If I only want to get married if we're poly, should we still get married?
January 22, 2010 6:59 PM   Subscribe

I think I want to marry my partner, but only if I can still have the possibility of other intimate relationships. Is this a healthy desire for a polyamorous approach to relationships, or is it a sign something's wrong in the primary relationship that might come back to haunt us if we go forward this way?

I have a long-term partner (of 5 years) who wants to get married, but I'm wrestling with the idea of committing to marriage, or at least to traditional monogamous marriage. Not because of any problems with my relationship or my partner-- we love each other very much, get along wonderfully, have a warm, supportive, happy relationship, have similar/compatible values and life goals, and I feel ready and able to commit to loving and supporting and partnering with him for the long-term-- but I've realized that my main hesitation about marriage is the idea of closing off possibilities for intimate relationships with anyone else moving forward.

I haven't had any other really serious relationships (I'm 27), and I don't know if I would feel like this with anyone, or whether it's just him/us but in another relationship I might be comfortable with or even glad about having only one partner who has enough of what I'm "looking for" that I don't want or need anyone else. (I'm a very indecisive person who's always thinking about the greener grass and worrying about making the best/"right" choice-- I've been working with my therapist on trying to be comfortable with "good enough" rather than looking for "perfect" in decision-making generally.) But regardless, I do feel really unsure about the idea of committing to my current partner being my one and only, forever. I love him and I'm happy with him and with our relationship, but I'm also conscious of what's not in our relationship, specific personality characteristics that I always wanted in common with a partner that he doesn't share (in the Myers-Briggs typology I'm an NF-- idealistic, creative, passionate, intense-- and he's an SJ-- down-to-earth, hard-working, loyal, generous), specific kinds of connection and intensity that I wish we had but we don't. (Or, really, that I wish I had with *someone*, but I don't.) And I think that if my only option was to have only one intimate partner-- and I could wave a magic wand and make us best friends but not partners and take my chances looking for a different one-and-only partner-- I would roll the dice and see if I could find someone who has more in common with me personality-wise, with whom I might be able to build a connection that feels more intense and complete.

That doesn't change the fact that I'm very happy with him and our relationship in the present, and stretching out as far as I can see. But the idea of promising in marriage to give up any chance of having those missing aspects in an intimate relationship in the future is my big block as far as thinking about marriage. I don't think I'm ready to give that up, and I'm not sure if I'm ever going to be, for him or anyone else. But I also don't want to give *him* up. I love him so much and he's such an important part of my life and he makes me so happy and I love making him happy too. And there are so many things about him and our relationship that are really important to me, that I don't know if I could find with anyone else (certainly not in exactly the same ways)-- not to mention how sad and painful breaking up would be for both of us. It's awful to think about, and would only be worth it if I believed that it would be in our long-term best interest to avoid greater heartache later.

I've been looking at the traditional marriage vows lately and thinking about them really deeply, and when I think about the version that goes "I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as we both shall live," I really feel ready to say that, to promise that, to commit to love him and partner with him permanently, to buy a house and raise kids with him and grow old with him, to promise to do everything I can to make things work with him no matter what. I just don't feel ready or comfortable or happy with the version that ends, "forsaking all others, keeping only unto you, for as long as we both shall live."

So I guess I'm wondering-- on the one hand, I wonder if this poly thing is a way to try to have it all, a "too-easy" way to keep him in my life while still allowing me to "keep looking" for something that feels missing or not quite complete, in a way that will blow up on us someday because I didn't understand or admit my true emotions. But on the other hand, polyamory seems so attractive and right to me, both in the abstract and in the context of our relationship. There's a quote in The Ethical Slut that's incredibly appealing to me: "Every person I meet has the potential for whatever it is that's right between me and that person, regardless of how my relationships are with anybody else." I honestly don't know how much I would end up pursuing that-- but I feel like I really want to have that option, I don't like the idea of cutting it off, and I think I'd feel at least somehwat like that no matter how perfect I thought my partner was. And so the idea of committing to marry my partner but agreeing to an open/poly relationship with the freedom to find other partners feels right to me. (I am glad to offer him that freedom too-- I love him and want him to be happy and have relationships that make him happy-- not that I'm naive about it being easy in practice, but I'm at least on board with it in principle.)

So, to get down to the questions here: Have you or someone you know been in a similar situation? Do you think I'm crazy to think it could work to get married given the way I feel? Do you think it's a mistake to marry someone if you're not willing to give up looking for relationships that have some things yours doesn't-- am I just trying to paper over a problem here? Or is being polyamorous a healthy and reasonable way for me to deal with the fact that no one's perfect and no one can fill all of your needs and desires for connection? Does it make a difference that if monogamy was my only choice and there was a pain-free way to choose someone else as a partner while keeping him as a dear friend, I'd do it? Or is it enough that I'd *rather* have him as a partner than a friend, and that I feel ready to commit to him being my life partner, and that if I never have another relationship besides him I think I'll still be happy and satisfied (but that I don't want to give up the chance to look?) If any of this rings a bell for you from your life or those you know, are there things you would recommend I do or think about? (I would appreciate if you would briefly mention what if any actual experience you have with polyamory, yourself or someone you know.) You can also e-mail me (askme.anonymity AT gmail.com.)

