My partner and I were in a V with his ex-wife; now they're broken up and it's just us, but the co-parenting relationship is strained

A few years ago, I got into a V with a married couple (Dragon: 28M and Mermaid: 30F). It came about after Dragon told M he loved me and Mermaid said they'd make it work. After a big conversation later we decided to try a V. The boundaries were very restrictive: Mermaid wanted to move at slow pace (we at first were not even allowed to kiss). Dragon and I tried to respect it but we fucked up and broke those boundaries. Long story short, the V got really bad/toxic for all three of us. They had a kid right before Mermaid and Dragon divorced. A few months or so later Dragon and I decided to get together again. 2 days ago Mermaid accidentally picked up a buttdial while Dragon and I talked about our Mermaid's responsibility in the failure of the relationship/marriage, heard a short snippet, and she's really angry.

My and Dragon's relationship is healthy, and we communicate well and are much happier. Before me, Dragon and Mermaid's relationship was rough, which I didn't understand until later in the relationship. Now that we're out of the V, I can see how bad it really was, and I wish I had made smarter choices to save everyone some pain. I don't blame any one person from the V because it IS painful, but isn't something I can weigh on objectively myself with D. Mermaid and I don't talk. She sees me as the homewrecker. Obviously with a kid in the mix it makes it hard for Mermaid and Dragon to move on from the relationship. They are both good parents, but after this, their relationship is strained. Mermaid has full custody. Right now we are being patient because Mermaid is hurt and we don't want to push her, but obviously Dragon wants to see his kid. I know both Dragon and I have fucked up a lot and been hurt. I just wanted to hear outside opinion; what the best course here?

The first course of action is that Dragon needs to see a family law attorney about an official visitation arrangement. I understand that Mermaid is hurt, but his ability to see his child should not be subject to her feelings. A visitation agreement needs to be in place, because she should not be able to use the baby as an emotional bargaining chip to withhold or provide based on how pleased she is with him. It’s not fair to the child to see their dad in such inconsistent and unpredictable ways. He can also get support through the courts or a family therapist to work on a co-parenting and communication going forward.

Hearing a butt dial where you two were discussing her and her “responsibility in the failure of the relationship” would absolutely be painful for her, and you need to give her space for that anger. There is no real “course of action” here that can change her opinion of you as a “homewrecker” and you can’t retroactively fix what has happened. You’ve acknowledged that you “fucked up,” but your owning up to it in your own personal narrative doesn’t obligate her to forgive you. You can’t change how she feels, and you can’t demand that she adopt your perspective on things - that she and Dragon just weren’t great together, this was best for everyone, and she should move on with grace and friendliness.

Dragon needs to apologize to her sincerely for the cruelty of what she overheard during the buttdial; whether or not it was “out of context” or an “accident” is irrelevant to how hurtful it was for her. And then he needs to give her time and space without expecting her to forgive him or come around to being happy for his new relationship with you. You two need a “course of action” that respects her pain and leaves her space to feel however she feels about you two without trying to influence it. And the primary focus needs to be on establishing a productive, functional co-parenting relationship that allows Dragon to see his child based on a neutral schedule, so the question of “when Dragon sees his baby” is totally separate from how he and Mermaid are currently feeling about each other.

My boyfriend wants to postpone a conversation about polyamory until November, but I don't think that's best

Around a month ago, I told my boyfriend that I believe I am poly. He was super upset and doesn't agree with it. We have decided to not discuss this again until November. I've agreed to think about staying monogamous and he’s agreed to think about polyamory. I can’t see any of us changing our minds and I'm worried that waiting until November is just prolonging the inevitable breakup. I love him so much and don't want to hurt him but I am so unsure of what to do next.

I’m a bit torn on what advice to give here, since I usually advise people to “trust what your partner tells you, absent evidence otherwise (and your feelings aren’t evidence),” and I also strongly encourage people to stick to boundaries and agreements they’ve made, unless there’s a compelling reason to ask for a change.

However, your case might be an exception. I say “might,” because you have more context than me.

If you truly believe that your boyfriend was honest about his willingness to consider a polyamorous relationship, you ought to give him the benefit of the doubt and give him the time he’s asked for to think about it. However, if he has a pattern of promising things just to end an uncomfortable situation in the moment, or if he hasn’t shown flexibility and openness in other types of discussion, that’s different. You know him best, so think through whether you seriously and genuinely believe that he’ll come to the conversation in November from a different place.

I’m not saying he ought to be okay with polyamory by November, but he ought to be ready to explain his needs, preferences, desires, and boundaries; and to have the question without shutting down, “disagreeing,” or asking for another "silent period.” He needs to be in a different conversational place, willing to explain his concerns and own his feelings. It sounds like he’s asked you to give him until November to be ready to do that, and it’s usually best to take people at their word on things like that unless they give you reason not to. Can he tell you why he thinks he’ll be better able to have this conversation in November? Is he clear on the private work he intends to do, and how he plans to use that space he’s asked for?

