I love my partners in different ways - is that okay?

Can you love your partners in different ways? For one person, I feel red, it's deep, intense, passionate. For the other, I feel pink, it's giddy, sweet, delightful. I don't feel as though one is lesser than the other. I'm not dating either one of these individuals but I am "involved" with both them, (and completely open and honest about it with both parties). I'm in love with both of these people and I don't know if this means I'm poly or if I'm in some gross love triangle. How do I know?

If everyone is happy and healthy, then there is nothing “gross” about this. If everyone involved is okay with the arrangement, if everyone is getting all of what they need and most of what they want, then you’re fine. That’s how you’ll know - by checking in and making sure things are okay, and keeping those lines of communication open. That’s it! I know it feels kind of tautological, but if it’s working, it’s working. There’s no standard of healthy relationships you have to measure yours against to make sure.

And to answer your other question - of course people love their partners in different ways! That’s incredibly common and normal and just a part of human experience not limited to polyamory or sexual/romantic love. Take friendships, for instance! There are some people I can just sit on my couch with and chat for hours; there are some people who are the life of the party and keep me cracking up but are less likely to have that cozy intimate evening with me; there are some people who are insightful or funny in group chats but probably won’t ever be my bff. And that’s okay! All relationships are different and it’s wonderful that you have some language and metaphors to help you honor and cultivate them on their own terms. Here is a lovely video readaloud of a book called Love You The Purplest that uses similar imagery to talk about a mother’s different loves for her two sons.

The only time it would be an issue is if one of your partners feels left out or slighted by the differences. If you’re always planning exciting new adventures with one person, or leaving cutesy romantic notes around for one person, but the other person doesn’t inspire that kind of energy in you, the person who isn’t getting that kind of affection may not be okay with that arrangement. Or, they may be totally fine with it, because you two relate to each other in different ways that work for you two! Don’t make assumptions or fall into vague anxiety - some people really don’t care about cutesy notes, and you don’t have to have completely identical relationships with everyone in your life. Just check in and make sure everyone’s happy and healthy, and then keep doing you!

If I'm not "in love" with multiple people, is that still polyamory?

I know it may sound like a silly question,but do you have to be IN LOVE with more people at the same time to be polyamorous or you can be even if you just LIKE more people at the same time and feel that there is space for them in your heart?

Of course! If you are romantically or sexually interested in multiple people, or see the potential for that kind of relationship with multiple people, that falls squarely under the “polyamorous” umbrella. Just like all other relationship orientations, polyamory allows for the whole spectrum of crushes, flings, flirting, early dating, etc. If a monogamous straight woman has a crush on a guy, or thinks she might like to date him, or is casually dating him but not in love yet - she’s still straight and monogamous! Her straightness and monogamy encompass all of those feelings about men, not just “love.”

Often, polyamorous people use language like “love” because it does a better job of “validating” our relationships to a wider society. Making polyamory about “love” reassures people that our relationships are non-threatening and pro-social. It’s similar to the way that early gay marriage advocates focused on “just like you” images of lifetime commitment, desire for homeownership and parenthood, etc. It’s gross and unfair that some people have to fake a status-quo-upholding facade to be respected, but it’s a very common pattern with people whose relationships face scrutiny and judgment.

But by framing polyamory as about “love,” we do ourselves a disservice by neglecting to include the whole reality of our experiences. Love and life partnership are part of polyamory, sure, but there’s also dating, and sex, and plenty of other stuff! We should make sure to recognize and honor all of this within ourselves and our community, even if sometimes we have to sanitize the image or perform a fairytale version for the external world.

I have a crush on someone, but am not sure we're compatible in certain ways

I kind of have a mutual crush on this other guy, but I wouldn't feel comfortable dating him because our relationship is so different from what I have with my other partners. They're all submissive (me being a top is a thing I've just recently come to accept and identify with) and this guy is very dominant and aggressive. I enjoy rough-housing and getting thrown around by him, and I enjoy his softer touches and hugs, but I want to resist the temptation to kiss him. What is this?

It is possible to be romantically compatible with someone, but not sexually compatible - and vice versa. Our culture likes to tell us that certain feelings, like physical attraction, sexual desire, and romantic intimacy, should all collapse into the same thing. But that doesn’t capture the true complexity of human interaction!

If you want, you can keep things at a “flirty friendship,” if that’s what works best for you two! But you could also consider whether you’re holding yourself back for reasons that aren’t totally solid. You say you wouldn’t feel comfortable dating him because the dynamic between you two is so different than you’re used to. But then you go on to say that you do enjoy that dynamic! If you feel tempted to kiss him, there is something there that you want, and you don’t have to resist it just because a relationship with him might be a new experience or challenge existing assumptions about your identity.

If I were you, I’d talk to him about all this! Tell him what you enjoy about being with him, and what makes you nervous. You two could try getting more physically intimate with the caveat that you won’t try anything that feels too submissive or dominant on either person’s part. You could let yourself kiss him and see where that goes!

If he’s interested, he might be a good sounding board to talk about your developing identity as a top, and what might feel confusing or threatening in that context. Remember that just because you enjoy this person’s dominant energies doesn’t mean your “toppiness” isn’t real - lots of people are “switches,” and/or you could be drawn to him because his dominant ‘style’ is one you’d like to emulate. I’d recommend The Topping Book as a way to keep understanding that part of your identity and sexuality.

But if you really don’t feel comfortable trying any of that, it’s okay to let this be an impossible crush; or some attraction to someone that you don’t actually want to follow through on. That’s okay, and totally normal! Lots of people feel things that we don’t necessarily want to act on, or fantasize about things we would balk at making real. Keep working toward understanding your own desires, and building a foundation of security in your identity!

I'm in a polyamorous situation, but it's not comfortable for me - should I stay?

