How to accept non-exclusivity in a new dating relationship?
October 10, 2013 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a new, nearly-perfect dating relationship, with one caveat: I'd love to be exclusive, and he's not ready (and may never be). I'd love some advice on accepting this and not sabotaging myself with insecurity.

I had my first date with an incredibly exciting, awesome new guy about 6 weeks ago. We met on a dating site and since our first in-person meeting, we've had a fantastic connection: great conversation, just enough in common, and off-the-charts chemistry (seriously, best sex ever). We both have weird schedules but they seem to mesh well together, enabling us to spend more time together than we've both had with other people we've dated. In a typical week we spend about 2 days/nights together and we text throughout the day, every day. And we have a blast. Sounds good, right?

My problem is that this isn't an exclusive relationship (on his part - I'm not dating anyone else) and this is bringing up some old demons for me. He is currently seeing one other woman and he also occasionally has a sexual relationship with a couple (the couple part doesn't actually bother me too much; I'm much more worried about the other woman he's dating).

The thing is, I don't *want* to have this bother me so much. This guy is amazing in so many ways: I'm so over-the-moon happy when I'm with him, and he makes me feel incredible. He's acknowledged that he's developing strong feelings for me, I've met his family, friends and coworkers, and we've had some really intense conversations about personal stuff. (He's also explained to me that part of the reason he seeks out multiple partners is that he has some very deep-seated self esteem issues. He doesn't seem super proud of his job, he has some minor financial problems, etc - none of this really fazes me, but he seems to feel bad about it and is
"medicating" himself through relationships. He is in therapy, FWIW.)

If I'm being honest, what he has to offer me (extremely fun, intense, romantic time together, albeit without a monogamous commitment) seems to fit pretty well with what I need right now. I'm very busy with work, I'm finalizing a contentious divorce, I have kids that take some of my time, etc. I do get to see him almost any time I'm available - I'm not left sitting around lonely - and he's great at keeping in touch the rest of the time. He makes me feel good and special.

Still, I just have this little niggling feeling of wishing he was "all mine." I do have a history of being somewhat controlling in relationships, largely out of insecurity and fear of abandonment. I have a tendency to develop very intense (monogamous) relationships quickly, and to test my partners' commitment constantly. I look for evidence of them cheating, I try to catch them in lies, I occasionally cause drama and see if it will push them away. I'm codependent. AND I HATE IT. I know, intellectually, that even if he did agree to being exclusive, if he's not "wired" that way then it will always be a struggle. And there are no guarantees in life - hell, I've been married twice and know that people change, and sometimes they say things and don't mean it. I know a promise of commitment doesn't mean it will happen. That's why I want to get comfortable accepting things as they are in the present, instead of obsessing over extracting a certain outcome from someone.

I don't want to be like this - I want to be able to soak up all the good parts of a relationship and not dwell on things that I don't have and may not even need. I could break things off with this guy on principle because he isn't ready to be exclusive, but then I'd be losing out on time with him that I really, really enjoy - it feels a bit like cutting off my nose to spite my face, and what's the point in that? I don't want to give him up - I like him that much and I think I could learn to be accepting of his quirks and ride things out. I just don't know how.

So I guess my question is this: does anyone have any advice on how to let go of obsessive worries/thoughts and just enjoy the present? Any experiences with opening one's mind to different relationship dynamics and just seeing where things go? I'm really not looking to DTMFA and I don't want to sabotage what I have now. I'm also not harboring any illusion that he's suddenly going to have some epiphany that I'm "the one" and will change into someone who's comfortable with exclusivity/monogamy, at least not in the near future. I'm realistic to know that 6 weeks also isn't very long at all, and certainly not enough time that it's unheard of to be still dating other people!

Any advice would be so appreciated. Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would pick up Tristan Taormino's book Opening Up.
posted by Jairus at 8:55 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like there are things about yourself you know you'd like to change, and you're not sure how. That's the real issue here, and not actually the guy.

As I'm sure you know, many people have had some success in making those changes. Here on MeFi, most of us have done it through therapy.
posted by miles1972 at 9:03 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you have to decide what you want and are comfortable with in a relationship. If you want exclusivity and he doesn't, you may decide it puts too much stress on you to stay in it. It would be difficult for me to enjoy a relationship that left me with a big side of stress. You have to decide what is best for you and act accordingly.
posted by michellenoel at 9:04 AM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Wow, you both sound like messes and neither one of you are ready for a serious relationship.

He's honest in saying that he's messed up and not promising an exclusive relationship, so points for him.

You're already making excuses for his choices (self-esteem issues) which says to me that you're being unrealistic about your expectations.