If you have genuine, observational reason to believe that he just wants six months to not think about this, not discuss it, not address it, and pretend he’s in an unexamined-ly monogamous relationship, then you’re within your rights to say “Look, I know that I initially agreed to wait until November, but now that I’ve had some time, it’s actually really bothering me and I’d prefer to address this sooner.” He can, at that point, choose his response. It may turn out that you two are incompatible, and it’s fair that you’d prefer to find that out sooner than later. He may be more willing to explain his desire for the delay. Or, he may get shut down or angry at your revisiting of the conversation. No matter what, you’ll get lot of information about how to proceed.

What are Zinnia's thoughts on sex and masturbation when it comes to religion?

i was wondering, what’s your opinion on sex, masturbation, etc. and religion? i was raised religiously but i’m not as religiously involved as the rest of my family. plus i’ve masturbated a couple times but i’ve never had sex. unlike the church and religious standards i view these things as healthy and normal. i just wanted to ask what’s your take on it?

I am a Christian (you can read about my faith here), so I can really only speak to my religion. The word “religion” is so vague and encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices, so we ought to be careful about painting all spirituality with a broad brush. Even “Christianity” includes a huge variety of philosophies and attitudes about sexuality, from extremely repressive to quite progressive. I belong to a very progressive church but have at times been part of more repressive environments.

My personal opinion is that humans were created with the Divine intentions of love, connection, growth, wholeness, joy, and creativity. When we act in a way that draws us away from a healthy, whole, joyful relationship with ourselves, other people, our communities, or our world, that takes us out of alignment with that Divine purpose. The universe - and its creator, the embodied, personified God I believe in - is fundamentally aligned with love, and that’s why hatred, violence, cruelty, pain, and stagnation are all such destructive forces - they pull us out of alignment with God and the reality God has created for us.

Therefore, anything we do with our bodies and our relationships that gives rise to love, joy, beauty, wholeness, creativity, and connection is not a violation of Divine will. And, anything we do with our bodies and relationships to foment cruelty, hatred, pain, shame, isolation - those, to use my youth worker voice, bum God out. There are certainly ways to have sex or masturbate or be in relationships that are fundamentally damaging and destructive, but we have to separate “inherently harmful” from “harmful because social structures say they are.”

It is impossible to make a clear argument that sex outside of marriage, or masturbation, are inherently damaging to our relationships with ourselves, each other, or the Divine. However, shame and guilt, or inaccurate information, or conditional social bonds, are clearly and demonstrably destructive. All people deserve clear and non-judgmental information about their bodies, all people deserve a healthy and fulfilling sex life (whatever that means for them). God wants this for us! God values wisdom and health, not shame and confusion.

I think Rachel Held Evans put it well when she wrote “If same-sex relationships are really sinful, then why do they so often produce good fruit—loving families, open homes, self-sacrifice, commitment, faithfulness, joy? And if conservative Christians are really right in their response to same-sex relationships, then why does that response often produce bad fruit—secrets, shame, depression, loneliness, broken families, and fear?” This quote is about same sex relationships, but you could very easily apply this theological logic to abstinence only education, shame and fear tactics around sexuality, treating bodies as inherently dirty or sinful, and strict gender roles. Do they bear fruit? Do they lead people into the types of healthy, whole, fulfilled lives and experiences that God wills for us? Or do we have story after story, and study after study, demonstrating that comprehensive sex ed, body acceptance, and freedom are far healthier? The Scriptures I follow call often for wisdom and growth and understanding and truth, and it would be foolish to ignore the reality around us.

Sex and masturbation are part of our community and our bodies, and the health of our community and our bodies are things God cares deeply about. We shouldn’t use them harmfully, and of course we can definitely be sinful or harmful with our bodies and with sex, but identifying what “harmful” or “unhealthy” means is a spiritual task we can draw on plenty of sources from, not just whoever is currently being loudest in Evangelical Christianity.

There is lots of sexual sin in our world - rape culture, sex trafficking, revenge porn, criminalization and marginalization of sex workers, lack of access to sexual healthcare, and so much more. Masturbation can become a numbing or addictive behavior. Sex can used destructively in a number of ways. But nearly everything can be used for good or ill. (God gave us fun and joy, and there’s nothing inherently sinful about play, but things like gambling addictions and the exploitation of young football players are bad.) Sex and masturbation are part of our lives that we need to learn how to make healthy choices about. Religious or not, figuring out how to be a healthy, happy, whole, joyful person takes nuance and effort. It is rarely achieved by following a strict, arbitrary, one-size-fits-all set of rules.

My religion - Episcopal Christianity - teaches that our God is a living God. Living things can be engaged with, life implies growth and change. Our faith is not dead or stagnant. Death has been defeated! It also teaches that we were gifted the Holy Spirit to help us in our interpretive and discerning work as we try to figure out how best to live in alignment with Divine love, light, grace, and mercy. Scripture is a living document, a history of people trying to figure that out in their own ways and their own times. We were also designed with wisdom and reasoning qualities, able to learn and question and grow. Being in a relationship with any Divine power, through any religion, should involve guidance from Divinity, as well as your community, scripture, and your own experience, on what is true and wise and holy.