Should I be in a poly relationship if I'm personally not too comfortable with it? I'm a lesbian woman, and my partner is lesbian/homoflexible and has a boyfriend. I'm still fairly new to relationships and my last serious one was abusive and with a male. I feel bad but sometimes it makes me feel a little weird. I don't know how much longer I can hold up seeming okay with it. Is there something I can do to not feel like this?

In general, I never advise people to stay in any situation that makes them feel “not too comfortable,” “bad,” “a little weird,” and like they “don’t know how much longer [they] can hold up seeming okay.” Whether that’s a job, a class, a sweater, a housing situation, a relationship, a space mission - if those are the conditions you’re living under, you need to start taking steps to get out of them.

When it comes to “something you can do to not feel like this,” the answer is pretty complicated. On the one hand, there is sometimes some self-work or therapy a person can do to work on feeling secure, identifying their needs, healing from past trauma, and things like that. On the other hand, there is no “polyamorous conversion therapy” (nor should there be!!!) and no person is ever obligated to try and change or contort themselves into being comfortable in a situation that is not good for them.

Usually on this blog I try to recommend self-work and re-framing if I think it’s appropriate, but in this case, I don’t think you should try and force yourself to ignore or suppress your discomfort. I do think you deserve therapy and healing, because abuse can really wound a person and the presence of men in relationships proximal to you shouldn’t feel so unsafe - but this relationship is probably not a healthy one for you right now. And the goal of that healing should be so you can live a happier life; not to make sure everyone else can have everything they want.

My ex boyfriend wants to get back together but only on his very specific terms

So my ex boyfriend identifies as poly. I don't. He said we could be together if we opened up the relationship but I would like to do couples therapy so our relationship can feel more secure & stable before opening it up since I am insecure. He just let me know he would "flip out" if I had another male partner. He says he wouldn't be able to handle it. So he doesn't think this would work. Am I doing something wrong?

You are not doing something wrong. You say he’s your ex-boyfriend and my advice to you is to keep things that way!

For one, exes are generally exes for a reason. For another, he’s told you that he will only get back together with you under certain relationship conditions that don’t align with your identity and make you feel insecure. For a third, he’s trying to establish a “one penis policy” (or “one dick rule”), and those are gross and bad for everyone involved. For a fourth, he’s already threatened to “flip out” and said “wouldn’t be able to handle” an open relationship where you can date as freely as he can.

Let me repeat: YOU ARE NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG. This guy is trying to manipulate you by making you think you’re somehow in the wrong for not wanting to be in a relationship with him. Even though he has explicitly admitted that he “doesn’t think this would work.” He is not entitled to a relationship with you, under his own terms or under any terms! You are not obligated to try and twist yourself into a concession pretzel so he can get what he wants from you! Leave him firmly in the “ex” category, lose his number, and find someone who can actually have a healthy, fulfilling relationship with you.

I've been "taking it slow" with someone, and just realized we might not have the same communication expectations

So I've had a crush for a while, we're both poly and aware of each others feelings and are taking it slow not official yet. My issue is that they got a partner a week ago and didn't tell me about it. I know I'm probably not entitled to know this, but is it bad that I'm upset about it? I mean we can have other partners but I thought it was like, idk, just a good thing to bring it up? Like they know I've been in a long term relationship for almost three years.

This is a perfect opportunity to have a conversation with your crush about expectations and clarity! It sounds like you assumed that you two were intimate enough that it was reasonable to expect that they would bring up something like dating a new person - but you got evidence that they’re not operating on the same set of assumptions. Neither of you did anything wrong, you’re just in an ambiguous situation and that’s caused a mismatch of expectations.

But now you have something to bring up to them to actively reduce that ambiguity and clarify those expectations. You can say something like “I’m so happy for you to be in a new relationship - but I have to admit I was kind of surprised to hear about it, because you never mentioned that you were heading in that direction with someone else! It’s not that I think you’re obligated to tell me everything, and I’m not angry - but we’ve been talking about our feelings for each other, and even though we’re “taking it slow,” I thought we were in a place of working out what a relationship might look like - and I guess I just assumed that conversations about other relationships would be part of that! I’m realizing now that I can’t just assume we’re on the same page, so I’d like to talk to you about your expectations, and how you define this thing we’re doing together.”

It’s not an accusation; you’re not saying they did anything wrong or asking for an apology. You’re just realizing there’s something that has gone un-addressed and probably should be addressed! It’s like, if I’m going on a trip, I always pack a bathing suit because I figure most hotels have pools, and if there is an opportunity to go swimming, I want to be able to swim! But say I’m planning travel with a friend, and I don’t think to tell them “Oh yeah, I try to include swimming in any vacation if possible.” And they come over and see me packing for the trip, and they see a swimsuit, and they say “Hold on, do I need a swimsuit for this trip? Are we only considering hotels with pools? Are we trying to include a beach day in the itinerary? Should I also bring a towel and sunscreen?” These are all valid questions and probably something to discuss before a trip - but it’s not a huge moral failing that I didn’t bring it up; they just noticed my swimsuit and it occurred to us to clarify what page everyone is on regarding this aspect of the trip.

What's the best communications tech for polyamorous people?

Hello! What messaging app do you use to keep in contact with your loves? Right now we're just sending texts and it's not efficient! Please and thanks!

That’s going to really depend on the specific needs of the people using it! For me, the critical aspects of a messaging app are that it 1.) transfers seamlessly from computer to mobile 2.) can be open at work without looking immediately suspect and 3.) allows for one on one and group chats. Also, given that the personality traits I’m attracted to tend to come clustered with a certain type of absent-mindedness, I really like when an app gives me “read” notifications (and I insist that my partners keep them turned on for me.) So for a while, Google Hangouts was my go-to, and it continues to be my primary messaging app for one-on-one chats with my people.

