I've been hoping my girlfriend and I will 'graduate' up to monogamy

When I met my girlfriend she was "experimenting with non-monogamy" (her words) I held onto hope that the experiment would end someday. I started as one of her 3 partners, now I'm her boyfriend, and they aren't. We do more than have sex; we've met each other's friends and family. But she still sees them occasionally. They are poly as well, so I know that I am the only 1 truly committed to her. Going from partner to boyfriend is clearly progress in the right direction. Will I ever be enough?

No, no, nope. I am sorry, letter-writer, but you're going about this in a way that's wrong-headed and will ultimately cause you a lot of pain.

You went into the relationship from a place of denial, hoping that your partner wasn't serious when she told you something about herself. You latched onto the word "experiment" and told yourself that it would end. But that's not what she meant, it seems. Sometimes "experiment" means temporary - sometimes it means "checking out a hypothesis." If her hypothesis was "I'll be happy in a non-monogamous relationship," and the experiment showed her hypothesis to be true, then maybe the experimental phase is over, and she's now in "acting on the information gathered during the experiment - living my life as a person who knows she's into non-monogamy." Your first assumption was that the non-monogamy was a temporary phase, and this assumption was wrong - you're acting on an incorrect assumption, and that won't end well. 

You also have this idea that them being polyamorous means that they are not "truly committed to her," and that means that your feelings for her are somehow deeper or different. That is not true, it is not how polyamory works. Your second assumption is that these other relationships she has are lesser, less committed, less threatening, less real. That is also an incorrect assumption that you're working on. You're also assuming that you are "not enough" for your girlfriend, and are interpreting all of her choices through a lens of projected monogamy that is warping how you understand what's going on.

You also have a sense that your relationship is going in "a direction" toward monogamy, which is "the right" direction. That is also not how these things work. You do not grit your teeth through the 9 stages of non-monogamy, then present your stamp-card for Level 10, Monogamous Boyfriend. Your girlfriend probably doesn't see it this way - you two need to have a serious talk about this. Assuming that this is just a natural, inherent progression in your relationship is a dangerously incorrect assumption, and people will get hurt if you continue on this path. 

It sounds like this is not a healthy relationship for you to be in. It's build on assumptions, denial, and expectations that show no indication of being fulfilled. Your first step is to have a serious talk with your girlfriend about her perspective - and to really listen and understand what she's saying, not filter, interpret, argue, or push her into concessions. ("Could you maybe see yourself with just me, someday?" - If she says yes, she might be thinking, I guess I can't predict the future, there's always 'a chance' of whatever but you might be hearing more of a promise.) After that conversation happens, you'll have a better picture of whether this is a relationship you should stay in, or whether your hopes for the future are just not on the table. 

I broke up with my only partner a while back. I’m open to poly things just not how he wanted to do it. I would never want to be in a triad situation, I’m a really passive person and always end up the third wheel even in friendship, social and group situations and it would break my heart to be that way in a relationship. So instead I would rather have one on one relationships with different people. How important are dynamics in poly relationships in your opinion, was I right to feel this way..?

There are as many ways to be poly as there are poly people. It’s totally okay if your vision of a healthy, fulfilling poly arrangement doesn’t match with someone else’s. It’s rough when we want to date someone whose ideal arrangement differs, but being able to articulate those incompatibilities is super important and difficult.

It sounds like you really have your house in order - you’re open to trying new things but at the same time you know yourself well, and you know what types of dynamics would and would not work for you. That’s an incredible amount of self-awareness and boundary-drawing ability, and you should be proud. I think you’re very well equipped to try out polyamory since it sounds like you have a lot of the central skills on lock. 

People often write to me asking whether their feelings are valid or make sense, and I always say that it’s not on me or anyone else to say whether you’re right to feel a certain way. You are correct, however, the polyamory is not one-size-fits-all and you deserve to be in the type of relationship that’s most healthy for you.



Question for the readers.  Do you consider it part of your identity as a poly person to attempt to grow the movement?