If you have more questions about sex and masturbation, check out Scarleteen’s excellent resources.

My partner says he's committed to me, but never acts interested in me

how can I tell if one of my guys is just trying to be a fuckboy so to speak? i feel like one of my relationships is with someone who is actually more committed to someone else. when i address it he tells me he's not, but then only seems interested if i send nudes or something like that.

Oof, letter writer, I’ve been there, and while it was a tough place to leave, I don’t miss it. So know that my advice is coming from a very real place. Remember that actions speak louder than words. If he acts like a fuckboy, he is a fuckboy.

It’s easy for him to verbally reassure you that he is interested in you when you ask, but if he never follows up on those reassurances, it doesn’t matter. If you’ve already done all cognitive work to figure out his patterns - you can angle for his attention by sending nudes - you have all the information you need. Stop acting like a pigeon in a box, training yourself to perform for the rare nuggets of his attention, and drop this dude. You deserve someone whose attention and affection are not something you need to strategize for.

My partner and I want to date a friend of ours, but aren't sure how to ask

We are a committed couple wishing to add a straight male to our relationship. After many months of being open to meeting someone, I think we found one. Trouble is - he has no idea and thinks we are all just friends even with some well placed hints. How do I broach the subject without him seeing us as weird or gay? If I came straight out and asked if he would be interested, he might end the friendship.

Because you didn’t include the genders and sexualities of the two people in your committed couple, I am having a hard time understanding exactly what arrangement you’re looking for. I’m unclear why you specified a “straight male” rather than just a man, but whoever you are, don’t fetishize his maleness or his straightness; people don’t like to be pursued as objects sought for certain traits, they like to have relationships as their whole selves. Check my FAQ page and the links at the bottom for more on this.

Regardless of who you are and why you’re seeking a “straight male,” you’ve got other issues here. You say you’ve been hoping to meet someone to date as a couple, and that you have “found one,” but you clearly haven’t, because he isn’t necessarily interested in dating you two. It’s not just about finding someone who checks off all your boxes; he’s not a dinette set. You’ve identified someone you’d be interested in exploring things with, but that’s a small part of wooing and connecting with someone.

If you’re worried that he would see it as “weird” or “end the friendship” over this, it sounds like you have gotten zero signals from him that he’s interested in sexual experimentation with you two as a couple. You may even have gotten some signals that he’s explicitly NOT interested in that. I can’t provide you with magic spells that will make him suddenly start desiring to be part of whatever fantasy you and your partner have - if he’s not into it, he’s not into it.

You, of course, are always able to come out and “broach the subject” - but there’s no special way you can phrase it that guarantees he won’t feel weirded out. If it’s worth the risk to you, it’s okay to bring it up, and then be gracious about however he responds. Mention that you two would be interested in some sexual or romantic intimacy with him (be specific about what you do and don’t want!) and ask him what he thinks about that.

If he is interested, make lots of room for discussion, compromise, low-stakes fantasizing, and time. Don’t expect him to just seamlessly slot his straight maleness into the role you intend. Remember he is a complete person with his own concerns, desires, needs, boundaries, interests, and assumptions, not a sex toy for you and your partner to play with on your own terms.

I'm dating someone who's very new to polyamory, and am not sure if I can hold his hand through learning it all

I have been practicing polyamory for about three years and at one point was in a somewhat-unhealthy V with myself (a woman) and two straight men. I was very invested in both of them, but I found that all the work and research of figuring out how exactly poly works and how to handle conflicts in a healthy way was pretty much left to me, with the other two preferring to just pretend everything is fine. Now I'm in another V with one of the prior partners and a partner who is completely new to polyamory. He and my other partner have a good dynamic, but now the new partner wants to see other people. My concern though is that since he knows basically nothing about polyamory beyond the fact that he has been dating me for about a month, for him seeing other people might just mean casual sex or a don't-ask-don't-tell sort of situation, which is not something I'm comfortable with. However, I'm still really burned out from the last V and I don't have the capacity right now to educate another complete newbie on how he should ethically navigate his own version of polyamory. Should I have just avoided this relationship (which came out of a friendship) if I feel this way still? Is there any way to compromise on this? Should I just abandon what I have been told and have learned through my experience and let whatever happens happens?

I have to first gently say that I understand your nervousness here as a recovering control freak myself. You’re made nervous knowledge that he may be out there, without you, doing things and having conversations where you’re not there to guide and correct, and that’s a glass house that I definitely live in, so I’ll try not to throw stones.

But while a feeling may be understandable, that doesn’t mean that it is guiding you toward reasonable choices. It’s condescending and misguided to try and prevent this person from dating other people because you don’t trust him to be good at it yet. You’re either willing to be in a polyamorous relationship with this guy, or you’re not. There are no training wheels he must earn permission to take off, that’s now how relationships between adults work.

