My partner and I are long distance, and we both live with other partners - how do we make visits work?

I entered my first poly relationship a while ago. I already had a partner who’s living with me in my apartment, and then I got a gf recently. My gf already has a partner living with her too and also we live 4-5 hours of journey by train away from each other. Neither of us has more than one bedroom. It is very hard to meet up but were dying to meet again. Unless one of our partner leave town, which is rare, were in a tough spot. Have you been in a similar situation or know anyone who has? What do?

Boy have I! It’s frustrating and can take some creativity, but it can be done. When I’ve been in a similar situation, my partners and I have gotten really into those websites that let you get hotel rooms cheap as last-minute bookings, or booking AirBnBs in off-season areas. There are plenty of apps and websites that let you find overnight cuddle-up spots without breaking the bank! If you’re outdoorsy, camping and cabin-camping can be a great option to spend a night together as well.

Getting a bit more creative: if you’re at all into things like sex parties or BDSM dungeons, then finding one in a city near you can be a good way to find space for that kind of time together. If you have the funds, places like spas or hot springs are lovely ways to get some private space together (there’s a spot near me that rents private hot tub and sauna rooms by the hour and is well patronized by people in your situation). And see if either of you have any friends who are willing to let us crash in guest bedrooms, or want you to house-sit while they’re gone for a weekend.

It may also be possible for your partner, or her partner, to give y’all the apartment for an evening. Do they have a friend or a partner they could crash with? Could you and your partner send them and a friend or partner to a spa, or hotel, or concert, or nice dinner, while you two hang out in the apartment? Some people feel really icky about being “kicked out” or “sexiled” from their own home, but when it’s framed as a flexible, creative way for everyone to have a good time, I’ve seen it work well!

It takes some extra planning and sometimes some extra cash, but it can be done! Best of luck!

My partner said she was okay with polyamory when we got together, but is now upset about it

So I’m currently in a long distance relationship with someone who said she was okay with me being polyam from the first date (even before the first date I told her). Now I’m on tour with my band for 6 months and I promised to be monogamous until I got home and we reconnected. I’m 2 months into the tour and she is already freaking out about me wanting to date other people when I get home. I still have a little over 4 months on the road and I'm not really sure how to handle this. 

It sounds like she's not actually okay with you being polyam. If she doesn't want you to see other people while you're on tour, and she is already nervous about you seeing other people when you're not on tour, the issue is that she's threatened by you seeing other people.

Or, it could be that she is feeling insecure because you're gone and she feels like you two didn't talk it out enough before you left, and her wanting to continue the conversation feels to you like "freaking out." 

Either way, I think you're getting distracted by red herrings in your situation. The band tour doesn't really matter; the promise to be monogamous during the tour doesn't matter; her insistence since day one that she's okay with polyamory doesn't matter. What matters is that she is upset and threatened by the idea of you dating other people. That's what needs to be addressed.

You need to identify and clarify your expectations and needs and boundaries with her. "Part of dating me is polyamory. I won't be in a relationship where I can't date other people. If that's not something you're comfortable with, this won't work out." If she insists that she really is okay with you dating other people as long as specific concerns are addressed, ask her to clarify for you what those are and work on a plan to address them.

If she can't - if it seems like she's just trying to argue herself into being able to date you, or that she's assuming that her future self will be okay with something her present self clearly isn't - it's probably best to end things. Don't speak for her, by saying "you say you're okay with this, but you're really not, and I know what's best for you better than you, so I'm going to end a relationship that you want to continue, for your own good." That's never a good way to end things. Instead, frame it as you not being happy in this arrangement, getting the sense that polyamory isn't working between you two, that you aren't able or willing to provide all the emotional baby steps it will take. 

I have insecurity issues particularly because I have a history of being left for other people. The man I’m with now (6mo LDR) had done so prior, married her. He’s divorced now. He doesn’t want to label what we’re doing but he tells me he loves me. He wants me to think about moving in with him from another state with my kid. I want to but I’m scared about his commitment. I can’t for a while yet. How do I talk to him about “us” and labels? I’m taking a risk, but it needs to be a calculated risk?