Then, I created a Slack for my entire social crew, which I absolutely love for all its features. You can customize notifications, make multiple channels, create threads in-chat, and put gifs. All my partners as well as all my friends are there, so that’s become a primary way for us all to talk. I know a lot of people use Discord in similar ways; but since my workplace uses Slack and not Discord, it’s less anxiety-inducing to have a personal Slack open at work. (Also, Discord doesn’t allow threads, which is a feature I really like.)

Since Google Hangouts is connected to my Google account and since I have my Google Hangouts and my Slack open on my work computer (and all other devices), I don’t have ‘private’ conversations in those apps, so when my partners and I want to talk about something more adult, we use Signal, which I only have on my phone, isn’t connected to any other accounts and devices, and is tucked away deep in a hidden folder (I work with kids). I also use Kik for similar reasons. (It’s annoying that I can’t use them on a laptop, since typing on mobile tires my fingers out much faster, but such is the life I lead.)

But that’s just me! It’s most important to find the system that works for you and your partners. When you say that texting is “not efficient,” I’m not entirely sure what you mean - you’ll need to identify what kind of “efficiency” features you’d like, and then find an app that meets those needs. If the issue is that “planning who’s getting together when” is being overwhelmed by social chatter, you might want something with threading. If the issue is that everyone is in a separate text and it takes a lot of work to cross-check and distribute what everyone is saying, you’ll want something that’s better for group comms. If the issue is that one of your partners never checks their texts and has a zillion unread notifications, you’ll want something with more customizable notifications. And so on.

It’s aggravating that in this modern world, we can’t just talk to each other across platforms; and that we need to figure out whether to use Facebook Messenger vs Google Hangouts vs SMS vs Kik vs Signal vs Slack vs Discord - but once you find a system that works for your crew, it’s pretty awesome.

My fiance is only okay with polyamory under conditions I think are poorly thought out - but he won't listen to my perspective

I'm poly and my fiance isn't. He's okay with us finding another partner, but he's going straight into unicorn hunting. Only girls, and they have to be bi and into both of us. I've told him that setting up criteria for any new partner before you meet them isn't the way to go because you're expecting shit out of someone you haven't even met. And when you do find someone, that'll blow up if you still try to hold them to that criteria. But he won't listen and I need some advice.

Hey, do you wanna be a guest writer for this blog? What a succinct breakdown of the problems with unicorn hunting! Unfortunately, as well as you explain something, it’s never a guarantee that the person you’re talking to will grasp the concepts you’re trying to beam into their head with your words.

You could try linking your fiance to some other reading about unicorn hunting and seeing if that helps. But if he “won’t listen,” I’m not sure if he would read, either. I think the thing now is to change the flow of information here: instead of you trying to convince him of something, put the impetus on him to explain where he’s coming from. Why does he want these specific things, and what does he think they will provide, or protect him from? Talk through why he feels so insistent on “only girls,” and “into both of you” - he may actually be uncomfortable with opening the relationship and be using these rigid boundaries to try and protect himself from difficult feelings, rather than acknowledging them and working through them. Once those fears are named, they might be able to be addressed with things other than “unicorn hunting.”

He might see the challenges you’ve laid out as a feature, not a bug - if he lays down so many criteria that this third person is impossible to find, he gets ‘credit’ for opening the relationship without having to ever be in an actual open relationship with a third party involved. If he feels like he wouldn’t be able to try non-monogamy in a healthy and happy way, he should be honest with you and say “either this is just not going to work for me, and we need to figure out whether that’s a dealbreaker for you; or I’d need to do a lot more self-work on jealousy, security, sexuality, etc. before we can try this out.”

Honestly, I would think long and hard about marrying anyone who I could describe as “won’t listen” in any circumstance. Even on something silly - if there’s a restaurant I don’t like, and my partner “won’t listen” when I try to explain what I don’t like about the food, that’s still not okay, and it reflects an underlying lack of respect or communication skills that is not something I need in a relationship. Of course he’s not obligated to agree with you on everything, and this is a situation where he is very much has the right to say “I don’t feel as comfortable as you with the polyamorous arrangement you’re suggesting,” but “willingness to listen” is very different. Whether or not you two decide to go forward with non-monogamy, think about whether he has a pattern of refusing to see your perspective on something, and what his inability to hear you out means for your future together.

I'm friends with a polyam couple who won't stop pursuing me, even though I don't want to date them

My friends are poly and want me involved. They weren't poly when I met them, it was a complete 180 flip of opinion overnight. Now they're obsessed with finding a unicorn. First, they wanted to date me, but when I hesitated, for multiple reasons, but the biggest, I don't want to lose my friends and I myself am not poly. When I said no to dating, 180 flip, now it's all about sex. They hint at it so much, it's uncomfortable being with them, my friends feel like a creep who can't take a hint. Help

You say these people are your friends, but you describe them as making you uncomfortable, being creepy, and acting obsessive. They are not your friends! You don’t have to tolerate this kind of predatory behavior. This isn’t really about polyamory - no one, of any gender or sexual identity or relational orientation, likes to be around someone who can’t take no for an answer and keeps pushing for more intimacy than the other person is comfortable with.

I do want to make sure, though, that you’ve given them a firm, clear, “no.” You say that you “hesitated” and that they “can’t take a hint.” If I were to give them a huge benefit of the doubt, it’s possible that they don’t know you feel creeped out and consider the matter closed. Some people think that a “push-pull, cat-and-mouse, you-must-seduce-me” type dynamic is flirty, and they could be (willfully or otherwise) misunderstanding your attitude about this. If you want to give them one last chance, you could say something incredibly direct: “I don’t want to have a romantic or sexual relationship with either of you, ever, period. I’d like to stay friends, but if you two can’t drop this pursuit immediately, I won’t be able to. Please don’t bring this up again - it’s making me very uncomfortable.”

