Ask Dr. Nerdlove

How Do I Stop Being Poly?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE:  I’ve been a long time reader, and over the years have used a good number of your suggestions for improving myself, and so wanted to start by saying thank you for the help!

A little information on me, I am a 25 year old fairly recent graduate, in a long term (8 years) relationship with a lovely girl we can call Jane. The two of us purchased a house together about a year ago, and lived together on and off as schedules permitted throughout my time at university. By all means she is fantastic, lovable, sweet, funny, and a whole load of other things. All in all I am quite happy!

So why am I writing for help? Well, I’ve grown and changed a lot as a person since we started dating. This has been a largely positive change in most areas in her eyes, with the exception of one.

While I had grown up largely focusing on monogamous relationships, around 3/4 years back I started to notice I rather enjoyed the prospect of polygamy. I first started to think about this shift in relationship style when I realized as time had gone on I had become less and less prone to jealousy or the general sense of “relational ownership” I had felt when I was younger, and that I greatly enjoyed the idea of being able to express romantic/physical/whatever inclination to more than one party, and wanted Jane to be able to do the same.

Around this time, I asked Jane something to the effect of “Lets say I loved you fully, but also had strong feelings for another person. Do you think it would be possible for me to have feelings of love for both of you?” Jane has always been a bit a somewhat jealous type of person, never doing anything mean or destructive because of it, but none the less reacted not so well to this, assuming that in spite of what I’d said that it meant I did not or would not love her. As a result, after moving beyond the initial tears and fears, I never brought it up again.

Fast forward to the here and now, I still feel the same way. The only difference is that Jane and I have both been becoming increasingly close friends with someone I used to know from my mid teens, who we can call Susan. Back in “the day” Susan and I were never wildly close friends by any means, but were in to the same general music, hobbies, etc, and had hung out together over the years, and have kept in relatively good touch. Recently Susan and I started chatting more, just about random current events, politics, etc. It was a nice talk, and I suggested the three of us have dinner or find a time to hang out some time and catch up. We did so, and progressively one meet up became another, became many more, and we currently all meet up for movies, dinners, drinks, general whatever every weekend. Jane has expressed to me a level of attraction to Susan, and likewise Susan has expressed that she is very romantically interested in both Jane and myself. Susan has also expressed her own non monogamous leanings to both Jane and I.

I have discussed things again recently, and in much more persistent detail with Jane. I have expressed that I think it would be nice to open our relationship up to the possibility of the three of us dating, and that in the event Jane had similar feelings for another, that I (and Susan in this context) would be open to that too, regardless of gender, presentation, etc, so long as we liked them as people.

Long story short, Jane’s response was about as hard a no as it possibly could be. I wasn’t really expecting it to go over especially fantastically, but I’ve tried to improve communication and expression of desires so wanted to at least give it a “proper” try.

Anyways on to my actual problem, which isn’t the one that it probably sounds like it would be based on the stuff above.

I’m not looking for help making a decision of whether I should be with Susan or Jane, as I have already made my mind ages ago that Jane is someone I want to be with no matter what. If that means she is the only someone, and that I will not be following my poly leanings, than so be it. The issue is that even though I can consciously say this, it is something I still really want. I want to be allowed to express romantic feelings for people, and have them reject or receive them, and have that develop however it may. I have very strong feelings for Susan, and would love to act upon those, or similar for potential others in the future.

Basically, the TL;DR question to summarize this is: I am poly leaning and my partner is not. How can I focus more on her, reduce my strong romantic desires, and get myself back into the typical “The One ™” mindset?

Many thanks again!


DEAR POLYGAMUSTNOT: First of all, I think you mean polyamory. If you were calling it polygamy, then it likely sounded to your wife like you were proposing a harem situation, which — as even incredibly experienced daters can tell you — is beyond varsity level and well into the pros in terms of difficulty. Even if she were poly-inclined, I could see that being a hard-as-hell no.

But let’s talk about you for a second. You, over the course of your growth as an emotional person, have realized that you aren’t as possessive and jealous as you once were. That’s awesome! It’s an inherently good thing to be able to legitimately be secure enough in your relationship with your partner, regardless of whether you’re monogamous or not. And, in theory, you’d be down, should the opportunity arise, with an open or even polyamorous arrangement.  All well and good. We all have wants and fantasies. We all have ideas that we think we would be into, should the opportunity arise. Sometimes, they’re flights of fancy, a willingness to admit that under different circumstances, a particular thing – whether it’s an activity, a relationship change or just a person – might be fun. It’s relatively easy to live with a fantasy even when you know – as you did, after your first conversation with your partner – that it was never going to happen.

Other times, they’re something we discover that we legitimately want, even need. And that’s when things get complicated.

In your case, the problem is that you took it to another level. Hoping to fulfill a fantasy is one thing if it’s just involving you and you alone.  But a relationship means that you share your life with someone and what affects you tends to affect them too… especially if it involves things that are already a hard-limit for your partner. Bringing up your interest in polyamory – after a pretty firm shut-down – wasn’t a great idea in the first place. Bringing it up again, with a specific person this time? That was a pretty damn big mistake. And while you don’t give all the details, I suspect that you were talking this out with Susan long before you brought it up again to Jane. I rather imagine that if Susan had told the two of you together that she’d be open for dating one or both of you, it would have been a very different conversation for everyone involved.