For the record, we have discussed this casually in the past and he's been somewhat open to the idea, but we would definitely need to have a much deeper discussion about it, and I plan to very soon. I'm just trying to get some other perspectives first on whether I want this so much that I might be in denial about whether it's the right path.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am far from a polyamory pro (since I have never been in a polyamorous relationship) but one thing comes to mind that might be worth thinking about.

What if you get your partner to agree to polyamory, and then, 5 or 10 years down the line when you decide to put it into practice, possibly after a mortgage/children, your partner finds that it is extremely painful and distressing to them?
posted by Ashley801 at 7:06 PM on January 22, 2010


If you need the relationship to be poly for the marriage to work, then you must make it poly before you get married, not after. Not every relationship that can survive monogamy can survive polyamory. After taking the vows is not the time to find out.

To answer your more direct question: Sure, polyamorous marriages can work just fine, but it sounds more like you're more unsure about whether you want this guy as your life partner than you are unsure about whether you want him as your only tumble. Make sure you're not latching onto the issue of polyamory simply because you're hiding from the real reasons you don't want to marry him.
posted by 256 at 7:08 PM on January 22, 2010 [18 favorites]


Don't ask us, ask him.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:11 PM on January 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


One thing that you haven't mentioned, and which I think you should carefully consider, is how you would feel if he, having at last agreed to your proposition of polyamory, went out and found himself intimate partners to fill a similar void.

If this would be a problem, and your interests lie in being the sole polyamorous party in the equation, I think you should reconsider. However, if you're open to both of you living such a lifestyle, then it sounds like something that may work.

I totally hear ya on the "grass is always greener" habit, but really I expect you will have to at some point consider monogamous marriage as a worthwhile sacrifice. You certainly wouldn't be the first person to feel a little wistful about closing out other prospects!
posted by Pomo at 7:11 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does it make a difference that if monogamy was my only choice and there was a pain-free way to choose someone else as a partner while keeping him as a dear friend, I'd do it?

I think this really answers the question.
posted by jgirl at 7:18 PM on January 22, 2010 [31 favorites]


I haven't had any other really serious relationships (I'm 27), and I don't know if I would feel like this with anyone, or whether it's just him/us but in another relationship I might be comfortable with or even glad about having only one partner who has enough of what I'm "looking for" that I don't want or need anyone else.

Just as the statement that follows this one, you might think the grass is greener, but as you say in the statement above, you really have no idea. Using a marriage as a sandbox for this is not the way to go about it. If you, after five years, are still left wondering "what else is there?", marriage is not the answer, and polygamy is even further out of the question.

It's okay to say no to a marriage proposal. It is okay to tell your partner that you just don't know what else is out there and while you love them, you still have unanswered questions. Trying to please your partner but sneak your own fineprint in just in case it doesn't live up to your expectations is not going to do anything but hurt both of you.

If it's out of the question to open the relationship at this point just to test the waters, I'd say to trust your gut and find those fish while solo.

I think the idea of polygamy is appealing to a lot of people, but very few can truly make it work for them and their partners. Not to say you can't, but being as you've noted you have little serious one-on-one relationship experience, you really need to get in touch with the right groups in your area to help you make this decision/test your hypothesis if it's something you are really considering not only bringing yourself into, but your current partner as well.
posted by june made him a gemini at 7:34 PM on January 22, 2010


Honestly, I read all this and thought, "You're just not that into him."

Have you ever been seriously attracted to someone else during the last 5 years? That you would have acted on were you single? Alternately, would you be devastated if this guy decided to dump you tomorrow out of the blue, or secretly relieved that you didn't have to commit to this one?

I'd say polyamory would be an option if you love this guy, but tend to love others too. This is not the case here. The case here is, "Well, uh, I like him well enough to be comfortable/settle with him if I HAD to, but if I could find somebody better I'd throw this guy over in a second. I haven't found someone better yet, but I'd like that to still be an option if I have to marry the guy."

Don't marry this guy. He deserves a girl that's really into him, and you're not. And you deserve someone you're really into, period. Polyamory isn't really the question here.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:42 PM on January 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


It's certainly something to discuss. My husband has always said that we could talk about opening up our relationship if I ever felt the need, and for me this feels like kind of a safety valve in case I ever had an overwhelming attraction to someone else, or became aware of unmet needs that my partner couldn't/wouldn't fulfill.

When urges come up, just knowing I have the option of asking for and a possibility of having granted "permission" to pursue something extramarital, takes away a lot of the pressure of feeling like I'd have to make a black-or-white, all-or-nothing, forever-and-ever choice between two relationships that might feel very important to me in different ways.

The few times I've ever seriously thought about asking, I thought hard and decided I didn't want to open up my marriage to that kind of risk. But it still helps me to feel like I probably have an option that doesn't just boil down to an unhappy ultimatum.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:58 PM on January 22, 2010


i second jgirl
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:00 PM on January 22, 2010


i'm very pro-poly - been in some poly relationships and have a great number of friends involved in the community. i'm very anti poly for people who think it's a bandaid for relationship problems. poly relationships have a lot going for them - but they always make things more complicated, not less complex.

i don't think you're into this guy that much. marriage or adding extra partners isn't going to give you a spark that already isn't there. if overt passion is something you need, go out and find it - but let this guy find a gal who really likes him.

and the part about how you'd take him as a friend and another person as a lover really answers all your questions, i'd think.
posted by nadawi at 8:12 PM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Infinite Widow has the most useful response, and by extension the only useful response.

