My girlfriend says different things to me and her other partner about marriage - but I only know because I looked at her phone

My partner and I have been poly for fourish months and have been together for 5 years. I know you are never supposed to do this, but I went through my primary partner’s phone because I had this crazy feeling after she suddenly told me she didn’t know if she ever wanted to get married and that she didn’t have any real feels for the guy she’s been seeing. But now I’m going crazy because just yesterday they were texting that they love each other and would love to marry one day. I know I should’ve never even looked, and I wish I didn’t. But now I’m going nuts. And I don’t know what to do. And I know doing crazy stuff like that just fuels the fire, but I felt like she was hiding things during our own conversations and I couldn’t stand it. Please help.

Looking at the language you used in your letter, you used the word “crazy” three times to describe how you felt and behaved, said that you’re “going nuts,” that you “couldn’t stand it,” and that there is a “fire” being “fueled.” It sounds to me like you are experiencing some intense emotions that feel totally overwhelming. It can feel like you’re at the whims and mercy of your feelings, and that you have no choice but to act on them. I know what it’s like to have a desperate need to soothe your pain, but unlike a burn that you want to get under hot water asap, not immediately acting on the urges of a powerful feeling won’t harm you in the long run.

I would advise you to check in with yourself about whether this is a larger pattern with you, in your relationships and elsewhere. Consider seeing a therapist who specializes in helping people choose responses to their feelings, rather than reacting as if they are driven by those feelings. You can also find a lot of self-help or DIY books and workbooks on this subject. It feels so much better to be in control of your actions rather than feeling backed into a corner by overwhelming emotions, trust me.

To address this specific situation, I’d ask yourself what, exactly, you want. Is it to know the truth of her inner desires and intentions regarding marriage? That might not be possible - you can’t peer inside her mind, and she may not even know herself. Is it a more honest conversation about how this new polyamorous relationship is impacting your plans and hopes for the future? A re-orientation of boundaries and expectations around communication openness? Think through your goals and what you’d like to find out from her, then ask her those clear, specific questions.

Think about where these “crazy feelings” of mistrust are coming from. She told you how she felt about marriage, but something in you didn’t believe her. Why did you suspect that she was telling her other partner different things? What might be going on in you, or between you and your girlfriend, that’s bringing this up? Why is it important to you that she’s saying the same things to both of you? Is marriage an issue you foresee coming up soon, or is this more a “principle of the thing” that makes you worry about her overall honesty with you? Think through what, exactly, is making you feel so threatened and upset, so you can address that with her. Try to keep the conversation focused on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the emotions and needs at play, rather than the details around who said what to whom and when.

My partner has been keeping things from me because of how I responded to previous conversations

New to polyamory. Have been in this V relationship for about 8 months. I’ve had my struggles and my fears still working on this but I am doing MUCH better. I know I put a lot of crap on my significant other over my insecurities, just like being very needy and pretty much letting the craziness out to him. It’s been good but now he’s keeping things from me and I figure it’s because of me but it hurts. What do I do?

My mother raised and trained a very smart dog breed for a while before I was born. Something she said often was: “never punish the behavior that you want.” For example, never call a dog over to scold it for something, or to kennel it if it hates the kennel. If you want to train the dog to come when called, never associate that behavior with something negative.

People are the same way, though of course we’re much more complicated. It sounds like in the past, when your significant other shared things with you, you reacted in a way that felt uncomfortable or unpleasant for him. So he learned that if he wanted to avoid that negative stimulus, he needed to avoid those kinds of conversations with you.

Now, that’s not to say that people are never allowed to have emotional reactions or negative responses to things people tell us, or that if we show fear or struggle to our partner, that they’re absolved of their obligation to be honest with us. But I say often in this column that honesty goes both ways, and when we want people to be honest with us, we need to make sure it’s safe and comfortable for that person to share. Even if what we hear is hurtful or difficult, we need to respond to the content of what’s being said, not punish the act of sharing hard truths.

I know his withdrawal hurts, but try not to take it personally or let it prod you into picking fights or pulling away. Recognize that he is making a totally reasonable choice based on the evidence and experience he’s gotten from you.

First, let him know that you are aware that your past behavior made it hard for him to be honest with you, and you understand his reticence now. Take accountability for your part in creating the situation you two are now in. Let him know that you do very much want him to keep sharing things with you, and ask what you can do to help get back to that place.

