A question ostensibly about polyamory, but really about abuse

My bf & I are open. it was fine until he met someone online & bought plane tickets to see her a month later the same week. It caused some issues because it felt impulsive and I knew almost nothing until it was all planned. it took 3 weeks of me asking before he agreed to let me message hi to her & it was only after a fight where he got physical w/me & felt bad. I felt better after like saying hi to her. Before he left he said he wanted us to be mono when he comes back. Red flags? Or I’m not poly ready?

Let me break this down a bit:

1.) You wanted your partner to do something that he did not want to do
2.) You and your partner got into a fight where he got physical with you
3.) Because of his guilt around the physical abuse, he agreed to do the thing

This is not a healthy relationship dynamic and you need to leave this relationship immediately. Counting on the cycle of abuse to get things done or manage conflict is dangerous. Your problem is not with polyamory, your problem is with an abusive relationship. Check this page for resources that can help you leave safely.


The couple I'm dating got pregnant, and I'm not sure how I feel about this

The married couple I have been seeing for a 6 months is now pregnant and I (F) am struggling to adjust to the thought of this. I feel as though they just expect me to be okay with this and I’m not sure what to do or how to feel because I am not too excited about this.

So, there’s a fine line between “couple’s privilege” and recognizing that in general, newer relationships tend to just carry less weight than more established ones. This is true in monogamy as well. If I had been dating someone for 6 months, and I got a cool job offer out of state, I’d probably just tell them the news, be sad that the timing didn’t work out. But if I had been dating someone for 3 years and we lived together, then it would be a decision I’d talk with them about before applying, and discuss seriously with them what to do about the offer. It’s not about hierarchy or privilege, it’s just about how relationships tend to work.

If they’ve been planning on starting a family for a while, and also out there dating, it would have been prudent for them to share that information with you up front. It sounds like this information felt more abrupt to you, which is going to be painful and startling. It can feel rough when people bring you something like this from a position of “we’re informing you, not consulting you.” But that’s where they are right now - prioritizing their desire to have a baby over any preferences of yours. So now you have that information, and you can act on it.

Your next step would likely be to gather more information: do they hope that you will enthusiastically co-parent, forming a household of 3 parents who share childcare duties equally? Is that something you would want? Or are they planning to ‘cocoon’ a bit with the baby, expecting you to work around their new-parent needs and schedule, taking more of an auntie or family friend role? Is that something you would be okay with? Figure out what they’re offering, then figure out whether you’re willing and able to take that offer.

It might be that this new relationship just won’t survive this major lifestyle change, and that the timing of y’all meeting just didn’t line up with their family planning. Sometimes that happens, and it sucks. If you don’t want to date a couple with a new baby, and they want to have a new baby, then that’s that. Don’t try to fake feelings that you don’t have, or suppress feelings that you do. They have a right to set the terms of their lives; you have a right to participate at whatever level you’re comfortable with.

Can I get some help with a presentation I'm doing on polyamory?

I'm doing a presentation on healthy polyamorous relationships, as it's so hard to find good role models and information in the media. Would it be possible for you to take a look at my presentation.

I really can’t do one-off things like this; as cool as that sounds, if I start looking at people’s presentations and giving individual feedback, soon I’ll be reading everyone’s fics and giving private advice and it would be unmanageable. It’s precisely because I’d love to that I can’t let myself. I am, however, happy to do media requests, interviews, etc. (With some exceptions.)

However, comments are open over on the main site, so hopefully if you pop over there, you can find some readers willing to help you out!

I can see myself happy in a polyamorous or monogamous relationship; what does that mean?

I feel that, with the right communication and people, I could be happy in both a monogamous relationship and a polyamorous relationship. I haven’t heard of people like this before, is this valid or am I confused?

Friends. Readers. Comrades. We have to cool it with the “is this valid” nonsense. What does that mean? Does it mean “is this identity respected by the person I am talking to” or does it mean “is this experience a common thing that many people share” or does it mean “is what I’m doing hurtful or unhealthy to me or anyone else” - because those are all very different questions that I’ve all seen the term “valid” used as shorthand for. Does it apply to identities, or individuals, or behaviors, or choices? How is “validity” determined?

