Is it normal for me to be dating two people who aren't dating each other?

Is it a "normal poly thing" for me as a female to have a gf and a bf but the two of them don't have a relationship? What are some tips to making this work and comfortable for everyone?

Yes, that is called “V-shaped” polyamory and is one of the more common polyamorous arrangements. It’s actually pretty rare for there to be three or more people where all parties are dating. Even though media depictions, news stories, fanfiction, etc. tend to focus on triads or polycules where everyone is in a relationship with everyone, that’s not as common.

Tips for making it work are going to be the same as in all other healthy polyamorous relationships. Open, honest communication. Everyone taking responsibility for identifying and articulating their own needs and feelings. Since this is a very common polyamorous relationship configuration, most of the advice you’ll find in my FAQ resources will be helpful.

Also, the idea of a “normal poly thing” is useless. Even if you three were the only people in the world doing this, that wouldn’t really matter. And plenty of things that are “normal” or common in polyamorous relationships are not healthy and happy. Normalcy is not a measure of anything meaningful. You don’t need to find out if something is “normal” before trying it out. If it’s healthy and happy for you, it’s fine.

Your girlfriend and boyfriend are what’s called “metamours,” linked not by their own relationship but because they’re dating the same person. It’s wise not to complain to one of your partners about the other one, or involve them in relationship issues. If you want to introduce them, keep things low-key and low-pressure. Let their relationship be what it’s going to be, don’t try to push for more intimacy than is naturally present. I wrote about introducing metamours to each other here.

My partner's metamour broke a boundary our poly network has, and now we've been exposed to an STI

One of my metamours broke a huge boundary in his relationship to my partner. In addition, he potentially exposed our entire poly circle to HSV. Both my metamour and the person who was HSV positive knew about this boundary but claim "we just weren't thinking/too in the moment." My partner forgave him, but I'm still really angry. One of my other partners talked to him and he lied about it. I don't know how to talk to my partner about it. He’s being tested soon and so am I. What do I do???

It’s up to you to decide what are dealbreakers and what are not dealbreakers, but things to be taken very seriously.

It’s perfectly okay to say that, as part of the terms of your relationships, you only have sex with people who use condoms for all penetrative sex, or you only have sex with people who get STI testing every 3 months and require that of their partners, or whatever specific rules and terms you have. If someone violates those terms, it is within your rights to end or change the terms of the relationship.

It feels stickier since the problem behavior came from a partner of your partner, and not your partner - you can’t exactly “break up” with a metamour the way you an break up with a partner. But you can re-frame your boundary as I don’t have sex with anyone who has sex with anyone else who doesn’t follow these boundaries. This could mean leaving your partner if they’re willing to allow other people to violate those boundaries; or putting a hold on sex with your partner even if you don’t end the relationship. This is not a threat or ultimatum - “leave them or I’ll leave you” - it’s just you holding your own boundaries.

If it’s not a dealbreaker, but instead it’s “something serious and worth addressing but not a relationship-ender,” you need to talk with your partner about how this made you feel, what you need going forward, and what your partner considers to be their boundaries and dealbreakers. Mistakes and accidents do happen, and polyamorous dating does come with some level of risk. But you’re not required to just sweep this under the rug and move on - there is some space between “drop the issue” and “end the relationship,” where you can work out a plan and clarify your boundaries.

Best of luck with your upcoming test; scares like this are incredibly stressful, but it’s good that the parties involved owned up to it and were honest enough with you and your partner so that you can get tested. That, at least, is a good sign.

My partner wants to get back with her ex, which I believe puts her at risk of getting hurt

One of my girlfriend's exes popped back up in her life and wants to date her. Exclusively. If that's what she wants I'd never stop her, but he's an addict that rides the sobriety line constantly. This factor has hurt her in the past and I don't want her to go through that pain again. Should I tell her I don't feel comfortable with her dating him because of his past? Or am I being controlling?

If he wants to date her “exclusively,” then she’d have to leave you for him, in which case, none of this would be your circus nor your monkeys. Of course you would “never stop her,” because it is impossible to stop someone from dating someone else, and it’s inappropriate to try.