Step back. Don't fall head-over-heels for him because as it stands today, he can't give you the exclusivity that you need.

The problem with great chemistry and connections and that bullshit is that it often gets stronger as time goes by, even if what he's telling you conflicts with what you want in a relationship.

If you like monogamy, and you aim for monagamous relationships, THIS MAN CAN'T GIVE YOU THAT.

Absorb it. No matter how awesome he is, he has the fundamental incompatibility with you. Assume that he'll never change. Is there any way in the world that you'd be okay in a polyamorous relationship?

I'm strong enough to admit that I wouldn't be, and that I'm okay with saying, "me, and only me". Luckily, I have a husband who feels the same way. Because we're compatible.

You are only setting yourself up for heartache and drama and unhappiness. Why are you doing that?

I recommend you high-tail it to your own therapist so that you can understand why you'd allow yourself to be in an inappropriate relationship like this one. You can address your control and other issues in therapy as well.

You have way too many other issues going on in your life to get serious about this guy. Personally, I wouldn't risk it. I'd stop now because it won't go anywhere I want to be. And I'd rather keep the relationship a great memory than a time suck where I invested my emotions and my days that would eventually yield me nothing.

Also, does it make you feel any differently that he's telling the other women he's involved with the same things he's telling you? Because he is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:06 AM on October 10, 2013 [57 favorites]

Seconding Opening Up. It's by far the best book out there about non-monogamous relationships.

And please remember that if it turns out that non-monogamy doesn't work for you, that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you. Different people have different relationship styles, and if monogamy turns out to be your preferred relationship style, that's good. That's great.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:08 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

If wanting to get more comfortable with less exclusivity/control is something you want FOR YOU, and not just to HANG ON TO HIM, then by all means, find yourself a sex-pos therapist and start working away at the roots of your feelings on relationships and control, etc.

But if you are doing it to hang on to him, it will not work. He will not be hung on to. That is his whole point. You will just feel like you have sold out a part of yourself in exchange for a bill of goods.

Also, someone who's polyamorous/nonexclusive because it's a conscious choice based on deep self-knowledge is MILES away from someone who:

seeks out multiple partners is that he has some very deep-seated self esteem issues. He doesn't seem super proud of his job, he has some minor financial problems, etc ... and is "medicating" himself through relationships.

That person is just all kinds of trouble. Ask me how I know. (Seriously! Feel free to memail me)
posted by like_a_friend at 9:08 AM on October 10, 2013 [34 favorites]

I mean. It's great to not be codependent and all that, but what do YOU WANT for your life? I'm imagining myself here, so this may not apply to your situation at all. But even if I went to therapy to address my codependent tendencies and read books and learned how to let go of obsessive worries, I would STILL want my future to look like a monogamous relationship. That is something that won't be "fixed" by therapy and self-help - it is my personal preference, like liking Reese's peanut butter cups, and knitting.

So. Therapy to address this part of your personality that you (rightly, I think) don't like and find problematic. Realizing that this man doesn't fit into a personal preference of yours for the other bit. And proceeding from there.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:11 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Frankly based on what you said about being controlling, about testing, about checking about cheating, etc., I think you are better off with this guy because he's not going to go along with that stuff and you'll be forced to change if you want to stay with him. If you are with a guy who is monogamous, it seems like the dynamic between you and him will take you on the same journey you've been on before, which didn't last.
posted by Dansaman at 9:15 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know a promise of commitment doesn't mean it will happen. That's why I want to get comfortable accepting things as they are in the present, instead of obsessing over extracting a certain outcome from someone.

I don't want to be like this - I want to be able to soak up all the good parts of a relationship and not dwell on things that I don't have and may not even need.

You know, it sounds to me like you're a person who is not comfortable with nonmonogamy, but people have let you down and so now you feel like you don't get to have love unless you compromise your own desires and 'let' your partner be with other people.

If that's not what you want, don't do it. Seriously. Don't force yourself to do something that makes you feel sad and alone just because it's trendy and 'enlightened'.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:18 AM on October 10, 2013 [32 favorites]

the easiest, short-term answer is to date other people too. It will go a little ways to assuage the imbalance you're feeling here. But beware the trap of just randomly hooking up with some guy that will just make you feel worse about how you'd rather be with Your Dude, and Your Dude is with someone else right now.

Another thing you could do is put a time limit on it. Like, you KNOW he isn't a long term fit for you, because he doesn't want monogamy and you do (and there's nothing wrong with that.) But, as you say, he gives you a lot that you need right now. Maybe you let this go through the end of the year, knowing it's finite - it has to be finite - and start next year fresh?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:18 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have read a little bit about non-monogamy -- Opening Up and the Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures to name two books -- because I thought it was interesting. And really it is!

