I'm married and polyam, but everyone I try to date gets too "weirded out"

I’m poly and have been for the past 3 years. My husband and I got married before I knew that’s what I wanted but no matter what I do, people I date keep dumping me because they say they’re too weirded out by it and the fact that I’m married is too much. I know there’s nothing I can do to change anyone’s mindsets or views on monogamy/non monogamy but what can I do to protect myself from taking this all to heart? I’m tired of getting dumped and hearing “you’re amazing but this is too weird.”

My two pieces of advice for you are: One, think about whether there’s a way you’re acting or talking that is setting off alarm bells for other people. Do you prioritize your marriage over everything? Stick to rigid “ground rules” that limit how you can connect with other people? Talk about your husband constantly? You may be able to mitigate some of the feeling of “weirdness” by making some adjustments in those areas.

Two, start actively seeking out people who are polyamorous and already understand non monogamy. You’re going to run into a lot of confusion and stigma if you are trying to meet people in the majority-monogamous parts of the population. Check out online dating, local polyam meetups, and my FAQ page on finding polyamorous people to date.

My wife is in crisis, and citing a newfound desire for polyamory as part of it

My wife has depression and I’ve noticed she’s been feeling extra down lately so I sat her down to talk about it and she told me she’s polyamorous and has developed feelings for her friend at work. I have known her since we were kids and she has NEVER ever mentioned anything about this in that entire time. She also followed up with “I don’t want to have kids or to buy a house with you.” And I told her polyamory isn’t for me and I’m not willing to compromise on having children, but that I’m willing to give her some time to think about things and make sure we both know what we want etc. Then she started rubbing it in if she would talk to her coworker and saying hurtful things. And then she tried to kill herself so I had to take her to the hospital. And then she suddenly was like “I’m not poly, I never had feelings for her. I was just trying to push you away because I was depressed and wanted to kill myself hope you can forgive me also let’s have a baby.” My head is spinning. I’m so confused. I love her so much and only want what is best for her but she also just broke my heart. I don’t know what to do to take care of her or what to believe right now. It almost feels like she’s either afraid of the change this would bring her life or maybe she’s just being a jerk and using polyamory as a scapegoat. I don’t know I’m having trouble seeing this clearly.

This is not a situation where the core issue is polyamory, it’s a situation where the core issues are safety and mental health. Your wife is clearly in a very disordered pattern of thought and behavior - from the suicide attempt to the bizarre back-and-forth with you. It sounds like she is dealing with a lot of fear, pain, and confusion about her present life and the possibilities for her future. This is not something you can resolve on your own or with the help of an internet advice blog.

Start working with professionals immediately - she absolutely needs to be working with a therapist after her suicide attempt, and you should work with your own therapist, and the two of you should also see a couples therapist. I know it sounds expensive and time-consuming to see three separate professionals, but it will be much more disastrous to skip that healing work and go into parenthood or property ownership with these issues unresolved. Talk to the hospital where she was after her attempt; they often have outpatient programs, social workers, or other resources that can help the two of you access mental health care. You can also check out support groups and other resources for loved ones of suicide attempt survivors or other people in crisis.

Whatever you do, do not make any large scale commitments like opening the relationship, buying a house, or having a baby! Don’t worry so much about figuring out exactly what the right call is for the future or exactly what her true intentions and motives were. Drop the issues of parenthood, home ownership, polyamory, etc. Focus instead on getting your feet back under you, listen to the professionals in your life, and remember that she herself might not have a clear understanding of why she’s doing and saying these things. Mental illness and suicidal ideations are incredibly complex and difficult; it’s not that she is “just being a jerk” - though it’s important for you to honor when her behavior was hurtful to you and unacceptable.

Take time and space and focus on healing. Be willing to acknowledge your own needs and boundaries - you’ve been hurt a lot, and it is not healthy or productive for you to try and repress your own feelings because hers are louder or more acute. It might turn out that this is the beginning of the end of your relationship, and it’s okay to reach that conclusion based on the information in front of you. It may be that you two need to take some space from each other, or that she needs to make some serious life changes to facilitate her recovery. I am so sorry that you and your wife are going through this; you have my support and best wishes.

My husband insists on an open relationship. I don't want that.

My husband insists that we have to have an open/poly relationship even though it makes me miserable. He keeps saying that we can make it work that we just need the right compromise. But I don't even want that. I do love him, but neither of us are going to be able to be happy together long term. And he refuses to see divorce as an option. Some people just aren't polyamorous and I don't think that makes me wrong or inferior.

