DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a question about a situation that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere. I have appreciated all of your great advice in the past, and as soon as I began wondering about this “problem”, I knew you were the person to ask.
I have begun a relationship with a man who is polyamorous. When our relationship started, I was fairly involved in the local poly community (or in the case of the past year, as much as you can be during COVID times), and I’ve spent most of my adult life identifying as an ethical slut who is solo poly. I’m in my early 40’s and pansexual, so I’ve had plenty of time being involved in a variety of poly and ethically non-monogamous relationships. Basically, I’m saying this is not new to me, and this has been how I have strongly identified and operated for at least 25 years.
After much introspection regarding this current relationship and my past relationships/partners, I have come to realize that I do not think that I am necessarily poly. I feel now that I had thought I was poly because I had been searching for something in a partner that I wasn’t ever getting from anyone. Now with this man, I feel very fulfilled and satisfied, and I have no desire to be with anyone else. He truly is exactly the kind of person I want for a partner in every way, and I’m very happy and content to just be with him.
We are both great at being very open and communicating with each other, so we have, of course, discussed this. I have told him the truth about my feelings and thoughts, and he is fine with me only having him for a partner, and also very supportive if things stay that way or if they would ever change. I am on board with whatever he wants out of his life and his relationships, including staying with his wife, having other partners, etc. I have no desire to control or define anything for him – I am just happy with what we have and feel good with just that. He knows that I don’t expect anything more from him, or for him to change anything because I feel that I have changed. This whole paragraph is a long-winded way of saying I am not trying to f--k anything up for him or make him be something he’s not.
So far things have been very good for both of us, we are both very happy with our relationship, and both very much in love. So what’s the problem? Well, I guess it’s that I haven’t been able to find any other stories like this online or in the many books I’ve read about the ENM or poly lifestyle. I’m feeling very alone in thinking and feeling like this. Is this something that’s okay? I feel like it is, but I also feel like it must be fairly rare considering the lack of information or others’ stories about a relationship like ours. For the most part, I think that it’s obvious that if we’re both happy with our arrangement that of course it’s fine! This shouldn’t even be a question or a concern. But there is still this small nagging worry there for me. Can a relationship like this work? Am I really not poly like I thought I was? Am I still poly and just taking a break, or maybe just getting older and retiring the slut label? It’s obviously been very confusing and somewhat frustrating for me even though I know how I feel, I know what I want, and I am happy.
So, I’m writing because I know you will give it to me straight, and I sincerely hope you will be able to answer my “non-question” in some way!
DEAR BLURRING LINES: This is one of those times that, if I’m perfectly honest, it sounds like you’re inventing a problem where there isn’t one.
One of the things that draws people to various forms of open relationships or non-monogamy is that it means that they don’t feel like their relationships have to be narrowly defined or restrictive. It allows for a wider variety of friendships and romantic relationships, which also means that you aren’t necessarily looking to have all of your needs fulfilled by one person. You can have different kinds of connections, which takes the pressure off each individual relationship. This actually helps make those relationships stronger, because they aren’t buckling under the need to be all things to each partner.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t find a partner who does fulfill your needs — if not all of them, then at least enough of them that you don’t feel the lack or the need to look elsewhere. And that may be for now, or it may be for a long damn time.
What it doesn’t automatically mean is that you’re not still poly or non-monogamous.
Forgive me for an inelegant comparison, but back in 2014, Anna Paquin — who is openly bisexual — was being interviewed by Larry King. King asked her whether, now that she was married to her True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer, that meant that she was no longer bi. Her response was that just being married and monogamous doesn’t mean that she’s not bisexual; it just means that she’s married to someone and isn’t dating or sleeping with anyone else. Her relationship status doesn’t change something that’s part of who she is.
The same goes with folks who are non-monogamous or polyamorous. Being poly doesn’t mean that you need to be constantly juggling relationships or on the look out for more partners. Sometimes you’re in a place where you’re happy with what you have and don’t feel the need to go looking for more. That doesn’t mean that the label no longer applies or that you need to find another partner within a certain number of days in order to keep your credentials. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re “doing poly wrong” somehow. It just means that you’re happy and fulfilled, that’s all.
Can this relationship work? Sure! You basically have a poly vee relationship. This is one of the more common non-monogamous relationship dynamics out there.
Does this mean you’re no longer polyamorous? Frankly, I don’t see how. Without getting into definitional debates about whether poly means everyone in a poly relationship wants a partner, or whether it not requiring monogamy from your partner, not wanting or needing more doesn’t mean that you’re no longer capable of more than one romantic connection of a time. It’s certainly possible that things have changed and you’re monogamous now… but honestly I suspect it’s more you’re monogamous for now. Will this change? Who knows, and honestly, who cares? This works for you, this works for him and everyone’s happy and that’s what really matters. There may come a point where you meet someone awesome and have feelings for them, or you may not. But that’s for the future, a future that may never come. Why borrow trouble from a future that may or may not come to pass? Enjoy what you have and don’t worry about the labels.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org