But it's also not for me. I have a sense that it is not for you either. That's okay. It's good to know what works for you in a relationship.

I think polyamory/non-monogamy can be a great choice for people who believe in the ideals of the practices. So read about it if you want some background. But if you know yourself and if you know you want to be in a committed monogamous relationship, then that's what you should look for.

And as like_a_friend said, this guy does not sound like he's done the work to be secure and self actualized non-monogamist.
posted by Lescha at 9:44 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

The pile-up of: dramatic time in your life (contentious divorce with kids involved, ouch), drama on his part, your history of bad relationships/relationship drama, and so on, makes me side with the 'leave this as a nice memory' idea.

Especially given

I had my first date with an incredibly exciting, awesome new guy about 6 weeks ago
I do get to see him almost any time I'm available - I'm not left sitting around lonely

This isn't a supportive relationship with somebody you are close to. This is a fling. It sounds like a pleasant enough distraction but ultimately not something that will be very good for you. The statements about

I'm so over-the-moon happy when I'm with him, and he makes me feel incredible... He makes me feel good and special

do not actually read as positives here; you sound like you are in a place where you need to get right with you, first. If a guy you have only known for a month and a half is generating that much superficial excitement, you have probably been neglecting you; you should be able to feel incredible, etc, without external assistance. It is a great thing to have a partner who can complement feeling incredible, but this person isn't a partner and at six weeks he isn't even a friend, despite what your limerence is telling you, and it's unlikely that a lot of lasting good is going to come out of an intense fling from a difficult period of your life. If you can dial it down and view it as a transient thing where the optimal outcome is just: shared some good times when your paths crossed, moved on, maybe it can be a nice fling, but looking for more doesn't sound realistic for either party.
posted by kmennie at 9:58 AM on October 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have a few thoughts about this, mostly in the form of questions.

You say he's not ready and may never be. I kept reading the question looking for what he has said about that, but I didn't see it. When you've talked about this with him, what has he told you? Did he say he may never be ready?

You also say you have a tendency to form intense relationships quickly. Now you're in a relationship with someone you've been seeing for six weeks and you're already trying to crowbar yourself into being okay with an open relationship (when historically you've had a lot of issues with insecurity, jealousy, control and deliberate drama) because of how great and intense and wonderful this relationship is. In what way, other than non-monogamy, is this relationship different from the other intense relationships you've jumped into in the past?

Look, I'm sure this dude is great and does all the great things you want out of a guy, and if he meets your needs right now, that's fine. But I get the sense that you're someone who really loves the endorphin rush of early relationships - which is fine, because it's a wonderful thing - but love can make us a little less wise than our usual selves.

Case in point:

He's also explained to me that part of the reason he seeks out multiple partners is that he has some very deep-seated self esteem issues. He doesn't seem super proud of his job, he has some minor financial problems, etc - none of this really fazes me, but he seems to feel bad about it and is "medicating" himself through relationships.

It's fine if none of it fazes you, but the way he's trying to handle it - I'm sorry, but that should faze you. If I were dating someone and they told me that they needed to fuck other people because they had low self-esteem, I would probably laugh in their face, but your mileage may vary. If they then told me that multiple relationships - including our own - was a way for them to self-medicate, I would laugh even harder and then tell them to get the fuck out.

If you had a friend who said, "I'm dating this awesome new guy. Oh, by the way, he dates multiple people as a way of dealing with his low self-esteem and I am one of those people," what would you tell them?

I don't know. I get the sense that you maybe have a tendency to throw caution to the wind when you're caught up in the passion of dating someone new and getting excited about them, maybe sometimes to your own detriment. I think it's a good thing if this guy excites you and makes you happy and all that, but I also think that you sound like someone who's fundamentally monogamous and trying to reason herself out of being monogamous so she can keep having the thrill of this guy. And that doesn't work. You can't reason with the heart.

That said, if dating this guy right now is working for you, then that's awesome and you should keep doing it. I don't think there is a way for you to force yourself to be okay with his dating other people, and it may get harder as time goes on. Truthfully, this doesn't seem like a relationship that has a hugely promising future, at least from where I sit.

Also, both because of the overall question and the way you described your behavior in past relationships:

He is in therapy, FWIW.

Are you?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:01 AM on October 10, 2013 [14 favorites]

Even people who are really into poly and like it for its own sake find it stressful at times. Don't fight yourself if you don't want to do it.
posted by BibiRose at 10:29 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also: I had my first date with an incredibly exciting, awesome new guy about 6 weeks ago.

