Between a polyamorous rock and a monogamous hard place??
November 12, 2017 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Should I give it a try or cut contact?

I (late 20's cis/het woman) met a guy online recently with whom I have amazing chemistry and a lot in common.

Soon after meeting we realized we are both musicians and started practicing some chamber music pieces together, which has been really fulfilling for both of us.

The thing is, he is bisexual and poly, and I am monogamous (as far as I can see). I have no problem with the bisexual part-- I see it as a positive-- but I don't think I'm interested in a poly relationship. At least, I've never tried it. I knew these things when I met him, but he seemed like a fun person that I was interested in getting to know, so I decided to go in with an open mind. I also think part of why I'm attracted to him is because I think I can learn about myself, because he is a more experienced and adventurous person (sexually and otherwise). Also, he treats me a lot nicer than a lot of straight guys have and is just more interesting to be around.

Seeing as this situation has been so amazing, I'm not sure how to navigate it. Honestly, I want to keep seeing him. But given that I ( think) I want monogamy, is that idea ridiculous? We are supposed to have a discussion later this week, and I'm honestly not sure what to say.

Cutting contact completely seems like a shame, since we have such a great vibe together. Ending the musical collaboration seems like a shame too, since it's also been fun and we've worked pretty hard on the pieces already. And the sex has been.... the best of my life.. and since I know you only live once, I'm wondering if it's worth it to keep seeing him and see what happens.

I'm not sure how to navigate this. It is somehow unethical for me to keep seeing him and playing music together, but in the back of my mind knowing that if I find someone who wants something exclusive, that I'll stop seeing him? Is it somehow unethical for him to date me, knowing that I want monogamy? I don't think I can downgrade the relationship down to just friendship, because I am so physically attracted to him. Has anyone ever been in this situation and given it a chance? Basically my fear is that in engaging in a casual connection, I am decreasing my chances of being able to find a serious partner to have a family (or just a dog) with. Is this idea founded on anything real besides prudishness? By the way, I'm in the fading months of 29, and I'm not really in a rush to settle down, but I don't want to wait till all the good ones are taken (though I hate to have to live within this old fashioned and patriarchal mindset).
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Up until your last comment I was going to suggest you give a relationship with a poly a tryout. It might end quickly with a realization that you're really not cut out for that, or it might turn out that the shuffled expectations and responsibilities really suit you. You could learn a lot about yourself and what you really want in relationship.

However, your last statement makes me think this experiment is doomed before it has begun. If you're going to constantly have one eye out for something more traditional you'll never commit enough to see if this is what you want. I'd save yourself some drama and give it a pass.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:16 PM on November 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm not really in a rush to settle down, but I don't want to wait till all the good ones are taken

Definitely don't worry about that. The 'good ones' won't all get taken -- and to be frank, first marriages don't always work out. My 'good one' married and divorced someone else before we met -- and by that time I'd married and divorced someone else, myself. And both of the people we'd married went on to find their own 'good ones' after us.

Re: your primary question, relationships with a poly person where the other person isn't at least okay with an open/nonmonogamous relationship -- even if they're not poly themselves -- often don't work out, for pretty obvious reasons. And I certainly wouldn't suggest you try to change him, or hope he somehow eventually settles into monogamy-mode. But if your concerns are less with jealously/attention-sharing/unhappiness in the moment of your relationship, and more with a sort of vague future-oriented 'but what if we aren't A Permanent Bonded Pair?', it is possible that you could navigate this. I think it's at least worth a conversation with him.

I'm curious why you think it might be 'unethical' to keep seeing him. Have you shared this concern with him? He might not see it that way. Even if you can't have a permanent or long-term relationship because you're not matched in terms of preferences, it still might be possible to have an ethical and fun relationship within both of your comfort zones.
posted by halation at 4:21 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

It is somehow unethical for me to keep seeing him and playing music together, but in the back of my mind knowing that if I find someone who wants something exclusive, that I'll stop seeing him?

No. All friendships ebb and flow as lovers come in and out of lives. Yours would be no different.

Is it somehow unethical for him to date me, knowing that I want monogamy?

The only person who can answer that is you. You know his history, he's willing to give it a shot, the ball is in your court not his.

Basically my fear is that in engaging in a casual connection, I am decreasing my chances of being able to find a serious partner to have a family (or just a dog) with.

No matter what you do, you will end up with whoever you end up with and your cumulative actions will have lead to them. Nobody can predict accurately that far in the future.

By the way, I'm in the fading months of 29, and I'm not really in a rush to settle down, but I don't want to wait till all the good ones are taken (though I hate to have to live within this old fashioned and patriarchal mindset).

