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I’m 25 and 6 years into a long term relationship. For almost the entire relationship we’ve known we want to be together for life. We recently decided to do a commitment ceremony this summer, so for all intents and purposes, we are “engaged”, even though we will use the term partner instead of husband and wife and might not get a marriage license. However, we both take this ceremony and our commitment very seriously.
We have a very healthy relationship, are madly in love and are very compatible, except for one thing. My partner is a very feminine male and most of his friends are women. I’m ok with close cross-gender friendships as long as sex or romance aren’t involved. When I asked him about his friend choices he explained that he relates better with women. He’s also a photographer and sometimes does nude or partially clothed photo shoots with his female friends, and sometimes they cuddle or sit in his bed to watch a movie (we don’t live together). He’s a very touchy and affectionate person so this is normal for him. I’m ok with this on an intellectual level because I realize those things don’t have to be romantic and I approve of de-sexualizing male-female interactions, but I have to admit that it still makes me feel uncomfortable.
There’s also the fact that he wouldn’t always tell me when he hung out with these women “so I wouldn’t freak out”. It’s true that I’ve had some meltdowns about it and not always handled it well or trusted him enough. He wasn’t very open with me for years about his female friendships because he wanted to avoid my meltdowns. I tried to tell him that I had meltdowns because of his closed-off attitude that led to distrust and anxiety and it just seems to be a vicious cycle. His closed-off attitude and my occasional questions and freak out sessions continued for several years until we finally started talking more openly about this topic. About a month ago after I couldn’t take it any longer and accused him of cheating. He wasn’t, but it started a series of really deep conversations that led to him coming out to me a week ago as polyamorous. He said that he hasn’t acted on it and he wasn’t going to say anything to me and just try to be content with being monogamous for my sake but since I brought it up he decided to talk about it.
In the process of coming out he told me that he thinks the line between friendship and romantic interaction is blurry. This makes him really tense and uncomfortable when he’s hanging out with a close female friend and wondering if they are in “romantic territory” with things such as long hugs or cuddling or just being alone together late at night. He told me he wouldn’t do anything without my consent but that what he would like, is for us to remove the boundaries in our relationship so that if he ever found himself in a situation with romantic undertones he could just relax and love his friend and not worry about hurting me or stepping over the line. He says that he’s not sure he can ever feel happy or fulfilled without this freedom. He’s willing to stay monogamous if I need that but it would be “very, very hard.”
He also told me believes sex is a “beautiful intimate way to show affection” and it could be used in friendships without meaning anything more. He has several friends who are recovering from bad relationships and he wants to be able to give them a positive healing sexual experience. He told me that one of his close female friends asked him the other day if they could make out, because she’s never had a positive romantic experience and felt like she needed that for healing. He told her no because of our relationship rules but he admitted to me that it made him very sad and hurt him a lot that he had to say no because he wants to help her. He says he thinks kissing means different things in different contexts and doesn’t see a problem with sharing that experience with a friend. He insists that wanting to open up the relationship isn’t for his own benefit and it’s not that I’m not enough for him, he just wants to be a good friend. This was very traumatizing for me. I don’t take sex as lightly and believe it is a sacred thing between two life partners. What he told me devastated me and made me feel unsafe, and hurt me deeply that he views our romantic and sexual connection so lightly and wants to have such a powerful bonding experience with someone else. For him, sex is just a way to love someone well. For me it’s a powerful mind-blowing emotionally bonding experience.
I’ve slipped into an intense season of depression and anxiety over this. To me, our relationship is a safe space and a home for me and bringing other people into that tears down the walls that create that safe home. I’ve done a lot of reading online about polyamory, trying to understand, and almost everyone seems to be on the side of the poly person and expects the monogamous person to at least “try it out”. But this makes me feel terrible and like my perspective isn’t as valid or as enlightened. Also both him and I have only slept with each other, and so for me this isn’t a lighthearted thing, to just “try out” having an open relationship for a little while. It would forever change that special fact that we’ve only had sex with each other, so this is a permanent change if we make it.
We’re continuing these conversations and haven’t come to a decision yet. Breaking up isn’t an option – we’re committed for life and I’d rather deal with working through this than losing him altogether. Like I said, he’s willing to stay monogamous if he needs to, but for me the fact that he even has these desires in the first place is so incredibly devastating and hurtful that I’m not sure I’ll ever feel the same way about our relationship again. I’m not sure I can be as permissive with his close female friends knowing that he does indeed have these feelings.
Dear Polyamorous Partner,
Your partner is more than welcome to have his own feelings about attraction and sex. But in no way does that mean that you have to agree with them or try them out. Relationships are wholeheartedly collaborative. That doesn’t mean one partner gets to pick what color to paint the kitchen and one gets to sleep with whoever they want. Certain issues are open ended and could go either way while other issues are core to the very heart and foundation of your relationship.
Most of the time, sex and intimacy are a part of the core issues category. When you commit to a partner, you are committing to be monogamous with each other in emotional and physical aspects. As you alluded to several times, this commitment often helps create safety within the relationship. When those core boundary issues are violated (or discussed to be violated), this can create an endless number of emotional and psychological wounds that sap the strength and vitality of your relationship. This is where you are now, feeling unsafe and devastated.
I do want to commend you for your openness in your approach to this. You clearly love your partner and have done quite a bit of open discussion, soul searching, and google searching about your sex life with him. But your feelings of devastation throughout this process don’t mean that you aren’t valid or enlightened. They likely mean that your partner is going in a direction that doesn’t work for you.
Trust what your gut is telling you about your partner’s desires including that this may be untenable for you.
Although you have hoped to find a way to make an open relationship work or that he can remain committed to a monogamous relationship, I think you may be searching for a solution that doesn’t exist. Trust what your gut is telling you about your partner’s desires including that this may be untenable for you. You decide what is right for your body and your relationship, not your partner. If you feel committed to him and to giving an open relationship a try, be my guest. People certainly have made polyamorous relationships work before and will continue to do so. The only question is if that includes you.
Dear Polyamorous Partner,
To repeat your words, “our relationship is a safe space and a home for me and bringing other people into that tears down the walls that create that safe home.” Do not doubt that your feelings or perspective are invalid. They are very real.
Is there a reason that you opted for a commitment ceremony vs. getting married? The reason I ask is because you seem committed to this relationship, however your partner as explained above does not sound like he defines “relationship” and “commitment” as you do. You can be madly in love with someone, who you are not compatible with in the long term. If you get to the point where your love is superseded by feelings of anxiety and depression you have to take a step back to consider if you can keep this relationship up, with all things considered. And all women considered.
If you feel as though his feelings for these women are stealing love from you, then it may be hard to ever feel really comfortable in the relationship.
Your partner did not say that being monogamous was a dealbreaker, but it does seem like his idea of an open relationship will never work for you. If you feel as though his feelings for these women are stealing love from you, then it may be hard to ever feel really comfortable in the relationship.
Your partner confessed who he is and what he needs. But when did he stop to consider your needs? It’s not about what’s best for him, it’s not what’s best for you, it’s about what’s best for you both. This has to be agreed upon by both individuals. If it is not, then it should be out of respect and sanity to set each other free to pursue happiness.