Abso-fucking-lutely NOT. I actually feel more that it’s my responsibility to demonstrate that poly people can be respectful of other people’s choices, because we’re getting a reputation for proselytizing and it’s not good. No one likes being proselytized to, and we actually hurt our movement when we make people who identify as monogamous feel condescended to, judged, or proselytized at. I hear mono people complain often that poly people act like we’re in on some secret that they’re just not enlightened enough to get, or like we’re somehow having better sex or relationships than them. I also hear growing complaints from within the queer community that there’s lots of pressure to be non-monogamous, and queer people who want exclusive relationships are getting frustrated.

Let’s don’t become the stereotypical vegans of sexual identities. To crib a phrase from the LGBT folks: Some people are monogamous. Some people are polyamorous. Some people could happily be either. Get over it.

My hubby and I have been together for almost 2 years, he is married. His wife and I get along splendidly, except when it comes to intimacy between hubby and I. She gets extremely pissed off whenever we do as little as hug in front of her. Kissing is completely out of the question, even if it’s just a peck. Yet she’s allowed to both hug and kiss him in my presence, which I don’t mind. It’s extremely annoying to not just me, but also hubby. Any tips on how we should talk to her?

That sounds frustrating, and a little bizarre, considering how comfortable she seems with everything else. My advice would be to ask her to explain why, exactly, she gets so angry about the PDA and has such a double-standard. As in all things poly, there are multiple stems for this emotion, and it’s most productive for all parties involved to understand and recognize those stems. Does she feel like PDA is the one “final frontier” that she and her husband have special and exclusive to their relationship? Does she feel like she isn’t always in control and wants to have “veto power” over just one thing? Does she worry about how it looks to other people? These are all different reasons for her to feel the same way, and you three can’t solve the problem if you don’t really get to the bottom of it.

The other piece of advice I have is to be gentle and validate her feelings even while advocating for your own needs. Even if her reasons for wanting you two to avoid PDA around her seem selfish, irrational, stupid, unfair, or just bizarre, don’t voice that opinion in those terms. She has a right to feel her feelings, even if they may not be healthy or productive. Come to the conversation from an angle of love and compromise, and make sure she doesn’t feel that you and your partner are “ganging up on her.” Approach it as a problem to be solved as a team, rather than her issue that you’re demanding she get over. It’s often tough to find that sweet spot in hard conversations like this, so be really intentional about it. Good luck!

10 Realistic Rules for Good Non-Monogamous Relationships

10 Realistic Rules for Good Non-Monogamous Relationships by Andrea Zanin
(Please note I said good poly. Anyone can do poly badly, but I don’t advise it.)

1. Know yourself.
2. Love yourself. 
3. Be happy ALONE. 
4. Communicate. Honestly.
5. Know what you want.
6. Go for content, not form.
7. Be nice.
8. Have safer sex. 
9. Be strong. 
10. Go with the flow.

There’s a great essay accompanying these 10 rules that explains each one - click through for the whole thing!

My spouse and partner of seven years is poly. I guess she’s held it in for years because it hasn’t been much of an issue or a subject of the relationship until she has fallen in love, or at least a strong crush, on another individual. Now she wants to redraw the relationship. I’m mono. Not just that, I have trouble viewing sex casually, or as anything but a deeply emotional and relationship enriching thing. We want to stay together, but it seems untenable. I suppose I’m looking for advice.

It sounds as if you’ve already pretty much made up your mind that you two can’t stay together, and want someone to try to talk you into staying. I can’t do that for you, because only you know what the best and healthiest choice is for you. All I can advise you to do is be honest with yourself about your needs and to talk openly with your partner about those needs, look for potential compromises, and be gentle with yourself and each other through the process.

The only other thing I can tell you is this: polyamory does not mean “viewing sex casually.” We do not cheapen or devalue sex as something that can be “deeply emotional and relationship enriching.” Polyamory does not mean sleeping around, not taking sex seriously, or being immature or irresponsible with our sexual and emotional health. The difference between poly and mono attitudes toward sex is not how flippantly and casually we view sex, but our conception of sex as an exclusive and possessive reflection of a relationship.