Poly isn't one way. By absolute definition. And by my experience, poly doesn't make for long term relationships.
posted by carlh at 8:18 PM on January 22, 2010


Before you get married you need to talk to your partner and find out how comfortable you both are with this sort of thing and your levels of comfort about it. Leaving it until AFTER you're married will leads to hiding and shame and tears.
posted by The Whelk at 8:28 PM on January 22, 2010


I'm wrestling with the idea of committing to marriage, or at least to traditional monogamous marriage.

Well, heck, most marriages aren't monogamous... eventually... so it's generally wise of you to be thinking about it up front, so it can be a realistic, understood thing instead of a painful one later. It's not the sex that ruins relationships, it's the sneaking around, the lying, and the guilt. The failure to live up to an ideal, in other words.

That's in general. But in this specific case, based on your other words, I'm with jgirl and nadawi. It sounds as if you're already compromising on a couple of levels here (not the relationship you really want, maybe not even the person you really want), which sure doesn't seem like much of a foundation for the future.
posted by rokusan at 8:38 PM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I just wanted to say that I disagree with those who are saying that "you're just not that into him"... it sounds to me like you love him very much and are very happy with most aspects of your relationship. You seem to respect him, feel great affection for him, appreciate his many fine qualities, and place a great value on the deep friendship you two have. To me that sounds like a great basis for a long-term, committed relationship.

If you can come to some sort of mutually satisfying agreement by which you can get your passionate needs met outside the relationship, well, then what you'd have sounds to me like a very healthy polyamorous situation.

Yes, he does deserve to have someone who loves him. But if he is not a passionate person by nature then he is likely not going to feel unhappy if your feelings towards him are more of the "warm-fuzzy, committed to building a life together" variety rather than the intensely passionate. If he doesn't need that, he doesn't need it... from you or from anyone. It's just the way he is. It sounds to me like you can meet his needs for a partner in every way but monogamy. And if that is negotiable, then I don't see why there should be any more problems in your relationship than in any other reasonably healthy, honest one.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:54 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I tend to think this is less about your boyfriend in particular and more about your sense of having unexplored options and being uncertain about decisions that will leave things, as Keirsey puts it, "settled and decided."

Generally, polyamory is a bad response to uncertainty about your current personal lifestyle choices, since it's about the long-term certainty that you want more romantic partners in your life in a consensual fashion.

I've had uncomfortable talks with people before where they suddenly announce that they're open to non-monogamy when it's really that they're open to sticking with their current inertia-bound relationship while looking for a more compatible partner. They usually don't want the other partner to seek relationships outside the current one, and when you tell them "that's not really a great idea," they break up with their SO and go date someone else. This is not poly; it is opportunism.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:08 PM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


But the idea of promising in marriage to give up any chance of having those missing aspects in an intimate relationship in the future is my big block as far as thinking about marriage. I don't think I'm ready to give that up, and I'm not sure if I'm ever going to be, for him or anyone else. But I also don't want to give *him* up. I love him so much and he's such an important part of my life and he makes me so happy and I love making him happy too.

You have every right to ask for what you want, polyamory, whatever. He has every right to say no. There is nothing wrong with you asking for this and nothing wrong with him saying that "I'm sorry, I'm looking for something else that you are not willing to provide me and I will go out and find someone else who will provide me with what I want."

The rest is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:16 PM on January 22, 2010


Speaking as someone with a not-really-poly-more-swingery marriage:
With regards to the vows issue, we did vow to forsake all others, at least in terms of emotional relationships. For us, sexual relationships are judged by a completely different metric. It's really what you make of it, but I have to agree - if you're going to propose this to him, do it before you're married, and wait until you're a few years into a comfort zone before reapproaching marriage.
posted by theraflu at 10:18 PM on January 22, 2010


anonymous: “Is this a healthy desire for a polyamorous approach to relationships, or is it a sign something's wrong in the primary relationship that might come back to haunt us if we go forward this way?”

I'm going to go ahead and give a definite answer: no.

No, it's not a healthy desire for a polyamorous approach to relationships. Polyamory takes more dedication and commitment, in many ways, than monogamy. That's not to say it's hell - I don't want to say that - but the few people I've known who were emotionally and practically equipped to handle that kind of thing came to it after long experience of various alternatives and after trying different options out and discovering that a desire and comfortability with polyamory was part of who they were. They specifically did not come to it out of a fear that they might be trapped with one partner, or that they might be denied getting to experience other intimate relationships in life - at least not directly. Notice that in your case polyamory would almost certainly be a compromise; you're wondering about those possibilities, but you have no way of knowing or saying whether those intimate possibilities would require you to be completely single.

You're vague about what intimate relationships you'd be worried about losing, although you've seen some stuff in the (excellent) Ethical Slut that appeals to you. And let's be fair - the fact that you're vague on that stuff is the whole point. All I'm saying is: the successful polyamorists I've known have known very well what their boundaries are, have known very well that, in making any commitments, the person or persons they committed to were certainly the people they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with. You say:

“... I think that if my only option was to have only one intimate partner... I would roll the dice and see if I could find someone who has more in common with me personality-wise, with whom I might be able to build a connection that feels more intense and complete.”