But if you’ve a.) already done that, and they’ve ignored you or b.) you don’t want to, then your best bet is to just walk away. You don’t need to stay friends with people who are acting like self-caricatures of the obnoxious polyam couple chasing their third like wolves stalking prey. Those folk give polyamory a bad name, they’re completely unpleasant, and they’re as bad as the “nice guy” who hovers around women, whines about the “friendzone,” and pursues unrequited interests in deeply inappropriate ways. Adding the label “polyam” to it doesn’t make it any less out of line, gross, or uncalled for.

I have Dependent Personality Disorder, which makes new crushes really difficult

I'm not sure how to navigate being polyam with dependent personality disorder- I’m clingy and I get depressed when my crush flirts with others even though they're also poly. It isn't a problem with my current partner because we live together and I know they love me regardless of potential partners. It’s a me problem that I shouldn't reflect on my crush. Its just...complicated and I'm not quite sure how to subside these depressed and clingy feelings when they don't message back or flirt.

Personality disorders are tricky beasts, and if you have one, you should absolutely be working with a therapist to manage your symptoms and work towards an awesome quality of life for yourself. You deserve it! If you’re currently working with a therapist, please talk to them about this; if you’re not, please reach out for professional help. You can see my resources here.

Second, remember that when you have a mental illness, it can be easy to ‘pathologize’ everything, even when it’s part of the normal spectrum of human experience. On the one hand, I never want to downplay someone’s suffering - if someone has serious anxiety, it’s horrible to say “everyone gets worried sometimes!” But it’s important to note that nearly everyone I know experiences some stress, infatuation, excessive thoughts, sadness, clinginess, and all that fun cocktail of feelings when they are in the throes of a new crush. Butterflies when they text you; despair when they don’t; unnecessary time spent scrolling their Instagram; fussing and analyzing - some of this is just part of having a crush. Let go of the expectation for yourself that you can, or that you must, fully eliminate all these feelings if you are ever going to manage your dependent personality disorder.

The key issue is to make sure that these emotions aren’t damaging to your well being or your ability to live a full life. If they feel debilitating, if they’re distracting from joyful experiences in your life, if you find yourself obsessively checking your phone every thirty seconds or unable to enjoy the rest of the day after a text gone unanswered, that’s a problem. But there are some strategies to help manage them! NOTE: I am not a mental health professional or an expert in personality disorders, so these suggestions are not meant to be a treatment plan, just some brainstorming to hopefully help you springboard your own strategies.

  • Come up with some “distractions” - caring for a pet, making something artsy, watching a favorite YouTube channels, etc. - that you can use to get out of a painful thought-loop

  • Write down a list of how your current relationship makes you feel, and all the tools and strategies you used to get there. Honor the work you’ve already done to be well!

  • Find some self-help workbooks on DPD and work on one when you’re feeling stuck in those feelings

  • Read stories about other people’s experiences with NRE, crushes, and similar experiences

  • Develop a self-soothing mantra like “My relationships are secure” or “I will be okay without their attention” and meditate on it, bead it on a bracelet, paint it on a stone, etc.

  • Think through the worst thing that could happen if you don’t get that person’s attention, and whether you can survive that. Remember previous times when someone didn’t reciprocate your flirting or return your texts, and know that you managed then!

  • Channel some of this energy into your current relationship - plan a nice date with your partner, make something nice for them, do a household chore they dislike, etc.

I'm dating someone who's polyamorous, and not really sure how things work with his existing relationship

I’m seeing this guy, we’ll call him Ace. He is living with someone, we’ll call them Queen. I am new to polyamory but I respect his partner and their relationship, though I think she’s his primary (idk though). She doesn’t want roommates, plus they read each other’s texts. Idk how to ask Ace the “rules” of their poly relationship or what to call ours. I have fallen deeply for him, but I’m lonely because he’s always busy & with her. But we are very passionate and I think he likes me. What do I do?

The good news is that the answer to this question is very simple. The bad news is that it’s very simple. You say you “don’t know how you ask,” but that’s exactly what you need to do. All your problems stem from not having clear, open conversations with Ace about how he manages his polyamory and his relationship with Queen, and how that impacts you. The next time you two are together, or over text if that’s easier for you, you’ll just need to bring up the subject.

You can say something like “So, we’ve been seeing each other for a bit now, and I’m realizing that I still don’t fully understand the terms of what we’re doing here. I’d feel a lot more secure, and I think I’d be able to respect and navigate your boundaries better, if we could talk it out. Can you tell me how you and Queen understand your polyamory? Is she your primary, and if so, what does that mean to you? How do you see our relationship, and how does it relate to what you and Queen have?”

If this guy is healthy and skilled in polyamory, he’ll be thrilled to have an opportunity to explain and discuss this! Don’t ever feel like you should just accept ambiguity - always speak up and ask for clarification. If he says something that you want to follow up on, keep asking questions! If he tries to shut down the conversation, gets defensive, or insists on hand-waving vagueness, he’s probably not good to be dating.

And once you get more information, you’ll be able to determine whether this is a relationship you want to stay in long-term. If he tells you that the way things are with him and Queen means that you’ll never get the commitment or attention you want, then that’s good information for you to act on. But the conversation should definitely include you explaining how you feel and what you’d like to be getting from the relationship, so he can be honest about whether he can provide that.

I've fallen into a polyamorous arrangement with two people, and it feels like this should be weird, but it's not!