Six weeks? This kind of says it all. Maybe you should just enjoy it for now knowing that he has given you permission to break up guilt free. Once you get past the first throes of sexual desire some of his issues will likely start to bother you more.
posted by BibiRose at 10:33 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's perfectly reasonable if you don't want someone you're having sex with to be having sex with someone else.

Normally I'd say six weeks was way too soon for exclusive dating, but then I'm one of those old-fashioned people who would wait longer than six weeks to have sex with someone. Once you've crossed that Rubicon, I am also old-fashioned enough to think it changes things. Put me in a glass case and stand me in a museum, I guess. But apparently it did change things for you.

You started the relationship on nonexclusive terms, so he's not misleading you. But it turns out that what he's offering is not what you want. You have every right to change your mind, but that means walking away.

Otherwise, you have to face that or you're going to be emotionally torturing yourself. Asking this question is like asking how you can saw your arm off at the elbow without feeling pain at any point. You can't.
posted by tel3path at 10:41 AM on October 10, 2013 [15 favorites]

You should take some time to work on your control and trust issues, but even when that's settled, it's totally ok to want a monogamous partner. I wouldn't want my dude dipping his pretzel in someone else's mustard either.

Having already been married twice, and now questioning a six week relationship, maybe in addition to the control and trust issues, you should look into whether or not "settling" is an issue for you. Do you go along with partners that seem "good enough" even if in your gut something is bothering you about the relationship, like right now? Don't do that, its ok to turn down things that don't have huge BAD IDEA signs on them.

As far as living in the present, do whatever the hell you want. IF you want to stay with this guy for some human contact KNOWING that he will be open, then do that. IF you don't then don't and allow yourself to do so without an excuse.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:03 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

These relationships only work if both of you are open about it from the beginning. As a guy, it sounds like he just wants to hook up and have fun. If you are OK with that, go for it, but be aware that it may not last.
posted by GiveUpNed at 12:14 PM on October 10, 2013

I think this is an excellent opportunity to practice enjoying someone without losing yourself in the limerance and the struggle to form a permanent bond. I say this coming out of a long period of quickly developing heavy relationships with codependant qualities myself. It is a huge relief to finally have a crush on someone and enjoy it without making it into my raison d'etre.
Can you spend time with him, have sex with him and even love him in a way that doesn't involve engineering yourself to be suited for this relationship?
If you can't, then you should start seeing a therapist and stop seeing him and learn how. Please, please don't try to "fix" yourself for him. The therapist will help you with that, but they certainly won't do it so you can date this person.

Non-monogamy is great for many and maybe you can swing it with him, but you won't end up anywhere good thinking about this the way you are now.
posted by supernaturelle at 12:31 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's unusual that someone who's most comfortable with open/non-monogamous relationships chooses to make a monogamous commitment. Don't expect that the "dating around"---->"committed to one relationship" model is likely with this guy, or that he would even find it desirable. It's not a question of "being ready to commit" to one person when someone's preferred relationship style is non-monogamous; I know plenty of people who are committed to two or three or more partners.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:59 PM on October 10, 2013

It sounds like you are also self-medicating via your interactions with this guy. What you describe sounds more like getting high than being in a relationship.

You're married (contentiously divorcing), so not exactly available yourself; you have a lot of grown-up responsibilities (and forgive me, but "kids who take some of my time" raises an eyebrow...maybe it's just the offhand phrasing, but it makes them sound low-priority, which seems wrong during a difficult time when they probably need extra TLC). This guy is probably a very welcome diversion from all that.

Since breaking up with him isn't an option, per your Ask, then you have two options as I see it: play it his way by dating other people in an effort to buffer the inevitable (when you'll find the time for that is anyone's guess); or continue apace with the understanding that any of the following scenarios might happen:

1. He chooses to end things with you at some point, for whatever reason on his end. Are you OK with getting dumped after spending x-amount of time bending yourself to fit what he wants? Will you feel used, or will you feel OK that it was just a temporary, mutually-fun time?

2. You find yourself getting increasingly anxious, and start to play out your previous patterns of behavior, and it escalates into something extremely painful for you, and you end up breaking it off, and then having to spend x-amount of time undoing the damage.