Put it in perspective. There's 585 million men that are 25 to 34 in the world. Half of them are single. There's always going to be new interesting people to meet and fall in love with.

Do what YOU want. If you can't handle the jealousy don't do it. If you can, give it a try. But cutting off 100%? If you do that you just ended the relationship, why would you worry about if things will collapse? If the relationship is going to end at some point you may as well have fun in the mean time.
posted by Talez at 4:22 PM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is having a "friends with benefits" arrangement an option? That way you can enjoy his companionship and the chemistry you two have in the short term and keep dating and looking for the longer-term monogamous relationship you want.
posted by orange swan at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Poly does not necessarily equal casual, and you're looking at this as a "bang now, find forever later" which is only okay if both people are on board. Maybe you should start with whether you and he are even on the same page about what a relationship might entail.
posted by sm1tten at 4:25 PM on November 12, 2017 [13 favorites]

the way I've seen this play out is with intense pain on both sides (but mostly on the side of the monogamously inclined woman.)

And ironically the more wonderful it is, the more painful it is to realize that whatever it is you think you have with him, to him it is always going to be less important than the right to see other people whether they're wonderful or not.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:59 PM on November 12, 2017 [44 favorites]

I've tried this and told myself it was a learning experience. To be fair, I did learn. I learned that I am a monogamous person through and through and stepping outside of that boundary is not liberating. It's painful.

I also found that even if I told myself I'd be open to meeting others, my monogamy instinct leads me to bond and be faithful to one person at a time. It's how I'm wired. If I start connecting with someone, I can't connect with someone else until I sever that tie.

Your mileage may vary, but I'd recommend trying to figure out which camp you are in before you pass go on this arrangement.
posted by amycup at 5:04 PM on November 12, 2017 [23 favorites]

Basically my fear is that in engaging in a casual connection, I am decreasing my chances of being able to find a serious partner to have a family (or just a dog) with. Is this idea founded on anything real besides prudishness?

People engage in casual relationships of both monogamous and poly varieties. Poly and mono folks have kids and dogs and families. I feel like you're mixing up issues here. :) (My wife's GF has a husband and a kid, the closest to having a kid we'll have. We have the dog. It's really rather awesome. GF is one of my best friends and husband is a dear friend too.) It works on us, it wouldn't work on everyone, but don't discount the ability of poly folks to have serious relationships and families. Now, if you're not wired up like that and so you want to keep it casual with this guy, and/or don't want to figure out how to make it work with this guy so you want to keep it casual with him, then that's cool too - you'll do these things with someone else. Have fun in the meantime and be honest with him about what time it is. But it can work out. :)
posted by joycehealy at 5:09 PM on November 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

I’m the poly partner in a poly-mono, monogamish relationship and I also have had one failed poly-mono relationship.

I married my husband before I knew a lot about myself and I love him to bits and am in it for life (23 years and counting) and I work out my wiring on that basis but I would never do a mono-poly relationship again. The other one I had was a disaster. The reason from my perspective that it was a poly-wired person, I was like “well, if you find someone you live then we’ll stop being romantic and it will be fine, things change all the time, we’ll always be friends. Because...I can conduct multiple relationships in my heart at once.

For them, while they were with me, they were waiting for me to get exclusive (bad) but also they could not fall in love with someone else because they were...wired to be with the one they were with. And I didn’t really get that, and they didn’t get that I could love them so much but not be driven towards exclusivity.

Was it unethical for me to continue? I don’t know. I still kind of think it was THEIR job to decide it wasn’t working for them, which is eventually what happened just...way too late. But if I had known then what I know now, I’d never have gotten romantically involved.

So my advice already know this relationship is not right for you.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:20 PM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Don't do it. Nope, do not do it. How many pathogens do you need to nurture in your lifetime? He has a universal itch, you are looking for something unique. Take care of yourself. Chemistry and music are nice enough, that is a good thing, it doesn't have to include squamous tissues.
posted by Oyéah at 5:38 PM on November 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

And the sex has been.... the best of my life.. and since I know you only live once, I'm wondering if it's worth it to keep seeing him and see what happens.

Big screaming red flag here. The amazing sex will melt your brain; you'll keep making excuses to re-adjust your boundaries so you can justify continuing to bed him. This will be nobody's fault but your own, and then you end up a sobbing crumpled heap when he announces there's another partner he wants to see. And you're furious and he's mystified because he's not doing anything you two hadn't agreed on.

Anyway, newsflash: polyamory isn't a steady state, any more than monogamy is. In exactly the same way you can agree to do a thing that is hard for you and embrace poly to be with him, he can do a thing that is hard for him and embrace monogamy to be with you.

