Three truths in non-monogamy

I have always been against dating or getting in a relationship. I’m too insecure and weirded out with sex (I hate nudity and vulnerability, it makes me uncomfortable as well as scared about possible sex diseases) and knew deep down that it would make me go crazy like it did for my older sisters after witnessing their toxic relationships and their prominent mental illnesses.
One day though, 2 years ago, I met a guy at a halloween show, we hit it off immediately, I even told him I was “strictly platonic and only seeking friendship” and this was a week before I was moving to start my next chapter across the country in Nov 2016 for a job. We talked non stop. He 26. I 22. (currently 28 and 24) He was clearly very persistent in getting to know me and I had about a thousand walls up. But each day, it was getting steamier, more intense, more flirting.
I was developing feelings which I never had before, and even when I was pushing him away out of a defense mechanism or my mental issues were apparent, he stuck around. Eventually, by January, he flew down to see me. Things were good but I was also like “omg what am I doing with this guy? I am interested but I know he’s not exactly my type. I love tall/dark/handsome/tatted/pierced/fashionable dudes and this guy was opposite in every way” yet that spark was there. We had skype dates, and talked on the phone more frequently and I was falling more and more in love with him.
Then we both found out we had a very open mind in terms of dating. He said he was polyamorous and I said I was too but more so in meaningless ways. As in, If i was in a relationship, I wouldn’t be pursuing connections with people, more just meaningless stuff like a kiss at the club, or perhaps experimenting with girls which i’d still like to do and not make a big deal of it. He is the opposite. He seeks meaningful connection with people. So in March 22, we decided to make us official “long distance partner’s” after much hesitation on my end. He called me one night and told me he and his friend (a girl) hung out and got off beside each other on the bed but drove her home asap and had to tell me.
I wasn’t TOO hurt but I definitely felt … weird. It was an interesting year. Lots of opening up, me getting used to PDA and sex a bit more, and him flying down 3 more times. Nov 2017 hit and my contract ended. I got an IUD (since we were going to be together, and I never want babies but lo-and behold I was in pain for a solid year with whack hormones) My heart was with him back home and I was hurting. Decided to drive back across the country and move in with him thinking it was the better choice to be near friends/family/him. We also started our own company together to throw music events monthly in our city.
We recognized that due to being poly[am], the conversation would be a common topic that takes lots of communication and will be ever-changing. However, this year we saw the worst of each other. I struggled to find a job (for 8 months and then went on city social assistance and was/is severely depressed). His mom, grandmother, and best friend’s brother had died, which I was there for and we were both struggling with depression while spending every day with each other.
Summer came, and we were struggling to find our independence, but trying. In the beginning it was hard because I felt like I was his babysitter, constantly asking him to do basic tasks, clean up after himself, think outside the box. Yes, I had certain expectations but he always saw them as unattainable or too high and would get defensive when I’d point out habits. He had moments where he went to a friend’s house, and cuddled her because he felt “she needed it”, and told me after and I wanted to get mad but realized his intentions were in the right place, so It only bothered me for a bit until it passed.
Things took a downfall though when we went to our friend’s cottage for the weekend. Things were all good and fun. I went to sleep, he stayed up a bit later. Then when we got home he told me he kissed one of our friends there. At first, I was shocked, but it felt worse and worse the more i thought of it. I realized how disrespected I felt that he did that while I was waiting in bed for him, and he went off and did that. Then my trust for him dropped. I looked at his phone and realized majority of his conversations were with girls, flirting, complimenting them “heart eye emojis” very persistent in getting to know them and keeping up a conversation.
It hurt me so much. Made me feel like he was bored of me, and just wanted the next new and shiny thing. My fault though since I snooped. But that feeling became addicting, and I caught myself wondering what he was saying, who was he talking to now. So I did it a couple times, hated myself for it because I was becoming the girl I didn’t want to become (that crazy girl i mentioned in the beginning). I told him what I did, then he lost trust in me. It’s been a downward hill since then- it’s never been the same. We would take time a part (we live in a two story apartment and sleep in separate rooms), write letters to each other, have better, more calm talks explaining ourselves.
Lots of crying though. Lots of hurt. Eventually, end of August came and we were heading to a festival across the country. We were both at our wits end. Everything he did annoyed me. I questioned why I was with him and how much longer could I take feeling like I’m babying someone and constantly catering to their over-sensitivity. He said he is okay with me being fully open and exploring with other people, and he would consider being monogamous, not pursuing anything until I’m at a better comfort-ability with myself. We decided for the festival to be fully open. Rules would complicate things. It was alright- nothing happened with anyone and coming home we were a little more at peace after having made some cool memories.
Then after spending 8 months together every day, I finally got hired and started my new job, and he went back to his job after his doctor/insurance denied him his work leave (which all year I was on his back to stay on top of and be persistent and because he didn’t, he got cheated out of thousands of dollars).