Which naturally raises the question in my mind: what if you find someone, a year into marriage, who fits this perfectly? A good polyamorist will tell you that, at that point, it really won't matter whether you're in an open relationship or not – if you meet the person that you feel is a more complete partner and feel naturally drawn to partner with them instead, trying to settle for just having sex with them every once in a while is going to be heartbreaking.

In short: I don't think the polyamorous lifestyle is really an answer to the difficulty you're facing. It might even be something that you decide is right for you, but it doesn't solve your immediate problem, which seems to be: how do I commit to a partner permanently when I don't know if I might find a better partner just around the bend?

That said, I also don't think this is necessarily a sign that something's wrong in your relationship right now. You're just feeling some restiveness, and wondering if the partner you have at this moment is going to be the best one for your entire life. On that point, I think, on the whole, the solution is really very simple: don't get married right now. You've been with him for five years, so make your own decision about whether you tell him about all this or not - my instinct is always toward openness, since that usually works things out well in the end, but I think you know your partner well enough to know what will work best. Really, the only thing you pretty much need to tell him is this: I'm not ready to get married right now. And you're not, I don't think. Being able to have sex with anyone within reason, though it's a fine thing and the best arrangement for some people, will not get you around the fact that you wonder if you'll meet someone who is more completely your partner. Successful polyamorists have these questions answered absolutely before they make things like lifetime commitments.

Finally, I have some advice that might not even apply to you, but I think it's worth noting in any case; take it for what it is, and don't stress if it doesn't really fit your situation. Nowadays, we're surrounded by freedoms and by possibilities, and it can become overwhelming when we consider all the things a person can try in a single lifetime. But - you were born in a single town; you can never go back and be born in another town. From birth, you and I and every one of us has had our lives shaped by seemingly arbitrary and particular circumstances – you grew up in the town you grew up in; your parents were specifically those two people, no others; you've ended up where you are, and in no other place. This is something I got from Homer's Odyssey, one of my favorite books; the Gods, absolute and omnipotent as they are, have all sorts of advantages over mortal, but one thing the Gods don't have: particularity. Being happy within that frame of particular people, places, and things is our unique power. I say this might not be advice for you because I'm only going on an intuition; I meet a lot of people who might be in their first serious relationship and who feel as though they're somehow losing something by "settling," even if they have no qualms with their partner. I just wanted to say: settling can be a strength; a choice like that, far from being a compromise in lieu of finding something better, can be a brave and direct way of wresting what control we humans have over life, and being at peace with the powers we don't have. Feelings like "intensity" and "a spark" aren't actually of much use in long-term relationships, I've found, and they can even be a distraction: you should be thinking about whether your current partner indeed will make a good partner for life, not whether you feel certain things around him.

If you really feel as though he lacks something essential that you'll be missing if you stay with him, by all means talk about this with him and take it under consideration. But if your only trouble is that you feel inexperienced, and you feel as though it would be odd to settle for the first person you picked: please, don't let those things enter into your consideration. We human beings often shift around from partner to partner trying to find a good one, but that shifting usually isn't an end unto itself. I know you're indecisive, but trust me; dating a lot of people doesn't make you more decisive about which partner is the best one. It might give you more experience with partners who aren't the best one, but you're not likely to date everyone in the whole world. It might seem like 'playing the field' for a few years would mean eliminating some of the options; but given that there are about 3 billion men on this planet, you're not decreasing the pool by any significant amount, and you'll always know there are other fish in the sea. Ultimately you'll have to decide on this partner.
posted by koeselitz at 10:33 PM on January 22, 2010 [16 favorites]


By that last sentence, I mean ultimately you'll have to decide about this partner. Sorry for any confusion.
posted by koeselitz at 10:37 PM on January 22, 2010


And, in solidarity with Serene Empress Dork, with whom I agree strongly, I want to reiterate: you say that, given the chance, you might feel compelled to seek "a connection that feels more intense and complete." Feelings of intensity or completeness mean next to nothing in deciding on a suitable partner. In fact, any sort of feelings will only really be a distraction from the real practical considerations you have to make: is this person a good partner to me? Do our personalities match? Is there a healthy give and take? Do we communicate well?
posted by koeselitz at 10:45 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


i am a guy and i have had similar thoughts. i was in a mono relation for over 6 years living together. so we went poly and all fell apart. maybe because we were not married? can't tell how it would have gone if we were married. but there is no rule of thumb here, you should be talking to each other and definitely try it before getting married or just settle for someone, mono can be fun and besides there are a lot of things in life that have nothing to do with any of this.
posted by hjohnson at 11:00 PM on January 22, 2010


Be honest. What do you really want? More people to fuck or someone better to love? Your question really boils down to that, but I think you're not ready to admit it (not yet, anyway). You're not poly. You're just hoping for an easy way to have your relationship cake and eat your dating-around too (until you find someone better). I feel bad for your boyfriend.


"Is this a healthy desire for a polyamorous approach to relationships, or is it a sign something's wrong in the primary relationship that might come back to haunt us if we go forward this way?"

