Perfect polyamory

Dating two people who have a history together is going to trigger some anxiety within you. Maybe you’re not jealous — you’re just normal.

I have started listening to your podcast Non-Monogamy Help, which is helping me so much navigate my new polyamorous relationship. I have always been interested in trying non-monogamy and I was happy when I met a man who wanted to try it with me. I thought we were very honest with each other as we told each other almost everything that was happening in our lives and how we felt, without any demonstrations of jealousy or any pressure to do so. However, I was absolutely devastated when he casually mentioned he had been sleeping with other people without mentioning anything to me.

I felt like he had cheated on me even if we were non-monogamous. I felt that my trust in him had been impacted as I realised he had hidden his encounters to me consciously while telling me so many other things that happened in his life, even the more mundane and tiny episodes, which actually endeared him a lot to me, as I felt our relationship was very intimate and spontaneous. I told him my trust was damaged and I asked him why he did that and he replied that it was a private matter for him. I was very upset at first, but then I realised that technically he didn't break any rule, so I told him it was okay. It wasn't okay for me.

However, I forced myself to accept the fact that he has a boundary there and I shouldn't force a person to tell me something if he doesn't feel safe or comfortable or willing to do so. I know he has broken up with several girlfriends before when he slept with other people, and some of his exes were particularly jealous which really upset him, so maybe that's why he feels scared at the idea. I told him he can either tell me or not tell me and I'll be comfortable with it. We had just booked a week in an Airbnb together and I didn't want to leave so I rushed my forgiveness if that makes sense.

Months later he still tells me nothing about his sexual encounters. I started wondering if he has other stable partners he hasn't told me anything about. I asked him the latter question and I'm now waiting for his answer. We don't even live in the same country so I have no idea of what is really happening in his life.

I feel like I NEED to know if there is at least another partner in his life. It's unacceptable to me that he doesn't tell me anything at all, and I swear I'm trying so bad to think outside the box that the monogamous-centric, controlling, and conservative society I grew up in has put on me.

I would love if he told me about his other hook-ups, too. I would love to share feelings and stories about our parallel adventures and perhaps even have group sex together. He said I can either tell him or not tell him what happens in my life and that's okay.

However, I don't want to force him to tell me everything. I just can't understand why he does this. It hurts me. I feel betrayed because I think he doesn't trust me and he doesn't feel comfortable with me, whereas actually I wish to build intimacy and comfort with him. However, I can hardly get to know him if he doesn't share such an important part of his life with me.

Am I just being morbid and controlling? I feel like I have to exercise my power with him by asking him to tell me what he'd been up to. Almost like I have no dignity as a woman if he doesn't do what I ask him (which would be less than a bare minimum for another woman in a conventional relationship). It freaks me out not knowing what's going on and having to be silent.

It's also true that I have been raised thinking that non-monogamy was absolutely horrible and something that degraded me as a woman, which is what most of my friends keep telling me to this day, and I've been told that people should have no secrets at all for a relationship to work, which I found very oppressive in my past relationships. But that was also because I knew that telling some aspects of my life or my way of thinking would have been met with backlash or perplexity by my partners, whereas I feel very safe and comfortable with my current partner, and I hope he feels the same with me. I asked him if he feels safe and he said he does.

I'm confused and I don't know how to move from this point. I would really really value your advice.

Your question is one of the reasons why I think that the language around introductions to polyamory can be extremely unhelpful for people. There is so much about avoiding jealousy and the appearance of being controlling that we one ends up in situations where we’re ignoring our own boundaries, wants and needs because it seems almost more important to be okay with and comfortable with everything than it is to ask for what we want and need. There is an image of “perfect polyamory” and that usually is being comfortable and okay with everything and never being unhappy or jealous.

There isn’t anything wrong with him not wanting to tell you about other relationships he has but there also isn’t anything wrong with you wanting to have a relationship where that information isn’t off limits. My issue with this isn’t necessarily his limits but that he poorly communicated these limits to you. From the beginning when you said you were interested in “non-monogamy”, he could have made it clear to you that when he would be having other relationships or encounters, he wouldn’t be letting you know. With a bit more experience, you might have asked explicitly about how non-monogamy would work in your relationship and that information would have come out, but I feel personally like there is something a little bit strange about him not just not telling you but not telling you that he would not be telling you.

