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The V-Spot: Jealous in a New Poly Triangle

Hi Yana,

I’m newly in a poly triangle with two dear friends. We’re all very open about how we view partnership and love in all forms, and I didn’t hold any jealousy for their relationship until recently.

Before I was a part of the relationship I wasn’t at all jealous that “Josie” was spending all her time with “Katie” and would hang out with me when convenient. Because to me they were in a relationship and I was a friend.

Now that they both consider me a partner, I feel like I’m a last thought. They have been setting up dates with other people for just the two of them. Hanging out together all the time without thinking to invite me, and only being truly affectionate towards me when they’re drunk or high.

I don’t know if I should be the one dealing with my jealous feelings and let them be, or if it’s something I should ask them to change. To add bonus complications, Josie is my roommate and we all three live in the same house.

None of us have sex because of some trauma stuff and my issues surrounding anxiety and control of my body, so our definition of a partner is someone who fulfills us in a way that other people don’t. So things are very fluid for us. I just don’t know if I have the right to be upset about this.

— Not Ready for This Jelly

Dear Jelly,

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Don’t shit where you eat”? Yeah, me neither. We do live in the Happy Valley, after all, where we keep our partners close, and our partners’ partners even closer. Is this is a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it sure does push us all to the limits of learning how to set clear boundaries and manage our stickiest emotions.

Made stickier by your close living quarters? Maybe. Impossible? Certainly not.

Managing the line between what are my emotions to self-regulate and what is in my partners’ jurisdiction to change is something that crops up in all relationships. However, this dilemma becomes especially apparent in non-monogamous relationships where management of one’s own jealously is considered part of the process.

Do you have the right to your feelings and emotions, Jelly? Of course. Feelings are feelings and stuffing them down or away typically just makes things worse. It’s what you do with them that counts.

There’s a tangible difference between “You better not do anything to upset me!” and “I’ve been feeling left out of our relationship lately and would like to discuss possible solutions”. If managing your jealous feelings looks like putting controls on your partners, that’s not the healthiest. If managing your jealous feelings looks like two-parts your individual work around the roots of your jealousy and one-part open communication with your partners about all three of your needs and desires, you’re moving towards a recipe for healthier coping!

Some of the issue here sounds like unclear expectations between the three of you. Have you told them that you want to be included in more of their couple dynamic? Has the topic of feelings about and hopes for their dates with others been properly sussed out or is it just something that’s happening willy-nilly?

Have an intentional sit-down where each of you can talk about what you want out of this relationship, where your boundaries are, and what you can say yes or no to in a way that feels like a balance between rewarding and challenging.

Sure, part of non-monogamy is facing the ick of jealousy, but no one should be gritting their teeth alone throughout their entire relationship.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.

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Am I Mono or Poly?

Hi Yana,

I always thought of myself as a monogamous person who sometimes dabbled with non-monogamy, but lately I’ve really been struggling to determine just what my “relationship paradigm” is. It started when I was in a non-mono relationship that transitioned to a mono one. We tried to get our conflicting needs met, but ultimately we made the painful decision to part ways.

I then started some casual relationships and developed real feelings for two people — which I didn’t think was possible for me. This was so surprising that I stopped dating to process this new self-discovery.

I’m struggling to figure out what relationship type I should be doing. Online forums and books make it sound like everyone has this stuff figured out, to the point that I wonder what I’m missing that makes it so difficult for me to determine my own relational nature.

I’ve consulted the usual sources of information available: I’ve spoken to friends that identify as non-monogamous, and since relocating last year I’ve been going to a non-mono meet-up group. My friends all seem to have just instinctively known they were not mono. The meet-up experience has been somewhat mixed — I’ve met some really helpful people, but I’ve also run into blatant distrust from those who think that, as a heterosexual cis-gendered male who is currently going it solo, I must be there for less-than-honest reasons. I need to figure this out before I start dating again. Someone suggested I might be a “switch,” able to be happy in either a mono- or poly-type relationship with the right partner(s). To me, this sounds about as realistic as a unicorn, but is it possible? Am I missing or not seeing something?

— The Mono-Poly Guy

Dear Mono-Poly Guy,

Who am I? What does this mean? What the fuck was that? These are the big ol’ life questions that come up for all of us when it comes to sex, love, and relationships — monogamous or not. Your epic confusion is entirely normal. And so is your desire to sort it all out.

When it comes to non-monogamy, and to polyamory specifically, folks tend towards one of two categories: they either see “polyamorous” as a personal identity that describes them in much the same way as being male, or bisexual, or Christian might. Or, they identify non-monogamy as a relationship style — it’s something that they do, but isn’t necessarily who they are…continue reading…

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Poly Role Models / My interview with Kevin Patterson

Poly Role Models

My interview with Kevin Patterson

Educator & speaker Kevin Patterson recently interview me for his blog Poly Role Models.

Everyone should check him out, I always learn new things from his work. You can listen to him on Dawn Serra‘s podcast Sex Gets Real and sometimes even catch him speaking near us in NYC!

And consider supporting his patreon!

Thank you for including me in your work, Kevin!

1. How long have you been polyamorous or been practicing polyamory?

I have been in and out of non-monogamous relationship structures for 10 years. I typically move between monogamous structures and non-monogamous structures depending on what else is going on in my life and how much emotional time and energy I have to devote to the process of non-monogamy.

I actually don’t identify as polyamorous, but more like non-monogamous as I often see polyamorous as an identity and non-monogamy as a relationship structure.