I think it might be a third thing: You have unrealistic expectations.
I wish your boyfriend the best of luck with his next relationship.


"I think that if my only option was to have only one intimate partner-- and I could wave a magic wand and make us best friends but not partners and take my chances looking for a different one-and-only partner-- I would roll the dice and see if I could find someone who has more in common with me personality-wise, with whom I might be able to build a connection that feels more intense and complete."

Hollywood is going to be the death of our society. OK, that was an exaggeration, but good grief already.

There is no such thing as perfect.
There Is No Such Thing As Perfect.
There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. Perfect.

Even if you could live to be a million years old. No. Make it a trillion. Even if you could live to be a trillion years old, you would never never never never never nevernevernevernevernever find a perfect partner because you are FLAWED. You are messed up, weird, irrational, clueless and flawed. Yes, you are. And you know what? So am I. And so is everyone else. Welcome to the human race. Nobody is perfect, and thus, no relationship will ever be perfect either because we bring our imperfections with us. And that's fine. Hell, I'd go so far as to say it's worth celebrating because it means you don't have to be perfect. It also means expecting perfection from someone else is just plain dumb.

I realize you haven't had any other serious relationships, which means it's understandable for you to not fully understand how special what you have is. And sex sure is fun. There's nothing like a first kiss. or exploring someone's body for the first time. But before you roll the dice and throw away a shot at a lifelong partnership and romance with someone who loves you as you search for orgasms with new people, but before you do, ask yourself this:

Who do you want to be there for you if you're in the hospital?
Who do you want to call when you've got OH MY GOD good news?
Who do you want to be there for you on your worst day ever?
Who do you want to share Christmas with?
Who do you want to share your birthday with?
Who do you want to grow old with?

But, hey, if orgasms with new people trump all of that... if you really believe sex with new people is more important than all of that... then by all means have at it at the expense of all of that. But you need to know that there are some doors which, once closed, can never be reopened.

And that brings me back to the first question I asked you. What do you really want? More people to fuck or someone better to love?

Roll the dice, but never forget: most gamblers lose more than they win.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:15 PM on January 22, 2010 [20 favorites]


It doesn't sound like you want a polyamorous marriage. It sounds like you want to be married to someone else.
posted by twirlypen at 11:25 PM on January 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm monogamous, but I have poly friends. I'll say that if you're looking for other people to remedy ways in which your current partner isn't good enough, then you should not marry this person, full stop. Poly works, in my observation, when you are completely committed to and satisfied with your partner, but find that you can love and enjoy other people romantically as well. Needing a bit on the side because your primary isn't good enough is a recipe for heartbreak for everyone involved.
posted by KathrynT at 11:39 PM on January 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


It sounds like you are in a rush to make a decision on this, and I'm not sure why. You don't say anything about him leaving you if you don't want to get married. It is OK to tell him you aren't ready to make that decision yet.

I think if you want to find other people to have relationships with, you should talk to him about this now and start looking now, not have it be some theoretical that you will implement later.

A lot of the things you say you want to do are not things that you have to wait until you are married for, you seem like you are looking at a checklist where step 1 is "get married". There is no checklist.

I don't consider myself poly, poly people that I have dated tend to disagree with this.
posted by yohko at 11:45 PM on January 22, 2010


IANYT, but I don't think the issue here is learning to accept 'good enough' rather than 'perfect.' It sounds like you're very much in your head about all of this -- lots of checklists, qualities, weighing up both sides of the question -- and not at all in your heart and guts. it doesn't sound like you know what you really want -- and I mean 'know' as a physical feeling, not as a thought process. When you know what you want, the kinds of questions you're asking here tend to fall away, and you simply begin to take responsibility for your desires.

While love, marriage, fidelity -- in fact, almost any aspect of human relationships -- involve a leap of faith and an element of uncertainty, I would not marry anyone if I were experiencing the doubts you express.
posted by Paris Elk at 3:39 AM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


“... I think that if my only option was to have only one intimate partner... I would roll the dice and see if I could find someone who has more in common with me personality-wise, with whom I might be able to build a connection that feels more intense and complete.”

Which naturally raises the question in my mind: what if you find someone, a year into marriage, who fits this perfectly? A good polyamorist will tell you that, at that point, it really won't matter whether you're in an open relationship or not – if you meet the person that you feel is a more complete partner and feel naturally drawn to partner with them instead, trying to settle for just having sex with them every once in a while is going to be heartbreaking.


This is what I was going to say but koeselitz said it better. Polyamory is not about having the ability to shop around for potential partners to replace your primary relationship. I think it's obvious that you care deeply about the person you're with now. And I really get what you're saying about seeking perfection and someone to match your intensity- I'm an INFP and I wear people (and myself) out. It just sounds like you're not ready to commit to this person and that's ok. So don't commit yet. Take some time to think about all of this and mull it over. In the meantime I suggest you find some friends to have this deep kind of connection with, maybe through pursuit of a mutual hobby? Having one friend who is also an NF has helped me so much when I need to talk to someone who will get equally as excited and passionate as me.

This is not to say that using the Myers-Briggs typology is the best tool in relationships. Don't let yourself get hung up on type too much or you might miss out on friendships that don't seem like they would work if you just look at the letters.
posted by Mouse Army at 5:02 AM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone said above, maybe poly is not the issue so much as a lack of readiness for marriage. You clearly feel the urge to experience more--more people, more relationships. Fine. Do it. Settle down only when you feel reading.