Hold up. If I’m reading this right, you’re currently dating a person who previously left you for another woman, married her, then divorced her and got back together with you. You’ve been together in this second relationship for six months now, all long distance. He wants you to move to another state to be with him. But he isn’t willing to use language to commit to you. 

I do not think you should make this move. I do not think you should continue to sidestep your own needs because this guy “doesn’t want to label” things. You do not “have insecurity issues,” you are in a fundamentally insecure situation. He is making sure that he provides you no security, then making you feel like your sense of insecurity is coming from your own “issues,” not a clear-eyed observation of the reality of the situation.

You have the right to ask for what you need. If he refuses to give it to you, walk away. Say something like: “The fact that you refuse to “label” what we’re doing isn’t working for me anymore. Am I your girlfriend? Are you my boyfriend? How would you define our relationship? Are we committed to seeing each other exclusively? What do you see as our future together? Are you committed to staying with me unless an issue comes up between us, not just until you don’t feel like it anymore? I need honest, clear answers to these questions before I’m willing to make any more commitments to this relationship.”

That is an appropriate and fair thing to ask. If he acts like you’re being demanding or controlling or pushy or “moving too fast,” then there’s your answer: that he is not able or willing to provide you the security that you need. He doesn’t want to make a commitment to you. He doesn’t want to give an inch, but he wants you to cross the miles for him. Stop doing 100% of the emotional heavy lifting here. Stop sacrificing your security for his freedom. Ask for what you need. If he can’t or won’t provide it, find a more secure relationship.

I’m dating a guy who lives quite a few states away from me (we’re both in the US), and he’s dating…I believe three other people currently. I’m not sure at this point, to be honest with you. Lately it seems he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore. He ignored my birthday or simply forgot, and we just don’t talk much anymore. I feel like maybe I should end my romantic relationship with him and just be friends, but it’s hard. I don’t want to hurt him since another one of his SOs just broke up w/him.

I’m probably biased because this is the exact reason I broke up with my long-distance boyfriend of 6 years, and even though it sucked, it was ultimately the right choice for me.

End this relationship, friend. He’s not meeting your needs, and the only reason you gave for not wanting to end it is something that has nothing to do with you.

You could always try one last stand: letting him know that him neglecting your birthday really bothered you, and asking him to commit to spending more time and energy making the long-distance thing work. But be prepared for him to refuse, or to make the promise and then not keep it. And if you’re already at the point where you want to leave, just leave. 

The hardest part about being in a ldr poly relationship for me is feeling like I’m being left out of my partners life. Their other partners get to go on dates and spend time with them but I don’t and I feel like I’m always the last person to know things that are happening. It makes me feel really distant with my partner. What do you suggest I do?

Long distance is so hard! My current partner and I were long distance for 4 years, and I just ended a 6 year ldr, so I totally feel you. Basically, the number one thing to do is: talk to your partner. Let them know this makes you feel unhappy and see if you two can work together to find ways of bridging that distance that work for both of you.

I find that it’s the little things that can make or break that feeling of connectedness and shared lives. Knowing what they had for lunch or what they chatted about with their boss that day takes a lot more effort to share across distance, but it’s what keeps you close. Silly little texts throughout the day like “hey I saw this dog” go a long way; don’t wait for a long catch-up session.

Here is a previous column of mine where I give some advice about how to stay connected during a long distance relationship. If both of you are okay with it, try and set a routine of more frequent, low-key contact. If their job, routine, or preferences don’t allow for that, you’ll need to talk more about how to get your needs met.

I am also a firm believer in the magic of the group chat. Set up a text chain, a slack team, a google hangout, whatever, with you, them, and their other partners and just be silly and chatty in there. (This doesn’t work for everyone; some people hate group chats. But I find that if you can find a platform that works for everyone, they really foster intimacy.)