You are absolutely correct that not wanting a polyamorous relationship doesn't make you wrong or inferior. You seem pretty clear-eyed about the fact that this relationship does not have a future - you two have discovered things about yourselves that make it obvious that you're incompatible as spouses. 

You don't need your husband to agree to see divorce as an option - you can make that decision for yourself. If it's over in your eyes, it's over. Leave the relationship, hire a lawyer, see a therapist, and free yourself to move forward toward a monogamous relationship that meets all your needs. 

My partner is going to marry his long-term girlfriend, and it bums me out

I just started my first poly relationship with this guy. When we first started talking he told me straight up that he was poly and that he planned on proposing to his girlfriend of two years. It didn't bother me because I was just looking for fun and not anything serious. It's been two months, and I'm not saying I'm in love with him, but I'm kinda sad that I wont get to marry him. He's literally the perfect person and I'm sad I didn't get to him first. What do I do?

Polyamory holds that "love is not a zero-sum game," meaning that if someone gets something, it does not mean that other people can't have that. Like, if I eat a cookie, then you don't get the cookie (zero-sum). But if I am listening to a song, you can also stand near me and hear the same song, and neither of us has a diminished experience of the song.

That's how polyamory works. Including polyamorous marriage and polyamorous weddings. So the framing of "who got to him first" doesn't make sense - he's a song, not a cookie. Who knows whether in two years, you two will feel ready to commit, to live together, to share lives, to blend families, and to hold a big lavish party celebrating that? 

Talk to your partner to get a feel for what engagement and marriage means for him and his other relationships - you're having fears and feelings based on your internal understanding of what relationships look like and what marriage means. You gotta get the real lay of the land rather than relying on your assumptions - that's why polyamory is all about open communication!

How do I handle wanting to marry both of my partners?

how do you handle having two partners and wanting to marry both of them?

If you’re in America, plural marriage is still illegal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t address that desire in other ways.

What is it that you want, specifically? Do you want your union and commitment to be recognized by your friends and family? Do you want to live together, sharing a home and finances and domestic duties? Do you want to throw a big party celebrating your relationship?

Identify what you want, what “wanting to marry” really means to you. Journal. Daydream. Make pinterest boards. Whatever. And then, set about making those dreams come true. It might take some unconventional work, some legal consults, some research, and some creativity - but once you figure out what you want, get out there and get after it!

Ok,b been married 23 years. Husband got into a little fantasy play, now has decided that he wants more than one wife. I’m totally against this. It was ok I’m fantasy land, but not for reals. Our once wonderful sex life is all but gone, I mean I get a pity session every now and then but nothing like before. I love him, & don’t want to give up on him, but everything is about how much he wants to fuck someone else. I can’t just walk away from 23 years, kids, grandkids ETC. Help???

Have you told him that you don’t appreciate the “pity sessions” and would like to get back to having a sex life together that isn’t about him withholding himself from you to try and coerce permission to sleep with someone else? Is he willing to try and find a compromise there? Have you two tried to bring the ‘spark’ back without making the step into non-monogamy? Something like watching porn together that fulfills that fantasy, writing erotica back and forth about that fantasy, trying something new in the bedroom that is a fantasy you both share but isn’t related to this specific thing, etc.?

Have you talked with him about what his fantasy is actually about? There may be a way for him to scratch this itch in a less extreme way. There is also a big difference between “wanting more than one wife” and “wanting to fuck someone else.” What is your hard limit? Do you simply not want him to sleep with anyone else, or are you turned off by the intensity of the fantasy? Would you be okay with him having a discreet, don’t-ask-don’t-tell affair, but not with a full blown “other wife,” or is it the sexual infidelity that’s the dealbreaker for you? Would you be willing to try a threesome with him? 

Ultimately, though, your husband refuses to be present to your sexual and relational needs unless you let him sleep with someone else, and you refuse to let him sleep with someone else, you may be at an impasse. “I won’t stay with him if he’s going to act like this” and “I won’t leave him” are not positions you can hold simultaneously - at some point, you’ll need to decide what the best choice is for you, since you can’t change his behavior, but you can control yours.

I’m really upset right now because I’ve been struggling with the realization that I’m bisexual with a preference towards women. My husband and I are trying to work through it together and I’ve been honest with him about the women I’ve been interested in and how far I want to go with them. My husband is dealing with it but he seems uneasy. I confided to my friend about our issues knowing she’s open minded and her response was to tell me that she’d been cheating on her husband with another man like it was the same thing as what I’m going through. I was raised in a very strict setting and dating straight guys was hard enough for me in itself. Coming out as bi and having to blindly feel my way through this with my husband is hard for us both but we are trying. I told her I don’t agree with what she’s doing and I will not enable her and she guilt tripped me for not going along with it and making her feel better about what she’s doing. I’m just so angry.