IF you feel ready.

Just know that if/when you do marry (and by marry I mean commit to one person and be faithful) you're not embarking on a long boring path of sameness ad infinitum. Even a monogamous relationship changes constantly. It has its own intrigues, boredom, fascinations.

Don't mistake polyamory for a diversity of life experiences.

That being said, I am glad I dated other people before I got married. I love the commitment of marriage, but I am happy to have those memories.
posted by cymru_j at 7:14 AM on January 23, 2010


Geez, some of the answers here are kinda harsh. I want to see hands: how many of you thought your first love was someone you were going to be with for life, but you had some nagging doubts? Many of us encounter this exact problem! I know farmers who are with their high school sweetheart 40 years on, but they didn't have these kind of doubts...marriage seemed natural for them.

Maybe it's cultural, but for most of us, that doesn't happen. I am personally so glad I'm not with my first. The doubts were right, when I started dating other people I realized I had been too young to even know what I really wanted.
posted by melissam at 7:19 AM on January 23, 2010


I'm seconding mouse-army. I'm INFP and completely understand the need to share that intensity, but I've found that it can be waaay too much in a romantic relationship. Passion is good, but think of the flip side - the indecision, the over-thinking, the extremes - I wear myself out too - it all becomes magnified when your intimate other is the same and you can burn out fast, driving eachother crazy in the process. What you have right now is very special - someone who loves you and can provide balance in both the present and the long-term.

So maybe you should try pursuing passionate friendships with other creative types, rather than intimate relationships. I exorcise my intensity by being around simialr friends from time to time. And, honestly, I've found those relationships much more rewarding when sex isn't involved. But, I wouldn't recommend getting married until you're sure that you do want to commit (whoever you're with!) - there's no rush.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:36 AM on January 23, 2010


Just so you know where I'm coming from: I have a small number of friends in various types of polyamorous or semi-poly relationships (and a few others who've been through spectacularly unsuccessful ones. It's hard to do well.)

You're not looking for a polyamorous relationship. You're looking to keep the door open in case someone better comes along.

That's not polyamory, it's commitment-phobia.
posted by ook at 9:35 AM on January 23, 2010


Follow-up from the OP
Thanks everyone for your feedback. I'm trying to take all your responses seriously and really think about them, but I did want to clarify a few things-- I don't want to just argue against what people are saying, but I want to make sure that people's advice is coming out of a full understanding of what's going on here:

1) This is not all about the sex. In fact, this has very little to do with sex. This isn't about wanting variety in sexual partners-- I actually have pretty much zero interest in sex with someone who I'm not also emotionally/romantically connected with. This is about wanting emotional/romantic connections with multiple people. The sex would only be a factor in that it's a way you share intimacy and connection with your romantic partners... I would actually be totally fine with it if my boyfriend said "I'm comfortable with you having relationships with other people, but no sex, only emotional connections and cuddling/kissing/etc." Or honestly, I'm not sure if I would even really need the kissing-- even if it was just permission to have the kind of intense, close relationships that are sometimes referred to as "emotional affairs" if they're illicit. (So, for example, I found a lot that was very valuable in what koeselitz said, but I feel like he misunderstands what I'm going for when he says: "Which naturally raises the question in my mind: what if you find someone, a year into marriage, who fits this perfectly? A good polyamorist will tell you that, at that point, it really won't matter whether you're in an open relationship or not – if you meet the person that you feel is a more complete partner and feel naturally drawn to partner with them instead, trying to settle for just having sex with them every once in a while is going to be heartbreaking." I wouldn't be "setting for just having sex with them"! The whole point would be that there wouldn't be a question of "partner[ing] with them instead," I would be partnering with them *also.*)

2) Maybe I didn't make this clear enough, because I really wanted to focus on the downsides to make sure to get the most valuable answers, but I do love him. A whole lot. I don't "like him well enough to be comfortable/settle with him if I HAD to, but if I could find somebody better I'd throw this guy over in a second." He is an incredibly wonderful person, my favorite person in the whole world. He loves me and supports me and makes me extremely happy. Seeing him smile makes me feel all warm and happy, and seeing him sad makes my heart ache. I love coming home to him and curling up in bed with him and going on dates with him and going on vacation with him and spending holidays with him. I can see myself having kids with him and growing old with him. The issue is just that the love is, as Serene Empress Dork put it, the "warm-fuzzy, committed to building a life together" type, and that there is a certain kind of deep, intense, passionate connection that we do not have-- and there's a part of me that really, really wants that, enough that despite how much I love him, I'm really reluctant to sacrifice the chance to have that kind of connection with someone else. I have been waiting for years for that yearning to fade, and it hasn't... so I've been wondering whether, instead of keeping on waiting or giving up a relationship with someone I love so much because it doesn't have that aspect that I want, that this might be another approach that could work.

