DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am 10 months into a relationship with an absolutely wonderful guy. We are compatible on nearly every level, the chemistry between us is amazing, he loves my kids from a previous marriage, and we’ve been discussing the possibility of getting married.
The problem is that he’s polyamorous and I’m not. He was already in a relationship with another woman when we started dating, and their relationship has continued. He sees her roughly every other weekend, although he would like to spend more time with her. He’s also open to other relationships developing in the future. He has been open and honest about this from the beginning.
I have no desire to be poly myself. This man checks nearly every box on my “want from a relationship” list. But after going through two divorces because of my partners’ infidelity, dating a poly man *hurts*. Every time he’s gone for the weekend, I go through fits of anxiety based on my fears of being left for another woman yet again. I generally either lash out at him (we’ve had some epic fights over text messages) or I completely emotionally shut down until he gets back. I’ve told him how this affects me, and while he understands this is hard for me, he says he shouldn’t have to change who he is or how he loves because of my insecurities.
Help me, Doc. I don’t know how to love a poly man without my fears tearing me apart. What can I do to make this relationship work?
Bringing On The Heartbreak
DEAR BRINGING ON THE HEARTBREAK: I hate to say this BotH but there aren’t going to be any easy answers here.
One truism about dating that everyone needs to keep in mind is that there’s no such thing as “settling down” without “settling for”. In every relationship, no matter how wonderful, we have to pay the price of entry. Sometimes that price is relatively low. Sometimes that price can be high. And in your case… that’s going to be a pretty high cost.
The fact of the matter is, polyamory isn’t for everyone. It’s like dating on steroids, because the amount of stress and complications goes up exponentially. You need to have very clear and open lines of communication and be able to sort out complex issues around different kinds of relationships, emotional connections and the rules that govern them. This gets even more complicated by the fact that there are many, many different kinds of polyamorous relationships – some people have primary and secondary partners, some have everyone on equal standing. Some have one person who is involved with different partners but those partners aren’t involved with each other, while others are one big lovefest.
But here’s the thing: you need to be a particular kind of person to make poly work… and to be quite honest, it doesn’t sound like you’re that kind of person. This isn’t a judgement on you, nor is it a comment on your love for your boyfriend. Your anxieties are real and understandable and the way you feel is legitimate… but it’s also not necessarily fair. You love your boyfriend, and you knew going in that he was poly. It’s unfair of you to lash out at him for doing something that – by entering into this relationship – you agreed was going to be part of the relationship. By attacking him or freezing him out, you’re punishing him for something that you said that you would be ok with.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you entered into this in bad faith. I’m sure you went in to this confident that you’d be able to handle it. The problem is that clearly, you haven’t been able to, and that’s hurting you both. And unless you can get past that, this is just going to keep causing more hurt and leaving you both miserable.
The cold hard truth is, if you can’t handle a poly relationship – and not everyone can – then this isn’t going to work. I’ve personally seen people who tried to be cool with being poly because it was the only way they could be in a relationship with the person they loved… and it caused everybody no end of grief before it was over. And not to sound insensitive, but you need to be the one to handle your anxieties. Your boyfriend is right: this is part of who he is, it’s something you knew going in, and telling him to change because you can’t handle it isn’t fair to him. Just as constantly subjecting yourself to misery isn’t fair to you.
If you want to try to make a go of this, then the first thing you need to do is get yourself into therapy to deal with your anxieties. Simply throwing yourself into the mix and hoping that you’ll go numb eventually is a bad idea. Having someone who can help you process your feelings and guide you through them will be invaluable, whether you continue seeing your boyfriend or not. The second thing you need to do is start doing your due diligence. If you haven’t already, you should read Opening Up: A Guide To Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino. You may also want to check out The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures by Dossie Eston and Building Open Relationships by Dr. Liz Powell (full disclosure: Dr. Powell is a personal friend of mine and has been a guest expert in my column before). These can help you navigate issues of jealousy, communication and relationship maintenance.
