“My partner Ashley and I have been together for five years. The first four years were pretty great, but the last one was really difficult. She started partying a lot with her friends. This new change made me feel like she forgot about me since she was very absent in our relationship even when she was with me. I just didn’t know how to handle it. So in October, she came home a bit drunk and broke up with me. She left the day after for three weeks but communicated her regret at breaking up with me.
When Ashley came back, she told me she wanted to be with me, but as an open relationship. At the time I was still devastated with the breakup. So I asked for some time apart because I just wasn’t in a mindset to be with her at that time.
During this time apart, I decided to see if I was able to meet someone else. Through Tinder, I met a wonderful girl named Belinda and we had a nice time together though nothing sexual or romantic happened between us. She then left for another country for three months.
I got together with my Ashley not too long after that. Things have been amazing, just as it used to be. We communicate better and she isn’t partying as much. She hasn’t been with anyone else and I haven’t either. But she reminded me that if she haven’t been with anyone else is because she wasn’t feeling like it, not because she couldn’t.
Now, Belinda is back in town from her time abroad, and she has been looking forward to seeing me. I would like to meet her since last time was quite nice, but I don’t know how to tell it to my girlfriend without feeling that I am doing/did something wrong. I really love her and I don’t want to mess things up again, but I know that my girlfriend will not hesitate when someone interesting is on her way.
How can I handle this situation?”
Anonymous on /r/polyamory.
I can definitely sense a lot of confusion and ambivalence in your story. The rules of exclusivity in the context of monogamous relationships are sometimes a little ambiguous and bears a heavy emotional weight in managing your own feelings by society’s standards. It sounds like you have experienced a pretty heavy relational trauma through your breakup and reconnect with your partner Ashley, but never really gave yourself enough time to sit back and assess the damages done from that heartbreak. I see this kind of behavior in cis men a lot, especially in serial monogamy, where they jump into building new connections with potential partners way too quickly after their previous relationship has ended. Hell, you’re reading from a person that did exactly that when he met his future wife on OkCupid a week after a breakup with his long distance girlfriend!
I think the first things you need to do is to take Belinda completely out of the equation and hammer out your relationship with Ashley. It is implied but unclear from what you’ve shared if you even have a non-monogamous relationship with Ashley. Her unilateral end to your relationship in October caused you a major relational trauma and could have shattered your trust in Ashley not not out of the blue break up with you again.
Have you ever thrown a big stone into a lake that is just starting to freeze over? When it makes an impact on the surface of the lake, it disturbs all of the icy surface surrounding its still surface. Sometimes, shards of the broken ice will float back to the top and help the lake continue to freeze over. But it would never be the clean sheet of ice it once was. Your relationship is a lot like that frozen lake. Just because it looks thick enough for you to ice fish in doesn’t mean that the spot you threw the big stone in before it all froze over would be a stable spot for you to sit either. Just because it feels like everything is okay between you and Ashley on the surface, it doesn’t mean that it is strong enough to support opening up a relationship (if it isn’t already open).
Your guilt and hesitation about reconnecting with Belinda tells me that there is a strong possibility that you did not fully reveal that you met with Belinda while your monogamous relationship with Ashley was on a pause. And it could also be possible that Belinda doesn’t know about what happened between you and Ashley in October or that you and Ashley has gotten back together. And the phrase “being with someone else” is a bit loaded, don’t you think? It really isn’t important if either of you slept with other people while you were on a break or since you got together. What is more important is what your intentions were when you met Belinda on Tinder.
Focusing just on your budding connection with Belinda, it sounds like you only went on one or two dates with each other. So this is on a very casual level still yet. I don’t imagine that you brought up a potential open relationship scenario with Belinda since you were on a break with Ashley when you met Belinda. The potential depth of your connection with Belinda remains a murky unknown. How would Belinda feel about starting a non-monogamous relationship with you while you continue to be involved with your long-term ex-ex, now-girlfriend Ashley?
There is a LOT more questions that we still need answers to.
How intensely would you have pursued Belinda if she never went out of country? Is this a connection you really want to pursue completely regardless of your relationship status with Ashley? Do you think there is a distinct possibility you might have ended up in a monogamous relationship with Belinda if you never got back together with Ashley? How does Belinda or Ashley feel about verifying with each other that you aren’t cheating on either of them?
What I am trying to communicate here is that open relationships are so much more than just finding someone else to sleep with. It requires extensive communication skills, very firm foundation in either yourself or the relationship being opened up, and the right type of people to make it all work. If any one of those three facets are lacking, opening up your relationship will prove to be a mistake as it will highlight all of those foundational flaws that might otherwise be covered up in a traditional monogamous relationship.
If you and Ashley have already discussed opening up with Ashley (and it just happens that neither of you found someone to connect with), then it might not be a bad time to get those early agreements down pat. Have discussions about what each of you consider best safe sex practices. Talk about how each of you will make space for each other to explore other connections. Flesh out what kind of trust you two need to have in each other to make this work. At the very least, come up with a better idea of why each of you would like to have a non-monogamous amendment to your previously exclusive romantic relationship.
Then have the same discussions with Belinda. Belinda too needs to have informed consent in who she is involving herself with.
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