“… My SO [32M] and I [32F] met a little over 6 months ago and had a very intense connection that has evolved into love and a more serious future for us. We both communicated being open from the beginning and our interest in continuing a non-monogamous relationship in the future. We had many talks about situations we thought we would be okay with, and not okay with as well as certain boundaries however, have not made anything in an official capacity since we are still figuring us out. I have stated many times that I thought more of a poly approach regarding separate relationships isn’t something I’m comfortable with. Meaning, I saw more of an open relationship that involved sexual encounters in platonic emotional friendships vs a romantic emotional attachment with others of opposite gender, unless we were all involved (we are both bisexual). He has also expressed the same concerns reversed with me, so I thought that emotional romance with others might just be a barrier for us; which was perfectly fine but I also know our wants and needs might change over time.
Prior to meeting me he was seeing someone regularly that he thought had potential for something more long term, but when our relationship became more intense, he decided to back off from his relations with her. This was not something that I asked of him but something he decided on his own and ended up telling me a few weeks ago. He told me he had been slowly backing off and did have a few plans previously made that he was going to fulfill, which I completely understood. I did express that his relationship with her did make me uncomfortable but we are also again, still figuring things out. Well, after spending the weekend with her he is having second thoughts regarding cutting off relations. He does have some feelings and I acknowledge that. We have a much more serious connection/relationship and he has stated without a doubt, I am the one thing he is sure about and losing me is not an option (not that I ever brought up leaving).
Here’s my dilemma: I am not okay with the situation and have spent countless hours trying to work through my feelings and process this. He has known her for longer and developed a meaningful friendship with some feelings involved and it doesn’t feel right for me to try and have a hand in ending that…and I also don’t feel like “telling him not to do something” is what we’re about…ever. I feel it needs to be his decision either way. He did tell me that since neither of us expected our relationship to escalate so quickly (nor fall so crazy in love) he feels like he’s still catching up to processing what that means for him and her. I totally get that, and he does care for her so I understand the struggle. I’m worried that if he decides to continue seeing her it will not be something I can handle and I’ll be miserable about it. I also want him to be happy. He does have a FWB that he’s actually friends with which I have no issues about, and have plans to meet her soon. I feel like because we are still so new that maybe I just need to give it some time to work itself out? I don’t think in reality he’s that invested in something truly long term with her, but I also do not want him to cut things off with her based on my happiness. (He keeps saying making me happy is his favorite thing to do and he wants to make me happy). He needs to figure out what’s best for him (and us) and be okay with that decision.
Should I just give it time? Has anyone been in a similar situation and how did you process/work through it? Thanks in advance! All of my friends that would be suitable to give advice are also his friends, so I need objective advice!”
You and your boyfriend are in an interesting emotional stand-off, to see who is going to flinch first. You have an idea of the kind of non-monogamous relationship you would like to have (i.e. open relationship with a stable primary partner) and he prefers the more polyamorous approach to his relationships. You have been receiving some very conflicting signals on the kind of relationships he says he wants to be in with you while he still maintains this very emotional connection with someone who preceded your relationship. The conflicting signals between the kind of relationships he says he wants to have with you and the relationships he actually has with his different partners is reflected in his complete ambivalence. There is also a fundamental disconnect between the space he can offer you at his current place in life and the kind of space you wish to occupy in his life.
You did a pretty great job of communicating your needs and what you are looking for in your romantic partnership. You were also very insightful, emotionally intelligent, and honest in recognizing that this ultimately is his decision to make. That level of thoughtfulness is not appreciated enough.
You and your partner might be stuck in this mystical dance of ambivalence. On one hand, you want to make this relationship work with him, but you also don’t know how much more emotional labor you want to invest in this non-relationship relationship while you two figure out what kind of space you want to occupy in each other’s lives. And because you were so thorough in establishing your soft boundaries about the kind of non-monogamous relationships you would like to have, he feels threatened in preemptively determining his own relationship with his other partner. That is why he has been going back and forth to repeatedly communicate the kind of emotional involvement he wants to have in your life (because he doesn’t want to upset you) while struggling to decide what emotional involvement he wants to have in his other partner’s life (because he doesn’t want to lose her either). You say that you two are new, but you met each other six months ago. I think that is long enough time to determine what kind of people you and your partner are. And sometimes, we have to sit with our feelings and accept our realities as it is. Dare to bravely face the present.
Have you ever tried making a completely new dish by following someone else’s recipe? Maybe you found some fancy recipe online that you wanted to follow. But the instructions were unclear about exactly how much salt and pepper and herbs you were supposed to use. So you wing it, but it comes out lesser than you originally expected. Or maybe you did expect it because you knew you were going to suck at making this dish the first time you’ve tried it. And now you have a less-than-ideal dish to finish because somewhere in the back of your brain someone – maybe your mom, or your nanny – told you in distant past that you cannot waste food?
There are some really good parts of this relationship that works. The communication, boundary setting, the long-term aspirations… They’re all still there. But this delicate dance around the difference in styles of non-monogamy you and your partner each prefer to practice will need to reach a conclusion. From what you have shared, it sounds like your partner has made a decision to continue to be romantically involved with his other partner. So really listen to him. Allow him to be honest with you about his other relationship, instead of asking him to appease you by downplaying the intensity of his other relationship. And then you’ll have a decision to make for yourself. Is this less-than-ideal dish still edible? Are there any beverages nearby that you can drink to make it easier for you to enjoy this relationship-dish for a little while longer?
Maybe that isn’t the right way to think of it either. Sometimes, coming back to the same recipe a couple months later isn’t such a bad idea either. Sometimes, a fresh start is what we all need. Maybe you weren’t in the right place of mind when you first diced those onions. Maybe the flour wasn’t kneaded properly. But these too are future conjectures, of which neither you nor your partner will have satisfying answers to.
If you do decide to stay and enjoy this dish while it lasts, you might also want to consider what you are seeing in his relationship with his FWB that you aren’t seeing in his relationship with his other partner. Dig deeper and listen in on what your innermost insecurities are screaming. Those feelings do have a reason to exist, but they’re often a misdirection, a sign, for something else entirely. And determine how you want to take those steps to amend and become more comfortable with his pursuit of his other relationship – regardless of what happens there. Because whatever happens in his other relationships are outside your sense of agency. You can continue to communicate your discomfort. But that insecurity is not his to resolve for you. That is your responsibility, and only your own.
Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.
I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at email@example.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!