Should I continue seeing this guy who is in an open relationship?
November 4, 2013 7:02 AM   Subscribe

It started out casual but a few months in I have started to develop feelings - and he still has a girlfriend who he is in an open relationship with. I know I don't want a relationship with him (open or otherwise) as we are too different, but is there any way I can make this work casually without getting too emotionally involved?

A few months ago I came out of a 1 year relationship and almost immediately met someone new through a friend. I wasn’t looking for anything serious at this point having just come out of a relationship. I’m a 27 year old female btw.

On our first ‘date’ he told me he was in an open relationship (of 1 year) and generally doesn’t do monogamy. I didn’t mind this as I am pretty open minded (but I wouldn’t do it myself) and so we started a casual hook up thing. I’ve successfully had casual relationships in the past and usually have no problems keeping my feelings in check so thought this would be fine. I also felt that since he was non-monogamous and that’s not what I’m looking for then that would serve as a very good reason not to get too involved.

His girlfriend had been studying in another country at this point for a few months, but was due back soon. Their relationship had always been open. He told me that she was fully aware of me and I believed him as I know people who know her and he was definitely not lying about this as I know it could be easy to assume that.

We began this ‘casual’ relationship however it wasn’t really that casual as we broke some rules, e.g. seeing each other regularly (1-2 times per week), going out for dinner, occasionally out with each others friends and generally built up some level of intimacy. After a month or so he started to give signs that his girlfriend wasn’t that happy with our arrangement. I don’t think either of them have had an ‘ongoing’ relationship with someone else yet and I’m not sure if they have defined the boundaries of what’s acceptable. However he had no intentions of breaking it off with either of us and it doesn’t sound like she’s explicitly asked him to break it off with me either. I suppose he is having his cake and eating it too – but since he’s honest with everyone he doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything wrong.

I started to develop feelings for him after about 2 months due to the amount of time we were spending together and when his girlfriend returned to the country a month ago I decided to break it off with him as I was not very comfortable with the situation. He understood and it was all very amicable. However since then I’ve missed him, a LOT. Mostly the incredible sex, but also the intimacy and general fun times we had together. We recently both admitted to each other that we were thinking about each other a lot and really wanted to see each other again and over the weekend I caved and he came over and we spent the night/following day together.

I still know I don’t want anything more serious from him long-term and he’s not boyfriend material (for me anyway) – I very much doubt that will ever change, but I am drawn to him in a way I have not experienced before. It’s probably just the sex (it is really awesome!) and fact he is fun and easy to be around.

In theory I am happy to continue seeing him and keep my options open/see other people but I need to know

a) How I can reign in my feelings/avoid getting hurt – I really like this guy and feel like we have a strong connection but I know the feelings I have are mostly hormonal oxytocin based, rather than genuinely wanting a long term relationship with him or related to him as a person. It’s not just the non-monogamy thing that makes us incompatible but lots of other differences in our personalities/lifestyles.

b) I would keep my options open whilst seeing him but worry I might not make as much effort to meet new guys / not find other guys as interesting or exciting while he’s on the scene...?

c) Should I be feeling guilty about his girlfriend? I know she used to be aware of everything but when he most recently came over I asked if he was going to tell her that we had started things up again and he said he didn’t know.

I know the sensible thing to do would be to break it off as clearly I’m getting too emotionally attached but I want to think that I’m strong enough to handle it and enjoy the benefits of this guy for the moment... I am generally quite a stable person and don’t tend to get too ‘over emotional’ about things but this one’s got me all confused.
posted by pennywise_1 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Move on. Nothing good can come of this.
posted by summerstorm at 7:09 AM on November 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


a -- You can't. There's nothing "wrong" with that, but you're clearly into this guy at a level that he isn't (or at least isn't letting himself be). It's not about "strength," it's about wanting different things. Just because you can intellectualize "Oh, it's just hormones" doesn't mean that those hormones will go away.

b -- As you're finding out, it's difficult to be the "other person" in an open relationship. Every minute you spend with this guy is a minute you're not spending with someone else. That's just how things work.

c -- Yes. You have to lay down the law with him that either you're above-board with the girlfriend or you're done. It's one thing to be the other person, but being the affair is definitely not good for you, or him, or even her.

