My partner and I have been together 5 years and are in our early 30s. We identified as a cis/het couple; however, he recently came out as queer to me. And I think I am too — if I were currently single, I would be interested in pursuing women/non-binary/trans people. Herein lies our conflict. He would like to open our relationship so he can explore his queer identity. On a macro level, I completely understand and support this. But I have no interest in being in an open relationship.
There are many things about our relationship that eschew the traditional system our society pushes — we never want to get married or have children, we have never used gendered terms such as boyfriend/girlfriend — but I am really struggling with getting on board with non-monogamy. I just don’t think it’s for me. I have had some strong, negative reactions every time we’ve discussed it, and even when doing research on my own. I burst into tears and have trouble expressing myself. But I know it’s important for my partner to explore his queer identity. I wish more than anything that I could immediately be on board with this to support him.
I’m worried I’ll never be okay with non-monogamy. I worry this means my partner will suffer because he will be denying an important part of himself; I worry if I agree to open up I’ll be even more confused than I am now.
I think my questions boil down to this: can non-monogamy work if only one person is interested in dating other people?
To answer your first question: Yes. There are plenty of people who are monogamous themselves and date someone who does pursue other relationships. As much as people think ‘polyamory’ isn’t “traditional” — and perhaps calling it that is — historically, marriage has been less about love and more about financial arrangement and within ‘marriage’ plenty of men have had the freedom to have mistresses to their heart’s consent.
While I wouldn’t call this ‘polyamory’ per say, this was very much a cultural norm and there are plenty of societies where polygamy is a cultural norm and, while it may come with some caveats around how it can be used to abuse and control women, I don’t think the set up, so long as it’s consensual, is necessarily problematic.
What’s important for this kind of setup isn’t necessarily that the individual who is monogamous experiences no jealousy or negative emotions about their partner pursuing other people. I feel like that’s an unrealistic expectation to put on anybody attempting to open their relationship. You can’t grow up within a monogamous-centric culture, let alone one who places unrealistic expectations of monogamy within your head without having that pop up in the form of fears and anxieties in your life. I generally advise people interested in non-monogamy to have their own motivations beyond extending the shelf life of their current relationship toward non-monogamy.
For someone who isn’t interested in being non-monogamous but their partner is, I advise that you realise that reality that your partner being non-monogamous will bring. Love is infinite and your partner pursuing other people does not mean that they love you any less — but time is not infinite. And agreeing to a non-monogamous relationship means you are agreeing to a relationship where your partner will not spend the majority of their time with you. And this is something which some monogamous people will have to agree with as well if they are married to or date someone who has a time intensive career such as a doctor or lawyer.
You will have fears of being replaced. You will have the nervousness that even people interested in non-monogamy experience when they open their relationship because trying new things will always make one nervous and afraid. You’ve been together for 5 years and that’s a good foundation but it’s important for you, in the middle of these fears, to realise how little you can control. Anxiety for me is always about trying to give me the illusion of control.
My anxiety brain thinks that making me afraid that my partner will leave me will motivate me to acting in a way that will make that outcome less likely. The more I buy into the idea that I can act in a way that will prevent people from leaving me, the stronger that belief becomes. But the truth is, I cannot ultimately prevent that.
Obviously, I can be a total asshole to my partner and then they’re more likely to leave me, but I can’t stop someone from falling out of love with me. I think it will help you in this situation to remember that keeping your relationship closed will not prevent your partner from falling in love with someone else or falling out of love with you. You’re probably going to feel a lot of pressure to close it when things get rough, but that will not prevent the thing you’re afraid of.
Having these fears or even crying when you think about your partner dating someone else doesn’t mean you can’t do it or that you don’t want to do it — sometimes it’s just an emotional response to a fear we have. But if you realise that this isn’t something that you control, whether you open your relationship or not, it can help you manage that fear.
To summarise, if you don’t mind your partner spending time away from you, even if you’re not keen on dating other people, then it might be worth trying. You being afraid or crying doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do it. A lot of people experience fear and worry when they open their relationship — even when they are interested in dating other people. What’s important is being prepared to manage that anxiety, which you may wish to explore with a polyamory friendly therapist, and accepting you will experience that anxiety instead of trying to fight it.
I want to also mention and I don’t assume you meant this negatively, grouping women, non-binary and trans people into one group isn’t really accurate and can actually be dismissive of people’s identities. If you are a cis woman dating a trans man, that doesn’t make you any less straight than being a cis woman dating a cis man. “Trans people” are a very wide category and it’s really important to not create a type of “third gender” separate from men and women just for trans people because it very much invalidates trans women and trans men’s identities.
Last but not least, I want to also say that it may be that you’re not interested in non-monogamy and this is a time where you and your partner have grown apart — and that’s okay. Even if you are not interested in marriage or children or prefer non-gendered terms, that doesn’t mean you have to be or will be interested in non-monogamy. It’s not as if non-monogamy or polyamory are part of some pathway to freedom or liberation and it really irks me when people act as if monogamy is somehow a less liberating or close minded choice.
For some people, they want or are oriented toward monogamy and there’s nothing wrong with that. Assuming monogamous people are adhering to or agree with all of the negative things society tries to attribute to monogamy is like assuming that someone being a man or a woman means they agree with all of the negative things society attributes to gender. So don’t feel like you have to be non-monogamous to eschew traditional systems. It may not be for you — and that’s okay.
I hope this helps and good luck!