I'm in a polyamorous relationship, crushing on someone else, and feeling lots of guilt and confusion

I (M-18) have two bi-monogamous (F-18) partners and wish to add a third (F-18) who is a straight-monogamist. She (F3), is aware of what poly is and knows that I am poly but not that I have romantic feeling for her. No, I'm not just getting more and more partners to boast and use them as trophies but still do have a want for her. For 2 different reasons, I am feeling guilty about it and have resorted to comedy in order to partially cope. The first is simply that I am relatively new to polyamory and up until recently wasn't aware it was possible. The second is an irrational fear that either I am physically stronger or am more experienced with relationships or both that if I make some grand mistake and end up in court that there will no possible way to defend myself due to a couple of other factors. Due to this guilt, I have come to grinding halt and am completely unsure of how to continue. Being new to poly, neither of my partners know what to do. Side note that I should make is that out of the 4 of us only the last girl (F3) does not depression and or anxiety.

If she is monogamous, then I’m not sure how it would work for you to date her while you’re dating two other women. It’s possible to have a crush on someone and not date or pursue them, and it sounds like that’s your situation. You can “have a want” for someone and not “get” them. That’s part of being a person and interacting with other people, who all have their own agency and desires. If it’s causing you pain to be around this person who you “want” but can’t “have,” it’s okay to take a step back from that friendship and spend less time around her.

There is nothing “to do” about this, really - wanting to date someone is not something that absolutely must be acted on and this is not a problem that demands a solution. Sometimes we like people who don’t want to date us, or can’t date us, or are otherwise incompatible! Liking them does not make us bad people and we should not feel bad about it. Try to let that go. Continue cultivating the two relationships you are in, and don’t let this unrequited crush convince you that you are somehow stuck.

This “guilt” that comes from a fear that you will “make a grand mistake” is a serious problem and you need to with with a professional on this. If you genuinely fear that you are a risk for assaulting women who you’re “physically stronger” than, you should stop being around women immediately and start working with a therapist who specializes in helping men with this kind of warped view of women, sex, and power; or with managing impulses; or with healing trauma, or whatever is leading you to worry that this is a behavior you’re going to engage in. If this is more of an intrusive thought based on anxiety, then you need to work with a therapist who specializes in that kind of problem. I know that a lot of men are worried about being falsely accused and “ending up in court,” but know that false accusations are incredibly rare, and the best way to not get accused of assault is to not assault someone.

As far as just feeling “guilt” around being polyamorous in general, the best way to manage that is to learn more about polyamory and develop your own polyamorous identity and philosophy. Instead of “using humor to cope,” don’t joke away or dismiss your feelings. Own them. Acknowledge them. Don’t exaggerate for effect, don’t downplay them, don’t deflect or distract. Be honest about what you’re feeling and give yourself and your partners the change to think about address what’s going on. I’d suggest that the three of you read some blogs or books about polyamory together and discuss them! Be open with each other, talk about your fears, your desires, your best and worse case scenarios.

And since all three of you are dealing with diagnosed mental illnesses, you all need to be working with therapeutic professionals to manage them. A diagnosis isn’t permission to go “well things are just going to be harder and more complicated because there’s this Other Thing in the room.” It’s a tool you’re supposed to use to find ways to feel better. Learning you have strep throat is just the first step in a process toward finding the right treatments to feel better; it’s not the end of the line and a sentence to spend the rest of your life going “welp I have an infection in my throat so certain things are more painful for me.” Mental illness diagnoses are the same way! See my Mental Health Resources page.

Hi um I’m 13 and I’ve just started thinking that I might be poly, but I feel like I would only be okay if it was, say, a group of 3 people all dating each other, not like dating two people separately? Idk how this works really but I’ve seen it being a thing where the partners are completely separate? But I don’t think I’d like that? Also I think I would be okay in a mono relationship as well? Like if I loved the person I was with and they weren’t comfortable with it? Is all of this okay?

Dating multiple people who are all dating each other is called polyfidelity, and specific arrangements are called a a triad (3 people) or quad (four people), and so forth. It is okay to identify as polyamorous and only want polyfidelity! It’s a good thing to know what you want and be able to speak that.