Break it off. If he comes back and has dealt with the girlfriend issue (telling her the truth or breaking up with her), then re-evaluate whether you can be with someone non-monogamously and proceed from there. But don't be the secret piece on the side. There are plenty of guys out there who can provide awesome sex without the baggage.
posted by Etrigan at 7:09 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Last paragraph. You are confused and trying to justify a romance with the argument that you are "strong enough to handle it." This should be enough to convince you to leave.

And that part about he doesn't know if he'll tell her you started up again- that says a lot about where you are on his priority list.

The only way to have good sex/dating is to have it with someone who is equally invested. When you were casual, you and the guy were equal. Now you are not and there is zero evidence he's inclined to become more serious.

Any chance you can couch surf with friends or take yourself for a weekend vacation to help you make the break?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:11 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Down this road lies ache. Listen: DOWN THIS ROAD LIES ACHE. All your feelings are okay. Do not fall for the absurd notion that to be a strong person is to defeat your own feelings.

He's not necessarily a bad guy, but this will go badly for you. Step back.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:16 AM on November 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


If someone had figured out a way to turn off unwanted romantic feelings at will they'd be a billionaire and you'd see it sold at pharmacies across the world. Unfortunately no such thing exists, and there are only two known methods to shutting off said feelings:

1) Stop spending time with the person and move on with your life
2) Enter a relationship and do horrible things to one another until fondness turns to loathing

The second method is much easier in the short term but the results are a lot worse in the long. I would suggest the first.

Less glibly, the only way to stop the woogly feelings of limerance is to stop doing the behaviors that led to them, namely having sex, hanging out, and being emotionally intimate. These behaviors are going to interfere with your ability to hang out and be emotionally intimate with other people, simply because our time and emotional energy is not infinite. As for his girlfriend, the moment he broke their relationship rules and stopped informing her of his involvement with you is the moment your relationship turned from "OK" to "Cheating". This is a big red Drama Flag. It also indicates something about his character and the respect (or lack thereof) he has for his relationships.
posted by schroedinger at 7:20 AM on November 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I know the sensible thing to do would be to break it off as clearly I’m getting too emotionally attached but I want to think that I’m strong enough to handle it and enjoy the benefits of this guy for the moment... I am generally quite a stable person

You're not required to put yourself to a test you know you'll likely fail. Why do that? What good would come of it? Feelings are not horses and rarely respond to reining.

Cut him loose and go date someone else. You have the internet's permission to listen to your gut on this.
posted by rtha at 7:20 AM on November 4, 2013


I know she used to be aware of everything but when he most recently came over I asked if he was going to tell her that we had started things up again and he said he didn’t know.


This right here is the key part. You are going to feel how you feel - and it's okay to feel feelings in a situation like this; plenty of folks make non-monogamous relationships work, both with and without emotions. But relationships (monogamous, open, or poly) only work when everyone knows what's going on, is communicating with each other, and has signed off on it (and for some folks, that means "don't ask and don't tell" - but they still need to have made that agreement, and you said that you weren't sure that they had set boundaries and agreed on what was okay and what wasn't.)

Maybe he can do the work to make this work for everyone. But it doesn't sound like he's interested in doing the work. I'm with Etrigan - if you're interested in non-monogamy, great! But figure that out with someone(s) who is willing to do the work and who is willing to play fair with everyone.
posted by joycehealy at 7:20 AM on November 4, 2013


How I can reign in my feelings/avoid getting hurt

Relationship questions on this site are littered with the bones of people who believed there was a way to decide how they were going to feel later.

This never works.

There is no way you can stop yourself from feeling what you do, or continuing to feel it, or feeling more of it down the road. That isn't how this works.

I know the sensible thing to do would be to break it off as clearly I’m getting too emotionally attached but I want to think that I’m strong enough to handle it and enjoy the benefits of this guy for the moment...

It's not about strength. You're gratified by what you have with this guy and it's giving you a hormonal kick so your brain is trying to find ways that you can get to keep having it. It's not going to work.