However, I do want you to realize that if you can’t handle it, then you can’t handle it and there’s no shame in that. If his being with someone else is like dragging your heart through beds of broken glass, then all you’re doing is hurting yourself for no good reason. I know you love him. Whether or not you can handle a poly relationship doesn’t say anything about the depth or the validity for your feelings, nor does it say anything about how strong you are. But love alone isn’t enough to make a relationship work. You can love another person with your whole heart and soul, but that won’t get you past a fundamental incompatibility like this.
If that’s the case, if the price of entry into this relationship is more than you can pay, then the best and kindest thing you can do for the both of you is to end things. It will hurt. You’ll feel like your soul has been ripped out. But I promise you: you will heal. You will recover. And you’ll be free to find someone amazing that you are compatible with.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I recently moved back to my home state and feeling nostalgic reached out to old friends. I discovered, to my delight, an old friend of mine that I have known since elementary and was friends with in high-school had moved to the same city as me. She’s a very pretty nerd and was basically the only girl my little nerdy group contained. She promptly invited me to go and see a movie with some friends. The actual day rolled around and magically it was just her and I. So we continued in this vein with her inviting me out with “friends” for a while steadily saw more and more of each other until she dropped the pretext and just invited me. Life being too short I asked her out somewhere along the way in this process. She said she really didn’t want a relationship right now because she had just finalized an extremely nasty multi-year long divorce. I was fine with that so I continued with my own explorations in dating. She started dating, shortly after I did and we mostly compared notes on who we’d actually like to find and weren’t. She’d helped me with my profiles and date ideas. I had dated a couple girls and talked to several through dating sites but nothing was clicking, no chemistry anywhere. Part of my frustration since I have fantastic chemistry with my friend and wanted to find someone I could share a similar friendship with.
I had walled off that part of me attracted to her, I could intellectually realize she was attractive, but I’d friend zoned her in my head. Prior to the COVID lockdown, we were going to go out to dinner to a local restaurant we both love even if it is a capitol crime against your body. She unexpectedly asked to meet me at my place, which is strange on reflection because I’m actually on the other side of town from the restaurant. When she arrived she started teasing me like normal, then she abruptly asked if I’d found anyone I was seriously considering dating I hadn’t. At which point she kissed me, one thing lead to another and we missed our dinner reservations.
This destroyed my carefully laid mental walls. Now I am very aware she is the embodiment of what I’m looking for, physically and mentally. So now my conundrum. She’s eating up mental and emotional resources. I’ve really lost interest in continuing to look for anyone else.
My confusion is only fueled by our interactions now that I’m aware again. I was talking over the situation with a friend and his comment was simple, “In what way are you not dating?” I really didn’t have a good answer.
So I’m not sure how to proceed. If I should rock the boat and see if she wants a relationship or continue as we are and see if something happens naturally. I just fear I’m going to get burned badly standing idle and at this point I’m worried I might not be able to pull back enough without severing the friendship which I don’t want to do.
To Be Or Not To Be
DEAR TO BE OR NOT TO BE: First of all, my lawyers have advised me to tell you that letters submitted to Ask Dr. NerdLove are considered to be under copyright to me for the purposes of the romantic comedy script that this will eventually become.
Now, let me see if I’ve got this straight: you’re old friends. She’s been inviting you out on Schrodinger’s Dates since you got back together. She’s not been seeing anyone serious since you’ve been in town, she’s been all up in your business about your love life and then she straight up dragged you to into bed because you didn’t seem to be getting the hint.
So help me out, because I’m not really seeing the problem here. She’s been throwing out just about every kind of signal and sign that she wants to date you short of flares and semaphore flags and the thing that’s holding you back is one conversation you had months ago when circumstances were RATHER NOTICEABLY different.
k’s sake dude, take “yes” for an answer already. Have the defining the relationship talk and make this s
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