“My nesting partner [31M] and I [32F] have been together for five years and non-monogamous for three of those years. Last year has been full of personal transitions and professional growths for me. This time last year, I found out that I was pregnant with a baby. I wanted to focus more on nesting and taking care of my baby through pregnancy while my husband continued to date. So I haven’t been dating anyone else other than my nesting partner for the past year. Shortly after I gave birth, my nesting partner’s girlfriend [34F] moved in with us temporarily. And it wasn’t too long after that that I gave my two weeks notice before starting my new job which had better flexibility for my evolving home life. It wasn’t too long after that that the COVID-19 forced us all to work from home. The stress levels with all these changes have really taken a toll on my mental and emotional health, especially with the constant emotional labor in regard to my metamour living with us. I have also experienced emotional and sexual loneliness because I chose this path to not date anyone in order to focus on my little one.
I have been keeping in touch with a couple folks I was very close with from my old workplace in order to combat the loneliness I’ve been feeling. It was my way of doing emotional labor with my metamour living with us. While I’m not out as polyamorous in my professional environment, there has been some flirtation with one particular coworker [29M] from my old workplace. He recently revealed to me that while he is bad at commitments if it weren’t for the current circumstances, he would have liked to ask me out on a date. The catch is he doesn’t know that I am in a polyamorous relationship with my husband. For all he knows, I am in a strictly monogamous marriage with my husband.
Considering my new role as a mother as well as being out of the dating mindset for the past year, I’m not even sure if I am actually ready to date. I had put an emotional block on myself for any of my coworkers because I had a personal “no dating coworkers” boundary. After some emotional processing, I think if it wasn’t for the fact that I just had my baby, I would have seriously considered coming out as poly to him to see what would happen. My partner has been very encouraging for me to hash things out and see what comes out of this specific connection, even if it is purely casual.
How do I even begin to explain the concept of polyamory much less navigate my own feelings around this new development?”
First of all, congratulations on your new baby. This is indeed a very interesting time to be a parent. I hope that you and your polycule are staying safe in this COVID world.
We live in a mono-normative society where the societal expectations revolve around a traditional relationship structure is an exclusive dyad. Every time you have to explain your non-monogamous relationship structure to another person is yet another glass wall that you’ll be breaking for someone else. It isn’t always easy to be anyone’s first. But I am afraid that as we continue to grow and develop as a human society, there will be many, many glass walls to break.
Even before we start to figure out what your next steps should be, you should figure out what your own intentions and feelings are.
Think for yourself whether you want to or do not want to pursue this connection.
About four months ago, someone wrote in asking about what would be the most appropriate way to come out to someone who doesn’t know about their non-monogamous background. At that time, I advised to take the revelation step-by-step at a time, to gauge their interest and reaction. If you decide you do not want to date, you can skip to the picture of a bird. However, if you do decide that you want to pursue a romantic or sexual connection with your former colleague (or anyone else who might initially be more monogamous), I think the same three-step process could work for you.
First is to open up the existence of non-monogamous relationships.
You can do this in couple different ways, but the easiest way I’ve personally found was to link an article about the prevalence of non-monogamy in modern media. Getting them to talk to you about what they think of non-monogamous relationships will be a great first step to gauge whether or not they’re actually open to non-monogamy themselves. And it sounds like your old coworker will have to be okay with ethical non-monogamy to some extent since you are married and have a kid with your nesting partner.
Another way to breach this otherwise uncomfortable topic of discussion is to talk about non-monogamy portrayal in popular media. There has been a noticeable increase in the way modern pop culture talks about non-monogamous relationships. From movies like Professor Marston and the Wonder Women to shows like Tiger King, there have been no better time than now to bring up how Hollywood has recently portrayed non-monogamy / polyamory – both in positive and in negative ways.
Based on how your coworker reacts, you should be able to gather if he’ll be open to non-monogamy at least in theory. If he has any negative reaction to it at all, then it’s a pretty good point for you to establish some boundaries to make sure that you can establish and maintain some distance away from this ex-coworker.
