Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Do I Have To Agree To An Open Relationship?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been seeing/dating someone for over four months now, and everything was great. He was always so sweet, and we had so many common interests that we just talked for seven hours on our second date. I found myself falling for him, but then two weeks ago, my friends sat me down and basically dropped a bomb on my happy bubble. My one friend had been scrolling through Bumble when she saw my SO’s account. She created a fake account and matched with him, and they ended up chatting and setting up a date. I read through those messages, saw the flirty emojis, and then saw that he suggested they meet for coffee at the same place he suggested we go on our first date. It was also on a Sunday at 2pm. This is what really knocked the air out of me. I didn’t know how to process or deal with it all. My friends ended up going to the coffee date and essentially telling my SO that they had told me, and he seemed terrified. Later that evening, he texted me saying that he thought we were on the same page with our “friendship” and that he really likes me and values our “friendship”. The fact that he used that word twice for emphasis was so painful.

In the first couple months of dating, I kept trying to bring up our relationship so that I could have some peace of mind. He kept avoiding the conversation though. I knew he was a bit wary of labels and commitment, so I thought that maybe that was it. I reasoned that he showed his care through actions and that I didn’t need a label to be happy with him. That was a mistake.

Two days after the coffee meet up, he came over to my apartment to talk. For four months he hid the fact that he doesn’t like monogamous relationships and that he is essentially poly. He confessed to hiding it from me because he didn’t want me to tell him to “take a hike”. He said that he was working up to talking to me about it, and that if I left then, he would at least have gotten to spend time with me. Is it wrong for me to find that incredibly selfish?

I don’t doubt that he cares for me, and I don’t doubt the chemistry that we have, but I’m starting to doubt that he cares enough to consider my feelings. I was faced with the ultimatum of breaking things off or officially entering an open relationship with him. For an entire week I could barely get out of bed or eat. My dreams were filled with heartache and more conflict. I couldn’t focus on anything, which was especially bad because it was finals week.

I eventually made the tentative decision to try the open relationship with him. I knew that I would not be able to see anyone else though. That’s just not the way I am. I invest myself fully into my relationships, and I love to love and be loved. My previous relationship was extremely toxic and abusive, so I still carry many insecurities and warped perceptions about relationships. I expressed this concern to my SO, and he basically said that jealousy was childish and that I had no reason to be insecure. He kept dropping comments about how there was stigma against his lifestyle, making me feel like I couldn’t express my concerns or feelings in fear of offending him.

I really truly don’t know what to do. Well, I do. I know I need to break things off. That is the best option for my mental health and soul, but perhaps I am too nearsighted because I can’t bear the thought of cutting him out of my life. At the same time, I am in a perpetual state of anxiety and heartache. I am hyper aware that I am always initiating contact, so I try to hold off for several days. The silence just makes things worse.

My mind is a jumbled mess, and my emotions aren’t even distinguishable anymore. Please, I am so desperate for advice and help. I feel like this is crushing me.

Closed Door

DEAR CLOSED DOOR: Oof.

So this is an ugly one.  See, normally, one of the things I always tell people is that until the two of you have the exclusivity talk, then you have to work under the assumption that you’re not exclusive and there’s the possibility that your boo is seeing other people too. But that only applies when you and your sweetie are, in fact, dealing with each other honestly and in good faith.

That ain’t happening here.

I’m gonna level with you, CD: your boyfriend screwed up pretty badly. I don’t know if he was playing the label games because he was trying to surf the ambiguity wave, where you’re both in and not in an exclusive relationship at the same time, because he didn’t want to commit to you, specifically or if he just wanted to wait to spring the “open relationship” news on you until it was fait accompli or what.

And honestly, going by the way he kept dodging the question about labels and kept saying “friendship”, it sounds like he was trying avoid ever admitting there was an expectation of commitment at all.

If he’s being honest with you about being open and polyamorous – and that’s a mighty big goddamn “if” right now – then hoooooly crap he went about this in the worst possible way he could manage. As a general rule, I don’t think you need to lay all of your cards out on the table immediately. Relationships after all, aren’t depositions or testifying under oath before Congress. I also think it’s acceptable to roll things out slowly, especially if it’s an incredibly polarizing or stigmatizing issue; this gives someone the chance to get to know you as an individual instead of having a knee-jerk reaction to whatever that issue may be. But I’m also a believer that potential partners have a right to informed consent and the bigger the potential deal-breaker something may be, the sooner you need to disclose it and non-monogamy is a pretty goddamn big potential dealbreaker.  While that may not necessarily be first or third date material, it is something that should come up pretty early on. NOT four months into the relationship and CERTAINLY not after playing plausible non-denials about your relationship status.

Under other circumstances, I’d say that yes, if the person you like is poly or ethically non-monogamous, then accepting openness is a price of entry for a relationship. If that’s not something you are into or something that you can handle, then no matter how much you may dig the guy, the best thing for you and him is to break up. Trying to force that proverbial square peg into a round hole is just going to make the both of you miserable. Better to take the short term pain of a break-up so the two of you can find people you are compatible with, instead of the long-term pain of trying to make two incompatible relationship styles work.

But the key word there is “ethical”. This guy ain’t being ethical. He knew this was going to be a deal-breaker for you so he decided to hide it from you until it was too late. He wanted to keep banging you – a non-poly person – and bang other people too, knowing that you were going to kick his ass to the curb. So he played games. He may have avoided lying on a technicality, but he sure as hell was working to deceive you about a major issue. That, frankly, is a relationship extinction-level event.

I get that you care for him and that he means a lot to you, but the truth of the matter is that the dude did you dirty. He let you believe that you two were exclusive and tried to get around having to actually discuss your relationship status so that he could have his cake and sleep with it too. Now he’s dismissing your very real, very legitimate concerns, he’s pressuring you to not express how you feel and he’s and pushing you to agree to something that you don’t want.No matter how much you may care about him, this sort of crap is an indicator of what kind of guy he is and how much respect he actually has for you.

Which is to say: absolutely goddamn none.

(Seriously, “jealousy is childish”? F*ck right the hell off with that. I can guarantee you that if you were dating someone else too, his jealousy would suddenly be VERY important.)

You may love him. I get that. But his behavior has made it clear that he is absolutely NOT deserving of your love, your time or another second of your emotional bandwidth. It will suck for you right now to break up with him. But I am here from the future to promise you: it will hurt less and heal faster to do this now, then to try to force yourself into a relationship that DOES NOT work for you, with someone who treats you with disrespect and who doesn’t give a damn about your valid feelings.

You deserve better than this, CD, and he doesn’t deserve you.

Dump the dude. You will be much, much happier.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a simple question: how do I break the cycle of jealousy about my partners past?

I am very clear in my mind that everyone has a past, it’s absolutely fine and in no way reflective of the people we are today.  Still, the dark corner of my brain compares her happiness and passion to people who were only on her life for mere months, not the years I am. 

Need help to break the habit of letting it fester! I want to get past it quicker!

Retroactively Jealous

DEAR RETROACTIVELY JEALOUS: Dude, you said it yourself. She’s with you now. She’s been with you for years. You have to be willing to take “yes” for an answer and accept that she’s with you because she wants to be with you, specifically. Those other people she dated are her past. They are what brought her to where she is now… with you. You’re her present and her future.

You need to stop living in the past and her past specifically. Focus on appreciating and living in the “now”, because you have to admit: the now, with her, can be pretty damn awesome.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com)