So now…I am isolated at my job and feel alone because of petty people at a place I’ve always wanted to work and dread going to work. We work different hours and don’t even have weekends together. I miss him so much and feel that we abruptly started our lives again too soon. We were always in a grey-area about our terms. We had a conversation how I met a random dude one night at a bar, and he’s been flirting with me.
I was open about the whole thing. My partner encouraged me to get out and do things while he remained monogomous. But yet, I still feel guilty. I know it’ll change things. It feels dirty and because i’m still so insecure with myself, who I am, every part of my body, I don’t want to engage in random sex. I don’t want to be seen naked and do naked things with strange naked (and possibly diseased/bad intentioned) people???
We threw our event on the weekend. We were out for a smoke, and my partner came to me to tell me he was talking with a girl and she told him she was open and my partner was really enjoying talking with her and even said “I want to kiss you really badly” but didn’t. So… I was kind of annoyed? But it triggered me. It got worse and worse. I was annoyed because he told me he wasn’t going to pursue anything, he was going to dim down how flirtacious he is.
He told me at a terrible time when we’re running an event/business. He said I shouldn’t be upset because he didn’t DO anything and was open and honest… but he still said it and was pursuing it? That’s like cheating on someone, telling your partner, then getting defensive about it because you “were honest about it, so that makes it okay”. I don’t think it does.
My ego was getting in the way telling me I didn’t even want to go to an after party with him. I was avoiding him because I was thinking. Why was I upset? Am I allowed to be bothered? Is this that big of a deal? He didn’t even drive me home and I ubered- which set me off more. I got home and bawled my eyes out until I fell asleep.
The whole weekend, I was crying my eyes out. Feelings of unworthiness, feelings that we just can’t make this work. I’m too insecure now that every girl he talks to, every interaction he has, I’m scared. I feel my depression is finally getting a hold of me to push him away more. I went to my dad’s for an oil change, and we got into a fight about my job/lack of education and that I blame him for my feelings of unworthiness because all he cares about is what we do for a living and that we’re not as successful as he is. (which has ruined all my older siblings). And I bawled my eyes out even more to my mom.
Just in sooo much pain from my relationship. I see the inevitable end but I’m not ready to let go and neither is he. We want to fix things and work on things and come to compromises, but because we’re so lost, co-dependent, have no healthy regimes…. it’s feeling bleak that we can work on ourselves while still together. Not only that but we have an awesome apartment, close to both our jobs, cheap and we own 2 cats. I’ve looked for apartments and they’re all minimum 900–1400$ for a one bedroom and he still owes me $1200 from the festival- so moving out would be a terrible idea financially.
We would talk non stop though about our wants, needs but I’m so exhausted. He said he knows he’s polyamorous to the core and he CONSTANTLY brings up how he got with me because I said I was poly[am] too which is annoying because he doesn’t realize that people change. Things change. I know i’m holding on, and even using him as a crutch to not move out but i’ll be dammed if I just moved my whole life for this dude to only move everything out and have everything fall apart again.
He says he’d like to move out for once on his own and be responsible for himself, learn independence and still stay together. I just imagine the break up, and then I break down and just feel hurt. I love this guy so much for reasons I don’t know why, and I feel my insecurities are ruining this relationship. I don’t want another relationship after this. I can’t. I’m trying to change and get better but I told him it doesn’t happen overnight. I’m trying to find counselling appointments.
Trying to go on pinterest to find good health regimes. Creating ideas that will help his own routine (like, let’s buy our own groceries and split the fridge- work on our independence in smaller increments). But then I just imagine him meeting someone who is more attractive than me, and immediately feel dread. I also have no idea how much of my emotions are being controlled by the IUD which is annoying to tell what’s going on. Add that to my depression, suicidal thinking.. it’s hurtful and tough for me to think what’s next and trying to be logical about things.
Is it possible I can learn to love better? Be more open? Be less judgemental of myself and others and be happier with how he connects with people rather than immediately take it to a bad place? I understand not everyone is meant for this lifestyle… But I STILL want to flirt too, I still want to experiment and fantasize.. I just don’t think I ever will. It’s not fair that I want that, but then when he gets that, I get jealous/upset.
I’m suggesting we go to couples counselling. That we sit down, and make a plan that’ll help us better our time. Do a couples massage. Reconnect again. I just don’t want it to always be me implementing. Is it possible to stay best friends and still live together?
Do we HAVE to move out? Our business will stop. I won’t be able to attend shows anymore because I already know he’ll be out looking for people to connect with and I’m hurt and feeling stuck. Are we doomed? We’ve gone through immaculate changes this year, why should it end here?! What will “good” look like in this relationship from here on out?
I don’t want a marriage/or kids which he thinks will eventually be a breaking point for us waaaaaay down the line. Sucks that’s being held over my head that I dont’ want to pop out god-awful kids in this world and that’ll break people up. but I told him when he’s ready for it, let’s see where we’re at.