It is not controlling to give advice, to remind her that he has hurt her in the past, and to encourage her to really think through what she wants and what choices are most likely to get here there. You can tell her that because you care about her, you’d recommend against this; that if you were her, you wouldn’t do it, etc. But people are going to make the decisions that they are going to make, and it’s ultimately not within your control, no matter how right, or persuasive, you are.

If I’ve misread your use of the term “exclusively” and the situation you’re being pitched is one in which she dates both of you, it’s within your rights to say “I’m not comfortable dating someone who is dating this guy,” in which case it would be on you to leave the relationship. You’re not threatening to leave her if she dates him, you’re not forcing her to choose - you’re making the best choice for you based on the situation you find yourself in.

My boyfriend got back with his ex, who I think is very bad for him

My boyfriend is poly, he has gotten a new boyfriend recently and he’s dated this boy in the past, he’s broken my boy so many times and apparently he’s gone to relationship counseling to fix himself. My boyfriend insists he has changed after three months of the counseling, they got back together a few days ago. He asked me if I was comfortable with him dating two other people I said this was fine but I didn’t ask who they were and finding out he’s with this guy again upsets me.

There first issue here is that your boyfriend seems to be lying by omission, saying “are you okay with me dating someone?” knowing that your answer will be “yes” in the general case, and neglecting to mention that it was this specific person. You need to make sure there’s an open line of communication between the two of you about your relationship, new partners, and concerns either of you have. If this is a pattern, you need to figure out whether he’s being evasive because he feels unsafe being honest with you, or just to avoid an unpleasant conversation, or what.

You can’t change your boyfriend’s mind about dating this person - but you can control how you respond to it. You can decide that this person is just not someone you want to be polyamorously connected to, and choose to leave the relationship if it means having him as a metamour. You could decide that you’re not willing to discuss this person with your boyfriend, and that includes advice, comfort, venting, anything. You could decide that you don’t want to be around this person. But all of those are your choices, based on the information you have: that your boyfriend is going to date this person, despite your objections.

Consider also checking your language: you say he has “broken” “your” boy, and that might signal some extremity in your perspective. Your boyfriend has not been “broken” - it’s pretty difficult to actually “break” a person - he may have been hurt, disappointed, angry, frustrated, sad, etc. Using clear, specific terms for feelings helps us address them better. And he is not “your boy” - he is his own person, and his relationships with other people are mostly his business. I don’t doubt you that this person is emotionally dangerous, but don’t make it worse with language that frames your reaction in extreme terms that make things harder, not easier, to address and resolve.

Instead of talking about what this person has “done to your boyfriend,” focus on the impact it’s having on your - “seeing my boyfriend so hurt makes me miserable, and I don’t want to be in this situation, having this person as a metamour is not right for me.” That’s a much better framing, because it focuses on what you can control in your responses.

One of my metamours treats me, and our mutual partner, terribly

my partner and i are both poly, in non-hierarchal relationships (i have one other partner they have two, and even though we’re not primaries, we’re the more serious relationship) but i Hate one of their parters. he treats me really poorly when we’re all together and i don’t like how he treats them either, but i don’t know how to bring it up without upsetting them cause even though they’re aware of how poorly he treats them and me, they feel like it’s worth it to stay with him and idk what to do.

You can't control your partner's choices or thoughts - but you can control your own behavior. If someone treats you poorly, you can choose not to be around them. Tell your partner "I don't appreciate how Klavfin treats me and makes me feel, so I'm not going to be around him anymore." That's not you setting an ultimatum, or making a demand. You're not saying "stop seeing Klavfin," or "never invite Klavfin to a hangout" - you're just stating what boundaries you're going to hold. 

Your partner might feel frustrated by this, since it's difficult to accommodate around partners who don't like each other, but that's their response to choose. You're giving them information: that you don't want to be around this person. They can respond to that information however they choose.

People may accuse you of "starting drama," but that's not your problem. You get to decide how you want to be treated and who you want to spend time around. If that means you decline an invitation to a dinner, or make yourself scarce when he's around, that's fine! Don't try to get people to pick sides, or start a whisper campaign to oust this guy from your poly network - those usually backfire.

It's frustrating and painful to see your partner stay with someone who, from your perspective, is an ass. And there's a time and place to point out specific behaviors you have an issue with, and remind your partner that they don't deserve to be treated that way. But beyond that, remember that your partner is going to make their own choices, and all you can do is make the best calls for yourself.