It doesn’t mean anything and it’s not a helpful concept because now we have all these people running around worried about whether or not they or their identities or their choices are “valid.” And why are y’all asking me? I’m not the Eternal Arbiter Of Validity. What would you do if I told you it wasn’t valid? Stop feeling that way? Ignore me?

Sweetheart. Letter writer. Friend. You are fine. Just because you haven’t heard of people feeling this way doesn’t mean it’s not common, and even if it wasn’t common, it wouldn’t make you wrong or confused, just unique. It is completely possible to be happy in more than one relationship configuration, depending on the circumstances or the people or the communication styles involved. I live in California but would probably be happy living in Colorado or Baltimore. I work as a writer but would also be happy working as a teacher. It’s okay not to have one rigid determiner of your identity in this, or any other, aspect of your life.

You can identify as polyamorish, monogamish, poly-mono, ambiamorous, polyflexible, or you could leave be any attempt at pinning this down and just move through life being you, and meeting the people you meet, and dating the people you date, and making wise and responsible choices, and you’ll end up in the relationship(s) that work(s) for you. Check out this lovely article at Poly.Land.

I want to date two men, but we think it would be best if we added a second woman to make it all work

My roommate and I both ended up developing strong feelings for each other but I do still love my husband. They both have agreed to try to find a female to add and expand our relationship so that we could all four be a couple together. They aren't bi so they only have sex with me and they would with the other female. Basically it would be a four-way couple emotionally but not sexually. How do we find someone?

I’m assuming that your roommate is a man, and you’re a woman. It sounds like you want to date your male roommate but stay married to your husband. Doing so does not require a fourth person to be involved, in any way. If your roommate is interested in being involved ‘emotionally but not sexually’ with your husband, he can have that close, positive metamour relationship without a fourth person.

It sounds like you three have determined that the only way you can be with your roommate is if you set up a “four-way couple” so everything is ‘even’ or ‘equal.’ But adding extra people to a situation just to mitigate other people’s emotional concerns doesn’t work, and it doesn’t make sense. You will not find someone to fill that role, for two reasons:

1.) Finding someone who is emotionally and sexually interested in all three people, and who is interested in joining an already established relationship situation, and is proximally and personally compatible with everything you have going on, is impossible. It’s just logistically, mathematically, socially, not a thing you’re going to be able to make happen.

2.) What you’re asking for is unfair and inappropriate as a relationship proposition. Essentially you want to use “a female” to balance the scales, realize a fantasy, and/or mitigate whatever fears or concerns you three have. You want to plug in the perfect thing to fill a very specific need - and that’s how we treat objects, not people. An individual person, with her own feelings, relationships, desires, needs, and interests, is not going to work like a folded up piece of cardboard wedged under a wobbly table leg to stabilize it.

You three need to figure out why you’re so committed to this “four way couple,” and do some emotional strategizing and problem-solving based on what you three can do and provide, without planning on a magical, unknown fourth person to show up and save the day. Some questions to guide the conversation:

Why wouldn’t V-shaped polyamory (where you date your husband and your roommate, and they are friendly but not dating each other) work? What problems are you trying to use another woman’s presence, sexuality, and emotional labor to solve? How can you solve those problems in another way?

How would you feel if your roommate or husband dated another woman, but she was not also dating you or the other man? How would you feel if you were approached by three people with a prescriptive offer for who you’d be having sex with and how everything would work? What would happen if it didn’t work out?

What kinds of narratives are you relying on to assume that this closed, four-way couple is the only way this could work? What kind of feelings or security are you expecting a four-way couple arrangement to provide? What led you to believe that arrangement would provide those? Could you get those from another arrangement?

Check here for more resources on people established relationships trying to ‘add’ partners.

Some quick FAQ-able questions

I'm writing a young adult novel centered around a romance that will eventually form a polyam triad or a V. I really want to do the polyamorous community justice in these characters, but I'm only just discovering polyamory for myself, and I'm worried I could create something unintentionally harmful. Could you give some advice on the best way to write polyamorous literature please? One of my characters is experienced in polyamory but single, and the others have no experience. Thank you so much

I answer a similar question here!