Just get a move on. It'll only get worse the longer you leave it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:22 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that people and him call the other woman his "girlfriend" is a very bad sign IMO. Someone in an open relationship does not have a girlfriend. They have a fuck buddy... or someone they are just dating on the side. Why is he and everyone calling her his girlfriend when they know that it's an open thing? Guys would generally hesitate to use that word with someone they don't feel at least a tiny bit commited to. Notice that though he is seeing both of you openly, she is the "girlfriend" and you are what exactly? You are opening yourself up to a plethora of pain. Trust me you will not try much to find someone else when he's in your life. The subconscious mind is very powerful and you telling yourself that you will try won't change it. The motivation simply won't be there.

Stop seeing him. Do not answer his texts or anything. Say you can't see him anymore and then go cold turkey. You might think about him a lot especially when you are feeling down. When this happens just distract yourself with any number of things. Hulu.com has a ton of crappy shows designed to do just that. But better yet, join clubs- go out with friends. You may not be able to fully trust him anyway because of what he's doing with his "girlfriend."

There are a lot of shitty things in life that happen to us which we have no power to stop or avoid. How lucky you are that you have stumbled upon a majorly painful chapter in your life that you CAN avoid. Don't send yourself down a path of regret.
posted by manderin at 7:38 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I knew a woman in precisely your situation. The result? As long as she kept dating him, a lot of heartache for her on one hand, and absolutely zero negative consequences of any kind for the couple. Because "she knew what she was getting into" so of course any hurt feelings or unmet expectations were due to her prudish lack of acceptance of poly dynamics.

By design, you have no 'rights' in this relationship. Your wants and needs are less important than hers to him. Is that really how you want to spend your time?

Poly can be amazing for some people. But it isn't for everyone, and you shouldn't feel like you have to knuckle down and do it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:39 AM on November 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


The fact that people and him call the other woman his "girlfriend" is a very bad sign IMO. Someone in an open relationship does not have a girlfriend. They have a fuck buddy... or someone they are just dating on the side.

This does not match my experience at all. People in poly/open relationships use a lot of different terms for describing the people they're involved with, including sometimes "girlfriend."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:43 AM on November 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Ok, but in your experience is only one of those people in the poly known as the girlfriend while the others are called something else? Because that's the sense that I get from reading what the OP wrote.
posted by manderin at 8:11 AM on November 4, 2013


To me, the red flag is that he and his girlfriend do not seem to be on the same page regarding what's allowable in their relationship. The minute he said he didn't know if he'd tell his girlfriend that he was seeing you again, that's not being open and honest. Open relationship or no, that might be considered cheating to her.

There are also plenty of people out there, men and women both, who will take everything they can get out of a situation until someone else finally calls bullshit. That is, why does he need to do anything differently if he's getting what he wants from both of you?

Having been in a similar situation (although I was your guy friend in my case), I'd recommend breaking it off just to get away from the drama. he might dump you when the girlfriend finds out again, He might get dumped by the girlfriend and then he's your problem which you say you don't want. It's very unlikely that you can just continue the status quo with him.
posted by cabingirl at 8:12 AM on November 4, 2013


Let me just say - I have been there. And I have the terrible overwrought bad melodramatic songs and poetry to prove it.

I would like to tell you to run screaming for the hills but you probably won't. So if you're going to decide to keep this up, here are some things to keep in mind.

1.) Don't lie to yourself.

This?

I still know I don’t want anything more serious from him long-term and he’s not boyfriend material (for me anyway)

There is a big difference between saying "I don't want this" and saying "I know that I can't have this, so I shouldn't want it."

That's what I'm reading between the lines. You need to know the difference and own it. Recognize that "should" has no place in your emotional vocabulary. It's a useless word that will only cause you pain and misery.

If you did not want more, somewhere, this would not be a question - you'd have just moved on by now. You have feelings for him, and those are only going to grow. So just be honest with yourself. You don't have to tell anybody. But whatever happens with this guy short term or long term, yesterday, tomorrow or in the future, you are going to be stuck with yourself forever. So be honest with yourself. You deserve it. Work hard to separate your feelings and honor them. This is particularly important because this guy is not going to do that for you.

2.) Acknowledge what you are getting and what you are giving up

There is a reason that you're drawn to him. Listen to yourself and honor your desires. You have to look them straight in the face and understand what it means when you make a decision to see him, or not to see him. Remove as much self judgement as you can and try to look at it objectively. "If I cave and see him, the following things will happen. Am I willing to pay that price?" if you are- then go for it. If you aren't, then don't. And if you choose to wish and hope that you won't have to pay the price even though you puzzled out in advance what was likely to happen, then you have something very concrete to examine, and work on in the future.

