is on a very different plane in life than you are in.

I wouldn’t even remotely consider dating someone who was 9 years younger than me. I would have to seriously consider dating someone who was 22 years old, let alone 19. While I appreciate that feelings happen and people of all walks of life can fall for one another, I feel like there is so much of a difference of maturity and life experience between me and someone who is 19 that it would not be a relationship of equals.

You were 45 when you did this, with the knowledge and experience that a 45-year-old has. You know yourself at 19 and you know many 19-year-olds are not ready to settle down and live a monogamous, married life in the way you had with the partner you left. And she also told you plainly she wasn’t interested in that type of life. She actually did the right thing by breaking up with you because she knew that the life she wanted was not conducive to what you were hoping it would turn into as she aged.

A big reason to not date people in their late teens as a 45-year-old is also because these people are still working out what kind of life they want to lead. They are testing things and figuring out what they want. She has matured and experienced a relationship with you, but decided she wants to have other relationships and did the right, mature thing and decided to go about it her own way. And that doesn’t always happen in younger people and can definitely happen with people at any age, especially if they didn’t know open relationships were even an option, but I feel like a lot of the anxiety you feel is because you’re not being real with yourself.

You knew the risk when you left your established relationship for this one and I feel like you tried to kid yourself into thinking that it would eventually become similar to your first relationship. And through pushing to try and get to a place where you can live and work together, your idea that her hormonal cycles will cause her to change her personality (which I will address later) and you continuing to be attached to her despite everything is where your anxiety is coming from.

Age differences don’t always have to be a terrible thing. If you were 65-year-old dating a 40-year-old, this would be a very different conversation but that has everything to do with the fact that late teens and early twenties are times in people’s lives where they’re figuring out who they are. And I think you’ve known that this whole time. You’ve just been trying to convince yourself that this could somehow be different. Which leads me to the next point.

Differences in lifestyles and wants

Your partner, or should I say your ex-partner, point blank does not want the lifestyle you want and she’s told you this on multiple times. You’re in a sort of bargaining stage of accepting the death of this relationship. You’re still trying to get her time, spend holidays with her and everything else and even convince yourself you’d be absolutely fine with her sleeping with other men — but that is not your end goal.

Throughout your letter, you’ve indicated what you want and what you’re aiming for multiple times. You’re basically hoping to be her primary partner if and when you do find a way to get to NYC despite her never giving you any indication she wants a polyamory style where she has a primary, domestic relationship. You are trying to tell her that her hormones will make her ‘settle down’ despite the fact she’s been honest with you since 2009 that she does not want marriage or children. She has broken up with you because she recognises you don’t want the same thing out of life, but you are continuing to try and make real, life changing steps including immigrating to another country in the hopes that this relationship will turn into what you want it to.

And I have to be honest with you. It won’t.

Maybe down the line, she might decide to be monogamous. She might even change her mind about having children. People do change all of the time. But you cannot bet your entire life and livelihood on this chance. I feel like she is doing the best she can to try and create some boundaries around things. The draw of an old and comfortable relationship may have brought her back in after ending your relationship, but that may not be the best choice.

She might be allowing the current distance between you to function as a means of making you two not so interdependent as you might want. She may be fine with the relationship now because it is not the domesticated, primary relationship you are seeking but it is possible you will work hard to gain the right to work in NYC only to find that this relationship with her has fundamentally changed and, even if you do get back together, she will not be practicing a type of polyamory that you are hoping she will practice.

Even if she does, you are banking your hopes on the idea she will one day ‘settle down’ which is not a good thing to do. If she doesn’t, it will only cause resentment over time and fester in your relationship. She made the right choice when she ended the relationship between you two. Unless you are willing to embrace and accept that you may never have the domesticated relationship you are hoping with this person, it will not end well for you. And that’s why you should do the thing I’m suggesting in the next section.

Listen to women when they tell you things

Your suggestion that her hormonal cycles are going to change her mind has, with all due respect, no basis in real life or biology. Everyone has different levels of hormones in their bodies and while there may be many women who share experiences in different stages of their life, these types of things are not true for all women or all people with shared biological organs. If it were the case that all women seek to find some partner to settle down with, then polyamory itself wouldn’t exist for women past 30 and it most definitely does.

A lot of people, not just women, experiment in their 20s and plenty of people enjoy continuing to experiment as they get older. Some people experiment and enjoy flings well into their old age. Hormones do not have the same effect on all people and it seems as if it’s only women whom society thinks is so dominated by their hormones and drive to marry or have babies. This misconception you have in and of itself isn’t necessarily devious, but the problem is that this idea is what leads to so many women who want their tubes tied or who don’t want children to be constantly either denied or invalidated because even doctors believe these women don’t know what they want.

People can and do change their mind, but you said so yourself she has always been adamant that she does not want children or a marriage. You need to stop trying to convince her otherwise with half-baked ideas regarding hormones which are not really based on scientific reality or experience and believe her when she tells you something.

You have a bit of a pattern of ignoring her when she’s telling you something outright and just going about what you want to do on the hopeful whim she will turn into the woman you want to have a relationship with. She’s been honest with you about her wants and needs, but you’ve continuously plowed on, ignoring very clear signs that you two are no longer compatible and just doing whatever you want to try and save your relationship. Which brings me to the final conclusion.

When people grow apart

You two don’t seem to be compatible. She wants to date around and has explicitly said she doesn’t want marriage or a family. And even if you don’t want more kids, your comments indicate you want something similar to the relationship you had with your previous partner. You should not be uprooting yourself and moving to an entirely new country, especially unemployed (which I’m fairly doubtful you will get past even visitor immigration stating you are unemployed and visiting a romantic partner as that’s a clear indication of someone who’s a risk of overstaying a visitor visa), on the hope that this relationship will become what you want. It just won’t.

This isn’t about polyamory, this is about the fact that you two want different things in life. She may not even want polyamory necessarily, but she does want freedom and independence. She finds the type of relationship you want to be stifling and difficult. And that will not change even if you’re happy with her having sex with whomever.

My honest advice to you is for you to let her go. Do not go visit her in the upcoming holidays. Cancel all of your trips to NYC. Do not continue to allow yourself to believe this will change. You both need to take some definite time apart, maybe even no contact for you to gain a more realistic grip on the situation and not be sucked in by what’s familiar. You can check in with her in maybe a decade, see where she is and if she’s changed, but it is not a good idea to change your entire life for what is completely wishful thinking.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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