It sucks when you reach out to someone for support and they make it entirely about themselves. It sounds like you’re going through a lot of self realization and change, and going about it the right way by being open and communicative with your husband. It’s also healthy to reach out for advice from others, but sometimes doing that gets you burned. There are other places to look to for support and advice beyond your one “open minded” friend who turned out to be a jerk - you’re not alone in this journey. 

Your friend is clearly not a good source of advice or support, which is a hard thing to realize about a friend, but this negative experience is a reflection of her issues, not your relationship. Your friend made an insulting assumption and it’s your right to feel insulted. Just because you’re exploring your sexuality doesn’t mean you need to enable or consider choices you consider unhealthy. Your anger with her can be separate from your feelings about these new developments in your relationship and identity.

I am married woman and I love my husband so! But I’m also bisexual and have strong feelings for women. He knows this and wants to please me but I think he is afraid of losing me. I want to be polyamorus but how do I talk to him about it?

It’s never good to make assumptions about your partner’s feelings and needs - you say that you think he’s afraid of losing you, but how do you know? The first step here is giving him space to openly, honestly, and safety share his feelings and needs. If you hear things you think are unfair, irrational, or inaccurate, don’t pass judgment. Just be an active listener and try to understand. Your turn to respond is after he’s made himself totally heard and understood. Then, always address the content of what’s said, not the fact that it was said.

You may find that you were right, or you may not, but either way you’ll end up with a stronger place to start from. If you were right, and the issue is that he’s afraid of losing you, reassure him that a poly practice would actually shield him from just that - that this would allow you to explore your feelings for women without needing to leave him or violate any terms of your relationship. This may be hard for him to imagine or empathize with, so the conversation should remain open for him to ask questions, share concerns, and ask for his needs to be met. 

Another followup. I know religion isn’t a popular thing with poly, but up until recently it was very important to us. I took vows to my husband before God to forsake all others. I don’t know if he’s ever going to want to have sex with me, even if he gets his itch scratched. And if he does, I don’t know if it would be worth it if he’s thinking about his other girlfriends while he’s with me. If I leave, it affects our daughters negatively. Autism needs stability. I keep going in circles. Sorry.

First, a challenge to your assumption: there is no communal polyamorous consensus that religion is unpopular. (I personally am poly and also a devout Christian with plans to go into the ministry someday.) Like monogamous people, polyamorous people come in all types. If you believe that being polyamorous would conflict with your religious beliefs, and contradict your marriage vows, that is completely your business. But it is not necessarily true that polyamory is incompatible with religion.

Nor is it unheard of for marriages, in and out of the church, to change, grow, and shift over time. You and your husband are not the same people now as you were when you made your vows over 20 years ago, and I think it is okay to revisit certain things to ensure a healthier, happier present rather than holding yourself to something determined in the past. If you two haven’t already tried marriage counseling, I’d recommend that as well.

But again - you don’t sound like you’re interested in making that shift. And that’s okay. If you want me to try and convince you, let me know. Otherwise, that’s not my place. It sounds to me like you want out of this arrangement, because it has become untenable to you, and your biggest argument for staying is your children. If you want to separate, my advice would be: separate. You have your life to lead and your own needs to fulfill, even though you are a mother. And staying in a situation you find miserable for the sake of your children will likely end up hurting everyone in the long run. 

It is not necessarily true that children are better off with two parents, if those parents staying together creates a difficult or unhealthy situation. I am not a parent, but I was raised by two people whose marriage was rocky and painful, especially by the time I was a teenager. I often found myself wishing they would just separate already. Being at home with them was unpleasant, and I took away a lot of toxic ideas and fears about relationships from watching them. If you become unhappy, resentful, mistrusting, or distant, it may have more of an effect on your children than a separation might. My suggestion would be to talk to whatever specialists know your daughters best, and get their advice on how a separation might affect the girls and how to minimize their stress.

It is true that your daughters have special needs that might make a divorce especially hard on them. But after a separation, they would return to a new routine and stability rather than staying in a house with two parents who were unhappy with each other, creating a constant state of instability. With the right attention to their needs, therapeutic intervention, and amicability between you and your husband, it would be entirely possible to separate with the least amount of upheaval possible.

And it sounds like your husband continues to want you as a co-parenting partner, which would make things much easier. I know plenty of couples who, after having children together, discovered that they made much better co-parents than lovers. They raised their kids together after they stopped being together romantically, and the kids that I know who came out of those relationships were fine with the arrangement. One told me she knows her parents as good friends and it’s “weird” to think that they were once romantically involved. It is often easier for polyamorists to imagine and maintain this kind of model, which may be why your husband brought that term into the mix.