Then, once you’ve made this clear, drop it - don’t pester him to tell you things he’s not comfortable sharing. You have to let your actions speak louder than your words. You can insist that you’re better now, but you need to show him. Take small opportunities to demonstrate your security. Cultivate a conversational space where he can be honest and share things with you. Reward the behavior you want to see, and give things time.

My husband wants to reconnect as just friends with a metamour I think is toxic

My husband and I are new to polyamory. He recently broke up badly with a gf that I came to regard as toxic to him. I always 100% supported his relationship with her and had compersion and compassion for them. However, as their feelings for each other escalated, he began treating me cruelly and caused me pain repeatedly in some of his actions.

After each hurt like that, I made my needs known, I told him how each action/behavior made me feel, but he continued. I believe, based on what I was learning about his gf, that she was manipulating him for her own gain. Last week I discovered that he had begun to fabricate things he'd and places he'd been when he'd actually been with her. And then when I asked him about it, he lied. I finally got him to admit what he had done. I don't know why he was doing it and neither does he. I never put any restrictions on him and was always supportive.

When I found out he had moved to the level of lying to me, I did something I never, ever wanted to do in our new poly life: I told him I would leave our relationship if he kept seeing her. He broke it off. Then he said he wanted to be friends with her on a platonic level to prove to himself and to me that he can. He had been superficially friends with her for 15 years before they became romantically involved, but all those 15 years, they were physically attracted to each other.

I am very worried about him doing this. I think it's a terrible idea and I've told him so. I've given him many reasons why I think it's dangerous territory, but he says he is still going to do it. Is it a good idea for him to re-establish a friendship with her?

No, I don’t think that sounds like a good idea. I don’t think his reasoning - “to prove that he can” - is sound, and I don’t think he’s being fair to you or honest with himself. But it ultimately doesn’t really matter what I think. It’s unlikely that your husband will change his mind based on the ref call of an anonymous internet person. You clearly think it’s a bad idea, and all you can control is yourself. You have to decide whether you’re willing to be in a relationship with someone who is doing these things - the lying, the inability to admit his true intentions, the refusal to honor your requests, etc. You can’t choose his actions, you can only choose your responses to them.

I'm dating a couple, but one of them gets violent, and I don't know what to do

I recently joined an existing polyamorous relationship where I live in the home. They have problems, but what concerns me most is that at least twice now he has come close to physically assaulting her when he loses his temper. My question is, she says even if he hits her it's not my place to step in to help her. She says I'm thinking monogamously when I say if we are partners I'm not just gonna watch as she is assaulted. What should I do? Should I just watch or should I step in to defend her?

You need to leave that relationship and that home immediately. Violent tempers like that are not safe. If you are at the point of trying to figure out what to do about the threat of physical assault, you are at the point of needing to leave. Right now. Here are my resources on leaving a bad relationship.

Because your question was how to help someone in danger of assault, you should call a local crisis line. Google your area and “domestic violence” and you can talk to someone who can point you toward resources.

This has absolutely nothing to do with monogamy or polyamory. Healthy polyamory does not include trying to protect partners from each other, not does it include “just watching” as someone is threatened or harmed. She is operating under an bizarre and warped belief that their self-identification as polyamorous means that she can’t receive help from a third party who isn’t okay with her being the victim of domestic violence. It’s entirely possible that he is the source of this belief and is mis-using “polyamory” to convince her to accept his abuse and to keep her from getting help.

Ultimately, you cannot “save her” on your own power. Planning to “step in” during an incident of domestic violence is not a good plan. You can provide her with resources. You can state clearly and pointedly that his behavior is unacceptable. You can enlist other supports. Then, you need to focus on keeping yourself safe. Please get out of there.

My wife and I got involved with her best friend sexually, but now I think I might want more

A couple months ago my wife (Barnella) and I met up with her best friend, Sloanette for drinks at a club. After a long night of drinking she out of nowhere comes to me and says we should take Sloanette home with us. I wasn't surprised considering she actually lived in our spare room for almost 3 years. What did surprise me was that when we got home Barnella told me she wanted to watch me have sex with Sloanette. After 3 hours of talking about it I finally got up the nerve and did what she asked. Now it had become an every Saturday thing for us. Which turns out to be amazing and has brought life back into the marriage. My problem now is that I am starting to have feelings for Sloanette. I still love my wife very much and nobody could ever replace her. So now I have no idea what to do. Please help!