Bizexual people are still bi but can commit to monogamy with a partner of a single gender and that doesn't make them not bi. Queer people are still queer but commit to non-queer partnerships; that doesn't make them not queer. Poly people can commit to monogamy in the same way.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:40 PM on November 12, 2017 [20 favorites]

It is somehow unethical for me to keep seeing him and playing music together, but in the back of my mind knowing that if I find someone who wants something exclusive, that I'll stop seeing him? Is it somehow unethical for him to date me, knowing that I want monogamy? I

I can't see why it would be? I think you'd want to mention it in your upcoming conversation is all, and then he can tell you if it's a deal breaker for him. It sounds like you're being very thoughtful about this and you might as well give it a go, but with occasional introspection on whether it's the thing you want in your life. Anecdotally, from people I know, poly is not a thing a lot of people turn out to be into if they aren't already, on a gut level, but it's not impossible one or the other of you will change your outlook. The only mistake is for either of you to expect it of the other or try to make it happen. It does sound fulfilling in a lot of ways and even under an old-fashioned set of parametrs, I can't imagine six months or a year of getting well laid, even if it turns out not to be your thing, is going to change your odds a whole lot of settling down. I'm having trouble seeing much of a downside.
posted by Smearcase at 5:45 PM on November 12, 2017

You are being very thoughtful, cautious and respectful towards this dude. That's not a bad thing by any means. But the thing to pay attention to is if he is similarly respectful and thoughtful about you. Keep in mind that "nice" and "interesting" are not suitable replacements.

I know poly folks who have ended up happily monogamous and vice versa, and every one of these relationships works because the people involved are working very hard at them and to treat their partners with expansive thoughtfulness. I myself have had exclusively awful romantic entanglements with poly people, not because they are poly but because they failed to respect me as I figured out what I was feeling.

If you get good feelings from this guy and he shows through his actions that he's just as thoughtful about you as you are about him, I don't think you'll have any regrets. But speak up early and often about your needs and expectations.
posted by Mizu at 6:39 PM on November 12, 2017 [15 favorites]

How open are you to having your heart broken right now in your life? That might sound facetious, but I mean that sincerely - do you feel like incredible sex and exciting new connection is worthwhile even if it ends in some calamity? Do you like the idea of putting in the work to negotiate this new kind of relationship and maybe grow as a result? Does this all seem exhausting?

I think life moves between seasons of risk and change, where you are open to growing into someone a little bit unrecognizable and new, and stretches where the priority is nurturing your deeply held goals and building the future you want. I definitely agree with others that worrying about the impact on finding a partner itself is unnecessary (and something I totally relate to at times!) But I also think there's something to be said for reaching a point where it becomes more meaningful to decide you're going to let yourself become a slightly more rarefied, focus-in version of yourself, and close some doors, and that actually can feel good. Alternatively, maybe you're open to the risk of calamity and heartbreak and open to forging something unexpected from it -- a monogamous commitment from a generally poly partner, or having your own relationship ideals challenged.

I'm framing it like this because I've had a couple of pretty tumultuous experiences dating poly folks as a deeply monogamous person. I think the first time I tried this, many years ago, I was much more open to figuring out my sexuality and taking risks and that colored how I felt about things (plus I ended up on friendly terms with my ex, who ended up finding a long-term monogamous partner years later!) The second time, it was more painful. I was trying very hard to be open to new types of dating situations, or in this case rethinking polyamory in an expressly queer light, but I ended up feeling like I wish I had listened to myself and my needs more closely.

If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, especially in the second relationship, I would say: take risks, absolutely take risks, but take them in service of your goals, not to contort yourself into something for somebody else. This particular kind of risk won't feel good, but maybe other risks (like going to a party where you don't know anyone, etc.) will. And that's the part that I feel like only you can determine, unfortunately (or fortunately! Risk and experience are what you make of them.)

Good luck!
posted by elephantsvanish at 7:09 PM on November 12, 2017 [19 favorites]

If you are someone who sees themselves as monogamous, entering into this poly relationship just seems like setting yourself up for a world of hurt.

You can have great sex with someone who wants to be with youjust you.

Don’t sell yourself short to someone who’ll always seem to be looking over your shoulder for the next exciting thing.