You use the word “might” to describe what you think he might be intending, but don’t work up worries based on something you’re just assuming. Talk to him about your concerns and your desires - let him know what you are and aren’t okay with. Don’t just “tell” him what healthy polyamory is, “show” him by modeling these safe, open conversations. Make sure he knows your definition and expectations of polyamory, and ask if he is on the same page. But this is a way for you to clarify your needs and discuss the direction your relationship is heading - NOT an exam to make sure he’s properly certified to go out and practice polyamory on his own.

It’s so tempting to think that, as long as you’re 50% of any relationship or conversation, you can keep things under control. And it’s then easy to believe that, without your presence or input, things will go off the rails. But you’re going to have to let go of that, and figure out whether you trust yourself to manage future metamour-issues, and whether you trust him to be growthful and honest with you as he learns.

If you really aren’t up to the task of dating someone who’s new to polyamory, you can gracefully exit this relationship. Or, you can see where things go - he might take to this like a duck to water, and you may be pleasantly surprised. Or, maybe you let him know your concerns and he explains that he actually does want lots of casual/DADT hookups, and you two determine mutually that your relationship styles aren’t a good match. Or, perhaps you try this with him, and realize that he is creating drama or tension on a level you’re not comfortable with, and then you act on that information to leave the relationship. You have lots of options here! But asking him not to date other people until you’re convinced that he’s ‘leveled up’ enough to do so in a healthy way isn’t one of them.

My boyfriend watches a lot of porn, which makes me feel 'cheated on'

My boyfriend watches a lot of porn even though we have sex 4 times a day and I keep finding porn/cartoon porn on his phone. Is it bad that I feel like he’s cheating on me?

No feeling is “bad” - feelings are just what arise in our minds as we receive and react to the world around us. Some people feel like their partner watching porn is “cheating,” other people are okay with it, but neither perspective is inherently right or wrong. It’s how we act on our feelings that we can judge and control - not the feelings themselves.

It’s important to ask yourself whether his porn habit is impacting you in a practical way. Is he looking at porn when you’re with him, which distracts him from paying his full attention to you? In that case, it’s okay for you to ask him to keep porn viewing as a solo activity.

If it’s just the existence of porn on his phone that’s bothering you, your best bet is to stop looking through his phone. Almost all adults view porn, and asking your partner to never look at porn is probably not realistic. But you could ask him to be more private about it, and do your part to stop seeking out his phone history and content.

Four times a day is a pretty frequent cadence for sex, so you are also within your rights to ask yourself whether that’s what you want. Is your boyfriend pressuring you in any way? Is he using your discomfort with porn to pressure you into having more sex, implicitly threatening that if you don’t have sex with him, he’ll ‘replace’ you with porn? Do you think his frequent porn viewing is contributing to his high sex drive, and if so, is that part of what’s bothering you? Is he pressuring you to do things he sees in porn, or comparing your body to the people he sees in porn? Are there boundaries or limits you need to set around your own sexual availability?

Do you have a concern that he may be using sex and porn as an addictive or numbing behavior? Is there anything else unhealthy going on in your relationship? Does his porn viewing take away his time and attention from other important things in his life? Have you talked to him about your discomfort with porn, and if so, was his response healthy?

My recommendation be to think through what is specifically bothering you - there’s a jealousy here, a sense of “cheating,” but what’s behind that? And once you pin it down a bit more, ask your partner to help you with the feelings and needs you’ve identified.Do you feel inadequate compared to the fantasy of porn? Talk to your partner about anything he’s doing to contribute to that feeling, and work on your own sense of security. Do you feel pressured to participate in his highly sexual behaviors? Ask him to keep the porn to himself, and don’t seek it out. Do you feel that he is directing time and attention towards porn that should be going to your daily lives together? Ask him to be more present. If he argues or refuses, consider whether this is a healthy relationship to remain in.

Some FAQ-able questions

Me and my wife have talked about maybe finding someone that we can both date any advice on how to go about this. Like we’ve talked about it we just don’t know how to go about it.

Check my FAQ on this here, and after you’ve read everything there, you can check out my FAQ on polyamorous dating here.

I'm 13 and think I may be polyamorous. My girlfriend (we're wlw) already knows that I am polycurious. Am I too young to know?

You are not too young to know - keep in mind that we’d never tell a 13 year old dating monogamously that they were “too young to know” that they were monogamous. Check out my page here, and all the general resources listed here. Go slow, learn about yourself, read and watch things together and discuss them with your girlfriend, and follow what feels right!

I don’t know if I’m poly or not? I am bisexual and I can’t just be with one person. I love that person with all my might and I’m loyal to the core but I’m always wanting and needing something more. I’ve wanted to be with multiple people. Am I poly?

That sounds like being polyamorous to me, but I can’t tell you what, or who, you are - only you can do that. Check out my page here for more resources on working that out.

I’m very new to the poly lifestyle but I’ve been thinking and I it feels like something I’d like to try. How do I go about meeting other poly people or finding a polyamorous relationship?

Check out my FAQ on polyamorous dating here!