Hi, I'm a 24 y/o lesbian who has over the past few months kind of accidentally gotten very close to a married woman (37) but the way we met was very specific (sex work, I'm a masseuse who does hand jobs, no delicate way to put that) and though they hadn't really done anything like that before (swinging/visiting massage parlors) her husband (43) is totally aware of the fact that we've grown pretty close, and after a threesome date where I told him I wasn't trying to steal her (and later had an actual threesome, though he and I didn't actually have sex, he's very attentive of my boundaries which I find very endearing) he seems ok with the fact that I’m pretty visibly falling for his wife and vice versa. I'm not jealous of him, and he seems to not be jealous of me, and spending time with both of them just feels so comfortable. Is this a viable way for a poly relationship to develop or am I crazy for thinking that might be a possibility? Is it weird that this isn’t weird?

Oh letter writer, stop looking for trouble where it isn’t! You know the answer to your question: is this a viable way for a polyamorous relationship to develop? Yes, obviously. You’re living the empirical proof! Are you crazy for thinking this might be possible? No, of course not - you’re witnessing it be possible. All you have to do is look at the information the universe is giving you, and draw the most reasonable conclusions!

Our society, and the media we use to frame and understand romance and love and sex, haven’t given you a lot of tools to understand this. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, impossible, or doomed. You have no reason based on evidence or observation to believe that this is weird, or impossible, or non-viable - those feelings are coming from anxiety and confusion because you live in a world that tells you relationships like this are “weird.” But you yourself said it’s not weird - so there’s your answer! If it’s comfortable, if it’s working, if it feels good, then let it be.

I’m not suggesting that you slap on some rose-colored glasses and assume everything will be fine. If there is a genuine concern, if something does start to feel weird, definitely talk it out. Feelings are worth investigating and understanding. Sometimes the conclusion is “this is just a confused feeling, not based on reality, and I can gently put it to rest without acting on it” and sometimes the conclusion is “this feeling is pointing me toward a potential problem, unmet need, or question that needs answering.” Continue to have open, honest conversations with both people, and yourself, and let this grow in the direction that’s best for everyone. And tr to relax and enjoy the ride!

Both of my partners are ace, and I've really been missing physical/sexual touch.

Hullo there. Im in a polycule with two ace boys who generally do not like or require touching. Recently I have been a, how do you say, touch starved maniac. I don’t want to ask them to touch me or show me affection because I know that they both need space and no touching. But I’m big craving affection. I’m also the only one who isn’t ace and sometimes it makes me feel like a shithead to want so much that they can't give me. Any advice?

We in the polyamorous community are very fond of saying that polyamory will not solve relationship problems and is not a cure-all for unmet needs. I do think, however, that in your unique case, it’s a pretty good solution. You say you’re in a polycule, which would imply that the relationship is polyamorous. You’re right that it’s not super nice to demand something of someone when they’ve made it clear that they can’t or don’t want to provide that. And it sounds like you’re doing a great job honoring your partners’ boundaries. But it’s also not nice to yourself to demand that you ignore or repress your own desires, or feel shame for having them!

Talk to your two partners about these desires, and your intention to start pursuing physical and sexual affection elsewhere. Hopefully they’re chill and supportive, and you three can discuss the terms of your polycule such that everyone gets what they want and no one feels judged or repressed for their specific set of preferences and needs. If they want to keep things as a closed polycule and insist that you simply stop bringing up, or stop feeling, these desires for physical touch, then this probably isn’t the right relationship for you!

It is okay, and not acephobic, to decide that you need or want new terms for this relationship. You are not pressuring them or shaming them for who they are, but you also shouldn’t pressure or shame yourself. I am not saying that all ace people should be okay with their partners seeking sexual attention elsewhere in a polyamorous arrangement, or that no relationship with different levels of sexual interest can work. But for you specifically, letter-writer, it sounds like this is a situation where this conversation is warranted, and some next steps are called for (whether it means opening the relationship, or leaving it.) Being sexually incompatible is a real and common reason for relationships to end or change terms - it’s not a referendum on whose sexuality or preferences are “valid” or worthy of respect.

My husband and I opened our relationship, but then I found out he's been secretly recording me with my other partner

Last June my husband and I opened up our marriage when I realized that I had very strong feelings for my best friend, another man. My husband is straight, and is not involved in my other relationship. Today we discovered that my husband has been recording us during our alone time since mid-February. He claims that he hasn't watched any of the footage. My husband and I have been together for over a decade, and have two children. I'm very confused and don't know what to do or how to feel.

I don’t usually do this, but I moved this letter up in my queue so that it would post the day after I received it. Because this is an emergency. Letter writer, I am so sorry this is happening to you. Secretly recording someone during intimate, private moments in what is supposed to be your safest place is such a horrible violation, and you have every right to feel angry, unsafe, violated, confused, betrayed - anything you feel is normal and okay.

What your husband has done is also very likely illegal, depending on where you live. If I were you, I’d consult with a lawyer immediately. Check this list or this list for one near you, and if there isn’t one near you, consider calling one of them anyway to see if you can get a phone consultation or a referral to one more local. You could also try reaching out to Ben Schencker, who does speaking and advocacy about polyamory issues in law. Even though this isn’t specifically about kink, Kink Aware Professionals would also be a good directory to find a lawyer.

I don’t think a relationship after this is salvageable, so your goal now is to find a good lawyer who understands your unique situation, and follow their advice. Everything from establishing a custody plan with the kids to protecting your privacy with those tapes now in your husband’s possession is on the line, and you need professional help.

If you can, stop being in any of the rooms where your husband has been hiding cameras. If that means sleeping elsewhere, please do that. Keep all records of what is happening - back up texts and emails, and keep notes and documentation of what has happened. Take photos of the devices if it is possible to safely do so. Communicate with your husband via text or email as much as possible. Do not discuss this with anyone else, and don’t make any rash decisions or escalate the situation. Be as ‘normal’ around the kids as possible. All of this will serve you well if things go south legally.