He's told you exactly who he is, and how he sees you (as medication, as an emotional bong-hit). He has no incentive to change. As long as you are OK with the temporary high of dating this guy, with the knowledge that you will crash hard and have a long detox afterwards, then carry on.
posted by nacho fries at 1:26 PM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hmm. It kind of sounds like you want a monogamous relationship but feel like you should be fine with a nonmonogamous relationship, so you're trying to figure out how to stop wanting the thing you want, which is exclusivity. It seems like you've sort of bought into the idea that wanting monogamy is inherently backward, and accepting nonmonogamy is more advanced, so you're trying to achieve being okay with it. I think what the folks here are telling you is that whichever you want, that's kinda what you want, and you probably shouldn't fight yourself about it.

The fact that monogamy isn't guaranteed to be successful doesn't mean you shouldn't do it; nonmonogamy isn't guaranteed to be successful either. People in multiple relationships or open relationships still get hurt, lied to, damaged ... lots of things can happen, just as you say. I'd recommend listening to yourself and realizing that monogamy is actually pretty important to you, so you want to look for somebody who wants that, too.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:34 PM on October 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

I spent a year in a previous relationship trying to be okay with non-monogamy, even though it deeply bothered me. I wanted it so badly to work, the chemistry, the butterflies, everything you describe was there. I knew if I just tried hard enough I could be the "cool girlfriend" he needed and I'd make everything work and he'd see how awesome and freethinking and amazing I was. But it was just wrong for me. I don't know if it's possible for me to overstate the massive toll the whole thing took on my mental health. The relationship ended over seven years ago, and I'm in a much better place now, but there are still areas where I'm dealing with the emotional and logistical fallout every day.

I agree with Linda_Holmes that it sounds like you are trying very to tell yourself this is something you should be okay with, while deep down it makes you uncomfortable. You have to do what's best for yourself, and while I certainly don't know exactly what that is for you, your description of this relationship (especially the guy's "low self-esteem" spiel and the high intensity) and of your feelings in it hits really close to home for me. There is nothing wrong or controlling about wanting monogamy, and you aren't less of a person for needing it. That was a hard realization for me, but now that I know that it's something I fundamentally need, I can be honest about it with others and most importantly, with myself. Take care of yourself above all else.
posted by augustimagination at 2:17 PM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow. There sure is a lot of "this is the way relationships have to be"-ism here.

Is it mutually satisfying and growth producing? Can it be made so? If so, it's as good as relationships get and you should both keep it, as long as possible.

Note I did not say anything about exclusive, committed, or permanent. Those aren't the same.

Folks pushing you to get into a commitment zone might want to take note that
a) you didn't do too well in the prior one and
b) neither did they if they are normal adults (how many had just one?)
c) neither did NewGuy

so, if it works, and it works OK, and all you have is minor discontent with something that works, please tell us all how long you stayed in your marriage when THAT was MAJOR discontent and didn't work? at all. what about that exactly do you want to recreate? you just want to ride that ride again? and again? or hope that The One comes along and solves the entire problem for you? (hint: pack a lunch.)

you are allowed, as is NewGuy, to try different things. god and the baby jebus won't condemn you to imaginary hell, and you can live this one life you get any damn way you want. take charge. sometimes different things work out. metafilter is a poor substitute for your own needs, wants, desires, capabilities, and preferences.

Woman, you are powerful. You are in charge. You can do whatever you want. No one can tell you how or when to be happy and no one, not your family, friends, or community, can stand in your way of trying on different clothes, as it were. Be brave. If this man makes you happy for a year, what a year it will be. If 10, you will be 3 beyond most married folks.

The best model is what works for you, and for NewGuy. (Even if that's conventional commitment. I'm just not a fan of one-size-fits-all. )
posted by FauxScot at 2:57 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Goodness me, without the chemistry you're experiencing this guy sounds terrible on paper frankly - barely holding it together in multiple ways it seems - and further, he seems exactly structured to bring out and fan your absolute worst insecurities and behaviours.

Good luck to you if you stick to it, but yikes, he doesn't sounds like any kind of relationship material - open or closed - to me, and it's super dooper clear you (emotionally) want and need something more than friends-with-benefits, which is all this is ever going to be. You're allowed to want things in a relationship and not have them solely on someone else's terms, that's okay.

If you persist with this I think you should totally continue dating.
posted by smoke at 4:05 PM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's unlikely for someone who wants to be monogamous to be ok with a non-monogamous partner. This is the origin of a large amount of the pain people face when trying to be non-monogamous in this culture.

... isn't ready to be exclusive ...

This suggests a "maturation model" in your mind, wherein he'll ripen into someone who does want exclusivity sometime. Many non-monogamous people do not and will not. I suggest you treat him as such and keep your expectations of your relationship here limited and short: look elsewhere for long term material.
posted by ead at 4:08 PM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

On a separate note, people with such low self-esteem (assuming your diagnosis is correct) that they need the external ego strokes of multiple relationships are not ready for a deep, stable, mature relationship, monogamous or otherwise.