My partner is going through a divorce - what now?

My partner is currently going through a divorce. What the hell do I do?

That question is probably best posed to your partner. Ask them what they need from you to get through this tough time. Maybe they need patience on your part and an acceptance that you'll see less of them while they hunker down and deal with this. Maybe they need a soft shoulder and someone to vent to. Maybe they need cheerful, upbeat distractions from someone who isn't involved and doesn't need to talk constantly about the divorce logistics. 

You also need to make sure you're getting your needs met during this high-stress time. Your partner probably won't be able to do a bunch of emotional labor for you, so you'll need to find somewhere to 'dump out' while you 'comfort in.' Friends, a therapist, a hobby, other partners - make sure you've got outlets as well. 

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My metamour is moving in, and there's tension because my partner really want us to date

My partner's girlfriend is moving in with us and I'm a bit nervous because while she and I are good friends, we are not romantically interested in each other. That's okay with us but my partner really wants for us to be romantically involved and can't seem to let it go. Is this going to end in disaster?

The co-habitation isn't the problem, it's your partner being pushy about this. They need to drop the issue, and yesterday. Sit them down and explain that you're very nervous about her moving in, not because there's any issue with the dynamic between you two, but because of your partner not being willing to let this go. Tell them that they can't wheedle, cajole, argue, convince, or otherwise mind-trick two people into dating if they don't want to date each other, and trying to do so will only cause problems. If they can't accept this or refuse to stop, you need to decide whether this is a situation - the relationship and/or the living arrangement - that you feel comfortable staying in. 

Is there a third way out from having to choose between partners who want monogamy & partners who don't?

My wife and I are poly. She has a boyfriend, and I have a girlfriend. Neither the boyfriend, nor the girlfriend are involved in other relationships. They both want more. In fact, they both want to have monogamous relationships, but all of us will be sad if there are breakups. So, aside from either the girlfriend/boyfriend breaking up with us, or the girlfriend/boyfriend being "stuck" in a poly relationship, is there some sort of third option?

No, there is no third option. There will be sadness if breakups have to happen, but there will also be sadness if people are "stuck" in relationships that don't make them happy. There's a choice here that needs to be made, and there's no way out of having to make that choice. Life is full of tough choices, and each path we pursue comes at a cost. It's painful, but it's just part of being a human who has relationships. 

I found out my partner has a "thing" with a former lover of his, and I'm not sure it's a healthy situation

I'm in a poly relationship with a guy, we talked about his other partners. Fast forward to months later and I'm talking to him about a former lover, encouraging him to talk to her despite my terror/insecurity of his feelings for her. But he's comfortable with his heartache about her. She's married to a monogamous man and happy. I asked questions about them and their history. During this he casually said they occasionally have a Thing via the internet. I wasn't happy about it but didn't berate him, only stated clearly that he should have told me that when we discussed metamours. But I'm bothered. I'm wondering now why he didn't tell me then. Her husband is why they broke up after trying poly. But now I'm wondering if he knows about them having their occasional Thing at all. If not, I'm not okay with that. But I don't know what to do. I'm still not sure what I want to do. If they're cheating I can't condone it. I don't want to leave him. I'm just feeling lost and heartaching.

The main issue here is that your partner is doing something that seems sketchy or not entirely above board here, because A.) he didn’t disclose to you the whole story about this former lover when you first talked about her, and B.) you’re not sure whether this is an open and consensual polyamorous arrangement for all parties involved.

This is something to bring up with your partner: “In order for me to feel like my polyamorous relationships are safe and healthy, it’s important for me to that the extended network that I’m involved in has a shared commitment to openness. This “thing” that you have with your former lover - can we talk about the terms of that? Does her husband know? It also bothers me that I didn’t get the whole story the first time we talked about her. Can we revisit our expectations and commitments around honesty and openness?”

It’s up to you how you react to his response. If he insists on continuing to have a relationship that you don’t want to be party to, even as a metamour, then you have to decide whether that’s a dealbreaker for you.

In a new quad couple relationship. He wants everything equal. Like she comes over here, I should go over there. I don’t see that as feasible. They are newer to polyamory than my husband and I. I don’t want to upset him or her. IDK what to say or do without upsetting the situation.