It is also okay to identify as polyamorous and also be okay in a monogamous relationship! Being able to be happy, healthy and fulfilled in a polyamorous or a monogamous relationship is very possible, and very much okay. All of this is okay - you are you, and you are okay. 

Know that, at thirteen, a lot of your self is still developing and being discovered. It is very okay to identify one way, then realize something else is more accurate later. It is very okay to try out different relationships and identities and let go of the ones that don’t work for you. Let yourself grow and learn! Take pride in who you are now, but don’t become so entrenched in who you are at thirteen that you aren’t able to learn and try new things!

Some people figure out who they are at thirteen and it doesn’t change much, and other people see their identities grow and shift as they get older and have new experiences. Both are very normal, and very okay. At every stage in your life and relationships, check in with yourself: are you happy and healthy? are you safe and secure in your relationships? If so, you’re fine. Take care of yourself, let you be you, and the words for who and what you are will come.

hello! so i broke it off with my ex bc i just wasn’t ready and starting college. i still truly like them tho, but they r dating someone else now. they have also said they are open to a poly relationship but i’m not sure if their partner is. should i be open and tell them i still like them and feel ready for a relationship now? or should i just leave it alone and attempt to move on?

Better an “oops” than a “what if.” Bring it up and see what he says! Either it works out or it doesn’t, but since the “worst case scenario” for Choice A is basically the outcome of Choice B, it makes sense to at least give it a shot!

This is nearly exactly the same situation I found myself in over eight years ago: I had broken up with my high school boyfriend because I wanted freedom to date in college. I missed him terribly, but was not ready for a long distance relationship when starting college. Then I learned about polyamory. I reached back out to him and said hey, I miss you and would love to get back with you, but on these terms. He could have said no, but it turned out that he was interested in poly dating. We have been poly and together ever since!

So im 13 and pan and recently ive realized that hey im open to poly relationships and i want to have one but i also am open yo mono relationships? Im thinking that i might be poly but i keep asking myself if im too young to know that? and im doubting myself but i really would and want to be in a poly relationship? Idk

When I was thirteen, I was an atheist. Now, I am a person of faith.

When I was thirteen, I had zero interest in sex. My sexuality kicked in at about 19, and now I love sex.

When I was thirteen, I took lots of pride in “not being like other girls.” Now, I embrace my femininity and challenge internalized misogyny.

When I was thirteen, I absolutely loved Fall Out Boy. Now, I still love Fall Out Boy. They are an awesome band.

My point is this: who you are at thirteen is who you are at thirteen. It may not be who you are permanently. And that’s okay! Give yourself room and space to grow. Find a balance between claiming and owning your identity in the present, and not locking yourself into it for the rest of forever.

If you could see yourself in a mono or a poly relationship, that’s great! It could be that you’re one of those people who would be happy and fulfilled in either arrangement. Or, you might explore them both a bit more and find out that one works better for you than the others.

You’re young! Now is the time to experiment. Date people, hang out with people, get to know people. Get to know yourself, too! You don’t have to have everything figured out right now, but you also don’t have to reject any claim to identities because you’re young. Let yourself be you, live your most fulfilling life, and embrace learning and growth.

Hi! I am a 16 year old girl ace/bi and discovered a few months ago I’m polyamorous. While I have not dated anyone still I think it would be nice to go out with two people. However,I felt a little insecure because in this society an asexual is rare and more if it is a polyamorous asexual, so when I imagine a future with two beautiful people the thought that no one could accept me for being asexual and polyamorous invades me, could you give me some words of encouragement and advice?

When you’re 16, you’re mostly surrounded by other teenagers. Teenagers are not a demographic famous for their sensitivity to the differences of others, or for making each other feel accepted. Don’t base your assumptions about how society works on what you see in your peers!

There are as many ways to express and experience sexuality and relationships as there are people. You have grown up in a world saturated by stories of straight, sexually-inclined romances - but that’s the media’s problem, not yours. Again, don’t base your assumptions about “society” based on what you’ve seen so far. As you get older, you’ll find that the real world includes all sorts of people looking for all sorts of partners, and you can find a place to be accepted and understood no matter what.