To thine own self be true.
posted by blueberry at 7:59 PM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I hate that poly has become something that women think they have to be on board with in order to be cool chicks, whether they actually want to do it or not. Fuck that. Monogamy is not some prudish old-fashioned throwback that you have to feel guilty for wanting, and anybody who tries to make you feel that way has incredibly suspect motives.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:58 PM on November 12, 2017 [42 favorites]

is he actually seeing or sleeping with anybody else at the moment, or is this theoretical? and if he is, is it bothering you right now or is this all worry about how you'll feel in the future?

because yes you do have to tell him if your firm intention is to use him for fun and music and sex and dump him as soon as a better long-term prospect comes along, and I'm not sure why people are worried about you breaking your own heart when breaking his is first on the agenda. I mean breaking his heart unless he's happy to have a casual friendly arrangement that's understood to be not permanent, and I don't know why he wouldn't be, he probably would. that seems like a thing you could do.

but if you're not jealous or unhappy right this second, ask him how he feels about dogs and homemaking and whatever else you want for the future. if you don't want a relationship with permeable boundaries where third and fourth parties intrude into your co-created private space, you don't and that's final. (I don't either.) but if you're just thinking that he must not be interested in these things, check first. plenty of poly people have mortgages and dogs and stable lifelong partnerships, or aspire to have them.

also, plenty of people have more than one partner the way plenty of people live in apartments or work in offices. doesn't mean they are Apartment People as an identity checkbox or that they don't plan to do something else, later -- it's an agreeable circumstance, not a political principle or even a meaningful lifestyle choice. if he is one of the principled political types, never mind and don't bother, but at least find out how much he even cares about maintaining this state of affairs into the future.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:16 PM on November 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

Poly people can commit to monogamy in the same way.

100% this. Many poly people are absolutely capable of doing monogamy, and there are many poly people doing monogamy accidentally as they hit a dry spell.

Talk to him about what being poly means for him and if he would ever consider monogamy with the right person. Then you have your answer.
posted by corb at 11:36 PM on November 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

You already know how this story ends. Everyone here reading your question knows how this story ends. You’re asking if you’re going to be the special exception where you end up getting everything you want, and no, this is not your fairy tale.

I am in my late 30s and my biggest regret from my late 20s was wasting time—my own, and of those around me. Life gave me so many chances that I squandered by not doing the hard work of understanding who I am.
posted by danny the boy at 12:17 AM on November 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

I just spent six weeks navigating this question, from the other side. Ultimately the question was moot because the guy wouldn’t make plans more than 12 hours in advance. He said it was because he didn’t feel special* and he spent his time when we weren’t together thinking about me being with other people. I was very clear that if we got to spend enough time together (more than once a week) and with some advance planning, I was willing to return to monogamy. For me, being poly isn’t an identity like being ambidextrous or a woman. Non monogamy is a thing I’m doing because it works well with where my life is. Ultimately I wasn’t willing to make big changes to my life in exchange for vague promises about something as simple as arranging a date.

I was very hopeful about things with this guy because we’d had one date over a year ago and have had occasional reasons to check in (professional-ish, mostly, though in hindsight I realize he did also try to booty call me a few times....)

Should you date this guy? Only if you’re able to be honest with yourself and with him about what you’re looking for. Only if you’re willing to be with him where he is no2, rather than waiting. For where he might be at some future point. But that’s my advice about dating in nearly all situations. Don’t be in love with someone’s potential.

Also. I don’t know where you are, there’s an organization in many cities called Open Love that hosts events called poly cocktails, and often a dry counterpart event. It might be worthwhile for you to visit and chat with folks about not all the different ways people are actually doing non monogamy. There are many ways.

*I find it interesting to compare this to one of the reasons men gave for not wanting to marry a woman who wasn’t a virgin in the more ‘enlightened’ era of at least the 40s-early 80s. The men wanted to feel special. Women were expected to just ‘understand’ that men had probably already slept with someone else, and second wave feminism did a lot to break this assumption that of course men wouldn’t, nay, couldn’t! be faithful.. In the world of non-monogamy, the expectation is generally that if a relationship is mono/poly and includes a man and a woman, it is the woman who is mono. I’m not saying you have gendered baggage around this, but I am saying that Conversations around non monogamy will rub against a lot of gendered bullshit.
posted by bilabial at 11:07 AM on November 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

AND by advance planning, I meant like, plan a date two days in advance instead of same day at 4pm. I feel like I need to clarify that I wasn’t saying ‘I’ll need to make a three month exit from my relationships.’ Both of my partners know I’m looking for my primary partner and that wherever her is, he might have a strong preference for monogam only.
posted by bilabial at 11:27 AM on November 13, 2017

High-quality dick is hard to find. I say go for it, with the caveat that both you and he are open and honest with each other about how your expectations differ. If he's ok with continuing to see you while you keep looking for a monogamous partner, then why not. But also realize that he may find a new partner first, and that will probably be hard and shitty for you. As long as you know what you're getting into, then, why not?
posted by a strong female character at 5:36 PM on November 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

[One deleted. Sorry, OP, but Ask Metafilter isn't for general discussion / debate of a topic. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 7:04 AM on November 14, 2017

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