Is polyamory a fundamental part of who we are or is it something we can learn?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: Rank in order of importance for you in your career: money, status, creativity, social impact, colleagues.
Listen below. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers.
Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.
I am in a long term relationship with my partner (I identify as female and he identifies as male). We have been monogamous for the entirety of our 6 year relationship except for 1 threesome we had a couple of years ago.
My partner is open with me about how he would like to have sex with other people (casual sex, no relationships). I do not want this but I realize that it’s very important for him and I just don’t know if or how I can ever get to a point where I can be ok with it. I should say that I really want to be ok with it (and even sometimes I think it would be fine) and if he ever came to me saying, “either I can sleep with other people or I have to leave you” I would give it a shot because he is truly my life partner.
I guess my questions are:
- Can a person who has always been monogamous and who is uncomfortable (but also confusingly open to it…) with the idea of sexually open relationships eventually be at a place where they accept it and are at peace with it?
- Are monogamy and polya fundamental parts of who we are or can they flow to meet a partners needs?
My greatest fear here is that there is no hope for change and that I will lose my partner because of this. Thank you for any advice you can provide.
So I think that there are a few things here. First, to answer one of your questions: are monogamy and polyamory fundamental parts of who we are? I think that really depends on the person. I don’t think that we know enough about the way that our brain develops and the way that society influences us. And even I think the idea that nature and nurture are inherently separate things. And they don’t kind of talk to each other and influence one another— I think even that isn’t true.
I don’t think that you can raise a human being an isolation separate from a society and somehow find who they truly are. I think, you know, there’s a reason why isolating us in things like solitary confinement is torture. We are social creatures. We develop in relation to the social situations that we’re in and the society that we’re in. So I don’t really think that there is a fundamental part of who we are, that we could really suss out. And so I think it’s pointless for us— I mean, I get why people say that, like when you have a situation like you know, being queer, and people say, “Oh, we can, you know, therapise you out of being queer. We can— you can pray the gay away or we can separate that”.
Or when you get into like eugenics where people are basically saying the identities are these things that they can edit out of you then yeah, you do want to be able to say, “this is an inherent part of who I am”. And I understand you know, I am, you know, trans man, I am non-binary and that does feel like an inherent part of who I am. But I don’t know as that I can say for certain that it is— I don’t know, I don’t know. And I don’t think that matters.
What matters is that some people feel that polyamory is a fundamental part of who they are. Some people feel like monogamy is not something that they can choose for themselves, and not something that they can do and that is valid. If that’s how people feel that’s valid. Equally people feel like monogamy is an inherent part of who they are. And that’s also valid and then there are folks like myself. I could do monogamy if I wanted to, just not interested in it. So, you know, I certainly couldn’t practice a form of monogamy that society encourages. And I think that there’s an important distinction to make there.
I think that there’s a very difference— a very big difference between you wanting to be a person who only dates one person and “monogamy” as the way that this society presents it because the way that our society constructs and teaches us about monogamy is is very biased in a lot of ways. And is to serve a specific function. You know, encouraging people to be in one partner you know, two partner relationships where they only find one person, there’s a very specific purpose and power that that that goes into that and I don’t think we should ignore that either.
And that’s not to say that you wanting to date one person makes you kind of a bootlicker or anything like that. It’s just that it’s always worth questioning the things that society says you should do. And I think that that’s a good thing for all people to do. But I think that you can— you can be a you know, be willing to meet your partner’s needs. What concerns about this is that
there’s a little bit of an imbalance. And I do realize that, you know, in some ways that there there is going to be an imbalance with a lot of situations.
You know, if a partner— there’s not like, for example, having children, there’s no way to compromise on that. You know, either you have children or you don’t. I mean, theoretically, maybe you know, you can, even being a foster parent is still being a parent, like you can’t compromise on whether or not you want to have children in your life. And I don’t know is that you can necessarily fully compromise on whether or not you want to be in an open relationship where your partner is allowed to sleep with other people.
The thing that concerns me is that you know, you say you identify as female and your partner identifies as male, and I always tend to find that it’s women that are bending over backwards to meet their partner’s needs. And I’m not saying that that’s the situation that you’re in, or that your partner isn’t receptive to your needs. But I think you need to be cognisant of the ways that you are always willing to sacrifice your needs for the benefit of your partner’s. Especially if there are men. And that might be something that you need to think about.
You know, you are wanting to change everything. And you say that if he ultimately gave you the ultimatum, you would go with it. And then that, you know, a lot of people would do that regardless of how they identify. But it’s very important to kind of catch yourself and realizing, you know, what it is about that, that makes you want to go, “Okay, I’m going to, I’m going to go with it”. Your greatest fear here is that you’ll lose your partner. And I think that that’s something that you also need to think about because breakups happen, and they feel horrible, and I’m not gonna lie about that. But they are survivable.
And I think that if your greatest fear is losing your partner, that is always going to be something that whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous is going to encourage you to make decisions that don’t benefit you. Your greatest fear shouldn’t be that you’ll lose your partner because you could lose your partner regardless. You know, you don’t have to be in a polyamorous relationship for your partner to decide they don’t want to be with you anymore. Being in an open relationship— polyamorous or just open sexually, like, you know, plenty of monogamous people experience a situation where their partners decide that they don’t want to be with them anymore.