My friend came out to faer partner as polyamorous, but the partner was dismissive

My friend tried to come out as polyam to faer partner but he told fae that you can't BE polyamorous. He said you can like the idea of a polyam relationship and be in a polyam relationship but that it isn't an identity. How can fae explain that it is an identity and that it is a part of who fae is? Fae is reasonably hurt by what he said and I want to help to the best of my ability.

Is your friend’s partner a reader of Dan Savage, perchance? He likes to bang this drum - that polyamory is something you do, not something you are. It’s a common argument, but one I don’t subscribe to. You can see my FAQ page on this question here.

I am sorry you hear that your friend got a negative reaction from faer partner, but there’s not much you can do to change that. He is going to say, and believe, things that you as a third party can’t change or control. You can point your friend to these resources; if you’re close with the partner you can try to share them with him as well. And you can help your friend process these feelings of hurt, guiding and advising fae as best as you can as faer friend. Be there as a listening ear, honor and respect faer identities, and help them recognize when a partner’s behavior is unacceptable.

How soon is too soon to ask about a potential partner's polyam dynamics?

I’m in the early stages of seeing someone who is poly and has other partners. I’ve never been in a Proper Relationship before nor been involved in a polycule but I do think it’d be the best form of relationship structure for me. I’m just a little unsure of how soon is too soon to ask about how their specific polycule works/their boundaries/etc?

I’m generally of the opinion that as long as you’re engaged in any sort of flirting, “early stages of seeing,” or any relationship with someone that isn’t, like, They’re A Stranger On Public Transit or Your Boss or something, there’s no such thing as “too soon” to ask about someone’s polyamorous philosophy, boundaries, and structure. Any person practicing healthy polyamory would be thrilled that you brought it up. Go ahead and ask those questions!

I'm friendly with a married couple, who I think are pursuing me in odd ways

I’ve known this married couple for about five months. I really like them and we click. Occasionally they'd just bring up polyamory and say something like, "Oh you know some people have multiple partners." I never told them I was interested in it because I didn't feel it was the right time to do so in those moments. After some time they would invite me to their house. They asked if I could house sit while they were going out of town, so I stayed at their house for a few days.

They have a surveillance camera in the house. I know it records because I googled the camera. While on the phone with my mom (I’m 21 and still live with her) I asked her to get certain snacks that I liked. Then I was scrolling through twitter and saw a video about crows and said "crows are the best birds ever" out loud to no one obviously because I was alone. When the couple invited me over their house a few weeks later, I saw a new wall piece that was a crow. Then in the kitchen I saw the snacks I mentioned to my mom. They also would talk to me about some things I mentioned over the phone or to myself while I was house sitting, and a few other things which make me believe they watched the footage from when I was house sitting. Mostly the husband.

Then one day I made a self deprecating joke. The husband told me, "I don't want to hear you say that. Anyone would be lucky to have you." Then I got a call from the wife and we talked for a bit about random things. She told me I should call her husband sometimes to talk to him. Idk. I'm interested in them but tbh, I don't think they understand polyamory fully. Maybe I'm overthinking it?

I don’t think this couple sounds safe or healthy to get involved with. There’s standard flirting, which I’ll admit, sometimes involves “hearing my crush likes a certain band, so looking them up and listening to a bunch of their songs so I can mention it next time we talk” - and then there’s secret recordings and creepy conversational insinuations that they were watching you when you thought you were alone. That’s super weird and reason enough to take serious distance from this couple.

Then there’s the gap in ages and life experience - you’re younger than these people, and don’t live on your own. This couple has more financial, relational, and other types of security than you. That creates an inherent power imbalance which you always want to tread carefully around. Their behavior strikes me more like “grooming” or “pursuit” of you as an object or prize, rather than a mutually acknowledged and respectfully managed budding romance.

Finally, you are very right to note that they don’t seem to understand polyamory in a If they wanted to woo you responsibly, they would be clear, open, and honest about their desires and interests, and make space for your input. But they’re not doing that. They’re being sneaky and subtle, relying on hints and weird manipulation tactics. That doesn’t signal that they’re sensitive to existing issues or well versed in healthy polyamory.

My advice would be to take some distance from these people - stop going over to their house, and respond to their flirtatious overtures with feigned ignorance or confusion. If you’re interested in this type of dynamic, check out polyamorous communities and spaces in your area and learn more about it on your own. This couple are not good candidates for your first foray into this type of relationship.

My metamour misgenders me when she's upset

I’m non-binary and my partner’s wife regularly misgenders me when she’s angry at me. She says it’s accidental because she’s mad, but both her husband/my boyfriend and I feel like it’s deliberate. He always corrects her when it happens, but I don’t feel comfortable with her misgendering me just because she’s angry at us for spending time together. I don’t know what to do.

First off, I’m so sorry that you’re in a situation where someone is misgendering you for any reason. It’s not okay, and you don’t deserve to be treated like that.