Previous columns on this:

Group chats & shared experiences

Keeping communication open across distance

Managing when your LDR partner can pay different attention to their proximal partners

I’ve been in a ldr with my bf for about 8 months now. I was just wondering if it’s wrong of me to feel upset when he tells me about all the things he buys for his other partners but he never offers to buy me gifts or anything? I don’t just want gifts from him 24/7 and if he offered I’d probably tell him no but it’s the offer that counts. I don’t know why exactly it upsets me it just makes me feel less important I guess? What are your thoughts?

First off: feelings aren’t wrong, they’re just feelings. You don’t need permission to feel your feelings, it’s okay!

When it comes to polyamory, and long distance relationships, small things can often take on large emotional significance, and that’s totally okay. Problems happen when something that’s significant to one person isn’t even on the other person’s radar. (This is why, despite the weird conservative-“Christian” connections, I like the concept of Love Languages - I think it’s really helpful for understanding this kind of situation.)

It’s totally valid for you to feel hurt by someone else’s behavior, but that doesn’t make their behavior inherently bad or malicious. It’s not like your partner is in the store going “Hey, I’m totally going to buy something for Pearl and Amethyst, but NOT Garnet, because she’s less important! That’ll show her!” It’s probably an oversight, a mismatch of “love languages” - honestly, as someone who has lots of long distance loves, I’m less likely to buy them things just because it’s a whole extra step and expense to ship them. It sounds like you know that intellectually, but knowing that doesn’t make the emotional sting go away. Which is also totally okay!

The best thing to do in this situation is to gently bring it up with your partner. Something like “hey, it’s not that I want you to buy me things, exactly, it’s that I know you use gifts as a way to show affection for your other partners, and since we’re long distance and that’s harder to include in our relationship, it makes me feel left out.” Then you two can brainstorm a way for him to show you affection in that way as well - maybe he can send you little gifts online, ordered to your address; maybe you can pick out a monthly subscription box (they have those for EVERYTHING now, from candy to dog toys to underwear) for him to sign you up for, maybe you just need to think of another way he can show you that you’re important, like emails or letters. Or maybe you’ll just feel better hearing him say “oh, wow, I never realized that, I’m sorry, I never meant it that way!”

No matter what, having a gentle, non-accusatory chat about it should help you both out! (And if he gets angry or defensive or otherwise responds poorly to a very healthy, reasonable chat about your needs, that does NOT mean that you shouldn’t have brought it up or that your feelings were wrong - it’s a red flag about him.)

When do you think is a safe time to give a partner your phone number when you’ve had an ldr? My partner and I have been together for several months but I still don’t have their phone number or even have them on any social media accounts anymore because the one they had was deleted. We don’t skype either because I’m never really able to but we send photos back and forth but I feel really weird about only sending skype messages? Is this normal or what do you think?

There are plenty of reasons someone might not want to use a phone to chat. Anything from the innocuous (maybe they can’t afford a monthly phone bill, maybe they just prefer skype and don’t realize you want their number) to the sad but understandable (maybe they are hiding from a stalker/abuser) to the sketchy (maybe they are catfishing you, maybe they are doing this with multiple people and don’t want to get caught).

Your best bet is to just ask them: can I have your number? Can we talk over phone call or text? If not, why not? If they give you a reason and it’s believable, great! With a skype app on your phone, it’s basically the same as texting. If you have lingering questions, though, or feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to press for more details: when will you be able to use something besides skype? why was their old social media deleted? 

Be careful about people who are so locked down with their availability - usually, it means they’re hiding something. Be clear with them that this is a situation that makes you feel concerned. Someone who’s healthy to be in a relationship with will be honest and understanding. If they get defensive or aggressive, take some distance. Your safety is the priority. 

So, I’m poly. I’ve known for years, but I finally have accepted it. Completely. My boyfriend and I have been in a monogamous relationship for two years, and we have recently started to talk to a good friend of ours about joining for a triad. I’m really nervous but really excited, and our biggest worry is communication with me being 100mi away for 2/3rds of the year. Any advice on how to keep the communication alive and well?