Hey whenever you get this could you follow me back please... Theres alot of different things I would like to talk about/need advice on because I'm new to a poly relationship...

I’m sorry, but I can’t. You can read more about my policy here.

How does one know if they're poly or not at heart, mind and soul?

Check my FAQ page on this here!

Is it possible to be in a healthy happy poly relationship?

I got two letters almost back to back that have the same answer, so I’m answering them together.

I'm polyamorous, or at least I identify as such. Is it possible to be in a relationship that is safe and true? For the sake of being brief- my last two relationships I used the term "open relationship" but my exes turned jealous and abusive. Before then I was seen as a slut and a cheater. Is it possible to be in a healthy happy poly relationship?

***

My polyamorous relationship recently ended for reasons relating to polyamory-- someone wasn't ready to face potential consequences of a world that doesn't approve, and felt unable to provide emotional support for two people. Polyamory is still a part of my identity, but I'm now having doubts about that. I guess I just want to hear someone say that just because this relationship didn't work, doesn't mean polyamory is invalidated.

…yes. You’re literally talking to someone who has been in healthy, happy polyamorous relationships for the past 10 years. Of course it’s possible.

I’ve seen tons and tons of relationships go sour for reasons related to monogamy - someone was jealous, someone was possessive, someone’s close friendships threatened their partner, someone cheated, and of course all the nonsense that people now call “micro-cheating” or “emotional affairs.”

All throughout human history, we see chaos and suffering in the name of monogamy. Othello murdered Desdemona. Menelaus went to war for Helen. Hamilton trashed his personal and political life over Maria Reynolds. Look at all the drama forming the premise of all the Bachelor shows. Bill Clinton cheated, got impeached, and Hillary’s decision to stick by him is considered a stain on her, and Monica Lewinsky’s life was destroyed, and it was just A Whole Thing. Monogamy, and the issues and culture surrounding it, tends to cause lots of Whole Things.

And yet, no one ever looks at the wreckage of monogamous relationships and asks “Is it possible to be in a happy healthy monogamous relationship? Does monogamy even work?” Those bad experiences and breakdowns are treated as one-offs, or failings of the individuals involved and their choices, never an indictment of monogamy. Polyamory, and all other relationships, are like sobriety: it works if you work it. Polyamory can be healthy if the people involved are making healthy choices. Polyamory can be unhealthy if the people involved are making unhealthy choices. Same goes for monogamy.

My husband and I would like a partner for me, is that polyamory?

My husband and I would like a partner for me, someone I can only be emotionally and maybe romantically involved with and he wants to watch but not be involved with her. Is this also considered polyamory or not?

It’s hard to answer your actual question. Some people would consider this polyamory, inasmuch as unicorn hunting is generally included under the umbrella of polyamory, as annoying as that is. But it doesn’t matter whether a certain word applies to what you want to do - what matters is that it’s not a healthy perspective or a wise thing to do.

People are not sex toys. Look at the language: “my husband and I would like” - it sounds like you want to be with another woman as a way to ‘spice up’ your existing relationship with your husband. That’s not fair to her. Imagine hearing that someone wants to be with you not because they like you, because they are attracted to you, because they are interested in a new relationship - but because their husband thinks it would be fun, and he wants to watch.

If what you really want is something for you and your husband to enjoy together, consider shopping for a new sex toy together, buying a new porn subscription together, or writing erotica together. If what you really want is a complete, sexual-emotional-romantic relationship with another woman, then seek that relationship the way you’d seek any other relationship. Don’t fetishize or objectify the woman or the relationship. Check my resources here.

I brought up polyamory with my partner, and she acted very unsafe

I've spent a long time considering if I'm polyam and I believe I am. It makes sense to me. However I've been in a monogamous (F/F) relationship for 6 years. We live together. She understands polyamory, but does not want it for us. When I tried to bring up my self-discovery, she became verbally abusive toward me, threatened to leave me, and insinuated she would probably hurt or kill herself. I'm afraid of destroying our life together over my feelings, but I also want to be true to myself.

Leave this relationship. Someone who becomes “verbally abusive” and threatens to hurt themselves as a way to control your behavior and feelings is not safe or healthy to be with. I know when you’ve been together for so long and you live together and have built a life together, it’s really hard to consider leaving, but when your partner acts like that, it’s time to hit the emergency eject button.