The fact that she does it out of anger doesn’t make things any better - in fact, from my perspective, it’s kind of worse. She’s aware that it hurts you, so she does it when she’s angry with you. She is wielding it as a weapon, using it to punish you whenever she’s upset with you. That’s completely gross and uncalled for. Being treated with dignity and respect is not something that people must earn by keeping everyone happy - you deserve to be honored in your identity regardless of how another person feels. Period.

Unfortunately, it sounds like she’s not willing to understand this and make a change. It also sounds like there’s a lot more at issue here, since what she gets angry about is you spending time with your partner. This isn’t a healthy polyamorous situation, because you’re involved in a relationship where a metamour is behaving cruelly toward you. You can’t change her behavior, but you can choose how willing you are to tolerate her inappropriateness. You are well within your rights to limit your contact with her, set clear boundaries around what topics and conversations you’re willing to address with her (if any), and to request that your partner do more to help you maintain those boundaries (like not expecting you to be around her anymore).

When I'm with one partner, I can't stop thinking about the other partner.

I can't stop thinking about my secondary partner while I'm with my primary partner. What should I do? I want to give him the quality time he deserves but I'm so unfocused.

This is pretty common! Our brains are primed to act like this, as frustrating as this is. When you’re with your primary partner, your brain has determined that he is ‘secure,’ that you can trust that you have his attention and affection. But you’re not getting those same immediate cues about your secondary partner, so your brain starts fussing about what feels more scarce or less secure. You may also be in the throes of NRE, or “new relationship energy.” It’s often the case that the relationship that is newer or less established tends to be more distracting.

So, sometimes just naming the thoughts and feelings can be useful. Knowing “oh, this is just a Thing my brain is doing” can help you separate yourself from the thoughts and gently let go of them or set the to the side, rather than feeling stuck in them or worrying about their presence. Try picturing a box in your mind that you can put that focus in, promising yourself that you can open it later. Remind yourself that your secondary partner will still be there after your date time with your primary, and you don’t always need to be mentally tending to that relationship.

You might also want to check out some techniques from mindfulness or CBT. You can use simple grounding techniques to refocus your brain, like calling your attention to the partner you’re currently with - what does he look like, feel like, smell like? If it’s texts from your secondary that are distracting you, try turning off your phone or setting it aside while you’re with your other partner. If there’s something about your time with your primary partner that is turning your attention away, try putting more effort into re-igniting the ‘spark’ there and attending to some serious quality time together.

Is it healthy to think of a polyamorous relationship as a "sacrifice"?

I’m in a relationship w/ a man who has another gf. For all of us, this is our 1st polyam relationship. When I decided this was a relationship I wanted to pursue I told myself that sharing my bf was a sacrifice I was willing to make. When I talked to him about this he said although he doesn’t like the word sacrifice he admits that polyamory is difficult & requires hard work/compromise but that it’s ok b/c we’re all willing to put in the effort to make this a happy relationship. Since this is new to us, I’m still not sure: is it healthy to think of him having another gf as a sacrifice?

It sort of depends on your definition of “sacrifice.” If you really truly would prefer to be in a monogamous relationship and just see his other relationship as a sort of necessary unpleasantness to tolerate so that you can date with this guy, that’s not healthy. I’ve seen people go into relationships from this perspective and it leads to a lot of resentment, denial, and ultimately never ends well.

But if instead you mean that a polyamorous relationship takes work and you’re willing to do that work, you’re willing to be uncomfortable at times, you’re willing to have difficult conversations and do the necessary self-work, that’s a fine perspective to have. It means you’re clear-eyed and honest with yourself and your partners about what trying polyamory will mean for you, and how much effort it will take - effort you’re happy to put in, but which you acknowledge will be required.

I’ve personally used the word sacrifice in this blog, and it’s not inherently a red flag, but your partner is right to flag that it calls for some deeper investigation. Often the language we use points to underlying assumptions that deserve to be interrogated.

If it’s the first, then I’d recommend not getting involved in this relationship. If it’s the second, then I’d recommend taking the word “sacrifice” off the table, since your partner has said that it bothers him, and finding other language to express what you’re trying to say, like “do the work” or “take the risk.”

I don't mind my partner having sex with other people, but now that we live together, it's hard on me to hear it

Me and my partner have been in a happy open relationship for over 2 years. During this time we have both had other intimate relationships with other people and with other people together. Around 6 months ago we agreed to be primary partners and moved in together (separate rooms). I have no issue with my partner having sex/relationships with other people, however I never realized before we moved in together how difficult this would be to be around first hand. I'm having major difficulty dealing with listening to him having sex in the next room as it makes me feel insecure and upset. I understand that he needs the freedom to have his dates in his own room but I’m really struggling knowing what is happening in the next room and being able to hear. It’s not an option to move out. How can I process this so I am able to give my partner the freedom that he needs like he is able to give to me?

If the issue is really having to be around it and hearing it and generally being actively aware of it, the solution is relatively simple - some noise canceling headphones, or asking for him to give you a heads up about planned dates so you can hang out somewhere else. It might be time to find a local cafe you enjoy hanging out at, or some close friends who are okay with you setting up on their couch some evenings. You can also talk with him about this, let him know that it makes you feel insecure and upset, and ask if he can maybe come up with some compromises, like trying to have dates at his partners’ place whenever possible, or monitoring the noise level.

