Hi Yana,

I always thought of myself as a monogamous person who sometimes dabbled with non-monogamy, but lately I’ve really been struggling to determine just what my “relationship paradigm” is. It started when I was in a non-mono relationship that transitioned to a mono one. We tried to get our conflicting needs met, but ultimately we made the painful decision to part ways.

I then started some casual relationships and developed real feelings for two people — which I didn’t think was possible for me. This was so surprising that I stopped dating to process this new self-discovery.

I’m struggling to figure out what relationship type I should be doing. Online forums and books make it sound like everyone has this stuff figured out, to the point that I wonder what I’m missing that makes it so difficult for me to determine my own relational nature.

I’ve consulted the usual sources of information available: I’ve spoken to friends that identify as non-monogamous, and since relocating last year I’ve been going to a non-mono meet-up group. My friends all seem to have just instinctively known they were not mono. The meet-up experience has been somewhat mixed — I’ve met some really helpful people, but I’ve also run into blatant distrust from those who think that, as a heterosexual cis-gendered male who is currently going it solo, I must be there for less-than-honest reasons. I need to figure this out before I start dating again. Someone suggested I might be a “switch,” able to be happy in either a mono- or poly-type relationship with the right partner(s). To me, this sounds about as realistic as a unicorn, but is it possible? Am I missing or not seeing something?

— The Mono-Poly Guy

Dear Mono-Poly Guy,

Who am I? What does this mean? What the fuck was that? These are the big ol’ life questions that come up for all of us when it comes to sex, love, and relationships — monogamous or not. Your epic confusion is entirely normal. And so is your desire to sort it all out.

When it comes to non-monogamy, and to polyamory specifically, folks tend towards one of two categories: they either see “polyamorous” as a personal identity that describes them in much the same way as being male, or bisexual, or Christian might. Or, they identify non-monogamy as a relationship style — it’s something that they do, but isn’t necessarily who they are.

It seems like at least one part of your confusion is that in the poly communities you’re interacting with, you’re observing people who exist as either or both of these things. Which, is also normal! Just as all monogamous relationships are different, there’s no one way to be non-monogamous. So, your first order of business, Mono-Poly Guy, is to stop trying to find The One Way. Rather than working tirelessly to find the perfect shoe and then jamming your foot into it to make it fit, focus instead on finding the right shoe for you and your partners that just … fits.

Make new dates aware that you’re open to both monogamy and non-monogamy and then just see how it goes. The way our relationships develop from our first dates are complex and rarely something we can predict. A poly relationship may close due to a crisis, a monogamous relationship may open a crack after someone comes out as bisexual, or a spontaneous threesome might develop into a long-term triad. You really never know.

Stop trying so hard to control it all and instead practice equanimity in your relationships, without labels, because chances are you’re perfectly imperfect right here and now.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.