First, let me say that I’m really sorry that you’re going through this right now because it sounds like you’re in a lot of pain. There are a few things that I’d like to address:

  • Uncomfortable truths
  • Understandable responses
  • Future plans
  • Unhelpful stereotypes

Uncomfortable truths

A lot of what you describe in terms of the emotional turmoil you’re facing is actually extremely understandable and not at all surprising for someone who is trying out non-monogamy for the first time. There are very conflicting and contradictory messages in polyamory literature. On the one hand, people act like polyamory is more “natural” for human beings and somehow a default state of being that we’ve been socialised to not do and then at the same time, it’s also very discouraged to the point where people feel afraid to talk about it. It’s lauded as this socially ‘free’ and ‘open’ choice, so people get totally thrown off when they try it and immediately they don’t feel better or it doesn’t solve their problems.

The first truth that’s the most helpful for you to accept is that you’re going to feel nervous and scared about losing your partner — and that’s not horrible jealousy or you being a terrible person. It’s a normal response to a new situation you are not used to. Especially if your relationship with this person is in and of itself just beginning. Being nervous and scared in a new situation is totally normal. When you’re starting off in a new relationship, you’re just starting to establish trust and boundaries with one another. You’re learning how different things work with each other and that can be an anxious process.

The second truth that’s the most helpful for you to accept is that your partner will absolutely meet someone who is more -anything- than you: more attractive, better adjusted, wealthier, physically fitter, better at cooking, better and cleaning… anything. The world has billions of human beings and within that there will always be someone who is “better” than you at anything you can think of. Growing up in a capitalist society encourages us to see everything as a competition — including relationships. We assume that our partners are with us because we are “better” than others in these really tangible and socially beneficial ways. And obviously there is an ‘economy’ of traits which society has considered ‘valuable’ and ‘attractive’ which, if you really break it down, are based off of some of the worst bigotries in the world. Beauty standards are racist, sexist, fatphobic, ableist… anything you can think of. And we’re socially encouraged our whole lives to be beholden to this competition — but the truth is that we don’t have to compete actually.

Falling in love isn’t always something that’s within our control. And while our ability to see people as viable partners is influenced by the society we grow up in, we can’t exactly pick and choose who we develop attachments with. If we could, there would be so fewer relationship problems in the world. When you realise that the economy of ‘attractiveness’ and everything you’ve been told you have to do in order to be a ‘good’ is a false economy based on bullshit, it helps you realise that you don’t have to be more attractive, more fit, more anything than other people for your partner to be interested in you. Because is that really the reason you fell in love with your partner? We all have things we admire and love about their partners, but no one is perfect. Everyone has faults. And it’s not as simple as you being more attractive than someone else.