But if you think that, even while you were out of earshot or snuggled up with noise-canceling headphones, you’d still feel uncomfortable knowing that he was somewhere having sex with someone, then that’s a tougher situation to resolve. You say that you have been happily in an open relationship for over 2 years, though, and that you don’t feel bothered by your partner’s other relationships and sex, so hopefully, taking steps to protect yourself from this specific squick-trigger will help.

My boyfriend is okay with me dating other men, but it doesn't feel right to me

My boyfriend has never ever told he doesn't want me to date other men, but I genuinely feel selfish for wanting another guy when I have such a wonderful one. When I've expressed this to him he always tells me he just wants me to be happy. And the only girl I've dated since we've been together was just casual, but I don't think my feelings will stay casual for this second guy.

I think there are two issues here: one is that things with your boyfriend aren’t spelled out enough, and there’s a lot of anxiety in ambiguity. “I just want you to be happy” is not enough communication - you need to know what your boyfriend’s boundaries and desires are for this relationship arrangement, what his best- and worst-case scenarios are, etc. This is a situation where “the absence of a no” is not the same as a “yes” and it sounds like you would be on much more secure footing if you had some more specific signoff from your boyfriend than “whatever you want.” So ask him!

Second, it sounds like you have a lot of internalized shame and worry about what “sex with a man” is and means. That’s normal - our culture teaches us from birth that male sexuality is wrapped up in ideas about purity (you should only be with one man or else you’re wrong, sinful, dirty, etc.) and ownership (it somehow violates inherent male property rights if you have sex with more than one) and things like that. Fortunately, you can often overcome those feelings by pulling them out into the light, articulating and examining them. I discuss that here!

My partner forbids me from any sort of intimacy with my other partners because she gets panic attacks

I have been dating this married couple for 7 months now. My girlfriend suffers from ptsd and has frequent panic attacks. She had a panic attack over us and physical touch, which was okay and we stopped. She had a panic attack over me and our mans intimacy. Again it was okay and we stopped. But now it seems that she doesn't want either of them to be intimate with me. She says that I could either leave or find a fourth to be intimate with. I don't know what to do.

This is a really tricky situation. When you’re dealing with trauma and panic attacks, it can be hard to balance between sensitivity and care for the person who is suffering, while still honoring your own needs and boundaries. It sounds like you’ve been bending over backwards to accommodate your partner, but what is being done to make sure you are getting what you need and want? What work is she doing to manage her own health?

Let me be clear: having symptoms of a mental illness is not in and of itself manipulative - but it is possible for someone to use them as a cudgel to make unreasonable demand. It is easy to believe that whoever has the strongest or most intensely expressed feelings should always take priority, but that is a fallacy. “Because I had a panic attack” is not an immediate, inarguable conversation-ender that obligates everyone to do what someone wants. Everyone deserves to be heard and respected, including you.

Your girlfriend has a right to relationships that are not abusive, coercive, or dismissive of her pain. But she is not entitled to a world where everyone acquiesces to everything she asks. Panic attacks are horrible, but they’re also entirely survivable, and there is a big difference between “feeling unsafe” and “being unsafe.” Your girlfriend has a right to safety. She does not have a right to a world free from discomfort. She needs to be willing to work with herself and with her partners on managing her anxiety - and this means a lot more than simply ordering the cessation of anything that triggers a panic attack.

It is okay for you to tell your girlfriend that you’re no longer able to be in this relationship exclusively on terms that she sets, which she can change at any time. Give her space to explain what, specifically, is triggering these panic attacks and how those underlying feelings can be addressed rather than tiptoed around. You can ask her what she would need in order to work towards being okay with you having intimacy with these other people. If she is only willing to date you under these terms, you’ll need to decide whether it’s time to accept her invitation to leave.

I started dating two people, and all my close friends are being bullies about it

What do I do if none of my close friends agree about me being with two people, and start turning into bullies?

It can be really hard when you come out as polyamorous and people in your life decide to be cruel or ignorant about it. I’ve never really understood why people think they have the space or the right to “agree” or “disagree” with another person’s relationship. But some people are gimongous jerks about this.

If your close friends are being hurtful, it’s okay to prioritize your own comfort and take space from them. Try finding other people, online or in your area, who can support you right now. A polyamory-oriented forum, discord, or subreddit might be a good place to try. It hurts to lose close friends because they won’t accept you for who you are, but it’s better to free yourself from that nastiness and start working to build a community of supportive, loving people. Start with your partners, who clearly care about you!

You can try to explain to them that they’re being unfair and ignorant, but only do that if you have the energy to engage in a painful conversation, and if you think you’ll be okay even if they aren’t understanding. You can’t control other people’s opinions, and even if you’re the world’s most convincing advocate, that’s no guarantee that the'y’ll come around.

