“I need advice on how I should handle my overwhelming emotions when it comes to my [25F] partner’s [25M] feelings on polyamory and open relationships.
Some background on myself. I’ve been a unicorn in the past to heterosexual couples and I thought it gave me an understanding of what open relationships and polyamory are like. When my BF and I got together over a year ago, I told him I wasn’t opposed to the idea of looking for unicorns ourselves. About 9 months into the relationship, I decided to bring it up to him to try it out together. We created our own sets if rules for each other and then downloaded Tinder. At first everything was great! We felt the rush of excitement together and even grew closer as a couple.
Then I went out on my first date. Everything quickly changed for me after I kissed another person who wasn’t my partner. I immediately regretted opening our relationship after that kiss. I don’t know what happened to me. I’ve always considered myself to be very open minded, but I felt like I cheated even though I had permission. Maybe it was reality sinking in, but the idea of being with other people and especially my BF getting intimate with others sent a jolt of anxiety through my body. We got into a massive argument which lasted days. Eventually we mended everything and went back to being monogamous.
My partner does not believe in monogamy or serious relationships and that has been our #1 problem. I want a serious relationship in which I am given stability and security. I’m not talking about marriage, but I want a partner who is okay with the idea of a future together and even looks forward to it. We love each other and are trying to make things work despite having different views on relationships.
Last night, we had a fight about why he wants to have an open relationship in the first place. He told me that his ideal relationship would be him and me being the main relationship in addition to other relationships outside of the main relationship. He grew up a missionary kid in southeast Asia, so his sexual experiences are not as colorful as mine and he wishes he could have time to experiment with other people but also have me to come home to. I couldn’t stop ugly crying the entire night. I felt so dirty and disgusted by the idea of him sleeping with other people and then crawling into bed with me. I know he didn’t mean it maliciously; he was simply stating what he wishes could happen, but now I can’t help but feel like I’m not enough for him and he doesn’t want me. I wish he could have had his sexual escapades before he met me.
Basically, what it comes down to is that my BF doesn’t like that I’ve changed my mind about non-monogamy. He went into this relationship thinking I was as open minded as he was; but when it came to practicing the lifestyle, I couldn’t do it. But he has made it very clear to me that he is happy in our relationship and doesn’t want to break up. He loves me and our relationship, but I can’t help but feel like I’m keeping him from living his life the way he wants to.
I know people are going to tell me to break it off with him. That’s been my thoughts about it too. But I want to know if anyone has any other advice to give me. I love him dearly and we have a very healthy relationship besides all of this. Has anyone been in a situation similar to this? What would you do in my shoes?”
TL;DR – Tried opening up. I’m not as cool with non-monogamy as I originally thought. What should I do?
I am really sorry to hear that you are experiencing so much pain. There is a lot to unpack here.
Let’s start with this. Your previous experience as a unicorn isn’t necessarily equivalent to you looking for unicorns in a committed relationship. The contexts are completely different here. You might be totally fine going out to eat a burrito at Chipotle; but making a burrito from scratch would be a lot more difficult. And even if you were an absolute master at making burritos from scratch with the exact same ingredients, it is not going to taste exactly like the one you could get from Chipotle.
In the same way, the couples you unicorned for were completely different from the relationship you maintain with your boyfriend. And even if it was, you might just not be okay with it in this context due to your feelings. And that too is okay. Your hurt feelings and anxiety are completely and totally justified. If this combination of ingredients don’t mesh well, it wasn’t ever going to be a good burrito anyway. Open-mindedness is not a binary state, but a spectrum. You can still be open to unicorning for other couples even if you don’t necessarily want to have a threesome with your boyfriend and a unicorn.
I also think that you can benefit from slowing down a little bit to analyze the feelings you are feeling, determine wherein lies source of those negative feelings, and make sense of your next steps.
It sounded like fantasy of non-monogamy immediately came crashing down when the practicals of non-monogamy became a reality. That the mental images of you and your boyfriend being with people other than each other were too much for you to bear at that moment. You didn’t go into too much detail about why that bothered you so much. That anxiety and the overwhelming negative emotions could be anchored in so many different aspects of your own psyche. You talked a little bit about how your love alone felt inadequate for what you think he desires in your projection of his erotic and relational headspace. This is a very common fear & anxiety pain point in non-monogamy; it is often deeply rooted in societal conditioning that one love should be enough for everyone. And for you, it could be that his love is enough for you.
The pain you are feeling could also come from a mismatched expectations about your own self. You said that you thought of yourself as much more open-minded than this. And you might feel powerless in the face of overwhelming anxiety responses while trying to figure out if this relationship with your boyfriend is going to work out. To that, I would advise for you to be a bit more patient with yourself. It was your first time kissing someone other than your boyfriend. And it was one bad experience. Not every bad feeling needs to be acted upon. Part of anxiety that makes living with anxiety so difficult is that anxiety amplifies every single feeling to a very urgent and emergent state. It might be beneficial for you to take one or two steps back from those really powerful feelings and rationalize why you might be feeling that way instead of letting those powerful feelings take the wheel in determining your action plans.
It is okay to cry. Scream-cry if you have to.
Breathe. You are going to be okay.
I feel that it is completely okay for you to change your mind about non-monogamy for whatever reason. You have gathered some new data points. Some new statistics and hypotheses that you are crunching. And in the face of new information, it is not only reasonable but necessary to adapt to your new reality. Doing anything less than communicating your headspace and what your expectations are currently is just about the most honest thing you can do with your partner.
Let’s talk a bit more about what your boyfriend is feeling here.
I feel like he too has done a pretty good job of communicating that non-monogamy is something that is essential to his current romantic and erotic headspace. And I think you are right that a lot of his pain comes from mismatched expectations about the type of relationship he had with you. He thought that there was going to be a point in which you and he will be able to open up your relationship to other external partners. And now he is realizing that that very important point of expectation has been suspended indefinitely in his relationship with you. That is a significant new development in this relationship of less than a year that he will now have to adjust to. And it sounds like you completely understand where he is coming from, and it sounds like he too has a pretty good grasp on the feelings that you are feeling as well.
And now we have arrived to the advice section of this column.
I have a personal philosophy to never advise an end to a non-abusive relationship. So you won’t be receiving advice from me to end your relationship.
What I will advise is to take two steps back to realize that what he is looking for in his relationship with you (i.e. main relationship) is not all that much different from the stability and security you are looking for in your relationship. If we are operating under the assumption that you and your boyfriend will stay together to make this relationship work no matter what, then I think the question “how can I stop feeling this way?” is not the right question to ask. The better question to ask yourself is “how can I manage these bad feelings so that they aren’t overwhelming every time?” And a good question that he can ask himself is “how can I align my relationship philosophy in ways that are compassionate to both myself and my relationship with you?”
I’ll also add that ethical non-monogamy need not be reciprocal. Mono-poly relationships are a thing. I’ve even advised about a similar situation in the past. If you are really set on staying together, then this might be a viable starting point for you to become okay should he decide to date others while your side of the relationship remains closed.
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