Here are some resources about polyamory and asexuality:

In the long run, you are going to be okay. You are going to find your people, people who love and accept you, and you are going to grow and live and love in all the ways that are right for you. Many people at 16 worry about finding love and acceptance, and that’s a normal fear especially for a young person discovering their sexuality. Remember that there are plenty of people out there like you, building communities and relationships, and you can always find them online if they are not available to you in real life yet. Good luck!

If I am only interested in a closed relationship, such as a triad or a 4 person triad (quadriad?, quartette?) am i poly? Then again, I’m only 15. I’ve only dated one person and that was only for a month.

Sure! Closed multi-partner relationships are a completely valid type of polyamory. Don’t let anyone tell you your identity doesn’t count or that you need to feel a certain way to be poly.

Here is my FAQ page on the issue. Best of luck figuring out the identity that works best for you and helps you find the healthiest, most fulfilling relationships for you! 

Can you call yourself polyamorous if you have never been in a poly relationship, and are young? (I have done loads of research into it and feel it sums me up perfectly, but I am currently sitting a levels so haven’t actively looked for a relationship)

Yes. Just like you can be gay even if you’re young and have never been in a gay relationship. Focusing on your studies instead of relationships right now is mature and responsible, and I have no doubt that you will grow into a healthy, awesome, self aware practitioner of polyamory! For now, it is totally legit to identify as polyamorous even if you’re not in a poly relationship. Good luck with your exams!

Hey, I was wondering if I could ask for some advice? I’m 17 (f) and have only recently thought about my sexuality and stuff like that. I’ve had two boyfriends (one current) and each time I’ve really struggled with the idea of being committed to one person. Like this isn’t a reflection on them, I just feel like I need more than one romantic/sexual relationship in my life (and just don’t like the idea of being exclusive to one person). Does this make me polyamorous?

You very well might be! I also had feelings like that when I dated high school boyfriends, and didn’t understand much about what they meant. I chalked them up to being young or not having found “the one.” When I learned about polyamory in college, it was like a light switch went on. You are lucky to have the opportunity to explore these ideas when you’re young!

You might be poly, you might not - seventeen is a time for self-discovery and exploration. Read up about polyamory and build up the vocabulary and skill set for trying it out, then try it out! Remember that whatever you identify as at seventeen doesn’t condemn you to a lifetime of certainty. This is a time for figuring things out, so don’t worry if you don’t feel 100% sure about whether this is right for you. The stakes are low at this age: no kids, no shared mortgages, no moves for your partners job. So experiment, learn, and get to know what’s safe and healthy for you as you grow into a sexual being. 

You may meet some challenges with people your age - not many 17 year olds have the knowledge or the maturity to try polyamory, and your peers may be confused and even judgmental, so be prepared for that and know that in a few years you’ll be better placed to find people you click with. In the meantime, be very very careful about seeking older partners, even via the poly community.

Hello. I was wondering if there are any good indicators of liking in idea of being poly vs identifying as poly. I’m a 17 year old queer girl who’s never been in any sort of relationship so I don’t have any experience to draw from. I’ve only known of poly relationships by reading about them (both fictional and real life accounts). I’m not actively looking for a relationship (and I’m not fully out as queer) but if there’s any advice you can give, it would be appreciated.

Being a person with a body and sexuality and relationships and feelings that don’t always fit into neat boxes can be hard and confusing, but also fun and awesome! 

Experiment at your own pace and in your own way. Try out different relationship styles with different people. Get to know yourself and your body without other people in the mix. Read things that inspire and confuse you. Learn what is healthy and fulfilling for you. Take that and leave the rest behind. 

You can like ideas without needing to incorporate them fully into your identity right away, or ever. It’s okay to identify as something for a while, and then grow into something new. You don’t have to decide for yourself exactly what you are right now. In fact, you don’t have to decide that ever! Identity is never carved into stone, and anyone who gives you shit for not dragging around a giant stone with identity labels permanently carved into it is gross and toxic. You are always free to grow and change.

It’s not about knowing what labels fit you best or permanently. It’s about living into the most healthy, joyful, whole version of who you are.