Once you’ve gotten an understanding of where he sits on non-monogamy, then you should talk about how you’re in a non-monogamous relationship.
Ideally, you would give them a couple days for them to do their own research. After that brief hiatus, this would be a great point to talk about how your current relationship is structured and how everyone is in the know. Talk about how you’ve come to learn about your own brand of ethical non-monogamy. Share your personal relational history (if applicable). And if he has any ENM experience of his own, don’t hesitate to use this moment to gauge what type of non-monogamy he personally prefers / practices. This would also be a great place to get through the initial set of questions, like how you manage your feelings of insecurity, logistics of your polycule, and any rules or agreements that he might need to know about.
Your goal here is not to establish even a romantic or sexual connection, but to weed out your initial dealbreakers. Keep on the lookout for obvious incompatibilities – such as mismatching long-term expectations and obvious lack of sexual chemistry.
Since you have already established his interest (mutual?), he should be able to have a better understanding about where he would specifically fit in in your life. Whether it is as a casual secondary partner, evolving co-primary, or something in between, he should be able to develop his own expectations and consent to the level of enmeshment he will get from this particular connection with you. I cannot emphasize the importance of this statement enough, especially in regard to experienced non-monofolks dating newbies.
The last step of this three-step process is to establish your own connections in its own individualistic way.
In openly addressing the existence of non-monogamy, you have opened a way for him to associate you with non-monogamy. Through revealing your non-monogamous orientation, you can also open up about the kind of emotional bandwidth you currently have available. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that your connection with your former colleague is unique, just like each of your relationships are unique.
And as someone who is much more monogamous-minded, your former colleague is going to have a lot of growing pains to embrace and change through his personal exploration of non-monogamy. Being on the forefront of someone else’s first explorations of non-monogamy is always going to come with its own set of challenges, such as establishing your own boundaries, assimilating their boundaries with your own, and creating proper emotional safeguards.
Dan Savage once coined the term “Campsite Rule” which is defined as “Leave someone in the better position when you first met them.” It’s a pretty reasonable, sensible guideline for approaching any of your relationships. To aim to improve others also means to aim to improve yourself as a lover and a partner. And while not all relationships will be meaningful or even productive, keeping an open mind while you’re not misusing your poly experience to hurt others is always a good mindset to have.
If you decide that you are not attracted to your former coworker or at least not in a mental headspace to date, then you’ll have to set some firm interpersonal boundaries.
These restrictions could look like:
- Avoiding deep and personal discussions, especially about romantic relationships.
- Limiting or eliminating the in-person and/or online time together.
- Or distancing yourself until the initial attractions have calmed down.
If you wanted to approach this in a more mindful way, you can implement these restrictions as boundaries. So for example, the first restriction as a boundary could read, “I will not discuss deeply personal topics such as my relationships with a decidedly platonic connection.” Or you can choose to take a softer approach such as one outlined in the third option of creating distance. One of the few positives to gleam from the current COVID-19 pandemic is how folks interpret and participate in social distancing as a societal boundary. And only indulging yourself in the connections you deem appropriate is a fairly straightforward boundary you can implement in your future conversations (or lack thereof) with your former colleague.
I want to add a couple more words about dating while parenting.
You say that you would have loved to come out as poly and connect with your former colleague to see what kind of relationship you two can establish. There are plenty of non-mono parents who choose to date again a couple months after you had your baby – and it sounds like your nesting partner has certainly continued to do so. For a lot of moms, they already have a lot of difficulty connecting with their own bodies after they give birth. So it is completely understandable that you cannot mentally place yourself in a role where you can have a great date with someone who finds you attractive. So you don’t need to rush into anything you don’t feel prepared for.
It is important to live a life worth commenting on. You aren’t just a mother. You are also a coworker, a wife, a friend, a daughter, and so many more. If life is about carving out new identities and new roles for you to step into, then even if this connection doesn’t even spark it will make for a great story to tell one day.
After all things settle down, what do you have to lose for a night out?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!