Love involves revealing the self until eventually we are down to our softest vulnerable core. That kind of self-revealing takes courage and belief that what we reveal, however flawed, is still worth loving, because no one is perfect. However, people with low self-esteem often feel their flaws are worse than anyone else's, and as a matter of self-defense throw smoke & mirrors in your eyes, and back away hard from true intimacy because they cannot bear to be seen at that level.

This is WHY he spreads himself between multiple people -- he needs distance in order to maintain this facade you see him now -- charming, able to make you feel good, all that.

From experience, I have learned that no amount of love can "heal" another person's self-loathing, whatever their method of camouflage (multiple shallow relationships, yes, but also being controlling, co-dependent, testing, fear being cheated upon...). We can only ever heal ourselves.

I'd let this one go. Good luck.
posted by enlivener at 4:34 PM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Is it mutually satisfying and growth producing? Can it be made so? If so, it's as good as relationships get

No. There's a lot more to a relationship that's as "good as it gets", including but not limited to trusting your partner to cherish you and prioritize your feelings and welfare, and knowing that you are emotionally safe with them. None of those things are going to happen here, because OP isn't a poly person by nature, and she knows it.

OP, you asked a legit question about whether you can train yourself to be a happily poly person, and we haven't seen any post yet from someone who's successfully done it, although we've certainly seen several from people who've tried and failed, which jibes with what I've seen myself. In my experience you either dig it or you don't; it sometimes, but not always, takes some experimenting to figure out which it is.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:39 PM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

This guy sounds like exactly the kind of guy who makes people associate open relationships and non-monogamy with assholes and players. Not to mention with people for whom "one person just isn't enough attention and validation", etc.

Those stereotypes aren't just unfounded propaganda by "backwards religious assholes" or something like you're implicitly being sold here, and trying to tell yourself. I absolutely agree with the people above who say that you're getting some kind of feeling that not being ok with this is a problem and that being cool with it is not only the cool thing to do to be the "good girlfriend" but also that it's somehow more socially progressive and you're holding on to some archaic concept.

No, i think that's exactly what this type of guy wants you to believe. And as much as i usually hate to be one of the people going "Lol yea i bet they're saying all that shit to the other person too"... I would be really really surprised if someone who openly said they were essentially self medication with sex and relationships wasn't the type to also tell every person they're involved with that they are the super special one they like more than all the other ones. That is their hook, that is how they play their game.

I mean really, read this entire description. This guy pretty much sounds like the textbook definition of a player. And like a lot of those types of people he lightheartedly told you exactly how he is, what he wants, and how he operates. Why? Because it clears his conscience because "hey, i told her exactly what i wanted and how i'm going to act. It's not being an asshole if i tell her i'm gonna be an asshole!".

He knows that's not what you want because you've pretty much explicitly told him, plus he's not an idiot unable to tell those obvious things. You and him have sort of an implicit don't ask/don't tell thing going on here. He knows this isn't what you really want, and you know that. But you just let that elephant chill because "Eh, maybe it'll change this is just starting!".

When it doesn't, he has his get out of jail free card. Meanwhile you're feeling fucking burnt. He's setting himself up to always have an instant guilt free eject lever of "hey, full disclosure and shit, what's the problem? jeeze, get over it" while you're locked down hoping he'll open up more or change. You're the one sliding all your chips onto the table while he puts up essentially nothing.

I realize i might be projecting my own experiences a bit and reading into this, but what you described sounds like a very distinct type of person that's easy to identify once you've seen a couple.

And that said, having known a couple of guys like this fairly well there is a distinct honeymoon period. They're really really good at seeming awesome and like everything you'd want while not quite committing for about... 1-3 months. After that they either ghost, or the entire thing falls apart and it becomes really obvious they weren't what they seemed at all. This may very well resolve itself very soon when it either becomes cartoonishly like scooby doo villain obvious he wasn't what he seemed or just gets "bored" with you and leaves because he's essentially run out of pre-punched cards to feed in to his speak-n-spell of how to play a mini relationship. I'd be really curious to know how many "relationships" like yours this guy has had that lasted a month or so. Not that there's any way to look that up or ever honestly find out, but i would be surprised if the number wasn't high.