In some cases, it’s impossible to have the conversation that needs to be had without introducing a little bit of conflict. 

It is okay to set some boundaries, being gentle but firm. You could say something like:

“I know you want to try and keep things equal, but in my experience, rigid ‘score-counting’ and insisting on exact equality harms more than it helps. It is unrealistic to expect that what every couple does together is perfectly mirrored by the other two. For me, ‘equality’ doesn’t mean ‘everyone does the same thing,’ it means ‘everyone gets what they need.’ It’s a feeling and a philosophy rather than a balance sheet. What makes you feel ‘unequal,’ and how can we address that? What needs do you have? What fears, needs, or desires make you want such exact ‘equality’ of time spent? And how can we meet those without holding our relationships to impossible rules?”

If he is so stuck on this that he insists that the only way for this to work is to adhere to a standard and practice you find impossible, perhaps this is not a person you’re compatible with in a quad-couple arrangement.

hi, me and my partner have been together almost a year. they starting dating another guy last year, and recently we became a triad. but now i’m starting to notice lots of red flags in the way the new guy acts. it took me months and heartbreak to realize it wasn’t just my jealousy clouding my vision: New Guy has possessive and manipulative tendencies. what if they get worse? how do i warn my original partner? what do i do?

In my experience, trying to ‘diagnose’ someone’s personality or say that they have something inherent about them that you can see is nearly guaranteed to invite defensiveness. Who are you to say that “so and so is manipulative”? 

My advice is to focus instead on specific actions and behaviors that made you uncomfortable. “Hey, Gregorella, when I told you that I needed some alone time and you kept knocking on my door to ask if I wanted to share your popcorn or play a board game, that really bothered me - I need to trust that you will hear and believe me when I tell you what I need.” Or, “Hey, Boberta, when Gregorella yelled at you for forgetting to water the plants even though he never texted you the reminder you asked for, that really bothered me, because he was making you the villain and him the victim without taking any responsibility. Have you noticed that too?”

If New Guy and/or your partner agree that the behavior you point out was problematic, then you can strategize together on how to heal and move forward with fewer issues. If they deny the pattern that you’re seeing, then you need to decide whether staying in this triad situation is right for you.

A few months ago, my partner’s wife said and did some really abusive things to him in front of me. I had to be in charge of stabilizing their really scary situation that badly triggered my domestic violence PTSD. For weeks she refused to talk to me or apologize, and instead of acknowledging what I did and how hard it was, he panicked and gave her all the attention because she was the one demanding it. How do I cope with this resentment/anger/feeling abandoned before it eats me alive?

First, please see a mental healthcare professional for help with your PTSD. This is not something you should have to deal with alone. Treatment and recovery options for PTSD are out there - take care of yourself. Check out these apps, this resource index, these resources, these self-help modules, or this workbook.

Second, tell your partner that this was a triggering situation for you and that you need his help and support. Try to be clear about what you need from him. 

Third, seriously reconsider whether this is a healthy relationship for you to be in. If your partner is making choices that put you in unsafe situations, or if your partner is unable or unwilling to support you when you need it, that’s not healthy. You may need to set new boundaries, like refusing to be around an unsafe person. If he cannot respect those boundaries, this isn’t a safe or healthy relationship.

I been dating this guy for two years and he started to hit it off with my friend too. He dumped me for her but then after a short time he asked me out again. I didn’t know he was still dating her. We all had a long talk till I asked if we should try Polyamory dating with each other. It’s been awhile and I still can’t stand the thought of them together and get jealous easy because they hang out with each other and a girl that they both wanted to add to the relationship but I said no. Any advice?

Let me get this straight: your partner dumped you for someone, then asked if you would date him again while he was still dating her, you decided to try it out, but you still feel jealous about her. You, my friend, are a saint. Very few people are even willing to try making the transition from mono to poly in that kind of situation. 

It’s very reasonable that her relationship with this guy would feel like a threat to you, because at one point, it genuinely was. Dating polyamorously with a guy and the person he dumped you for is a serious emotional minefield, and you made the brave choice to try and navigate it, but it’s not working for you, and that’s very fair.