IF this was completely out of character for her - IF she has never, ever acted like that - it might be worthwhile to try and have one more conversation where you explain, very seriously, that you are now really scared for her, and for you, and for your relationship. That what she said was absolutely not okay. That you would like to get some therapy together - not with the goal of getting you a ‘free pass’ to date polyamorously, but to address whatever underlying issues caused a vulnerable, difficult conversation to turn dangerous.

But if she responds with anything other than “oh my God, I can’t believe I acted like that, I’m so sorry, it was not okay - I still feel strongly about the polyamory thing, but I need to find a way to have strong feelings without becoming threatening and abusive” - you need to leave. This is not about polyamory, this is about you being with a person who is currently unsafe.

My partner has a list of rules we have to follow to make sure his other relationship is always prioritized

I’m dating a married man. He has a list of rules that he follow with his wife to ensure they both get what the need but also have a stronger relationship with each other. I feel like some of the rules make it so I’m forced to be an outsider and quite frankly I’m feeling neglected. How long into this is it okay to ask if we can negotiate? Or is it never okay?

There is no rule that says “new partners must uncomplainingly accept all terms and conditions until a period of 6 months dating has passed, and then they are allowed to negotiate between 1 (one) and 3 (three) terms and/or conditions. After a period of one year, if said parties have continued in their dating relationship, they are considered ‘Serious’ and, as such, all other terms and/or conditions may be negotiated.”

If you’re in a relationship where your partner has specific rules designed explicitly to make sure his other relationship always stays stronger than yours, and you don’t like that, your best bet is probably to leave that relationship. You are free to try to bring them up and ask your partner for some flexibility - you don’t need to wait a certain period of time until it’s okay to ask. But if he says no, it’s not because there’s some Polyam Law that says you’re not entitled to that discussion. It’s because he doesn’t want to.

I know that some people are totally cool being a secondary, or a casual partner, but for most people, being shut out by a partner’s couple privilege and being limited by a bunch of rules, especially when these limits are indefinite and not just early-stage caution, is not healthy. If a relationship makes you feel neglected and excluded, it’s not a relationship you should stay in.

Can I identify as polyamorous if I don't want more than one relationship?

I personally identify as polyamorous, but I have a lot of worry over whether other polyam people would accept that label for me because I don't want to be in another relationship besides my primary one. I do want to pursue romantic feelings and have done in the past, and recently I've been thinking about the possibility of dating other people casually besides my boyfriend, but is it okay to identify as polyamorous if you don't desire more than one relationship?

You can identify however you want, and other people don’t really need to be okay with it. It is totally okay to only want one “relationship” but be open to “casually date” other people. If that is polyamory to you, that’s fine! You could also identify as monogamish, polyflexible, or “in an open relationship.”

However, some polyamorous people are not super into the idea of dating someone who already has a primary relationship and doesn’t want another relationship, but only wants a fling or something casual. Other people are okay having a low-stakes, casual fling - but then if one person or both people develop stronger feelings, it can get complicated. It’s important that you are really up front with everyone about the primacy of your current relationship and what you can and can’t offer to potential dates.

If you’re not out there in the polyamorous community or dating world, not seeking casual flings, not trying to date anyone - then it really doesn’t matter what you call yourself. You can privately identify as polyamorous to recognize the fact that you could, someday, maybe see yourself casually getting with another person. But the point of language is to help us be clear and honest with each other as well as ourselves, so just identifying as “polyamorous” without qualifiers or caveats could cause some pain, since it usually implies a willingness to pursue other relationships - something you don’t include in your personal polyamorous relationship.

It’s not about whether other people agree that you’re allowed to use a term - it’s about whether your use of that term is helpful, accurate, and healthy for everyone involved. If you use the identifier “polyamorous” alongside clear and honest delineation of your boundaries and limits, that’s one thing. Some people might hear your limits and qualifiers and say “that’s not really polyamory,” and they’re entitled to their opinion, but they can’t take the word away from you. Make sure that you really know why you want to use that term, what it means to you, and do your best to listen openly if other people try to explain that something you’re doing is causing problems for them or their community.