It is okay to lean on your boyfriend in this situation. Both of you have been betrayed and violated by someone you trusted and loved, and both of you are going to be absolutely reeling. Make space for whatever rage or pain needs to be felt. Be prepared for your husband to want to explain or talk things out; but don’t get twisted up by his excuses or anything else. He may be apologetic, he may want a second chance, he may have a complicated explanation for why this was actually an okay thing to do, he may have very strong feelings he ascribes this choice to - but none of that changes what he did, which was fundamentally not okay and a total violation. Your job now is to get out of this unsafe situation in the safest, healthiest way possible, for yourself and for your children. I am so, so sorry.

My boyfriend is planning to start dating again, and I'm worried that NRE will negatively impact our relationship

Hi! My bf and I are poly and lately he’s been talking about looking for a new partner. This makes me feel nervous as his mental health means he can be distant at the best of times. I was wondering when a partner starts a new relationship, if it’s common for the existing partner to be neglected? Or is it more common for the NRE to flow into the existing relationship too? Just wondering if you have advice for someone nervous?

They say that “statistics mean nothing to the individual,” and I think that applies here. Even if I told you that NRE-related neglect of existing relationships was very common, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your boyfriend is for sure going to do that. And if I told you that it’s not common, that doesn’t mean you’re home free and definitely not going to face that problem. I can’t predict your boyfriend’s future behavior or NRE risk profile.

But since this is a thing that can be named, it can be discussed! Talk with your boyfriend about his new period of partner-seeking and mention your concerns. Say something like “I’m excited for you to start dating and looking for a new partner, but I worry that based on past patterns in our relationship, NRE might be kind of a problem. Let’s put some plans in place to get out ahead of that!”

Those plans should be actionable but flexible ways for you two to manage this. One thing I’d definitely suggest is establishing with your boyfriend that it’s a low-key, non-threatening, very-permissible thing for you to bring up. Just a “hey, you’ve been focusing a lot on Gracielle this week; can we set aside Friday for just-us time?” and his expected response is “sure!” or “Friday I have plans with friends, can we do Saturday instead?” and not “Are you jealous? Stop accusing me of neglecting you. Don’t try and control my time!” etc.

Another thing that should help is just bringing it up in general. Maybe you two can read some pieces about NRE together and talk about what NRE feels to each of you, and what you enjoy about it, and what you two can do to cultivate compersion. Would you like it if he told you about his dates? Asked you for help picking outfits? Often, dating a new person pushes us to find cool new places to go and things to do in your area; he can totally direct that knowledge and energy to taking you to places he finds with his new partner, or that his new partner introduces him to. Let him know what you enjoy and what you don’t; you don’t want him to make the mistake of assuming it would be “awkward” to let that NRE flow into the existing relationship if that’s something you’d actually like!

My husband started a new relationship, which is fine with me, but his NRE behavior is making me feel neglected

My husband recently started a long distance relationship, his first poly one in our marriage. This is their first relationship ever and identify as nonbinary. They've never met in person. I'm trying to be supportive but he is putting so much effort into this new relationship and hardly any into our marriage, that I'm starting to get a little jealous. I like his new partner and we get along okay so far. I want to be taken care of too. What can I do to not resent them for how my husband is acting?

You do a lot to answer your own question just in the wording - you don’t want to resent them for what your husband is doing. That makes total sense, because your husband’s behavior is his responsibility, not his partner’s. If you’re frustrated with how your husband is behaving, don’t blame someone else - he’s in charge of him, just like you’re in charge of you, and your metamour is in charge of themself. Focus on his behavior, rather than assuming that someone else is pulling the emotional strings.

It sounds like your husband is deep in the throes of New Relationship Energy, or NRE. It’s incredibly common for people to neglect existing, long-term relationships when they start a new one. There are a few reasons for this: the existing relationship is more situated and doesn’t feel like it needs constant tending, and the new relationship can be more emotionally exciting. And, since this relationship is long distance and since the person he’s dating is new to relationships, this is likely to be even more powerful and challenging.

Now, this is an explanation, it is not an excuse. You and your husband can use the framework of NRE to understand his behavior so that it can be addressed and managed. I’m not saying that you should brush off or get over it just because there’s a term for it, or because it’s a common phenomenon! Sometimes, NRE takes us over, and we need to consciously manage it. There’s nothing bad or malicious about getting caught up in NRE, as long as you take accountability and work to address it after your partner points it out.

Talk to your husband about what’s going on. Let him know that you’re happy that he’s enjoying his new relationship, but that you need him to be self-aware and intentional about how he spends his time and attention. Ask for some concrete things, like scheduling quality time together when he’s not also chatting with his new partner (better yet, put all devices away!). Remind him that you also want to be cherished and attended to. Give some examples of things you’d like from him. Share some things with him about NRE to read and discuss together.

I feel like I should also say that you should be willing to do some work to meet him halfway - as we polyamorists like to say, love is infinite, but time is not - but with the caveat that I think you’re already doing most of that work; I’m just cognizant that I have a wider audience than you. There will be times when he’s not able to fully attend to you, and it sounds like you’ve already done a lot of work to be okay with that, and that jealousy isn’t a huge factor here. You’re doing a great job being aware of your feelings (wanting to feel more taken care of, a budding resentment) and you’re aware that you don’t want to act on those feelings in ways that would be unhealthy. You’re doing great! But remember that it’s not just about tamping down or ignoring emotions like resentment; it’s okay to ask your husband to make some adjustments to help you feel more comfortable.

My husband mentioned polyamory, and I thought we were in the early stages of considering and discussing it. Suddenly he's sleeping with someone, and she wants to be my friend.

My husband recently approached me about him being poly and that he wanted to be in a poly relationship woman, we'll call Safrow. I told him I needed time to think about it as this wasn't our agreement when we got married. I since found out that he's already had sex with Safrow. I was really hurt and I had a conversation with my husband. Now Safrow sent me a friend request on facebook. What do I do? Do I accept her request? Am I right to want space for my husband and me?