You are the only person who truly knows what’s best for you and your family. Just don’t forget to take your own needs into account. I am so sorry for everything you’re going through.

I couldn’t figure out how to respond to your answer, so another entry here. I asked for clarification. He’s not romantically in love with me, but loves me as the mother of our children and someone who’s had his back for 20 years. He’s not at all sexually attracted to me, but won’t cut me off knowing I won’t seek sex outside the marriage. The thought of him touching me after having sex with other woman feels like taking crumbs from their table, an obligation not a joy. I’m too old to start over.

(This is a follow up to the previous post.)

It is unfortunate that your husband jumped to a self-identification of polyamory rather than being more straightforward about this. Sadly, it is not unheard of for someone to lose sexual or romantic feelings for a partner, even after such a long relationship. But I think polyamorous language and ideas might have given him a way to understand and articulate his changing feelings. Let me try and explain things from a poly perspective, if you’ll permit.

It sounds like he doesn’t want out of this relationship, he just has a few sexual needs it isn’t fulfilling. The monogamous worldview sees this as impossible or somehow warped: it believes that “wanting to raise kids with” and “wanting to share life with” and “wanting to have sex with” are all offshoots of the same fundamental desire or partnership. If one goes, the whole structure collapses. This is what you’re experiencing - your husband wants to have other sexual partners, which makes you feel like you two cannot continue being partners in any other way.

But polyamorous models of relationships are a bit different. They say that relationships are internally self-defined, meeting certain needs and perhaps leaving others to be fulfilled elsewhere. There are people who I plan to share my life with, and hope to someday live and raise children with. We make wonderful partners, and they fulfill me on a deep level. But I don’t have sex with them - that’s just not part of our relationship. There are other people I really enjoy having sex with, but I would never want to raise children or embark on any other major cooperative partnership with them. And then there are plenty of people somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

Both models work, for some people. You are operating on the monogamous model. Your husband has apparently discovered that he wants to try to polyamorous model. This may be irreconcilable, and is undoubtedly hurtful for you to hear, but it may help you better understand his position. Everything he always loved about you is still there - your sense of humor, your partnership, your conversations, your companionship - minus one very specific component. He is saying that sex is no longer central to his feelings for you, but those feelings still exist. 

Because I am poly, I am inclined to trust in the polyamorous model. Some people in your position find that their partner just had an itch they needed scratched, so to speak, and that after short bout of permitted promiscuity things go back to normal. (The beauty of polyamory is that you don’t need to throw an entire relationship away to satisfy a craving or curiosity.) Some find that they mind less than they thought they would after seeing with their own eyes that even after spending time with other people, their partners returned to them with the same affection and partnership they always had.

I personally feel that sexual attraction has little to do with the way I define my relationships and what people I end up bringing into my heart and life. I would rather raise children with someone I loved deeply and worked well with but who slept with other people, than with someone with whom I had a great sex life but we problems co-parenting. (Full disclosure, I’m not a parent - this goes for living together, partnering on any major endeavor, etc.) And I generally believe that re-imaging relationships to allow for more freedom results in less pain in the end.

But you are not me, and you don’t identify poly. And you don’t sound interested in trying out a new model or perspective. That’s completely okay. Now you know that you and your husband are operating with different relationship models. What you do with that information is up to you.

P.S. While I rarely advocate hard-lined rules and ultimatums for people beginning polyamory, I do think you would be well within your rights after 20 years of marriage to lay down some hard ground rules if you decided to try out this arrangement. For example: try it for 6 months and then re-visit the issue completely; you are in total control of your sex life for that period (you decide whether and when you want him to touch you); you are entitled to as much information/discretion on his part as you want; etc. 

I’m very much mono, my husband of 20+ years just dropped the polybomb, telling me he still “loves me but hasn’t been in love with me for years and feels there’s so much missing in his life.” I’m completely destroyed. I don’t know where to go with this, we have two special needs kids and part of me says stay and accept my love life is over, and part of me is mad as hell and says leave and try to find someone who’ll love me. I’m beyond lost in this.

This is perhaps the heaviest ask I’ve gotten so far, and to do it justice, my answer ran long - so it’s under a cut. It’s also a little bit out of my depth, so if anyone with more experience in situations like this has anything to add, please message me.