When a lot of people start in non-monogamy, they often find it really terrifying to tell their partners the first time they are interested in someone or they have an encounter because this is really the rubber meets the road, as it were. It’s very easy to think about non-monogamy mentally but when you actually try it and you actually what feels like risk losing your partner, a lot of people end up accidentally hiding relationships from their partners because they just put off telling them or avoid it until it blows up in their face. It’s possible that this might be what’s going on with him. Maybe he finds it easier to keep it completely private because of the reasons you mentioned or because he doesn’t feel safe navigating the emotions other partners may have.

And that may be for valid reasons. Maybe other partners have not reacted well and he’s struggled to know how to work with that. Maybe he has his own childhood issues that have caused him to struggle with other people’s emotions. However none of these things are things that you can or are responsible for controlling. He is allowed to have relationships the way he wants. In the future, he should make it absolutely clear to any future partners that he will be operating this way because many people might not be interested in partners who don’t tell them about other partners — precisely for the reasons that you mentioned.

But at this point, you’re allowed to have relationships with people where they tell you about their other partners because that’s what you enjoy in terms of intimacy. Think of it this way, perhaps you have a partner who doesn’t want to discuss their childhood with you and they could have any number of reasons for that and they can be perfectly valid to not want to discuss their childhood with you. And you could be valid in wanting a partner who doesn’t have an issue with discussing their childhood with you. You can’t really control whether or not someone discusses their childhood with you — or their other relationships. You can attempt to by making a compelling argument to them about why this is important for you and it feels like you have already done so.

So at this point the only things you can do are two: consent to a relationship with a person who does not want to do this and accept that this is the price of admission of being with this person or cut back on this person and walk away and find a person who will provide you what you want in life. And this is the same sort of power you have within all relationships — including your friendships. You can confront people you care about when there is something blocking your intimacy with them and see if that changes the relationship. You can consent to being in a relationship with someone whom you won’t have intimacy with in the way you desire or you can walk away from that relationship. Friends who tell you what you should define as “degrading” probably are also blocking your chances at intimacy with them in similar ways.

One other point as well in terms of “no secrets” — generally speaking this feels very much like a rule made out of fear. The idea behind this rule is that having “no secrets” will create intimacy and thus prevent your partner from leaving you. And that isn’t necessarily the case. Obviously, it’s great to feel like you can be honest with your partner about most things because you are hopefully very close to them. But demanding to know every secret in their brain feels more like a desire to control what they do than be close to them. People can fall in love with someone else and leave you regardless of what secrets they do and don’t keep in their head. It makes sense that you felt that rule was oppressive because it’s not about intimacy, it’s about control.

Nothing about what you have said has led me to believe you desire control for fear of losing your partner. I do think you have some hangups from how you were raised in that you feel that your partner deciding to keep his encounters private is somehow reflective of your “power” as a woman and that exercising “power” over a partner is something that one can or should do. That might be worth exploring because the desire for control will often put a barrier between you and the other person which will make it difficult to build intimacy with them. I think you know that though, which is why you haven’t made demands.

You could make one last ditch effort and tell your partner that you need a non-monogamous relationship where the persons you’re with share more about their life and, if he’s not prepared to do so, you need to go and find someone you’re more compatible with. It’s not about whether or not his decision is “right”. It’s about what you need from a relationship. At present, you aren’t getting it and you’re only going to be miserable until you do. If he wants to take the risk and consider changing his policy, he can seek therapy for his fears around it. But you should search for what you want in a relationship. Wanting your partner to share things with you is not controlling behaviour.

It might also help to check out my 101 and 102 articles. Over time, you will feel more confident in arguing for what you want and also making it clear to partners what you want and figuring that out yourself. Don’t beat yourself up too badly about this situation. Not all monogamous people are compatible just by virtue of being monogamous and not all non-monogamous people are compatible just by virtue of being non-monogamous.

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