My partner and I have been together for five months. He wants to be polyamorous, specifically to have sex and be in relationships with other women. He recently got out of a long term relationship so he doesn’t really want to be in a serious relationship now, but we’ve grown to be close friends and more. We make each other very happy.
I told him I would bring a third into our relationship, but he doesn’t want that. I’m not just afraid of losing him — knowing that he’s having sex with other women significantly decreases my desire to have sex with him. He’s being very supportive and caring and won’t do anything until I’m truly okay with it.
It’s really hard for me to not see this as a fault of my own. I feel extremely attached to him and feel like I have to detach myself in order for me to be okay with this. I feel like it’s too soon in our relationship, that we don’t have a stable enough foundation to be seeing other people. But knowing he doesn’t want to be in a relationship makes me feel like I’m holding him hostage.
The beginning of your letter includes the phrase “we make each other very happy,” but your sign-off sends a much different message. I’ve had all kinds of relationships from polyamorous to monogamous and each has its joys and challenges. I’ve seen polyamorous relationships flourish with a lot of work and dedication, but never without difficult self-examination. The only healthy non-monogamous relationships I’ve seen survive honor each partner’s needs and happiness, with the benefits outweighing the challenges.
It seems like you have some weighing to do yourself. Neither of you is wrong for desiring a certain relationship style: you’re not less enlightened for wanting monogamy and he isn’t careless for wanting polyamory. But you have to honor each other’s boundaries.
His boundaries include: I want to have sex and relationships with other women. I don’t want to be in a relationship. I want to be supportive and caring of you.
Your boundaries include: I want to feel valued. I don’t want to feel like I’m holding my partner hostage. I have to detach myself from and don’t desire sex with a partner who wants to sleep with others.
Healthy relationships — monogamous or not — involve meeting each partner’s boundaries and needs. Sometimes relationships involve examining our boundaries to determine which are hard lines and which are flexible. However, this choice is yours. You state your boundaries and determine their flexibility according to your needs, not his.
This leaves two options: You can pursue a monogamous/polyamorous relationship structure. Doing this means internalizing the polyamorous ideal that a relationship can be committed and not exclusive. That you can be valued and valuable without being his only partner. And that his desire for sexual difference is not a reflection of your deficiency. This is hard work.
Or you can break up. Ask yourself, “What are the essential things that I need out of a romantic relationship? Am I compromising on those things?” Be brave in honoring your boundaries rather than afraid of them. The fear of break-ups and the resulting tendency to compromise ourselves beyond recognition is fueled by the scarcity model: “I’m lucky to have found someone to love me. Maybe no one else will.” The planet is chock full of 7 billion(ish) people. Love isn’t scarce.
This issue is complex and I recommend more reading like More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert. Locals looking to explore non-monogamous relationships should come to my workshop Polyamory & Open Relationships at the Easthampton Co.Lab Feb. 18, yanatallonhicks.com for tickets.•
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a pleasure-positive educator and writer in the Pioneer Valley. She has a website bursting with great sex advice, resources, and workshops at yanatallonhicks.com.