3) A lot of folks seem to be saying "You shouldn't be shopping around for someone else while staying with your partner and then leaving them once you find someone better." Leaving aside the implications of the concept of "better," the whole point of what I'm thinking about doing is that I would *not* leave him when/if I found someone else who had these other things I'm looking for. I would be making a commitment to him, to partner with him and love him and share my life and my future with him-- I think I love him enough to be willing and able to make that commitment. I would be saying "I commit to us being partners in good times and bad. I commit to trying as hard as I possibly can to make our relationship work. I commit to trying to stay together for the rest of our lives. And while I want to pursue relationships with other people too, I commit to not letting them undermine what you and I have." What I'm trying to figure out is whether, despite my best intentions, it may turn out to be a lot more challenging than I anticipate to live up to that commitment.

4) For the "he deserves better than you" folks-- does it make a difference that Serene Empress Dork really hit the nail on the head? We have had these discussions before, about intensity/passion/connection, and what he's said is almost exactly as she described: "But if he is not a passionate person by nature then he is likely not going to feel unhappy if your feelings towards him are more of the "warm-fuzzy, committed to building a life together" variety rather than the intensely passionate. If he doesn't need that, he doesn't need it... from you or from anyone. It's just the way he is." So the issue for me is not "does he deserve someone who feels that way about him?" because he has the right to make that decision himself and I have been open and honest about how I feel, and he says he wants me, feeling the way I do, rather than someone else feeling more intensely towards him. My concern is not about that, it's only about whether he deserves better than me if there's a significant likelihood that down the road, despite my current intentions to commit to love and partner with him permanently, I will find myself unhappy with being partnered with him and/or wanting to be monogamous with someone else. So I don't think "he deserves better" than what we have right now-- or regardless of what he "deserves," he doesn't *want* "better," he wants me-- the question is more, is there a high probability, given the way I feel now, that I will hurt him down the road? Because you're right, he doesn't deserve that.

5) I don't know if folks missed it in the original question (it was long, I know), but yes, I *am* willing for him to have and take advantage of this too-- I agree it's not fair for it to be on my side only-- and as I said, at least in theory, I actually kind of like the idea of him having those opportunities. I like seeing him have close friendships that add a lot to his life, and while I'm sure there'd be some jealousy and challenges if it was romantic (again, I'm not naive about it being easy), I think there'd also be "compersion," which is a poly term referring to the happiness you get from seeing a beloved partner getting happiness from a relationship with someone else.

Thanks so much to everyone who's answered, and please keep it coming. You've given me a lot to think about (especially re: trying things out before marriage, and about polyamory working best when the primary relationship is on the solidest ground possible), and I don't mean to shoot down the critical answers-- I just want to be clear about what's going on here. (And yeah, not to rely over-much on Myers-Briggs, but especial thanks to those who are INFPs like me who have a similar experience of being an indecisive perfectionist yearning for deep, intense connections-- your insight is particularly helpful. He's ISFJ, by the way, if that matters to anyone, just as a short-cut to help describe his personality since I've written way too much already.)
posted by jessamyn at 11:58 AM on January 23, 2010


Hah hah, I might know you in real life. At least, I have a good friend in a similar situation. It is what it is. The commitment of marriage means a commitment to not cheating. I'm not going all "sanctity of marriage" on you, but if you're still interested in having casual sex elsewhere, don't bother with marriage. The fact that you're even posting this should clue you in as to whether or not you should get married.
posted by carlh at 12:37 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The commitment of marriage is the commitment to running your marriage the way that's most productive and fulfilling for everyone involved, with everything about the arrangement being above-board all around.

If you two can negotiate the hell out of your setup, chances are it'll work out, but I'm still not certain that poly will really give you what you want here.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:24 PM on January 23, 2010


I'm late to this party, which is a good thing - because the follow-up was helpful. Also, I didn't read all the comments, because I didn't want to get bogged down with anyone else's opinion...




As someone with a lot of relationship experience (including poly relationships)... I think you have it a bit backwards here AND you gotta follow your heart on this one! Seriously - make yourself happy.

"...there is a certain kind of deep, intense, passionate connection that we do not have-- and there's a part of me that really, really wants that..."

THIS!

(and also your explanation about wanting emotional affairs...)

Hey, uh - right now you are not with "The One" - and deep down, you know that.

Trust me when I tell you that the settle down/have kids with guy AND the intense passion guy exists out there for you, in the same person. But if you settle now and proceed with this plan, in the way that you suggest, you drag out when/if you and he will ever get together in a positive way.

In general, one must clear out the old paradigm to make way for the new one. Right now, you are bargaining for permission to rob Peter (your current man) to pay Paul (future perfect guy.) That said, when future perfect guy comes along, he may reject you for choosing something like this. Also,, you'll meet a lot of mirror-Paul's who will fuck you up emotionally along the way. I know you're thinking you're all about being egalitarian, but the why and how of the way you are engineering this experiment is sure to backfire on you emotionally.

Which brings me to my last point.

Still waters run deep. Your current SO, no matter what he says - this plan has the (almost assured) potential to bring a lot of heartache and drama to both of you. Emotions are messy and so are other people and their agendas. In your plan, you insist on bringing both of those pressures in to (possibly crush?) or at least re-shape your current relationship. This isn't very wise.

Sometimes people learn a lot from heartache - which is why I say to "Go For It!" within the context of your current relationship - this might be what you need here.

However, if somehow you are very interested in poly-type relationships all on your own, then I suggest you free yourself (gracefully) from the commitment you are currently in and go out there to seek like-minded folks.