How did Zinnia get into polyamory?

If it's too personal, feel free not to answer, but how did you start your polyamorous relationship? I imagine it may have been awkward given the emphasis on monogamy in society.

I’m pretty much always happy to talk about myself!

I am pretty sure that I was ‘wired’ to be polyamorous from a young age. I used to read Archie comics and saw that Archie was dating Betty and Veronica, and that even though they were written as competitors, Betty and Veronica had an interesting connection because they both liked the same boy. I saw that at my school, you didn’t have the option to “date” - once you were “going out,” you were expected to be entirely monogamous, and there was much fussing and to-do about people “cheating.” This really confused and bothered me, and I didn’t understand why we no longer had a phase between “single” and “going steady.” My first boyfriend in high school was incredibly possessive, to the point of getting upset with me for having close male friends, and I had zero empathy or understanding, even as my peers seemed to see jealousy as normal.

We broke up when I was 16, and then I started dating another guy - let’s call him Yves - when I was 17 and a senior in high school. He was pretty great, but I already had plans to go to college on the other side of the country and I did not want to deal with all the drama, so I was determined that we would just be a “fling.” I had no idea that there was an option where we stayed together, but I didn’t have to worry about “cheating” with all the cool new college boys I’d be meeting. So we broke up when I graduated but since it was an artificial breakup and we still really liked each other, we decided to stay in touch. But he was a high school senior and I was a college freshman - two populations not known for their emotional literacy, communication skills, or time management - and we fell out of touch.

Then I met Diogenes, a college classmate of mine. We liked each other and wanted to date - but he told me that he had another partner, someone who lived in New York, and that it was called polyamory, and everything was above-board, and if I was okay dating someone who already had a partner, he’d love to date me. He lent me a copy of The Ethical Slut.

It was like a light went on in my world, illuminating things that had always been there but I never knew how to see them. I loved the concept from the start. I devoured the book and jumped headfirst into a relationship with Diogenes. I adored him and the rest of his polycule. And, I realized this meant I could get back together with Yves. We reconnected (thanks to a mutual friend who was tired of hearing both of us moan about missing the other) and I explained polyamory to him. He was willing to try it. So, for the 4 years I was in college, I was dating Yves, and also free to date other people.

Though we are no longer together, Diogenes still holds a very special place in my heart. I learned a lot from him, and I still miss him. I dated a handful of other people in college. Some were horrible relationships that I learned a lot from; some were fun sexy flings; some were really sweet college romances. Through it all, I continued to develop my polyamorous identity, build relationship skills, cultivate a personal list of dealbreakers and red flags, and learn who I was and what I needed. My college was a kooky, quirky, tiny liberal arts college that made for a very safe bubble to experiment and grow.

I told my family about it, and they were mostly confused and dismissive, but generally chill about it. My brother was nasty and judgmental, but that’s his problem. The Christian group at my college was tolerant, but not super accepting. It took us a lot longer to come out to Yves’s family, but that went well too. Yves also dated other girls in college, and I liked all of them. He liked most of my partners too. We hated being long distance, but we loved each other, and being polyamorous took a lot of pressure off our relationship.

When I graduated and moved back across the country to be with Yves, we talked about whether we wanted to stay polyamorous - was it just something we did to make it through the 4 years of college, or was it who we were? We came easily to the conclusion that it was part of our relationship that was happy, healthy, and didn’t need to change. We lived together and both continued to date other people, and get up to all sorts of polyamorous hijinks and shenanigans. We are still together - it will be 11 years next month. (Hi Yves!)

So, that’s my story! It’s kind of a “best case scenario,” and I don’t want people to compare themselves to it. I was always well-wired for polyamory, and never dealt with jealousy or possessiveness. I’m naturally inclined toward compersion. I was very lucky to have a ‘training wheels’ relationship with Diogenes where I was able to learn a lot about healthy (and unhealthy) polyamory, and to be able to experiment and explore in a community that was open and accepting. I didn’t grow up with a lot of internalized sexual shame. This is not true for most people! There are many, many ways to be polyamorous - and many ways to become polyamorous.