Hello Poly Advice. I’m a young woman that has been practicing polyamory for over half a year now, but only recently have I been branching out to be the crazy sex animal I want to be. I’ve connected with a few of the people I have gone on dates and met with and such, and a few of them identify as monogamous, but are willing to try, or looking for something new, or wanting to explore, etc. Essentially, they are not experienced in this. 

This has been making me nervous/uncomfortable. Sometimes I feel like someone’s collage experiment. You know, that crazy weird thing they want to try that one time. I’ve had a partner that was very dear to me break things off because they were new to the dynamic and felt they couldn’t handle it emotionally. This hurt very much. I don’t want to be someone’s manic pixie dream girl leading them into adventures, and I don’t want to feel guilty for exploring other people.

At the same time, I was them once. And if I didn’t have someone willing to give me a chance I wouldn’t be the person I am now, and this is a person I’m proud to be. So I feel like I am being harsh on these people that are willing to open up to me and try something unfamiliar to them. Do you have any advice for this situation? That would be appreciated.

This is a problem that almost all poly people face eventually, and it’s especially prevalent among young poly people. I’ve heard it referred to as being someone’s “gateway poly” or “training wheels poly." I deal with this all the time - I meet someone, they like me, I like them, they want to "try things out,” I lend them my copy of The Ethical Slut, we have lots of long talks about how they’re feeling, and then either they blossom into an awesome poly person with my help, or the whole thing collapses into a messy breakup. 

Your conflicted feelings are very natural and understandable - you don't owe it to anyone to expend your time and emotional energy on someone who’s just testing the waters, and yet you’re glad that the people who helped you out took the time and energy to do so. Ultimately, your biggest responsibility is to yourself. You’ve had wonderful people in your past, and you can be the wonderful poly-fairy-godmother to other people, but you are not obligated to be that for everyone. It’s hard, especially as a younger poly person, because most people we meet and want to date/hook up with are not poly, so if we want that relationship/sex, we have to guide them into it. Usually, refusing to be someone’s training wheels means that you never get to ride that bike. But it’s always up to you to decide whether that time and effort is worth it. 

It can be very rewarding to help someone start their polyamorous adventure, to be a stable presence while they figure out their sexual identity, to teach them how to take advantage of things you love, and to get plenty of sex out of the deal. It can also be intensely frustrating and dramatic. You can try to predict this - for example, if the person sees going poly as a “sacrifice” they must make to be with you, that probably won’t end well. If they demonstrate immaturity, emotional illiteracy, selfishness, codependence, or other poly-threatening traits about other things, that probably won’t end well. If they seem to be seeing you as an adventure or an experiment, that probably won’t end well. But you can’t always predict these things, as you’ve discovered.

It’s a big risk to take with someone, with either a fantastic payoff or a very painful failure. No kind of relationship is risk free. Only you can decide whether that risk is worth taking. You can either decide on a strict personal policy - refusing to be anyone’s gateway poly, or gracefully backing out after a certain length of time if things are still not going smoothly - or you can play it case by case. Does this person seem genuinely invested in trying this out with you? Is the hope for the best-case-scenario worth risking the worst-case? Are you in a good place with your other relationships and obligations that you can take the extra time and energy with this person? Is this something you feel like doing right now?

You seem to have a really good handle on the situation - you clearly articulated all the sides of the issue, and you know where your feelings are coming from. I think if you keep your head clear going into new things, and if you stay aware of the risks, you can have a lot of good times while minimizing your heartbreak. (But there will be heartbreak. I had a boyfriend break things off after a year and a half when he suddenly realized he didn’t want to be poly anymore. I got stood up in an Irish fishing town. You’ll survive.) Be open and clear with your partners about your needs as you’re teaching them to do the same, and don’t let anyone treat you in a way that you don’t like. Being new to poly doesn’t excuse people from being selfish, demanding, or demeaning, so while you will feel the need to be a little bit more patient and gentle with newly poly folks, you should never roll over on the issue of your own feelings and needs.

Oh, and buy a few extra copies of The Ethical Slut - you’ll be lending those out a lot.