The third truth that is helpful for you to accept, following on from the last, is that there is nothing that you can do to prevent your partner from falling out of love with you. Part of this system of false economy is convincing you that you can earn or win other people’s love. And I’m not sure about you, but this is something that’s been reinforced to me through the way I grew up. The idea that I need to change me in order to make someone else like me and there isn’t anything inherently valuable about myself to attract someone so I have to do something in order to make myself valuable. And it’s very possible that you might also have a lot of this going on in your head.

It seems really counter-intuitive, but actually realising and accepting that you don’t have immediate control over all of this is going to help your anxiety massively and you won’t feel such a strong pressure to see other partners as an inherent threat and competition. A lot of polyamory advice tends to say something like, “Realise that you are wonderful and beautiful just the way you are and your partner has every reason to want to be in love with you and value you” and it sounds really nice but… if you, like myself, struggle having anything resembling a self-esteem, this advice doesn’t actually help. So I find, going the exact opposite direction is far more helpful.

The fourth and final truth that I think would be helpful for you to realise is that none of the above three truths change if you suddenly go back to monogamy. I realise that your partner had good intentions in being ‘monogamous’ while the ‘dust settles’ so to speak, but this is just delaying the inevitable because monogamy in and of itself will not stop your partner from seeing and finding other people. Monogamous people all of the time end up in situations where their partner falls in love with someone else — even if they didn’t cheat on them, and they end up breaking up. Nothing will change or stop that from happening.

The only reason monogamy seems like less of a threat is because it’s normalised and socially encouraged. I always encourage people to check out the concept of ‘the relationship escalator’ and understand the way that society encourages people to take these specific steps towards having a relationship. This creates a lot of comfort and safety for people and re-assures them of the solidity of their relationship, but it’s not any more of a guarantee than anything else is. So going back to monogamy as an option within your current relationship or outside of it won’t necessarily protect you from any of these things.

Understandable responses

Given you’re understandably going through all of this stress and fear, I think another big mistake you’re making is not really seeing and understanding the things that trigger more fear and stress and learning how to avoid them where possible. The biggest problem I see here in your relationship is that, for some reason, you both have this given where your partner shares with you every time he’s interested or kisses someone else.

In general, the process for your partner to tell you about other people is such a strange and awkward thing and it’s easier to accept that it’s going to be awkward. You have to work out with your partner when it’s important for you to know but for me, I don’t need to know every single time my partner kisses someone or is interested in someone. The only reason I need to know about any sex they have is due to sexual health reasons and just keeping me up to date. But I don’t even need to know if they are for sure dating someone else. Like they don’t have to announce it because I assume that in the process of them letting me know about visiting other people (since we live together and it’d be kinda hard to hide that), I would understand if he was having a relationship with someone else.

And the reason this is difficult is because you don’t always know for sure if you’re going to be in a relationship with someone. At some point it becomes ‘official’ but in that whole lead up process, anything could happen. I don’t really know why it’s so necessary for you to know when your partner is into someone else or when he’s kissed someone else. I get that he’s trying to be open and honest but… when you think about it, what is supposed to be the reaction? And especially if it just unnecessarily starts you worrying about everything, what’s the point in it? As long as he’s not hiding anything, there isn’t any reason to necessarily confess everything to you. This is polyamory, not that kind of religion.

You need to work out with each other when is the best time to tell each other about new people and really re-think the idea that he has to basically confess immediately after doing anything with someone else. There’s absolutely no reason to do that, especially if all it does is start that abusive cycle in your head.

Future plans

All of the above is going to help you generally, regardless of where you go in your life and what type of relationship style you choose. But I see two main issues in your current relationship that, even outside of the invasion of privacy issues or the communication problems, may create larger and unavoidable issues for you in the future.

The first issue is his lack of willingness to devote time into your relationship. As you said, you don’t want to be the person to initiate everything and he really needs to be willing to demonstrate that he’s willing to initiate things too and make things work. You could work on yourself completely and be totally at peace, but if he is giving nothing into your relationship, it’s only going to crash and burn. This is definitely outside of your control and you can’t force this to happen, but it may be something you want to address with a non-monogamy friendly therapist to help you work through that.