Hopefully this can serve as an example not of how all our lives should have gone, but of how we can be gracious, giving leaders for the next generation of polyamorous folk - how can we cultivate communities and narratives that give other people a chance to discover, experiment, and grow in healthy, safe ways?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

If you’re a Christmas celebrating person, have a merry, merry day! Polyamory Advice is off for the day. Be good to yourselves and be good to each other! As your Christmas gift to me, please ignore and avoid any family members who can’t be nice. <3

I feel disgusting about being polyamorous

I just recently found out I’m polyam and I was wondering if there is anyway I can stop feeling disgusting and awful for being so? I know being polyam is perfectly fine and valid but for some reason I feel disgusting still, even when my only partner atm is ok with it,

Oh letter writer, I am so sorry that you are dealing with these feelings. It’s one thing to “know” intellectually that there is nothing wrong or disgusting about being polyam, but often our emotions can’t quite catch up to what we’ve managed to reason out.

Ask yourself: who benefits from me thinking like this? A lot of anti-polyamory sentiment that’s out there in the world comes from toxic monogamy culture, which wants us to believe:

  • That “sexual purity” is a thing, and something we owe to our partners

  • That having multiple sexual or romantic partners makes us “dirty”

  • That our bodies are objects that can be “owned” by another person

  • That ‘cheating’ is the worst thing we can do in a relationship

  • That people who are not “sexually pure” are disgusting and deserving of bad things

Those ideas are out there in the world for a variety of reasons:

  • If we see ourselves and our bodies as possessions that belong to our partners, then people can use that framework to use and manipulate us.

  • If we think that we “owe” purity to society, we’ll spend time and money and effort trying to attain that.

  • Fear and shame are powerful motivators, and if we can be made to feel fear or shame about ourselves or our sexuality, the people offering solutions to that made-up problem suddenly have a lot of power.

  • If we see “cheating” as the worst possible relationship sin, we’re more likely to accept or forgive things that aren’t “cheating,” like manipulation, neglect, or even abuse.

  • Being able to put someone down as “disgusting” based on their sexuality or relationships creates a social hierarchy that benefits those at the top. I could go on.

There are a lot of reasons those ideas are out there in our culture, and none of those reasons boil down to “because they are true.” Your feelings are reflecting a lot of internalized shame, not an observation or truth. It’s very worth it to spend some time working through these ideas and where they may have come from - your family, your religious upbringing, your peers in adolescence, media you’ve consumed - and giving yourself space to interrogate and reject them. I

I’ve also talked about this here and here and here - you’re not the only person facing this, and I give a lot more advice in those answers about seeking out polyamory-positivity and self-celebration resources.

I can see myself happy in a polyam or a mono relationship - is that ok?

I think I might be polyamorous. I mean, I can see myself in romantic relationship with multiple people at the same time, I've been attracted to multiple people at the same time; but I also can see myself in a relationship with one person? Is that valid?

I really hate the tumblrified use of the word “valid,” it makes no sense and it gets everyone all twisted up worried about whether their specific identity or experience or preferences is acceptable in the eyes of some nebulous gatekeeping census-taker of validity. Can we cool it with worrying about whether we are “valid” or arguing over who is “valid” or needing reassurance that someone or some identity or some way of experiencing the world or some term is “valid”? This blog is declaring a moratorium on the word “valid” and whatever concept it is clumsily trying to capture.

Letter-writer, you know that you would be happy in a monogamous or a polyamorous relationship. That’s all you need to know. That’s clearly possible, because you’re experiencing it. It isn’t hurting you or anyone else, so there’s no moral issue there. It’s something plenty of other people have also experienced, which doesn’t really matter, but can make things feel more “valid.” Poke around this blog, you’ll find plenty of people in the same situation. You can start with this FAQ page!

I've coined a new term to describe my relationship

Hi! Love your blog and your thoughtful responses! I would like your opinion on something if you don't mind. I've been wanting to coin a term that I feel matches my husband and I. The term is polycapable, meaning that we are happily monogamous, we aren't seeking or desire to be in a polyamorous relationship but if the right person or right situation presents itself, we are open to the idea of extending our relationship into a polyamorous one. Does that make any sense or am I full of crap?

