/u/DepressionBot3000 on /r/relationship_advice writes…
“My partner [32M] and I  have been together for almost 4 years at this point. When we first started dating, we were both poly and seeing multiple other people. After a couple of people who really didn’t respect boundaries, and after my emergency move into his place (was supposed to be temporary, but we ended up discovering we work amazingly on a day to day thing), we ended up basically monogamous.
While I’m normally fine with other people, and multiple relationships, right now, I’m just not. I really want to be, and I keep trying, but it keeps just destroying me more mentally. I’ve not been in a good state mentally since my back got bad a couple years ago. I’ve gained weight that I’m not ok with, and have isolated due to not being able to go and enjoy things with friends (due to money and it being too painful to go and do things). So I have a horrible self image that I’m trying to fix, and even just trying to get to the point where I can see a picture of myself and not cry.
My partner has never really had friends, except for a couple in university who have at this point all grown distant (their lives we’re delving into depression while his started to take off). Since the time he started dating, all of his friends and people he regularly spoke to were people he was seeing.
We both also realized it’s hard for us to date separately. We own our own business together, from home, and live together. So we are basically always together. I’m also just not doing the best mentally, and am still trying to balance taking care of myself and the business, so adding on other levels to that is not going to happen right now.
With the people we are talking to now all talk to him through text daily. He does show me the texts, regardless of if I ask, and doesn’t hide anything. These are basically the only people he talks to at this point, so if I’m not ok with the relationship going forward with them, that puts huge strain on his only sources of interactions.
I don’t mind hanging out with the three people, but the constant pressure of having to sleep with them is getting too much for me. I also know it’s unfair to them as they usually come over expecting some sort of thing to happen.
I am not sure what to do at this point. I’ve broken down a lot over the past couple of weeks due to reaching a breaking point. He says he will stop talking to them, or at least chill things a bit, but I know it’s really hurting him. Any advice on what I should do is appreciated. Should I just sacrifice my own mental state for him? Or should I be considering ending things to give him the freedom to be happy?
Dear Depression Bot 3000,
There is a lot to unpack here. And I think there are two major facets to distinguish and establish here before we can get to the actual advice part.
First is that you absolutely do not have to date or sleep with anyone you do not want to. You have mentioned that you have found that it is difficult to date separately because of how enmeshed your current life is with your partner. But I will be honest here that you too can absolutely date separately even if you two are so well-enmeshed. Polyamory is all about creating and maintaining different spaces. Since you currently do not have the resources available to date others at this moment but your partner does, you might also want to revisit how you feel about dating separately from your partner. If it means being elsewhere while your partner continues to pursue other relationships or buying some really good noise cancelling headphones for yourself, it is never a requirement for you to date together with your partner. Certainly not while you want to commit more work to yourself.
Adding to that, closed poly is still poly. Unavailability does not take away from whether or not you are capable of polyamorous relationships. One of the most difficult aspects of polyamory is in accepting that your partners will develop their own half of the relationship with others. You can revisit dating others if or when you feel like you have more capability to love others as you desire. You really do have a lot on your plate that you’ve identified as areas of focus, and new ideas that you want to dance with. Please do accept that your desire to work on yourself and focus on yourself for now does not take away from your desire to pursue polyamory at some distant future… even if you decide to be functionally monogamous in your own relationships.
I had an interesting conversation with one of my partners just the other day. She and I were discussing what our relationship would be like if we had met each other tomorrow, completely unencumbered in any of our other relationships. She decided that she would continue to be polyamorous and continue to date and seek new partners. I reflected on her answer and responded by saying I probably wouldn’t want to date anyone else. I would be functionally monogamous with her while we both determined what our long-term future might look like first. And only after I’ve developed such a fundamental and secure attachment with my long-term partner would I go back to forming polyamorous relationships with others. I concluded by saying even if I was functionally monogamous with her in this hypothetical scenario, I would still “identify” as polyamorous – just with a caveat that I am currently unavailable.
I do not believe that the core issue here is about polyamory. It is more about your current relationship with your partner. Four years is a long time. Both you and your partner have grown and changed in those four years. And it is completely okay to accept that right now you might not be the same person you were four years ago. And you can continue to closely identify with polyamory while remaining unavailable and focusing more internally.
Maybe the right question to ask here isn’t “Am I isolating my partner?” but rather “what can my partner and I do to prepare for this next phase in our relationship?”
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