Your husband is cheating on you, period. Just mentioning polyamory to your partner is not a magical invocation that means you’re suddenly polyamorous! You did the right thing by asking for time to think about it, because you’re right, it would be a significant change to the terms of the relationship that you initially agreed to.

If my partner said “hey, I want to move to Hawaii,” and I said “I’m not totally against that, but I’d need to really think about my career options out there, and whether I’m ready to leave my social support system out here - let’s keep talking and thinking about this,” and the next thing he did was terminate our lease and start renting a place in Hawaii, I’d be justifiably pissed. That’s not how these conversations work!

This isn’t really about the friend request from her; it’s not about her behavior at all. It’s about your husband’s behavior. Yes, it is perfectly okay for you to want more space for you and your husband to make this decision as a team, to think through the feelings and fears and desires at work here. If she knows that you’re in this position, her friend request is a major boundary violation - but it’s far more likely that your husband has misrepresented things to her and she thinks you’re going to be cool metamour friends; and in another context, FB friendship would be a great low-key way for you two to start connecting.

But that’s not the situation you’re in. You need to talk to your husband and say that you’re not interested in connecting with her right now - because you aren’t yet on board or invested in this polyamory thing. And, frankly, his cheating in the name of polyamory and trying to rush you into this is going to make that far more difficult and less likely. Let him know that you need him to take a huge step back from this and re-connect with you to talk about what he wants and what you want, what each other’s dealbreakers are, and whether this is something you want to try together. If he can’t do that, or if he continues to be selfish and pushy and willfully misunderstand you, this isn’t a healthy relationship - monogamous or polyamorous.

Ending a long-term relationship, even if you know it's the right call, is really hard. How do you do it?

A lot of the advice on your blog for dealing with unhealthy or just 'stuck' relationships is a breakup, because of incompatibility. But it's so hard to break up with someone you've been in a long term relationship with, regardless of the situation. What can you do to make that easier?

I totally get you, letter writer. Ending a long term relationship is super difficult, and often the massive amounts of “relationship inertia” keep people from making the right call. Here are some tips I’ve found over years of dating & advice-giving:

Have grace for the past. A lot of people feel like ending a long-term relationship would mean “wasting” or “throwing away” all the years they spent with that person. Or, it feels like admitting that you made a years-long mistake. People are very susceptible to the sunk cost fallacy and feel like they would be betraying their past self by “giving up” on a relationship that they were previously invested in. But that’s the wrong way to think about it, and it needs a re-framing.

The reason you got together, and the happy times you spent together, are not negated or erased by a breakup needing to happen. Past-you made the right call based on the information that past-you had. It was a good relationship then; but things have changed and it’s no longer a good relationship now. Act based on the present, knowing that it can’t change or damage the past. Try to let go of feelings of shame or regret - those are paralyzing, and right now you need action.

Diamonds vs. hot coals. Imagine you’re standing in front of a table, and you’re holding a hot coal. It’s burning your hand, and you should probably let go of it. But there’s nothing on the table to replace it with. If you drop the coal, you’ll be left with nothing to hold. You’re afraid - the certainty of having something, even if it’s painful, seems better than having nothing. What if the table stays empty forever? Will you regret dropping the coal? Probably not - it’s hurting you. Having nothing is actually better than having something painful! Our culture likes to tell us that an empty hand is the worst possible thing, and that unless there’s a brilliant diamond on the table, you should cling to the hot coal.

Don’t stand there and sear your fingers off while waiting for a diamond. I know that the certainty of “at least I have a relationship, even if it’s not perfect” can feel better and more security of not having any relationship - but that’s another fallacy, called loss aversion, and it’s keeping you stuck. It’s not “have something vs have nothing,” it’s “keep getting burned vs start healing.” (And when a diamond does come along, you want to be free to grab it - not treating it as an escape or an alternative, or then dropping it too because your hand is still too burned up.)

60/40 is good enough. Often, people think that a relationship has to be 100% bad before they’re justified in leaving. I’ve seen lots of people - myself included - sabotage relationships, purposefully cultivate toxicity, or spin warped narratives about ‘abuse’ so that things are black and white enough to justify leaving. Your partner doesn’t need to be an irredeemable villain; you don’t need to wait until they do something that would horrify an imaginary audience into supporting you. There is no Breakup Judge to whom you need to present your case before you can leave.

If you’re not happy, that’s enough. If it’s 60/40 bad/good, or even 51/49, you can leave. There can be just one reason that ends an otherwise lovely relationship. Don’t talk yourself down because they’re “a good person” or you “care about each other” - if you want to go, go. It can be bittersweet or confusing; don’t get stuck thinking that all breakups have to be the result of unforgivable sins, or require one person to be a victim and the other to be a brute.

Ask for help. It seems silly, but a huge reason that people stay in long-term relationships is because there’s a lot of logistical nonsense that feels overwhelming and not worth it to deal with. If you live together, sometimes just the stress of moving and having to break a lease and figure out who has to buy a new sofa can be enough of a consideration to keep someone stuck. In this situation, it’s okay to be lazy, needy, or take shortcuts. If it’s remotely financially feasible, hire movers - even if that feels like a huge splurge or isn’t something you’d otherwise do. Ask your support network for help. If there are big, painful things to do - calling the landlord, going to IKEA, finding a new place to live - have someone do it with you, or even for you. Hire a lawyer or an accountant to deal with lease or financial stuff. See a therapist, even if just temporarily. Deputize a friend to let everyone know that you and your long-term partner have broken up so you don’t have to field the same reaction over and over. Whatever it is that you’re dreading, see if you can use some money or social support to make it a bit easier.