Short or long(ish) term - poly relationships are a valid lifestyle choices. I just don't think it's a good fit for you and your guy right now, based on everything you've said, and knowing what I do about that lifestyle choice.

(I could have written a shorter answer, but I wanted you to fully grasp that I respect where you are coming from - I hope I was successful. - Best.)
posted by jbenben at 3:19 PM on January 23, 2010


Who do you want to be there for you if you're in the hospital?
Who do you want to call when you've got OH MY GOD good news?
Who do you want to be there for you on your worst day ever?
Who do you want to share Christmas with?
Who do you want to share your birthday with?
Who do you want to grow old with?


I was really disturbed by 2oh1's answer because it really seems to be advocating settling for some perceived sense of security and companionship. But giving the benefit of the doubt, I would also add these questions:

Whose ass do you want to wipe when they can't wipe their own?
Who do you want to go visit in the nursing home when they don't remember who you are?
Whose mind do you love enough to share their life with when their body isn't working any more, whether through old age or through an accident at a young age?
posted by Salamandrous at 5:32 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


AskMefi isn't great at polyamory (heh).

--You're the person who gets to decide what you do in the future. Meaning, if you decide to be the person who doesn't break your partner's heart, you won't be that person. Don't let your future self hold your present self hostage. You have more self-control than that. You don't have to do things now to keep yourself from doing other things in the future.

--Marriage is not different from the relationship you have now. The big OMG MARRIED thing is insignificant when compared to actual commitment. Which you already have. Yay, congratulations! Love is awesome. Commitment is awesome. I'm glad you have both of those things!

--It's not fair to expect yourself never to change. But you have to be honest.

That's all the advice I can give. And talk. Never be afraid to talk.

Gottman's discussion of perpetual relationship problems might be helpful here.
posted by kathrineg at 6:39 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I was really disturbed by 2oh1's answer because it really seems to be advocating settling for some perceived sense of security and companionship."

Just for the record, I don't view monogamy as settling. Other people do. Marriage isn't for everyone and I suspect the OP is one of those people. There's nothing wrong with that, so long as she doesn't string along her boyfriend, allowing him to think their relationship is leading somewhere it actually is not (traditional marriage).

Her very first sentence was: "I think I want to marry my partner, but only if I can still have the possibility of other intimate relationships." She needs to tell him that, immediately. Maybe he'll be ok with it. Maybe he'll even be pleased. On the other hand, maybe he'll feel that he's wasted five years of building a future family life that isn't going to be.
posted by 2oh1 at 6:43 PM on January 23, 2010


I would be saying "I commit to us being partners in good times and bad. I commit to trying as hard as I possibly can to make our relationship work. I commit to trying to stay together for the rest of our lives. And while I want to pursue relationships with other people too, I commit to not letting them undermine what you and I have." What I'm trying to figure out is whether, despite my best intentions, it may turn out to be a lot more challenging than I anticipate to live up to that commitment.

Challenging...lots of things are challenging. You can't anticipate anything. Might as well keep on keepin' on, full speed ahead, confident that you can handle it. Because you can.
posted by kathrineg at 7:17 PM on January 23, 2010


Oh and you're probably paranoid about having a breakup because you've never had one, but they're really not that bad. I mean, they're soul crushing, but then you get over it and your life goes on and often, it's worth it.
posted by kathrineg at 7:18 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the OP's followup was useful and enlightening. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders and want the best for all concerned, in spite of, or because of, your doubts.

That being said, I get the feeling that while you really love this guy, you want polyamory to be this wonderful panacea. It's not. Polyamory is hard work. There are wonderful benefits to it, and if you read Ethical Slut, Opening Up, or know anyone successfully poly, you'll know all the great things that come along with having multiple relationships. The catch is that multiple relationships bring with them more communication, more struggles, more chances to fuck up, more hearts to break, more love, but more sadness.

It does sound like poly is something for you. I think you and your SO should talk, and think, and dream, and even pursue poly relationships. But not after you get married. Monogamous to poly relationship shifts are hard enough without the added social, legal, and traditional weights of marriage. Sure, to two committed people marriage isn't this big OMG thing. But to everyone else, it is. To the doctors who won't let you see each other. To the courts and the IRS and the parents and the family and the coworkers... marriage is a BIG thing. So don't add that big thing at the same time you're both working and changing your relationship commitments.

Non-monogomous relationships can rock. They can be beautiful and sexy and intense and full of life. But you will fuck up. You will hurt people. You will stumble, and so will he. Best to get those initial mistakes out of the way, dealt with in loving communication, and then figure out if you two are happiest married.

Best of luck.
posted by whycurious at 10:39 AM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't emphasize enough that poly = tons of work. Think about how hard it is to navigate one relationship; now add another or perhaps more than one of similar complexity, intensity and requirement when it comes to personal resources. I've recently taken up this lifestyle and while it is absolutely rewarding it can also be completely exhausting. People who say this is not a magic fix are absolutely correct; in my experience it put a spotlight in the flaws in my primary relationship. As others have said, you have to talk to your partner. If they aren't 100% on board with this lifestyle it will bring far more pain than joy.
posted by zennoshinjou at 4:09 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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