You could grow apart, regardless of these kind of— his interest in being sexually open. Like there are so many different ways that you can not end up together, even though you’ve been together for six years. And I think that that’s something that’s really worth working on, and thinking about speaking to a therapist about because, yeah, it sucks to lose your partner. And I’m not trying to make light of that. And I certainly understand that fear. But the thing that I always kind of encourage people to think about is how they would deal with their worst fear because it may be that you two are inherently incompatible.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try polyamory or try and open relationship. I’m not saying that—You know, it’s hard for me to say can you— as someone who’s monogamous, who’s uncomfortable with the idea, eventually be at a place where they accept it and be at peace with it. I mean, what does that mean? You know, there are times when I’m not at peace, about a situation that I’m in, I you know, I’ve more or less nearly been polyamorous for 10 years and there are still some times when I am unhappy or I am jealous or I’m freaked out about something.
You know, we have ups and downs in our life. There isn’t some kind of ultimate permanent equilibrium that you’re going to be able to reach. That’s where you know, you’re never going to be unhappy about it. You might be unhappy about it in perpetuity, but just because you’re monogamous doesn’t mean you won’t be unhappy about other things. So I think that’s— that’s something that you should really break apart and think about. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t fear losing your partner, but I think that, you know, someone, someone said something really brilliant at an event that I went to I wish I’d have got their name and I wish should have written down the quote.
But it was something about how when you have anxiety or fear about a certain outcome happening to you, you’re not actually afraid of that outcome, you’re more afraid that you won’t be able to deal with it. So if you have confidence that you’ll be able to take care of yourself, if you have confidence that you’re able to cope with situations, then facing scary things is a lot less scary.
And that’s also my experience with anxiety, the more that I tried to kick myself and blame myself for having anxiety, the worse that it got. When I just kind of accepted that, Okay, I’m gonna have anxiety and I’ve had anxiety for a long time, and I’ve been able to cope with it for a long time. And I’ve never died from a panic attack. And I’ve always been able to deal with a panic attack. The more that I’ve been able to do that, the more that, you know, being faced with a panic attack has never been as scary as it was before I had that realisation.
So I think what you need to focus on is restoring your confidence that if you do lose this relationship because that is a possibility. Regardless of whether or not you’re polyamorous or not. There is nothing that you can do— and realizing this actually, I think takes a huge burden off of people’s shoulders when they actually do realize it. But there is nothing that you can do to magically, completely, you know, absolutely make sure that your partner will never leave. I mean, there are, don’t get me wrong, there are things that you can do to make sure your partner won’t leave you.
Those aren’t things that are ethical, or things that you should do. But if you want your partner to freely love you, and stay with you, there isn’t anything that you can do to completely prevent them from falling out of love with you. Because that’s just how life works. You can’t prevent that. So when you accept that you can’t prevent that, then that fear isn’t going to become your greatest fear anymore. When you accept that, you know, you can be a total jerk to your partner. You can call them names and throw things at them. That will probably encourage them to leave.
So it’s not to say you know, you should not care about your actions and your behaviors. But it’s to say that ultimately, the love that your partner has for you isn’t something that you can control. Because it isn’t necessarily always something that they can control. They can fall out of love with people even if they don’t want to. So that’s something that you should think about.
I think that you don’t really go into what the experience was like when you did have a threesome with a couple and that sounds like a foursome rather than threesome, but I won’t be nitpicky. You know, did— was that something that you were interested in? Who initiated that? Was it something that you would do again? I think that one of the things that can help people when they’re interested in open or polyamorous relationships is having their own motivations. You wanting to do it to keep your partner in your life isn’t really the best motivation for it.
Like— and that doesn’t mean to say that you have to be open or you have to be interested in being open. There are people and I’ve written about it on the column before— there are people who are monogamous with their partner. And their partner is polyamorous with other people. But I think that they accept the situation and they get something out of it, that allows them to be okay with it. So whether that’s— what I tend to compare it to is, you know, people can be monogamous, but be with someone who has a very time intensive career, that means that they won’t be with them all the time.
So if you’re gonna marry someone, or date someone who has an extremely time intensive career, like if they’re a politician, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or just any kind of career that demands a huge amount of their time, or even demands that they drop everything and go to wherever it is they have to go, you kind of have to accept that as part of a relationship with them. And so I think that one thing you’re going to have to accept is that if you want even I think a sexually open relationship, even if he’s not interested in having relationships, quote, unquote, with other people, you will kind of have to accept that he might not spend hundred percent of his time with you.
You have to accept the increased STI risk that, you know will happen, I think as well that you need to be really careful because, you know, some people know themselves very, very well. And they can say that they can have sex with other people without falling in love or or feeling any romantic way about anybody. But I do think that that happens. And not everybody is in a position where they’re really self aware enough to realise that they are having feelings for someone. So rather than just sort of saying like, “Okay, this will only be casual sex and there won’t be any feelings” and outlawing feelings you need to talk about what it is that you’re going to do if there are feelings and someone has feelings.