This may not be as much of a problem as you think it is. Your wife clearly has strong feelings for Sloanette, as they’re best friends. She lived with you for three years and it sounds like the three of you have a lot of good energy together and enjoy each other’s company. You’ve been having sex with Sloanette for months now without your wife being “replaced.” Having frequent sex with someone makes it much likelier that you will “catch feelings” for them, and it’s possible your wife and/or Sloanette are having a similar experience.

First, think about what would actually change - you already like Sloanette and seem to enjoy hanging out with her as a friend and including her in your life, and you’re already having sex. That’s pretty close to a sexual-romantic relationship, but there is a gap. What’s in that gap, for you? What is new about these feelings that you’re developing? What are some new things you’d like to do with Sloanette that aren’t currently part of the relationship? Get some clarity within yourself so you can go into conversations equipped to be clear and honest.

Then, talk to Barnella about this! Let her know that starting something sexual with Sloanette has led to a desire for something more sexual-romantic. Ask her how she feels about this current arrangement where the three of you have some kind of sexual connection, and whether she’d be interested in a different kind of connection between the three of you. After that, discuss things with Sloanette. Make space for open, creative, thoughtful conversation about how everyone is feeling. You may find that not much needs to change functionally, but once you share your feelings, everyone shifts a little bit. Or, maybe new boundaries need to be drawn and new arrangements need to be made. Be flexible and gentle with yourself and each other, and follow what feels healthy and fun.

I'm dating a couple and it's not going well, but the husband really doesn't want me to leave

I've been dating a couple for about 9 months now, about three months in, the wife decides to break up but the husband does not want to let me go. Two weeks later she apologizes and we get back together, but then she started getting doubts about wanting this for her life. We have been working on it and trying to make it better but it is still rocky and she believes she is possibly just monogamous. They are due to go for IVF soon but I am not sure the wife wants me to be a part of the family. I love them both and the husband wants me in his life (I have even tried to break up, but he begs me to stay) but I can see this turning out bad for me. Kind of like once the kid is born I will be irrelevant. I don't know what to do.

You already know what to do, because you tried to do it at least once before. You know this is a bad situation for you; otherwise you wouldn’t have tried to end things. You describe things as “rocky” and say you “can see this turning out bad” for you. You know.

IVF is difficult and stressful, and you’re probably right that things are not going to get better once that starts. You don’t need anyone else’s permission or agreement to break up. Let the husband know that this is just not an arrangement that you want to be part of. He can beg, he can cry, he can argue - but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re ending things.

I'm 16, polyamorous, and worried I'll never find the kind of relationship that I want.

Hi, I’m 16 and have thought/known that I am poly for a year or two. I’m not really sure how to feel about it. I know that a triad/throuple is most appealing to me, I’m just scared that I won’t find anyone who would want me or that kind of relationship. I feel very defeated and unsure. Any advice on being more confident in my polyamory?

This is not actually a polyamory issue, but a “being sixteen” issue. I can assure you that most 16 year olds who are monogamous still worry about never finding someone who wants to be monogamous with them. It is hard to feel confident in yourself and your dating future at sixteen, no matter what.

Trust that nearly everyone who, as a teen, feared that they would never have the kind of romantic relationship they longed for, ultimately ended up finding their way there. Including me! For now, focus on parts of yourself that you can feel confident in without other people’s involvement: hobbies, talents, and the things that make you awesome. Take pride in your polyamorous identity on its own. Try to be patient. Seek out friends and communities that build you up and remember that you are fully worthy and lovable no matter what.

I'd like to ask someone out, but I'm worried she'll say yes and not mean it

My girlfriend and I recently decided to be in an open relationship. I've never been the jealous type, and she uses dating for socialization. I'm thinking of asking my best friend/high school sweetheart if she'd like to join our relationship. I know I want a future with these people, and we've even already all talked about eventual coparenting, but she's always been possessive, and I'm worried she'll end up suffering in silence.

If you trust this person enough to want to date her, live with her, and raise kids with her, you ought to trust her enough to be honest with you. If you think that she’s the kind of person who would misrepresent her feelings and pretend to be okay with something she isn’t, do not date her. That’s a serious form of dishonesty and you don’t deserve to be put in a position where you’re constantly trying to second-guess and mind-read someone else.