That makes perfect sense! There are plenty of people who are open to a non-monogamous arrangement, but not actively seeking it. I’ve also seen the terms polyflexible, monogamish, and the distinction between partner-seeking and partner-accepting. The point of terms like this is to give you a clear, useful way to understand and talk about your needs and desires, so if polycapable is working for you, great! You don’t need my permission or approval, or anyone else’s at all. Someone else out there might think you’re “full of crap,” but there are people out there who think it’s cool to hit my car and drive off, so, the external opinions of other randos are not always reliable.


My partner said he was okay being polyamorous, now he wants to become monogamous and I don't want to

My partner has been lying for three years about being okay with my polyamory. I’ve been in relationships. And every time I’ve asked multiple times. He profusely said he didn’t mind, that he was okay with it. I don’t know if at this point in the relationship I can be monogamous with him. Too many things have happened. What do I do?

If I wanted to move to Scotland, and my partner said he was totally fine with it, and we talked it out and he said he did want to go, and we moved to Scotland, and I spent 3 years building a career, making friends, putting my home together, all with the assumption that it was indefinite if not permanent - and then 3 years later he said he didn’t actually want to live in Scotland, I’d help him buy a one way ticket back to the US.

Now, if he told me “I thought it would be fun, I thought I would like it, and I had every intention of staying here, but after giving it 3 years of a good college try, I’m just not happy here and I need to act on that information” - I’d be sad, but I couldn’t be angry that he wasn’t able to predict the future 3 years ago. He said yes in good faith, but now he’s tried it out, and the point of trying things is to see if they work for us. I can’t ask him to be dishonest with himself and with me once he figures out that Scotland isn’t working. But, if it came out that he never wanted to do it, and knew the whole time that it wasn’t going to work out, and had knowingly lied every time we discussed it and let me build a life and envision a future on what he knew was shaky ground, I’d be PISSED.

So I just want to make sure your use of "the word “lying” here is accurate. Saying something he thought was true at the time but turned out to be false is not “lying,” just like when I tell my kid that we’re going out for poke but his favorite poke place turns out to be closed, I wasn’t lying, I was just wrong. If he’s just now figuring things out, it’s not his fault, and it did take some courage to tell you, so while it’s definitely a sad thing, he didn’t do anything wrong. But if he was being disingenuous with you and knowingly letting you act on information he knew was false, that’s not okay.

But either way, the fact remains that he doesn’t want to stay with you in a polyamorous arrangement, and you don’t want to stay with him in a monogamous relationship, so it doesn’t sound like things are going to work out. I don’t mean to be flippant - a 3+ year long partnership is a tough thing to dissolve - but this sounds like his problem, not yours. He made a choice to try this out, now it’s not working for him, so he doesn’t need to keep doing it. You’re not obligated to become monogamous with him if that’s all he wants; he’s not obligated to stay polyamorous with you if he doesn’t want to. It’s okay to grieve the loss of this relationship, and to be angry with him if it’s his crappy choices that have brought you to this point.

What does polyamory really mean?

Wait so is polyamory being in love with multiple people at the same time or wanting a relationship with multiple people at the same time?

Yes.

A relationship can be polyamorous, which means there are more than two people involved, whether they are all dating each other or connected by people who are dating multiple people.

A person can be polyamorous, which means that they are capable of or desire to be in a relationship with multiple people at the same time. Even if they’re not dating anyone, that person is still polyamorous.

Polyamory can be a state of being/‘relational orientation’/identity, and it can be an active relationship practice. It can be something you are, and/or something you do.


I want to be fluid bonded with my partner, but he is staying fluid bonded with his other partner

In my first polyamorous relationship, my partner and I were fluid bonded from month 5-8 of our relationship (we are currently at 1 yr & 3 months). His partner of 3 years, who is FB with, did not consent to us being fluid bonded but he never informed me of this and thus we did anyway. After we took a break, his partner asked us to not be FB and we agreed but we are yearning for it again. I asked if he and I could switch being FB between ourselves and our respective other partners every 3 months. But he told me he wants to keep being fluid bonded with his other partner. I am very upset because I feel like he is choosing his partner over me to be fluid bonded with and it was something very intimate we shared. I simply do not know how to go on from here or how to not control their relationship or asking if it is ridiculous to feel the way I do.