It’s totally fair to want that and I’ve been in situations where I feel like the individual I love is not putting anything in and it’s so difficult to cope with. It’s sad and hard but there is nothing you can do to force that person to put in the effort. But you can work with a therapist, help him realise how important this is, give examples of things you want him to do without prompting, and then give him some time to demonstrate that he’s doing this before you decide to give up on everything.

The second biggest issue is what you mentioned: marriage and children. You said yourself you don’t know what you want your life to look like, what you want out of polyamory more or less and that’s important for you to think about but these larger issues of marriage and children are also things to think about because if you fundamentally disagree on this, it will cause a breakup in the end.

I don’t think that’s always a terrible thing. I think if you both decide that you want to be together for a few years and then check where you feel on marriage/children in the future. When I was with a partner and wanted children and they didn’t, I didn’t want to break up but I decided we would wait and see if we were together in five years and then if we differed on children, we would break up. It still sucks, don’t get me wrong, but that kind of option does give you the opportunity to mutually accept that this might be an issue that splits you and handle it hopefully in a less painful way in the future.

The other main issue I see here that I think, regardless of what happens in your relationship, you should work is primarily the co-dependency. Some people can live together and work together and not drive each other crazy, but others cannot. I think you should definitely start now if you can working towards being more independent in your work life. Devote your energies to finding a job that doesn’t involve him and is something you’re not miserable at and throw yourself into that. Look into the options of breaking your lease if necessary and try to think about people you could live with or look for house shares and see where your budget lies.

I definitely think whether you are non-monogamous or not, you should always try and keep some level of independence in your life, especially because people also pass away all of the time and you don’t want to be put in a situation where your life falls apart because something like that happens. So focus on moving towards independence in general, in addition to seeking help for your current relationship.

Unhelpful stereotypes

There are a couple of stereotypes that I also think you should question that showed themselves in your letter. Firstly, the ‘crazy girl’ stereotype really comes from a place of internalised misogyny. We’re very much socially encouraged to see women as ‘too needy’ in relationships even when their needs are very basic and understandable. A lot of women feel like they have to stifle or ignore their needs in relationships to make themselves more suitable or date-able to their partners. And I do think a lot of abusive and shitty people take advantage of this stereotype to gaslight women into being silent about their needs in relationships — as if having them or having emotional reactions to things is ‘crazy’.

What you did, even in terms of violating your partner’s privacy, maybe isn’t the behaviour that you want to have for very understandable reasons, but definitely try to be aware of the kind of standards you’re holding yourself to vs. how you hold your partner. Your partner may have negative reactions to things and doesn’t risk being called ‘crazy’ in the same ways. And definitely be wary of anyone you meet who describes all of their exes as ‘crazy’.

The second stereotype that’s prevalent in your letter is one regarding ‘sex diseases’. Firstly, ‘STD’ is a bit of a misnomer, which is why many sexual health educators say STI or sexually transmitted infections. As someone who’s very paranoid about my health and with disabilities that cause me to be very vigilant about it, I totally get the fear of getting an STI, but it’s important that we don’t assume that people who get or have gotten an STI are similar to people with bad intentions. Yes, there are people who are cavalier about their sexual health and a very small number of people who know they have an STI and choose not to disclose that and put someone at risk — but having an STI does not inherently mean someone is necessarily irresponsible or has negative intentions.

STIs are very common and some you can get even with protection, such as herpes or HPV. The most life threatening of them, HIV, can be managed with medication and isn’t the death sentence it was decades ago. STIs are definitely things to be aware of, but they aren’t death sentences. Every part of your life is going to involve some level of risk. A lot of sex negative cultures overhype the risk of STIs and also create a stigma around the people who have had them or have them currently.

I’d advise you to check out Scarleteen and San Francisco Safer Sex Information and learn more about how to protect yourself from STIs, safer sex approaches, and that might help you deconstruct some of the fear and anxiety you have around it.

In summary

Many of the anxieties and fears you have are very understandable and recognising that there are so many things you can’t control and realising that is going to help relieve some of that anxiety, as well as avoiding doing things that just exacerbate it. Find a counsellor for you and your partner, but also start thinking about some of these larger problems and a more independent future for yourself.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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