But ask yourself - where is this concern coming from? Does she have a history of being dishonest with you about her needs, desires, and feelings? Have you seen this pattern in her other friendships or relationships? Or are you just projecting your own worries? It’s generally best not to try and do someone else’s thinking and feeling for them. Why not just expect that, if you ask her something, she’ll give you a straight answer? If she doesn’t want to date you and your girlfriend, one hopes that she would just say so. “I’m worried that if I ask someone to do something, they won’t want to do it, but they’ll say yes anyway” is putting multiple carts before multiple horses.

So my answer is this: if there is a genuine, evidence-based reason that you think she wouldn’t give you an honest answer, don’t bother asking the question. Don’t pursue a relationship with someone you can’t trust in that way. It’s not about protecting her from unhappiness that she won’t protect herself from - it’s about protecting you and your girlfriend from a partner who doesn’t have the skills to be in a healthy relationship.

But if there isn’t a genuine, evidence-based reason, don’t do her the disservice of assuming that her answers won’t be correct. Trust her as an adult with agency that if she says she’s into something, she’s into it. That if she stops enjoying something, she’ll say so. That she can identify and articulate her own needs and desires. And then go from there. If you’re right that she’s “possessive” and would “suffer” in a polyamorous arrangement, she’ll probably just decline when you ask her out, and then none of this is an issue.

I dated polyamorously, then shifted to monogamy - but I'm worried people who know me are misjudging polyamory as a result

I recently realized that, personally, I would be much happier in a monogamous relationship than a polyamorous one. I was previously dating two individuals, both of whom knew about the other and were friendly. I realized, though, that when I saw monogamous couples together, I felt like that was something I wanted more than what I currently had; it was totally a personal thing. I ended up breaking it off with one of the two, and we still remain fantastic friends. When I told my friends what went down, a few of them reacted in a way that didn't make me feel good at all. They seemed to have been expecting me to pick one eventually all along, and they had even guessed WHICH one I would choose. I'm frustrated because I feel like I'm now their official living proof that polyamory can't work. I don't feel that way at all though! It was entirely a personal decision, and I still support other polyamorous relationships in all forms. How do I avoid being this living stereotype?

The frustrating thing about sharing this world with other humans is that we can’t control what’s going on inside their heads. We can’t change someone else’s feelings, perceptions, opinions, or choices. And sometimes that is just maddening! I’ve been there, for sure.

I thank you, on behalf of the entire “polyamorous community,” for being sensitive to the way certain stereotypes and narratives can be harmful, and that you don’t want to perpetuate certain attitudes within your social circles. But you’re also obligated to do what’s best for yourself, remembering that it is never the job of one individual to represent an entire group.

When your friends say stuff like “polyamory can’t ever work,” just tell them what you told me: “Oh, no, I certainly don’t think that’s the conclusion to draw from this! For me, trying polyamory was a way to learn about myself and my personal needs and desires in relationships. In fact, it worked out great for me and Aziraphale and Crowley - it gave us the space to figure out the best way for us to be in relationship with each other! Permanency isn’t the same as success - just because I didn’t stay in a polyamorous relationship doesn’t mean that it was a negative experience. And this is just how things worked out for me! Lots of people are in healthy, long-term polyamorous arrangements, and it definitely is working for them!”

At that point, you’ve said all you can. If your friends keep pushing or bringing it up, you can gently shut down the conversation by saying “I don’t feel comfortable when you draw large scale conclusions about other people based on my experiences. Let’s talk about something else.” And if they don’t bring it up, don’t worry about what they may be internally thinking about polyamory - you’re not responsible for ensuring that everyone’s opinions are totally nice and accurate.

I recently started dating someone who is asexual, and am not sure how to navigate things going forward

I recently started dating someone I've been friends with for years and have often imagined spending my life with. She's asexual, and I am not and I don't know how to tactfully bring up the idea that I'd be interested in a poly dynamic where I could pursue that stuff with other people but she'd still be my primary. We both know and are okay with friends who are poly but I have no clue how she feels about being involved in a poly dynamic.

The thing about dating someone is that you’ve made a commitment to them. Part of that commitment includes being honest with them, and trusting them to receive important information that you share. Your partner’s asexuality and your sexuality are important parts of your relationship that need to be discussed! If you’re dating, you ought to be able to talk about things like desires and expectations around sex and physical affection.