3.) Just because you're not exclusive does not mean you don't have a right to your feelings

Nobody gets to tell you that your feelings don't matter. Ever. You are in control of your behavior and how you react to your feelings, but if someone tells you that you don't have a right to be hurt, you need to draw a line immediately. That's mindfuckery and you don't want it in your life. Just keep that in mind.

Or you could skip 1,2 and 3 and run for your life. Like you are the badass hero and you are running from a nuclear explosion at the end of a movie.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:13 AM on November 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Best answer: The moment he hooked up with you w/out telling his partner, whatever is between you turned into cheating - that's just not how respectful open relationships operate!!!

This guy is a user. See him as supremely unattractive and go No Contact.

He's setting you up for heaps of drama. Mutual friends will know about it. You don't want or need this catastrophe in your life.

Hon, we don't even know if the GF specifically asked him to dump you, but based on his lying to her about your most recent hook-up, we can assume she's not on board.

That poor woman. Whatever this craziness is, you need no part of it.

RUN.
posted by jbenben at 8:13 AM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ok, but in your experience is only one of those people in the poly known as the girlfriend while the others are called something else? Because that's the sense that I get from reading what the OP wrote.

I know several poly couples and yes, they all function this way. (This is not universal by any means, of course.) There is a 'primary' relationship which is boyfriend/girlfriend or boyfriend/boyfriend or whatever, and then there are the secondary relationships, which generally seem to be referred to as "this guy/girl I've been seeing."
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:19 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact that people and him call the other woman his "girlfriend" is a very bad sign IMO. Someone in an open relationship does not have a girlfriend.

What? That's total nonsense. People in open relationships have wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, in any manner of combinations.

Ok, but in your experience is only one of those people in the poly known as the girlfriend while the others are called something else?

Yes? You can have a primary partner and any number of casual secondary partners.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:20 AM on November 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Mod note: Folks, let's not go too far down the rabbit hole of terminology arguments here, please. Go ahead and focus on the question, please.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:25 AM on November 4, 2013


I think his being in an open relationship is a red herring. You went into this after your last relationship ended; you don't want a relationship with him, but you're starting to develop feelings for him. My advice for you would be the same if he didn't have a primary relationship.

a) How I can reign in my feelings/avoid getting hurt?

End it now.

b) I would keep my options open whilst seeing him but worry I might not make as much effort to meet new guys / not find other guys as interesting or exciting while he’s on the scene...?

This seems likely, as you've escalated from it being casual. End it now.

c) Should I be feeling guilty about his girlfriend?
No, that's on him. You should just end it, though.
posted by RainyJay at 8:58 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: These are all the wrong questions. The real question you should ask is "what's the payoff to continuing this?" Or perhaps "if all the stars align, what is the best possible way this could go?"

The payoff seems to be some short-term emotional highs and good sex and some future emotional torment, possibly with some near-term turmoil.

After all, you see no future with this person based on their type, whatever that means. Even if you're just wrong on that you say this guy doesn't want monogamous and you don't seem like you'd want to be the girlfriend in the current situation, no?

So even if everything else worked itself out perfectly you're still sailing for the shoals. For what? An incompatible person you will inevitably split with? This is exciting right now and you're ignoring the pain because it's being washed away while you're still getting your swerve on. But you believe that this will eventually stop.

So just stop now. It's fun but it's got all this other crap that is not necessary. You can find this fun with other folks who don't have the inherent trouble. Rip off the band-aid, mourn the relationship - because it is one, whether you intended that initially or not - and move on with your life.
posted by phearlez at 9:11 AM on November 4, 2013


this is one of those questions where if you have to ask the answer is no.
posted by zdravo at 9:24 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Just ask yourself, what do you want out of this? What do you want to happen?

1) Do you just want a fuck buddy?

2) Do you want a boyfriend?

3) Do you want to get attached to someone you don't see a future with, because you're addicted to his presence and the sex?

---

1a) -- Well, in that case have at it, but understand there is plenty of fuck buddies to be had, some without excess baggage. Some who are probably better in the sack. Just gotta start looking. Why would you want to engage with someone who comes with a four paragraph disclaimer when you discuss your relationship, when you can have awesome sex with someone that isn't tormenting your brain enough to post on AskMefi about it?

