My boyfriend of 3 years and I recently decided to start seeing other people. I should explain that it was my idea and it took almost a year of talking, reading the same books, more talking, working with a therapist and even MORE talking before my boyfriend was comfortable enough to give it a shot. He had a lot of self-esteem and abandonment issues to work out and needs constant reassurance from me. For the longest time I found this to be annoying and exhausting. But since this is really important to me I’ve learned to put out the extra effort to keep him feeling secure which is the only way that I’m going to get the freedom that I crave. Once I slept with someone else for the first time and came back to him he realized that he can do this after all and we lived happily ever after.
Not really, or I wouldn’t be writing this. Obviously.
The only real problem that we’re having is that I’m going on dates and meeting people so much that I can’t even keep up with it while he’s only been on a couple of dates which have been disastrous. As a result, his self-esteem and confidence has taken a really big hit. We all know that it’s not that I’m so much more desirable than he is, it’s simply different for girls, but that doesn’t stop his feelings from being hurt (and understandably so). I’ve decided to take a break from meeting new people to give him the opportunity to catch up (for lack of a better term). We’re going to Poly Cocktails on Monday and we’ve scheduled a date with another couple and we’re making an effort to do more things together.
I think this is a good thing for now but it’s not a long term solution. I don’t want us only play together; having separate dating/sex lives is really important to me but it’s no fun when one of us is sitting at home feeling rejected and the other is out living it up.
I would imagine this is a common problem. Any suggestions of advice for us?
Inequality in date frequency IS a common situation. It’s up to the people involved, however, to decide whether or not it’s a problem.
I see two issues here. The first is the fact that – despite my distaste for reaffirming gender norms – our society almost always provides more sexual opportunity for the female in traditional relationships. As long as sex is treated like a commodity with women as the gatekeepers, I don’t see this changing anytime soon.
The second issue, and the one over which you have more power, is how that first issue affects each of you. Insecurity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to any happy relationship. It can feel warm and safe to have one partner you can count on to be there for you at all times; even if they’re not physically available you know they’ve got you and your relationship as a top priority. However, that knowledge should exist whether or not your and your primary are monogamous. In a poly context with multiple partners, there are many more opportunities to experience self-doubt, loneliness, and insecurity, which makes nonmonogamy potentially hard on people with histories of abuse or betrayal of trust.
For any relationship to be deemed successful, each person should be getting their needs met. On one hand, doing what makes you happy – exploring new connections often – will likely keep your partner unhappy and insecure, even if you’re committed to bringing your love home to him. On the other hand, going much longer without having your needs met will eventually make you frustrated and resentful.
I think you both need to sit down and have a real conversation about what you each want, and whether the other is truly open to it. Just because you love each other doesn’t mean your long-term visions are compatible, even with 3 years invested. It’s quite likely that he doesn’t want and will never be able to handle a poly relationship, while you need one. That incompatibility can’t be ignored, no matter how you feel about each other.
If you both decide this relationship is worth working on, perhaps you could work together on negotiating agreements that address both your concerns, like saving weekends for each other, or having him meet your partners, or whatever suggestions he’s able to identify and you’re truly comfortable with offering. Ask him what he needs in order to feel secure in your love for him, so that while you’re out he’s feeling neither FOMO nor panic, but happiness for you. Perhaps ask him under what circumstances he would trust you enough to let you have your private dates?
I do think you’ve got some good ideas in place; doubledates and partnered events are a great way to have new experiences together, while making sure no one gets left out. Your taking a break from new solo dates is also bound to help him feel safer while he’s in a tenuous emotional state. My question remains, for how long can you be truly happy while you’re more concerned about his needs than yours?
As you say, the only problem is that you’re dating more successfully than he is. So the key question to ask when you sit down and talk about this is: What can you do to make him feel loved, cherished and bonded to you? If you are both committed to the idea of non-monogamy, then his answer probably won’t be for you to stop going on dates. If it is, then you two need to revisit your original intentions.
No, more likely the answer would be something like spending a certain amount of time together or behaving a certain way when you are on dates (with or without him), checking in or otherwise putting some kind of priority on your relationship with him without sacrificing your freedom to date others. So the first step is to identify what those key actions are so that you can make sure you are meeting his needs.
I think this is a common pitfall in poly relationships where one person tends to get more dates than another. And personally, I’ll disagree with both of you in that it’s not about gender, but about many different factors – clothes, wealth, personality, self-confidence – that add up to how attractive each person is to the potential target audience of any gender. There’s a sense among a lot of people (especially those starting out in poly) that “fairness” means “complete equality in experience.” But that’s an impossible goal and wrongheaded to boot.
If my partner were dating four other people casually, and I found one other person with whom I felt strongly connected to, I wouldn’t see any cause to complain. When it comes to people, it should be about quality over quantity. Sure, it’s great to have 4,981 Facebook friends like Leon (as of 9/23) but really, when it comes to relationships you should invest your time carefully. So in addition to what you’re doing with dating as a couple, you might consider looking at your self-restriction as raising your dating standards and only going out with the cream of the crop.
Lastly, I offer one more way of looking at the situation. I have heard this from many different poly experts over the years, and I think it’s good advice. It’s helpful for anyone, poly or mono, to remember that even if you’re single, you are in a relationship with yourself. You are the one responsible for nurturing yourself, to make sure you get the care you need and develop into the kind of human being you aspire to be. What you do with your extra time after you’ve taken care of yourself is what you have to give to others and build friendships and loving relationships with them. So maybe part of the solution might be that he needs to work on his relationship with himself to build his self-esteem first, and then his relationship with you, before he tries dating again.
Thanks for writing and good luck to you!