I wouldn’t open things by asking about polyamory - but definitely have a conversation about your relationship, and what it means for her to be ace dating someone who isn’t, and what she wants and needs from the relationship. Talk about what your hopes are for this new relationship. Be clear. Define your terms - explain what you mean by “dating” and “pursue” and “that stuff” and “primary” and “a poly dynamic.” Give space for both of you to make sure you’re speaking the same language.

The best way to find out how she feels is to ask!


I'm in a triad, and my girlfriend always prefers my boyfriend for emotional support

I’m in a triad relationship. Whenever my girlfriend feels irritated, sad, or any negative way, she always goes to our boyfriend to find her sense of calmness. I know it sounds bad...but I wish I were able to help her like he does for her. I end up feeling like a useless girlfriend because when she’s like that, I say something to try and calm her down and she immediately just asks if our boyfriend is free to text her so that he can do his calming down magic.

Have you talked to her about this? During a moment when things are calmer, bring it up gently. You can say something like “I’ve noticed that when you want to be calmed down or cheered up, you always go to Samueth. Is there something I can do to make you feel more comfortable coming to me? When you’re not feeling good, what are things that help you? I want to be able to be there for you, and I want to let you know that it’s okay to lean on me or ask for help.”

You could also suggest that your triad talk about love languages or enneagram types or a similar system that can give language to how you three experience feelings, relationships, and needs. Think also about whether there is something you and your girlfriend can do to build more trust or intimacy in general, like spending more one on one time together talking about your hopes, experiences, and feelings.

It’s also possible that, for this specific person, your boyfriend’s comforting style is just more her speed. All people are different, and it doesn’t say anything negative about you that she often prefers his way of addressing her emotions. It doesn’t mean you’re bad, or inadequate, it just means that the idiosyncrasies of her low moods mesh better with the idiosyncrasies of his responses. Try not to take it so personally, and find ways where you two do mesh well.

My boyfriend's insecurity about our polyamorous relationship is leading him into poor choices

My boyfriend and I have been in a monogamous relationship for 8 years. We have recently opened to polyamory (I was the one who initiated this) and I’m in a new but stable relationship with a close friend and he has a newer relationship with a girl he really likes. Everything goes okay, except his partner often cancels dates. I try to schedule my dates around him, and he seems sad if I stay at my partners house while he’s home alone. The other night, he went to a strip club and spent a lot of money (though he admitted it was a poor decision) because he was feeling upset. What can I do to help him healthily cope?

You cannot control your boyfriend’s choices! If he is not coping in a healthy way, that doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong or that it’s your job to make sure he doesn’t act on his feelings in an irresponsible way.

You’re already doing what you can by planning your dates when he has other plans, and if those plans get canceled, there’s nothing you can or must do. If you give him the heads up when you’ll be out of the apartment so he can prepare other distractions, you’ve done your part.

You can point him to resources on healthy polyamory, you can offer to help him set up online dating profiles, you can encourage and support him in other hobbies and friendships, but you cannot manage his feelings or make his choices for him. Ask him what he wants from you to help him, but don’t agree to anything unfair or unreasonable. (Often people think that if a partner expresses a need or a desire or a strong feeling, they’re obligated to do whatever the partner asks - but that’s not true. It should be a dialogue, not a list of demands.)

Make sure your finances are safe from his impulsive, emotion-driven choices, and if he’s running down funds that your shared household needs, talk to him about what limits you can set to protect yourself.

There's an age gap in my relationship, but it's not causing any of the problems Zinnia often cites - is it a problem anyway?

I am 19 and with a married couple about 10-15 years older. They are at a different life stage and have different responsibilities than I do as a college student. Your posts make me think the age gap might mean I should step back, but they have always been respectful of my own priorities and never put me in a position to handle expectations I am logistically or mentally unsuited for. They have no real power over me as I am not dependent on them for any of my resources. Should I rethink this?

The thing about humans is that we’re all unique and complex! There are almost zero hard and fast rules that can be applied in a blanket fashion to everyone. It’s not that age gaps are always or inherently Bad News, but that they call for Serious Caution.

And it sounds like you are exercising that caution! You seem aware of the potential dangers and like you’re in this relationship in a self-controlled and clear-eyed way. I wouldn’t say that you need to rethink this, but definitely keep on thinking it. Know your needs and boundaries and keep a running dialogue with yourself to check in on whether anything is changing or slipping.

If something is fun and happy and safe, then go for it! Hold yourself and them accountable, continue articulating what you do and don’t want, and enjoy dating that older couple.

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.