2a) Possible, if you're willing to date someone who is not monogamous and/or be comfortable with the idea of being a secondary to his current girlfriend. And/or be happy with him possibly meeting a third girl.

3a) Well this is the path you're on; and it's not going to end well. You'll get more and more entrenched and the eventual breakaway will be devastating. If you do meet someone more suitable, you will probably not realize it because your vision will be clouded. Any effort you waste on this guy is effort you could put towards someone more genuine who suits you better.

So what do you want? All of those options seem a little sucky. So I'd vote for another option: Run Away. Stay Away.

I'm wondering why you're hesitant and why you seem to be justifying potentially staying. And well, I'm reading a lot into it, but it seems to me you want him to love you and only you on some level. Even if your rational mind doesn't want that at all, and is explaining things away as, 'we're too different!' and 'I don't want to be with him anyway,' I get it, but I think subconsciously your brain just wants it to be him. Which is normal. Because as you said, oxytocin and vasopressin are sucky sometimes.

And this is going to sting, but, that's not going to happen. He's not going to pick you. It's not going to be him. I'm really really sorry. I wish he'd have an epiphany and realize you're the girl of his dreams, too, but as you said-- both of you know that you're not really right for each other.

So really, there's no way to continue this without you being supremely hurt. Be strong. It'll hurt a little now and I know that it's difficult to break away from something that feels so good (sometimes we get addicted to the drama and angst) but the longer you leave it, the more addicted you'll get to all this drama, and at best-- the happiness you feel when you're with him is a false kind of happiness, you know?

Good luck.
posted by Dimes at 9:27 AM on November 4, 2013


Best answer: Here's the thing: people who really like doing things tend to be good at them.

This guy really likes dating, charming, and sleeping with new women. That makes him good at it.

That feeling of a special draw, him being fun to be around--that is something he's good at creating because it matters to him and he has a lot of practice. Same with the good sex. It matters to him, he has lots of practice.

In my experience, this has nothing to do with a special connection between the two of you or anything like that. I bet lots of women feel a special connection with him that has nothing to do with them as individuals. It's just his thing.

Plus, it's easy to be charming and carefree and fun when you don't have to commit and you know you can ditch things at the first sign of stress or difficulty.

When I was dating lots of people at once, my dates often felt that we had a special connection and that I was wonderful &etc. I wasn't suited for them for the most part or specially interested in them. I just had a lot of practice at dating and charming people in a romantic way. A lot of people don't get that kind of practice because they're in monogamous long-term relationships.

Hopefully looking at it like that will demystify this guy a little bit. Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:14 AM on November 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


Best answer: Open relationships can definitely work. With lots of open communication and everybody being on the same page. This is NOT one of those situations. Not at all.

I suppose he is having his cake and eating it too – but since he’s honest with everyone he doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything wrong.

Yeah, since he is being honest with everyone he can do whatever the hell he wants and screw other people's feelings! And now that the girlfriend is back, he can just say "I'm thinking about you," take you out of your box and play with you and put you back for the next time he "needs" you. Is that really what you want?
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:58 AM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, this is not how open relationships work successfully.

Unless you really like drama, I would cut off contact and start seeing other people.

I think you also have to own your feelings - they're strong, you feel them, they're not so much in your control, and it doesn't mean that you're weak person for having them - and realise that just because you feel strongly about someone, doesn't mean that they're healthy for you (even people who don't mean to do any harm).
posted by heyjude at 12:47 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I know several poly couples and yes, they all function this way. (This is not universal by any means, of course.) There is a 'primary' relationship which is boyfriend/girlfriend or boyfriend/boyfriend or whatever, and then there are the secondary relationships, which generally seem to be referred to as "this guy/girl I've been seeing."

OH! I see what your saying. I thought the OP's feelings came from her belief that there was no primary relationship in this triangle. My bad.
posted by manderin at 1:37 AM on November 5, 2013


I wonder if this isn't just a big distraction to not deal with your year-long relationship ending and whatever happened there? I'd ditch this guy, spend some time on your own processing the end of both? of these relationships and then look for someone new when you are ready to be with someone you can fully (body & heart & mind) give yourself too.
posted by wildflower at 2:09 AM on November 5, 2013


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