First off, good on you guys for taking things slow and figuring things out with honesty and love! Best of luck in your new triad! Long distance is rough on everyone, but I think polyamory can reduce a lot of the stress by removing the fear of “cheating” and the frustration of not getting physical intimacy. 

Keeping communication alive and well in an LDR comes down to some key things:

1.) Establish clear expectations

Some people are into chatty all-day text conversations. Some people are absolutely not. Figure out what kind of LDR communicator you are, and own that. Be clear and up front with your partners about what they can expect from you and what you need from them.

2.) Never assume intent (it’s not about you)

It’s easy to forget that your LDR partner’s world doesn’t revolve around you, because you can’t see the parts of their life that don’t involve you. If you text them and they don’t reply, or send something short, avoid assuming that they’re doing it intentionally because they’re upset or don’t care. You can’t see the other things distracting them, so give them the benefit of the doubt and don’t take things personally.

3.) Get creative

LDRs are most frustrating because they prevent you from having shared experiences, which are the bedrock of relationships. So try to come up with some traditions or ways to stay connected. Maybe you text them a photo of every cool car you see. Maybe you send them a sticker from every show you attend. Maybe you email naughty stories to each other. Maybe you watch the same TV show every week and discuss it afterwards. Whatever works for you, find a way to stay involved in each other’s lives.

4.) Try to avoid info-dump catch-up

One thing that drives me crazy is when I haven’t talked to someone I care about in a while, so when we do get a chance to hang out, I don’t have context for any of their stories, interests, or problems. I can’t get excited about their date with so-and-so if I haven’t been updated on their ongoing crush. I can’t give advice about the new job they were offered if I don’t know how they feel about their current job day-to-day. So make sure you keep each other updated on the little details that make a life make sense, so you can share your lives in meaningful ways.

Good luck!

I’m in a long distance relationship, and so is she. She has always been very open about being poly, and me and my partner are too. I would like to maybe start a relationship with her, and my partner supports this, but I have had very little communication with her ldr partner. Is it best to communicate more with her partner and try to figure out more about their rules and boundaries before expressing any romantic interest in here? or can we work on that after I express interest?

Well, for starters, it would take one incredibly smooth operator to be able to start asking someone, or their partners, about their poly rules and boundaries without making it clear that you’re interested in the person. (If you figure out how to do that, please write a guest column teaching me how!)

It sounds like you’re going about this all the right way, so kudos to you. But I don’t think you need to go straight to her partner to learn about their rules and boundaries. For one, it’s a bit impractical. For another, this makes some people uncomfortable. Her partner may not be interested in meeting everyone interested in her, and she may feel like you’re asking someone else for information she has the agency to provide for herself.

I personally don’t like when potential partners think they need “permission” from my boyfriend(s) - I decide who I date, no one owns me. But other people would appreciate you wanting to check in with the other partner first. So you don’t know which she prefers without open communication.

I would recommend having a conversation with the person in your life about what her arrangement is with her partner. Ask what their rules and boundaries are, and get a feel for how compatible you two are. Then, bring up the topic of her other partner. Ask if she would like you two to have a talk. If she says it’s not necessary, I wouldn’t push the issue. If you really wouldn’t be comfortable with it unless you talked to the partner, let her know about this, and find a way to chat with them that’s low-pressure for all parties. 

Hi ive just started a poly relationship with two girls– my best friend and the girl ive been dating for over a year over long distance. But honestly im a little mervous about it constantly bc im not sure if my old friend is fully okay with it. Would you mind helping me a little..??

This is an issue of trust and communication. It can be hard to read someone over long distance, but that means you two need to commit even more strongly to being fully honest and open with each other. 

If she tells you she’s okay with it, you need to trust her, and respect that she is an adult with agency who can speak to her own mindset better than your own internal nervousness can project it.

If you can’t trust her to be honest with you, and suspect that she’s just saying what she thinks you want to her or otherwise not being totally open, then one or both of you are not ready for a polyamorous relationship.