Instead, it seems that you took it upon yourself to start the conversation without asking your partner first. And that was where you screwed up. Now, to be fair: Jane was willing to admit an attraction to Susan. But there’s being willing to say someone’s attractive or sexy, maybe even fantasize about her in the privacy of one’s own mind, but to actually invite her into your relationship in some way, shape or form?

That’s a pretty big NOPE right there.

Before now, you were content with the relationship you had. But now that you’ve opened Pandora’s Box (as it were) of desire and thought, even for a moment, that there was a possibility of making this real, you’re stuck wanting something that you know you can’t have. Now you want to rewind time and try to find some way to shove that knowledge and that desire back in the box. And, I hate to tell you this but… you’re just gonna have to live with it.

Once you realized that there’s a part of you going unfulfilled, there really is no way to not know it. There’s no magical way of thinking that’s going to make you not want something. You’re not going to be able to force yourself to not desire something through sheer force of will or mental trickery. The only thing you can do with these new desires – if you want to maintain your current relationship – is make your peace with it.  Either you’re going to have to accept that the price of entry to your relationship with Jane is that you’re going to have desires that are going to go unfulfilled, or you’re going to have to break up with her.

You say that Jane is the person that you want to be with no matter what. Take that knowledge – understanding that she’s that awesome and that she’s worth what you’ll have to give up to be with her – and find comfort in it. Nobody gets everything they want in a relationship, because people are people and people aren’t perfect. There is no One; there’s the .6 to .8 that you round up to One. You may not get your fantasy, but look at all the amazing things you do get to have instead! If you want to make things work with Jane, that’s going to have to be enough.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been an avid reader of yours for the past few years, and I really like your thoughtful perspective. I was wondering if you could help me with a relationship dilemma. I’m a grad student dating another student in my university, and after six months, things have been getting pretty serious. My boyfriend is intelligent, kind, thoughtful, and incredibly supportive—and he’s made it clear that he sees our relationship heading towards marriage and children. He’s the kind of person who brings by homemade soup when I’m sick, gives amazing pep talks, even watches my dog so I could visit family or present at conferences. I love him, but I’m not as completely certain that he’s “the one.” On one hand, I can definitely see us together long-term—we’re on the same page with life goals, conflict styles, vulnerable and open communication, sex, finances, and even hypothetical parenting styles. We’re compatible in many ways, and one of my favorite things is sitting on the porch in a comfortable silence with him, watching the sunset after a long day of teaching or weekend hike.

But on the other hand, he’s so different from the person I’d always imagined I’d end up with. Because we started out as hiking buddies and were friends well before we started dating, things that I would have deemed deal breakers on a first date didn’t seem to matter. He’s eight years older, not particularly religious, messy, smokes weed a few times a month, has tons of tattoos, and he isn’t quite as ambitious or career-focused. I’m a person of faith, uncomfortable with drugs, obsessively clean, and my degree is significantly more marketable. He’s supportive of my own beliefs, only smokes when I’m not around, and helps me mellow out when I get too uptight about school and work (and I’ve helped him with his job applications), so I know these should be non-issues. But I struggle to dismiss them completely. Is it disingenuous to continue dating him when I’m only about 75-80% sure that we’ll make it work long term?

He’s almost finished with his PhD while I’m still facing another five years of school to get mine—because he’s older, he’s dated more than me and wants to settle down more quickly, most likely while I’ll still be in school. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does put a little more pressure on me to be sure before he tries to find jobs this year near my next grad program. Is it normal to feel this way in a serious relationship? Am I ethically in the wrong for continuing to be with him when I’m not 100% certain? He’s so supportive, so I feel terrible for having lingering doubts about issues that seem more shallow.

-Of Two Minds

DEAR OF TWO MINDS: I think your problem isn’t that you’re not 100% certain, OTM. I think your problem is that you’re getting hung up on what you think you should want vs. what you do want. I mean, you’ve listed all of these amazing things about him that you love and things that are insanely important to you in terms of long-term compatibility. Hell even by your own words, those dealbreakers of his aren’t a big deal and he goes out of his way to minimize their impact on you.

I’m gonna be honest: I’m not really seeing the downside here other than he’s not quite as much of a neat-freak as you are.

But I’m going to tell you the same thing I just told Polygamustnot above: there is no “The One”. You’re not going to find one person who has every single thing you want in a partner; you’re always going to compromise and accept that everyone you date is going to have their flaws and imperfections. The question isn’t “is this person The One”, it’s “is this person so awesome that I don’t mind the other stuff?” At 75 – 80%, you’re doing pretty damn well. To paraphrase a particular sage: there’s a million fine looking men in the world. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work. Or homemade soup, for that matter.

And to inject a certain amount of reality: there’s no way to know who is or isn’t going to work in the long-term. Every single relationship you’re going to be in will fail, until one doesn’t… and there’s no real way to predict which one is going to be the one that doesn’t.

But let’s be real here, OTM, your dude sounds pretty awesome. You might wanna hold on tight to him, OTM, because I’m pretty sure there’re going to be some folks in the comments who’ll volunteer as tribute if you decide you can’t make this work.

Good luck.

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