If you have to be around these people, come up with some one-liners that will shut down the conversation. It’s okay not to engage and just to go “grey rock” if they try to provoke you. “Thanks for your input” is a good one. You can also just say “that’s rude” or “I don’t want to discuss my relationship with you.” I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this - know that there’s a whole community of polyamorous folks and allies out here who have your back!

I'm dating someone online, and he wants a very one-sided open relationship

I’ve been dating this guy online for months. About 4 months in he told me that he’s cheated on all of his past girlfriends, and that he’s tempted by other people even though he doesn’t want to mess up our relationship. We talked about maybe opening up the relationship, but I told him I’d have to think about it. He said he wouldn’t break up with me if we didn’t, but he felt like he was going to fuck up eventually. We talked about it more later and I agreed... but I’m still not confident.

He said he wouldn’t fall for anyone else, but he wants a steady friend with benefits. And he wants to spend time with her, stay in calls and sometimes sleep in a call with her, like we do. Thing is, we hardly get a lot of time together, especially when he decides he suddenly wants to be alone. He even told me there would be times where he’d probably leave me when we’re hanging out so he could hang out with her. I told him I wasn’t interested in doing things with other people, but I might go meet and flirt with other people if he spends a lot of time with his new girl, because I’m gonna want attention. He immediately shut down and said he didn’t want to talk about it anymore and that I won’t have to do that because he’ll still give me attention. He always had a problem with jealousy, hating it when I even talk to new people and especially hating it if I ever talk about anything sexual because he doesn’t want other people to think about me that way, even though he straight up tells other girls sexual things he’d do, even before he opened the relationship.

We agreed he could have casual flings for now, and after we meet at the end of May, then he could try to find other girls. I guess I just wanted to ask, does this seem like something that could work? I feel like I’m just giving permission for him to cheat rather than having an actual healthy open relationship. I would most likely be monogamous if given the choice, but I don’t think I really have much choice here. Should I wait and see how it actually goes, or should I try to address things now?

It is rare that I get a letter with this many red flags. (And the letter was a lot longer before I edited it for length, so not all of the red flags are even present here). Friend, you need to RUN, not walk, away from this guy and this relationship! To answer your actual questions: this does NOT seem like something that could work, and you should NOT wait and see, and you should “address things now” by refusing to be treated like this and ending a relationship that’s on such cruel, unfair terms.

He is using emotional blackmail - essentially saying “I’m going to see other people regardless, so you can either give me permission to do so, or I’ll cheat on you.” That is not healthy, safe, or fair to you. He is acting like telling you up front that he’ll do something means that he isn’t accountable for the consequences later on. That’s called a threat. If I punch someone in the nose, that’s not okay, even if beforehand I said “just so you know, I have a history of punching people, and I’ll probably punch you too.”

Then after bullying you into agreeing to an open relationship, he tells you that he doesn’t want you to even get attention from other people? Not okay. His “jealousy” and “hating it” when you talk to new people are major red flags. You also talk in the edited sections about his habit of suddenly withdrawing his attention from you, either because of his “moods” or because he’s distracted with another person. This is a classic control tactic - using the withdrawal of his attention as a way to keep you hooked. A relationship where you feel that you “don’t have much choice” is not safe or healthy. These are all textbook methods for someone laying the ground for a suffocating, controlling, emotionally volatile, imbalanced, or even abusive relationship. Get out now.

My partner always comments sweet compliments on my metamour's social media, but not mine

I’m currently dating someone who’s polyamorous and it’s been going really well. However, I’ve noticed that they always comment compliments and such on one of their other partner’s selfies but not mine. I don’t mind them being affectionate with their other partner but I’d like to have the same attention. How do I ask them about it without sounding jealous or disrespectful?

Something interesting that non-monogamy does is make you really aware of the subtle little patterns that you may not have noticed or intentionally started to do. These patterns often just arise organically after specific shared experiences and become baked into a relationship. I have some partners where I constantly use cutesy pet names, and some partners where I really only call them by their names. None of us ever made an explicit decision or request around this, it just became part of one relationship’s energy and never came up in another one. I never intended it to single anyone out or signify a difference in feelings. If my partner said “hey, I noticed you always do cute nicknames with Imeldo, and never with me - what’s up with that?” then we would talk about whether they wanted me to start doing that with them.

My point being, there’s probably some reason that this is happening, but your partner may not be entirely aware of it. (They might be - it’s possible that their other partner explicitly asked them to do that!) But you’re well within your rights to bring it up, gently and cheerfully, and ask if they might be willing to do the same for you. It’s not jealous or disrespectful to ask your partner for something, or to check in about existing relationship dynamics. You can say something like “I really love seeing the sweet compliments you leave on Tarmei’s photos and it would totally make my day if you left the same!”

It is possible that they are closeted on social media, and are nervous about being seen posting lovey-dovey comments on someone who isn’t their Monogamy Culture Approved Partner, in which case, you can talk about how they can show their affection to you in another way that’s works for everyone. Part of polyamory is about realizing that no one is psychic, and trusting your partners to be able to hear you express your wishes, curiosities, and questions without reacting negatively.