It's easy to seem really awesome for a short period of time when you have tons of practice at the limerence/courting/almost-a-relationship period. If life, or dating was some kind of game with stats they would have the absolute maximum number you could have in that field and sex while having the minimums you start out with when it comes to everything else in life.
posted by emptythought at 4:44 PM on October 10, 2013 [13 favorites]

Someone I know was with this guy she liked, whom she found very intense and sexy, and who insisted on an "open" relationship. Like yours, he explained this with reference to various personal quirks and traumas and made it sound like monogamy was something he was just too damaged to do.

In practice this meant that he had a free pass to sleep around as much as he liked, but he got insanely jealous of her behavior even though she was not really seeing anyone.

She tried really hard to convince herself that if she were a more mature person, she'd be okay with the open relationship concept. But she wasn't okay with it, and what happened was that she cycled through being miserable about his behavior and then as an extra bonus getting mad at herself for being miserable. If she talked to him about this, he responded that she was creating drama and breaking the terms of their relationship, and treated it as completely her problem.

Spoiler: guy turned out to be a premium-grade jerk who lied and gaslighted her extensively. She ultimately was forced to recognize that and dump him. Shortly thereafter she met someone else with whom she is now happily monogamous. After that, she also talked to some of her ex's other ex-girlfriends and found that a lot of the stuff he'd told her -- about the way he felt about her, about their possible future, etc. -- was the same exact speech he used on everyone.

I guess my point here is two-fold: first, if you're tuned for monogamy, that's probably not something you can just talk yourself out of, and trying (especially by telling yourself stuff about how you "should" feel different) can make you really unhappy.

And second, the thing of "I'm just too damaged to be faithful to you" is at best a warning sign and at worst intentional manipulation.

Someone who is poly in a well-grounded way will likely present the fact differently.
posted by shattersock at 5:39 PM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

This guy has told you who he is and what he wants. No matter how he acts when you are together, and no matter how you feel, you need to listen and believe him.

You are head over heels and are setting yourself up for a huge heartbreak. I'm so sorry.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:15 PM on October 10, 2013

Seconding the idea that people who do poly because they need so much from so many people are likely to be doing poly badly.

Sure, poly is about getting love and affirmation and sex and romance from multiple partners. But it's also about giving love and affirmation and sex and romance to multiple partners.

On reflection, do you think this dude has so much love to give that one relationship doesn't feel like enough for him? Or is it about taking, rather than giving, for him?
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:37 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

"No. There's a lot more to a relationship that's as "good as it gets", including but not limited to trusting your partner to cherish you and prioritize your feelings and welfare, and knowing that you are emotionally safe with them. None of those things are going to happen here, because OP isn't a poly person by nature, and she knows it."

OP, to elaborate some on my earlier response and specifically addressing this comment...

In the interests of thoroughness:

Adult people are independent entities.
Independent people make up a relationship.
The relationship is always at risk from actions of the individuals.

In almost all committed relationships, the commitment is conditional.

In many relationships, the conditions are violated and the relationship either ends or is amended to accommodate the violations.

It does not follow that a poly relationship must have lack of trust, nor absence of prioritizing feelings and welfare, or that when these things exist in one, they are qualitatively different than those in a (supposed) monogamous relationship. There's a better than even chance you had trust and cherishing going on at some point in your prior relationship. Many folks discover that dishonest partners were neither trustworthy nor very good at cherishing.

The ideal of some perfect monogamous relationship seems scarce, to be kind. If it weren't maybe The Green would not be full of plaintive requests on how to deal with the reality of modern relationships. Humans seem to be mostly serial monogamists, resting in between temporary loves, despite admonitions to the contrary. THIS seems more reality than some wished-for and seldom obtained condition of permanent bliss and caring. Formerly committed partners KILL each other every day. Still committed partners labor in a Herculean effort in the face of constant want and unhappiness. Nothing sacred about spending a life that way, is there?

I agree, perhaps we can aim higher. That's what religion and philosophy are for, perhaps. But the denial of reality, and encouragement of folks to fit a mold society casts in THIS arena, coupling, seems to me to be another form of the "you choose to be homosexual" argument that has recently gone by the wayside, thankfully, as society recognizes that love, family, relationships are variable, like the people involved in them. Blacks can even marry whites these days. (When I was a kid, it was illegal in Virginia.)

Maybe you "know" you aren't poly. Maybe you are just afraid to even consider it? How does one know without testing when the test is how well something works for YOU? Only from the advice of strangers to adopt their definitions of what's OK?

To make sure this isn't misinterpreted, I'm not recommending anything other than self-awareness and self-criticism and self-assessment. I don't have a horse in the race other than my reluctance to accept what I am handed by society without question. I have found it to be better for society than for me, usually. Screw that.