But I think that you need to think about you know, you say you’re confusingly open to it. Are you open to it because you see a benefit for yourself? Are you open to it because it’s the only way that you can keep your partner and you’re totally afraid of
losing your partner and that’s the only thing that’s motivating you. Fear isn’t a very good motivator in this instance, because it is going to be very scary to open your relationship. It is going to be very scary for your partner to sleep with other people.
The first night that you know, he’s out, it’s probably gonna be a terrible night, because it was terrible for me. And that was me having already had a polyamorous relationship and in the domestic relationship I’m in now the first night that my partner was not even fully away for the whole night, but just set a long party I was wracked with anxiety. So, you’re gonna feel a wreck. You’re gonna feel all of these feelings and what’s going to make it easier as you allowing yourself to feel that and not being afraid of that, and knowing that you can take care of yourself.
And you can find out you know, I don’t think that there’s a way that I’m going to be able to tell you or that you’re going to be able to know if this ultimately won’t work for you or not. I don’t think that there is… you know, I think that you can tell by looking at situations like the the threesome that you had and say, “Okay, I’m interested in that I have some interest”. And you know, you can gravitate back to that because you clearly had it you don’t say that it was a terrible experience. You don’t say it nearly wrecked you all and you nearly broke up. So I’m assuming that things went all right. And in that regard, you know, you can kind of anchor back to that and and see how you felt back to that and go, “okay, could I do this more than once?” That’s something that you can also consider.
But I do think one thing— last thing that I’ll kind of say to add here is that another option you might consider if your partner is just interested in having sexual relationships with other people, which— or just having sex with other people not necessarily having relationships, what you might consider is he could hire a sex worker. That would be probably something that would be less of a quote unquote threat to you, because it’s someone that he’s hiring, it’s a professional relationship. It’s, you know, not something that you’re gonna have to think, “Oh, is this person secretly trying to date my partner” or something like that.
It’s very straightforward. sex workers are very on the ball about this kind of thing. They probably have, you know, experienced something like this and could probably, you know, If you ask them maybe, you know, they’d know what things to flag what things you should think about they, you know, they might have experience with this before. And that might be something that allows him to have a bit of sexual freedom, but still makes you feel a little bit safer rather than it being— because then you can avoid all that: What if it’s someone that you both know? What if it’s your friend?
You know, you can avoid kind of all that situation– all those kinds of situations if that’s something that he’s interested in and equally like sex workers will be well up on STI risk. And they will be able to, you know, let you know in a way that sometimes people who are kind of just casual about it aren’t on top of their STI checks as always. So that’s something to consider.
So to kind of sum up, I think that first and foremost, you need to work with a therapist and a polyamory friendly therapist if you can find one because what I don’t want you to do is end up with a therapist who thinks that polyamory is the devil or something and doesn’t think it’s a good option for you. I think the first thing you really need to work on is your fear.
Because it is something that could happen. And I think that giving yourself more confidence in your ability to cope with those kind of situations, and having more of a safety net will make you feel a lot better. I think that you might want to talk with him about a sex worker. See if that’s something that he’s interested in. I think that there isn’t necessarily a way I can tell you if polyamory is fundamentally part of who you are a part of who your boyfriend is. I don’t think it’s necessarily worth thinking in those terms.
There are wider discussions and maybe it’s a couples therapist thing that you have with your partner about how you know, do you have other threesomes in the future instead of him— instead of him, sleeping with other people? Like you really need to negotiate— Instead of just approaching the situation as you being willing to sacrifice everything and sacrifice your needs for him, you need to approach The situation with what are the compromises that you can make with each other that allow you to still stay together but meet his needs and meet your needs.
Be very, very wary of agreeing to situations where you’re sacrificing everything and he’s not sacrificing anything. But yeah, those are— I think if you start with that, you know… expect it to be not fun at first like honestly just expect that first. You can you can read all the books. You can read all the articles. You can mentally prepare yourself but just expect that you’re not going to feel great. Make other plans. See if you can go to a friend’s you know. Just expect that you’ll feel miserable.
For me that miserable feeling did go away once I— you know, it’s just like my anxiety— once I kind of saw the situation, went through the tunnel, dealt with all the feelings and then I was like, “ Oh okay, my partner still here, they’re not going to leave me for someone else”. You know, or if they do, it’s, you know, it’s not something that I can control then that helped me deal with it. Now I don’t mind. Now I don’t have sleepless nights. And I don’t have the same problems, but it is something that you just have to… that should get better and it might not get better and you might end up being ultimately incompatible.
But if you address the first situation where you embrace the fact that this might happen, and don’t make all of your decisions based on fear, then it might be something that, you know, you can work towards without feeling so afraid. And without letting it guide you so much that you end up in situations you don’t want to be in just because you’re afraid of losing him because, you know, that isn’t— it seems like the worst thing that could happen to you, but it really isn’t so, and I think working on that will really help. So yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.