I think the first thing to do is figure out whether you’re bothered by the symbolic, emotional significance of fluid bonding, or whether it’s the mechanical specifics.

If it’s the emotional significance, then the solution is to try and re-frame this. From your story, there’s clearly some messiness and baggage around this based on communication issues in the past. This polycule sounds like it uses being fluid-bonded as a shorthand for some level of commitment or seniority in the hierarchy, even if this is unintentional or unconscious. If what you and your partner are “yearning for” is the intimacy signified by being fluid bonded, think about whether there’s another way you can capture that without having to fuss around with this complicated 3-month setup. Is there something sexual that you can do together, or set aside for “just us,” a new toy you could buy together or a place you could go to, that would meet that need?

If it’s the mechanics of it all; if you’re just tired of using condoms or there’s something about fluids that is part of your sexual play together, then there might be other compromises to be made. Trying out internal condoms or those fancy super-thin condoms, getting new toys or new toy attachments, or expanding your fantasy life together could be a good creative solution. You two could have a set of toys jointly owned that are fluid bonded to the two of you.

Even if the issue is mostly a technical one - if fluid bonded contact is part of a specific fantasy, fetish, or act that’s hard to replicate without being fluid bonded - this could still be helped by doing some emotional work around re-framing this issue. If, every time he goes to grab a condom, that invokes the spectre of his other relationships and signals to you that he’s withholding some intimacy from you, of course that is going to suck. But it doesn’t have to signify all that - it could just be a condom. You have a lot of control over the power and significance that you give to this.

Nothing is perfect, and polyamory - like all relationships and relationship styles - requires compromise and sacrifice. It might just be that y’all need to use condoms, and that’s annoying, but it is what it is. You now have lots of information to act on: that you really like being fluid bonded with your partners, and that your current partner is not willing to be fluid bonded with you. It sounds like he is not willing to budge on this, so if it’s a dealbreaker for you, then you’ve got to break the deal. If it’s not a dealbreaker, then you’ve got to find a way to get around the frustration or disappointment and find a compromise that works.

What word can I use for a relationship that is committed and loving, but not sexual-romantic?

My primary partner and I broke up, but very much still love each other and are going to continue being in each other's lives. We're struggling what finding terminology to tell people who we are to each other. "Ex" is technically right but honestly wrong, "best friend" is true but not strong enough. I'm just in need of more relationship-describing words so I can get people to understand two people who love each other deeply, feel like family, are sharing a life, but aren't partners.

First off, huge kudos to you two for having the emotional intelligence and maturity to recognize that relationships grow and change and don’t always conform to existing, prescribed structures. Intellectual, emotional, domestic, sexual, creative, romantic, and other types of connections are up to us to define and one doesn’t need to include or proscribe another. I recommend checking out resources around Relationship Anarchy, which does a good job of giving words and structure to ideas and feelings like this.

Ultimately, the big issue here is whether it’s more important that you A.) Find a term that you feel captures the emotional and relational reality of your relationship, or B.) Find a term that you can use externally to refer to this person. It’s sort of one or the other, unfortunately; any term that carries enough meaning to feel right to you will very likely require a lot of explanation and definition. Any term that is conversationally simple is not going to feel complete to you. It is totally okay, when talking to your great-aunt or your coworkers, to use a simplified term just for the sake of not having to derail the conversation to explain the specifics of who this person is to you. It does not diminish your relationship, it’s fine.

As for specific words:

  • You can use “partner” or “life partner” - those words don’t belong to people who have a romantic/sexual connection (they have long been used to describe artistic collaborators, business partners, etc.) and you are free to re/define them.

  • You can combine existing words for terms like “Family Partner” or “Life Friend.”

  • You can just use each other’s names. I had one partner who ‘didn’t do labels’ so I just referred to him as “my Diogenes” and he referred to me as “my Zinnia.”

  • You can make up your own term by borrowing, adjusting, or combining existing roots. Lots of people have tried to tease out ‘different types of love,’ so that might be a good place to start. Check out this theory and set of terms. I knew some folks who just used the prefix “Co” to describe how they related to each other; it was meant to encompass words like collaborator, compassion, connect, etc.