What you seem sure of, NOW, is that NewGuy makes you happy, and that part of what makes NewGuy NewGuy is that he is a little different.

I'm trying to encapsulate basic premises that the biggest infidelity is dishonesty and that whatever anyone wants to do is OK, as long as everyone involved in it is in on the deal. The FORM isn't the problem. The LIE is. The FORM is flimsy protection against the lie. Actually, it seems fairly ineffective.

The NewGuy being in 'therapy' may just signify that he is having trouble accepting his social 'out of bounds' feelings and trying to convince himself to abandon what has not worked for him in the past... restricted, monogamous, unsatisfying, conventional relationship forms. He may need therapy less than folks who think these things define happiness and are committed to forcing it down everyone else's throat.

It's Kafkaesque to label him a "player", suggesting he's only out for exploitation because he doesn't want the food society is serving. It's also disingenuous to label monogamy as some sort of holy ideal, when it's obviously a demonstrable failure at making durable, happy, fulfilling relationships. For every ONE monogamous relationship like that, we can all find literally hundreds of failures in our immediate circles. In fact, most of us can find dozens in our personal histories if you start with the first high school romance. They USUALLY fail and seldom succeed, yet we persist in looking ONLY for the successes. Maybe that's why monogamists are in therapy so much?

Rather than listen to "No!", OP, I suggest you look within. Don't look to us. We already let you down. What do you think? What do you want? What are you willing to risk? What are you afraid of? It's your kitchen. Make whatever kind of cake suits you.

The ultimate indicator of being an adult is claiming your life.
posted by FauxScot at 9:38 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

To me Monogamy and (capital P) Polyamory are like Kim-chi and Vegemite. They are strong flavors, and repeat exposure makes them tolerable but it doesn't make you like them. You either like them or you don't.

The options you allow yourself do seem to be: 1) you being accepting of sexual non-monogamy and all the baggage that comes with it or 2) You not being in this relationship and accepting all the feelings that come with it.

Opening Up is a good book, but it may not be what you're looking for as you're not necessarily looking to have an open relationship. You just want to re-write your feelings so that you're not in pain when he fucks other people. I am enthusiastic about non-monogamy but I don't think that book exists. In my experience people trying to go from monogamy to polyamory for the sake of "a special someone" doesn't work. For somewhat obvious reasons. It has to be something you want to do for your sake, or it turns into terrible feelings salad.
posted by French Fry at 5:18 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing you can do for yourself if you stay in the relationship with your new guy: negotiate boundaries.

If he wants long-term non-monogamy, then he should be willing to discuss with you what you need in order to feel safe, loved, and supported. That includes defining what is and isn't OK, and discussing what it might look like in the future as he brings new lovers into the mix. Feel free to ask him lots of questions.

My experiences in non-monogamy taught me that it is mandatory that I step up and speak out on my behalf, even if it felt very uncomfortable to do so. Initiating this type of conversation, and seeing how he handles it, will tell you a LOT about the guy. If he welcomes it and is open in hearing you out, that's good. If he gets twitchy or tries to hide behind his self-esteem issues or refuses to negotiate boundaries, that's not so good.

You might find it helpful to search for first-hand accounts of mono/poly relationships, and perhaps seek out online forums specific to non-monogamy to see how others are handling this type of situation. I believe "Opening Up" has a section on mono/poly stuff; it might be worth a read. (I can't in good conscience suggest the oft-recommended "Ethical Slut" for someone in your situation -- or for anyone, really -- it's too rah-rah and aerie-faerie and glosses over the dark side of polyamory.)
posted by nacho fries at 11:29 AM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've learned this time and time again in relationships (including one with a guy who didn't want to be exclusive): there is nothing wrong with wanting what you want, and understanding that this person is not going to give it to you. I know that you want to twist yourself into a pretzel to be okay with what this guy is doing, but you're not. You want monogamy, and that's totally okay. This guy isn't going to give it to you. It's time to move on.
posted by anotheraccount at 11:34 AM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Honestly? I think divorces are incredibly stressful and a time of great upheaval for most people under the best of circumstances. Getting deeply enmeshed with some other person -- even if that person is emotionally mature and healthy -- while still disentangling yourself from your marriage is hugely problematic. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to focus on the parts of yourself that have nothing to do with romantic attachments. Nurture yourself through work, relationships with your kids, friends, and other family members, and hobbies/interests that are important to you.

I think in a year or so you'll realize that this guy was not a big-deal part of your life that you feel like now, but I recognize that it's hard to see that when you're in the middle of it.
posted by stowaway at 3:58 PM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

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