First off, this is a heartrending situation, and I am terribly sorry for your anguish. I am not sure where your husband got his definition of polyamory, because what he said to you doesn’t indicate polyamorous tendencies. A lot of people stumble across the “poly” label and think that having a fancy word gives them permission to engage in destructive, cruel, or dishonest behavior. But it doesn’t.

The apparent semantic difference between “love” and “in love” has always baffled me. It is completely heartbreaking to hear “I’m not in love with you” from someone you’ve given so much of your life to, but if you can, my advice would be to try and figure out what he really means by that. Maybe it’s entirely sexual - maybe he still feels all the affection and companionship for you that he always has, but finds himself sexually interested in other people after 20+ years. While this is hurtful and painful to work through, it’s very different from a situation where his deeper feelings have truly changed and he wants to fundamentally alter the terms of your relationship.

I think what he was trying to say to you, in admittedly the clumsiest and most hurtful way possible, was that he has needs that aren’t being met. He doesn’t seem too clear on what those needs are, though, and seems to think that being poly is both the source of those needs and their solution. But after 20+ years of marriage and two children, there has to be more to the story, and on some level he has to know that. You’re entitled to ask for more communication from him. Specifically, what does he really want? To continue the marriage while being free to sleep with others? To open the relationship to other emotionally bonded partners? A separation? You may not like his answer, and you’re not obligated to give him what he wants, but I think it would help both of you if he actually articulated it.

Once you know exactly what he’s asking for, it’s your turn. You need to figure out exactly what you want and what your needs are. Then, you make sure those needs get met. It may not be that “your love life is over” if you choose to stay with him - you may find that him taking other partners improves your relationship. Or, things may go the route of companionate marriage, where you two remain close parenting partners with a relationship built on everything that made you fall in love in the first place, though certain aspects have changed. Polyamory provides a more open space for relationship models like this: two people as parenting partners without being sexual partners; two people as sexual partners without being exclusive; etc. There is plenty of polyamorous theory that seeks to re-imagine relationships, partnerships, sexuality, and other concepts to allow for different arrangements that are all healthy and productive. (And if you’re interested in that, please contact me again!) But you are under no obligation to make this cognitive shift if you aren’t interested. You may decide that none of this is what you want, and you want to make monogamy a condition for continuing the relationship. It’s all completely up to you. Do not resign yourself to something that’s not healthy or fulfilling to you: you deserve to have your needs met just as much as anyone else.

I’ve asked a couple questions in the past and I really appreciate your advice. My next question mostly has to do with jealousy. I’m hitting a wall (like the great wall of china sized wall) when it comes to attempting to rationalize away my jealousy. I want my wife to be happy but I want to be happy too. It’s really the only thing left that I’m having a REALLY big problem with but I want the relationship to work! Any advice as to how I can master my jealousy?

The fact that you want to “master” your jealousy means that you’re already halfway there! Seeing it as something that can - and should - be dealt with already puts you on a direct path to healthy compersion. You’ll get there! Your wife sounds like a really lucky woman.

One thing I’d advise you to do now is to give yourself a break. Let yourself feel your feelings. It is okay to let yourself be a little shaky or insecure or jealous during this adjustment process. In fact, if you let yourself be jealous but don’t let yourself act on it (by getting upset with your wife or demanding change), you might see that the whole thing plays out just fine, and that your reasons for being jealous and the fears behind the jealousy never actually came true. Watching that happen will help you quiet the green-eyed monster the next time it comes around. Beating yourself up and getting frustrated every time you feel jealous only makes things harder on you - so take a deep breath and stop trying to “rationalize” the jealousy away for now. Let it be, and you’ll probably notice it fading as you and your wife adjust. Be gentle with yourself.

Another thing - communicate openly and honestly with your wife about this. See my advice in other columns about this here and here. You guys are embarking on this adventure together! We use the word “partner” to refer to people in relationships because that’s truly what it is: a partnership. Help her help you by being clear about your feelings and needs. But the conversation doesn’t need to immediately jump to “let’s fix these problems NOW.” It can just be you saying “hey, I’m feeling this way right now, and I just wanted to talk about it with you,” and her responding with some reassurance and hugs.

Here are some other resources on polyamory and jealousy at Practical Polyamory and More Than Two, but I would suggest waiting a bit before diving into them. It sounds like you’ve been trying to brute-force your way through jealousy, and you deserve a break. Leave this problem alone for a little while. Let yourself feel jealous - don’t stew, don’t pick fights, just acknowledge the emotion without feeling like you need to immediately master it. Don’t treat your brain like a whack-a-mole game, instantly smacking down every bit of jealousy that pops up. Let yourself be okay with the current state of affairs and let time do at least some of the work for you.