If you decide you really want to make this work, you need to re-frame your understanding of polyamorous sex - and polyamorous love, because it’s not all about sex! Your partner is not telling you that she doesn’t see sex as something special and important, but rather that she is capable of having that deep sexual connection with more than one person. Think about the love you have in your life that isn’t exclusive or zero-sum - your love for both of your parents, or all of your siblings, or your multiple close friends - and try to re-frame your model of sexual exclusivity and possessiveness. 

Good luck! You may never identify as polyamorous, or completely identify with your partner’s polyamorous feelings, but you can go a long way toward compromise if you work towards understanding the polyamorous experience of sexuality and do your best to re-frame the preconceived notions you’re bringing to the table. You don’t need to “view sex casually” to be okay in a polyamorous relationship - you just need to view sex as something that isn’t exclusive, possessive, or a zero-sum game.

It wasn’t until after I’d been in a relationship with my fiancee for a while that I realized I’m polyamorous. I’ve talked to her about it and she says she’s at least willing to consider the idea, but I don’t know what I should do if she decides she wants a monogamous relationship. It just feels like an unnatural state of things for me, but I don’t want to force her to change how she thinks… I’m just really torn and anxious. What do I do?

What you do is don’t smash those eggs before they hatch! If she says she’s willing to consider the idea, pursue that first. Be receptive, patient, and gentle, but stay optimistic. You two may be able to work something out! Don’t freak out over a projected worst-case scenario until you find yourself in that scenario - which, right now, you’re not. Try to stop your mental wheels from spinning around in that dusty rut and focus instead on your partner and where you two are right now. Wait to see whether your fears come true before you start worrying about how to face them.

Poly/mono incompatibility is a tough spot to be in, but it’s a reality for some people. One of life’s most frustrating truths is that sometimes people are sexually incompatible in ways that compromise and communication can’t resolve. A woman who is attracted to a gay man will need to accept that there’s no scenario in which she gets what she wants, for example. If you two absolutely can’t work out some terms on which you’re both happy and fulfilled - if she says she absolutely demands 100% monogamy, and you absolutely won’t accept those terms, the relationship is toast. Dan Savage calls it the “price of admission” - if monogamy really is the price of admission for a relationship with this person, you either need to be willing to pay that price, or accept that you won’t be admitted.

But don’t let your anxiety drive you into a conclusion that isn’t yet foregone. It is entirely possible that your fiance will find herself surprised by how comfortable she is with polyamory. Or, you two might work out a compromise where both of you feel happy and supported. Focus on that as your end goal before you start worrying about how to deal with a bad situation you aren’t actually in yet.

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.

Fuck that advice you gave to that guy who’s girlfriend wants to practice one-sided Poly. Polyandary [sic] is already rare enough, don’t disparage her! Men need to know how it feels to be a part of a harem and for women to be in power for once, he needs to check his privilege. He’s not the woman in the relationship, therefore his opinion doesn’t matter and I can’t believe you would support him! If you’re a straight man yourself, you should be checking your privilege as well.

I think this is the letter you’re talking about. I got a lot of mail about that one - most of them (actually, all but you) agreed with me that the girlfriend’s behavior is completely inappropriate and unfair. The fact that women have historically been oppressed does not mean that individual women today have the right to hurt individual men, nor does it excuse that kind of extreme selfishness. 

I’m not going to lie - this reads like a satire, and I really hope it is. To say that someone’s “opinion doesn’t matter” because they aren’t a woman is a complete mockery of the equality that feminism actually stands for. Polyamory is about love, joy, freedom, and mutual respect - it’s not about women somehow taking revenge for oppressive practices like harems and polygamy. The thing about polyamory is that it only works if all parties feel supported, respected, and happy. If one partner wants special privileges that the other party doesn’t get, and both partners aren’t completely okay with this arrangement, that’s not healthy polyamory. You seem to have misunderstood the writer’s problem and my advice, as well as the entire premise of polyamory.

This is the first displeased message I’ve gotten, and I have to say I’m so baffled by it that I decided to tag it wtf-mail. From now on, I’ll use that tag for any (hopefully rare) hatemail, angrymail, displeasedmail, and bizarremail I choose to publish, though most times I delete anon-anger on sight.