Hi Mischa and Leon,
I’m just looking for a bit of advice. Basically I’ve been with this girl for over a year now and I’m polyamorous. I haven’t made it apparent to anyone before because my past relationships weren’t exclusive so there was never a problem.
I’ve tried to tell her that I want an open relationship but she gets seriously upset when I bring it up so nothing comes of it. I love her and don’t want to lose such a great friend but I haven’t told her I’m polyamorous and I feel like I’m really sacrificing a lot of my needs. I just feel a bit restricted just now as she thinks I just want to sleep around with other girls when it’s more than that.
How should I go about this? Specifically, how can I show or communicate to my monogamous lover why it isn’t a bad thing? I know she feels like she’s not special or that I’m dissatisfied with her when I bring it up but I need to make sure she knows that it’s not the case at all.
Stuck in the Closet
Dear R. Kelly:
People and relationships evolve over time – that’s natural. People grow apart, too – also part of life.
But you’ve known all along you were polyamorous but never told her – that’s a pretty big mark against you in my book. After all, if you knew you were never going to be monogamous with her (regardless of whether it would be from either staying casual forever, or being polyamorous), don’t you think that’s something she would want to know? You’ve been hiding it for as long as you could, and you’ve been doing her a real disservice. She may love you, but that’s based on over a year of her assumption that you’ll eventually climb the relationship ladder together.
It’s very likely, based on her reactions, that she will never be OK with you in an open relationship. Your only chance MIGHT be to sit down with her and address some of her misconceptions about polyamory via a book, a TED Talk, or some mentor-like scenario which can break down poly into bite-size pieces whereby she might see polyamory from your perspective, including the specialness of a primary and your underlying bond, while reducing the impact of her entire life living in a society which rejects anything other than traditional monogamy.
But even if she says she’s willing to try, it will almost certainly be because she doesn’t want to lose you and is willing to compromise her true beliefs in order to make the relationship work, rather than that she’s “seen the light” as a true poly adherent. My bet is you’re ultimately setting yourself up for bilateral frustration and disappointment if you try to push further with this partner. But you brought it on yourself.
I don’t have much to add to Leon’s take on your situation, only just to say that I hope this experience has convinced you that dating in the closet works about as well for poly people as it does for gay people.
I don’t understand when you say you’ve tried to tell her that you want an open relationship but you haven’t told her you’re polyamorous. Those two things are pretty much one and the same, so it sounds like you didn’t get to explain what ethical non-monogamy means. I’d encourage you to give her books, or take her to poly events and meetings so she can see that this is a workable, ethical and joyful alternative to a monogamous lifestyle.
If it turns out that she’s not into that lifestyle, then you have to let her find the relationship that she wants for herself and try to remain friends (if that’s what you both want). And the next time you meet someone, you’ll know that it’s best to be up-front about the kind of relationship you want before getting involved to the point where someone could get hurt.