They have a right to hang out with someone you don’t want them to date, but again, it sounds like nothing about this relationship is emotionally healthy for you. You don’t deserve to be put in that kind of situation and expected to swallow your feelings of jealousy and insecurity while they just do what they want with no consequences. But the logical consequence here is that since they aren’t willing to be with you in a way that works for you, they don’t get to be with you. 

You may be someone who can be happy and fulfilled in a polyamorous relationship in the future, with someone else - but it sounds like this situation isn’t healthy for you. My advice is to say to yourself and to them that “hey, I tried to make this work, but this just isn’t something I can do. I wish you all the best, but I am going to leave this arrangement.” Then find someone to date, monogamously or polyamorously, who doesn’t make you feel this way!

what do you do when a metamour is really nice to your mutual partner but mean to you (in subtle ways) and your partner can’t see it, not because they really think you’re lying or anything, but they really like the metamour and the metamour says bad stuff behind your back and everyone denies it but you’re pretty sure they’re (consciously or unconsciously) trying to drive a wedge between you and the partner?

This is a really tough situation. On the one hand, it’s important for your partner to have your back. I would recommend talking to them in a private, relaxed setting about specific things the metamour did that you felt were subtly mean. I have had to do this with my partner - when a mutual acquaintance was being disrespectful to me but in ways hard for others to see, I pointed out later what had happened. My partner hadn’t realized anything at the time, but once I called his attention to the pattern, he acknowledged that it was going on and he tries to support me more around that person.

If your partner denies it - if they say you’re being over sensitive, of the metamour didn’t mean it that way, etc. then you have a choice to make. You can continue fighting for yourself, trying to get people to see that you’re being undermined and hurt. The pros of this plan is that you’re standing up for yourself. The cons is that it can make it look to others like you’re the one with the problem, you’re the one trying to drive wedges and say negative things about the metamour. This approach has a high probability of creating tension, which you have to decide whether you’re comfortable with.

Or, you could take the “high road” and ignore it. If you’re right that the metamour is being nasty, it will become obvious to the people in your social circle soon enough. If you stay neutral and sweet and polite, and this person is trying to make you look bad, you will cause them to fail by not reacting, and either they’ll stop or they’ll escalate the behavior to a point where it’s obvious to everyone. If they somehow succeed - if people in your life start seeing you negatively or treating you poorly - then you know those people are not friends who have your back.

If this person starts actually driving a wedge between you and your partner - if your partner becomes more critical of you, or spends less time with you, or starts being disrespectful - then you’ll have some clear, actionable complaints to bring up. My advice, which I know will be easy to give but very hard to actually take, is to try and ignore these suspicions for now. If things do get socially bad for you, you’ll have evidence you can address; if you’re wrong and this person is just socially clumsy or grating to you, you don’t risk being seen as the problem whose behavior started strife with someone else.

hello! I was just wondering what a “metamour” and a “unicorn” is? I’ve heard these terms but I don’t understand them.

In the poly world, a “metamour” is a partner of your partner, who you aren’t dating. So say Harry is dating Hermione, and Hermione is also dating Ron, but Harry and Ron aren’t dating. Harry and Ron are metamours.

“Unicorn” is typically used to refer to a bisexual woman who is willing to date both members of an established couple and abide by whatever terms they’ve decided on. 

Programming note: while I encourage people to come to me with any and all manner of poly questions, there are some that could more easily be resolved with Google rather than needing a specific, personalized answer from an advice writer. If you have a specific terminology question, try checking out the Poly Glossary at More Than Two or doing a few Google searches so you don’t have to wait for me to get around to your question!

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So, my boyfriend has been seeing a new girl recently. I’ve only met her once for about a minute. And I like her, but they’re both acting really strangely about me getting to know her. I’m unsure what to do because it feels really shady to just keep her away from me all the time. She comes to our house only when I’m gone.

Have you talked to your boyfriend about this? As in all things poly, communication is key. He might be worried that you two won’t get along, or she might be uncomfortable meeting you just yet, or he might not have even noticed he’s giving off these strange vibes.

Your best bet is to talk openly about your concerns, and see why he’s acting like this, and try to solve the problem from there. Remember that even if you know you’ll be cozy and friendly and welcoming, she might be new to the idea and need some time to adjust; or maybe your boyfriend just needs time to navigate these waters.