Take a longer-term view of “painful=bad.” This is going to be a bit counter-intuitive, since you asked how to make it easier, and part of the answer is stop trying to make it easier. The breakup is going to suck. A lot. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right call. We evolved from much smaller, simpler creatures that usually could trust that if something felt bad, it was dangerous. Touch a hot fire, yank paw back. Eat rotten tasting berry, spit it out. But that immediate “pain=danger” impulse in our brains doesn’t always serve us. Sometimes, you gotta grit your teeth, put your head down, and get through a shitty situation so you can come out the other side.

It’s like living indefinitely with some kind of health issue, or having a one-time surgery to deal with it. Yes, the surgery and recovery will be painful and scary and difficult; probably, in the short-term, much worse than the day to day background pain of the health issue. But once it’s over, it’s over. Things will get worse before they get better, but you gotta focus on the “better” part. Don’t avoid a temporary increase in unpleasantness if it means an overall better situation once you get through it. It’s gonna suck. Let it suck. Do what you can to take care of yourself, just like you would after a rough surgery, and look ahead to a better future.

My partner previously said he would never want to try polyamory - then he got drunk and said something different

Need some advice. My partner recently told me that he was open to polyamory after a long time of telling me that he's strictly monogamous and extremely jealous. It's a complete one-eighty from everything he has told me in the past. He told me this while we were out drinking as well. We talked about it the morning after and agreed that we should wait a few years to solidify our relationship first and then revisit the topic. Him saying this out of the blue is weird. Do you have any advice to give?

Is your partner in the habit of saying “out of the blue” things when he is drinking? If this is part of a pattern that feels confusing or manipulative, you need to take a huge step back and let him know that you’re not okay addressing big new topics while you’re both drunk, and perhaps consider the role that alcohol plays in your relationship and in his ability to be emotionally vulnerable and present.

Do these conversations with him feel emotionally safe, both when he is drunk and when sober? Is it more of an exercise in imagination and curiosity, or is there an edge to these conversations? What is at risk, from your perspective? How have his “extreme jealousy” and “strict monogamy” been visible to you? Is there anything you’re worried about? Do you trust him to own his emotions and behaviors in this space? If he’s not willing to talk about this with such specifics; or if he sends up red flags during these conversations or elsewhere in your relationship; or if you have serious concerns about his alcohol use, his communication skills, or his jealousy - think hard about whether this is a healthy relationship to stay in.

But if this is just a one-time thing, it’s possible that he’s wanted to bring it up, and needed the “liquid courage” to be able to say something. It’s promising that you two were able to talk it out after sobering up the next morning. Sometimes, we use externalized ‘excuses’ to make it easier to broach difficult topics, and that’s not inherently bad. This does, however, call for a lot more discussion, primarily without alcohol involved.

You can ask him why he’s bringing this up now. Has he been thinking on it, doing self-work, and had a change of heart? Or has he slowly been realizing that he’s capable of having feelings for another person without that threatening his commitment to you? If there’s something specific that has changed for him - something he read, or saw, or felt, or experienced - it’s worth talking about!

What does he mean by “solidifying” the relationship? Don’t just assume that being together for a few more years will make you both more secure in the relationship. Make sure you’re very clear about what a “solid” relationship looks and feels like, to both of you. Is he expecting you to do something to “prove” your loyalty? Are you expecting that his jealousy naturally dissipates over time? Don’t leave things unsaid - words like “solidify” are actually really vague, and need definition.

And where are you on the polyamory question? Is this something you’d be just as happy letting lie, or were you hoping he might come around to considering polyamory? How did it come up originally? I’d suggest that you two consume some media about polyamory and about healthy relationship communication in general, not with a goal in mind or a problem to solve, just as two interested people having something to discuss and share their feelings about. No one has anything to prove or argue; just read something together and talk about what surprised you, what you agreed or disagreed with, and what was interesting. If you two do this over a glass or two of wine, there’s nothing wrong with that! Just be aware and intentional about using alcohol as a tool to loosen up and connect, not a crutch or a numbing agent.

I have a QPP, and since he got into a sexual-romantic partnership, he's had less time & attention for me

i’ve had a queer-platonic partner (both of us are polyam) and recently he got an actual romantic partner. i am happy for both of them, and find it really cute whenever he talks about them, but i also feel really bad because we don’t talk as much, if at all, now that he got a proper partner. i’m not entirely sure if i’m taking our relationship differently to how he is, and i’m scared to tell him that i feel kinda left out because i feel like i’m being over dramatic about the whole situation.

Look closely at the language you use - you say you’re his “queer-platonic partner,” but then you refer to this new person as his “proper partner.” Do you see your partnership as less than equal to a sexual-romantic partnership? Do you think that he does? In what ways is it different - besides the absence of sexual intimacy, is there a difference in commitment, how much of your lives you share, etc.? Could you articulate what you want from this partnership, and what queer-platonic partner means to you?

This is something you ought to talk with him about. You’re not being “over dramatic” by having feelings. It’s okay to feel confused and disappointed when you realize that you weren’t necessarily on the same page with someone who you thought you were. Let him know that when you two became QPPs, you had a certain set of expectations about what that meant, and you felt that it meant your partnership was different from, but not lesser-than, another kind of partnership. Ask him if he feels the same way, and do some work to find out where you two might have slipped into assumptions or otherwise aren’t aligned. Anytime someone refers to themselves as your partner, they have a responsibility to have these kinds of conversations with you, even if they’re uncomfortable or difficult!

If he waves you off, tries to play down your partnership, denies your experiences, or accuses you of being “over dramatic,” then you need to cut this guy off from your emotional and social intimacy; he’s not acting as your partner and shouldn’t be treated as such. But if he really is invested in this qpp, if he really meant it when he committed to you, he’ll be open to talking about it and hearing how you feel. He might be caught in the throes of NRE, but there are things he can do to help you feel less left out and ensure that your place in his life continues to be honored the way it should be.