2. What does your relationship dynamic look like?

Currently, I am married to my husband and we have a girlfriend that we see primarily together (sexually). Our girlfriend has sex with and dates other people outside of my husband and I. I have occasional sexual partners outside of my husband and girlfriend. And my husband and I both have sex together with people who are not our girlfriend.

My husband and I consider ourselves primary partners and our girlfriend as our primary secondary partner and other partners as “green-lighted” on a case-by-case basis between the two of us though our girlfriend sees whoever she wants to as long as she just lets us know and keeps the communication open.

3. What aspect of polyamory do you excel at?

I think I excel at viewing my partners as their own people entitled to their own relationships, feelings, and sexual pleasure. This is typically what I fall back on if/when I’m feeling jealous or insecure. And it’s then really helpful to remind myself that I also benefit from being my own personal with my own entitlement to my desire, sexuality, and relational experiences.

4. What aspect of polyamory do you struggle with?

I used to be very low-jealousy and very trusting. But when I got divorced, there was a lot of lying and heartbreak around our non-monogamous arrangement (amongst other things that weren’t related to our non-monogamy) that resulted in my feeling a little more hesitant to take things at face value regardless of how much I trust my partners. This has thrown a wrench in the way I process jealous feelings and can be really challenging.

5. How do you address and/or overcome those struggles?…continue reading…

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Strategies To Support Non-Monogamous, Polyamorous Patients

Bianca Palmisano interviewed me for this great piece on working therapeutically with non-monogamous & polyamorous clients for PsychiatryAdvisor.com. Check it out below!

One in five single Americans are or have been in a consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationship. The growing number of non-monogamous people in the United States suggests that therapists and social workers need to be ready to address alternative relationship styles like polyamory, open marriages, swinging, and casual hookups in their practices. While non-monogamy may seem like an unwieldy topic to broach, in most cases, practitioners won’t need to change much about their approach to counseling in serving this community.

Do I need a certificate to do this?

Non-monogamy can have rules and meanings as varied as the clients who practice it, just as traditional relationships are all complex and unique. This is good news for therapists, says Yana Tallon-Hicks, MA, a relationship therapist and sex educator. “As therapists… we already know that each couple has their own ways of defining intimacy, trust, commitment, and even what a relationship is. Chances are, if you got all of your couples together for a dinner party and asked them to define sex, commitment, or what marriage means to them, you’d get some wildly different responses and quite the heated dinner conversation!”

 

It can be helpful for practitioners to have some basic understanding of the different flavors of non-monogamy, but it is more important to understand “that all relationships are self-defined and on a spectrum of health,” Tallon-Hicks continues. “[This understanding] gives us the freedom of knowing that even if we don’t have a lot of experience with non-monogamous clients, we already know how to meet clients where they are and let them lead us through their own definitions and meanings of what makes their relationships tick.”

Non-monogamy….That’s like, cheating, right?

While personal understanding of non-monogamy varies greatly, it can be useful to have some basic working vocabulary on the topic…continue reading…

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Does That Guy Ask Everyone Out?? & How Do I Poly?

Hi Yana,

Where is the line between “If you like someone, ask them out!” and “Oh, that guy asks everyone out”???

— Master Dater

From your question, it sounds like you like a lot of people. Maybe you’re getting some flack for that from friends or foes? True, you don’t want to make your potential dates feel somehow unspecial because they saw you on campus asking out everyone else around you — and left them as the 24th person you’ve asked out in a day. Then again, if you like someone and want to go on a date with them, you should ask them out!

So, where’s the line? I’d draw my line around the borders of “Am I asking everyone out for genuine reasons?” and “Am I attempting to fill a void or accomplish something that has nothing to do with the human I’m asking out?” Meaning, are you on an asking-out rampage because you genuinely want to go out with these individuals? Or are you trying to put a finger in your emotional dam and any old finger will do?

Of course, you can finger as many emotional dams as you want. You know me, as long as everyone going out with each other is consenting to your dynamics and what y’all are doing together, then there’s nothing wrong with going out with a bunch of people just for fun. Not every date, hook-up, or relationship has to be goal-oriented and meaningful. But your dates should know if that’s your outlook.

As far as what everyone else thinks about your dating habits, you can never achieve 100-percent approval when it comes to sex and dating. As long as you keep your creep-factor low (like maybe don’t ask someone out, get rejected, turn to their best friend standing next to y’all, and ask her out) and respect the people you’re asking out for the unique reasons you like them as individual people, then you can forget the haters and get on with the daters!

***

Hi Yana,

I want to be able to have a polyamorous relationship. How do I find people who want to have the same thing?

— Pursuing Poly…click here to read the response…

 

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Should I Dump My Triad?

Hi Yana,

I’m a bisexual woman and I’m the third wheel to a married bisexual male couple. We’ve been dating for about a year-and-a-half and so far things have been running pretty smoothly. We see each other two or three times a week for dates, group sex, and just regular hanging out. I have casual sex with other people and am available to date, but just haven’t done that with anyone else yet.

Okay, so here’s the issue: Sometimes I feel sort of left out of their dynamic. But like, in a weird way. I don’t want to be married, at least definitely not right now, but I might at some point. I’m not jealous of their relationship, but I sort of feel like an unnecessary extra to them which makes me feel insecure, or like maybe like I shouldn’t be “wasting my time” with a married couple and should be out there finding my “real” partner? It’s weird because I don’t really think that I have to be doing these things, but then part of me does. Is this just another “succumbing to societal pressures” moment or should I remove myself from this three-way and get on my own single freeway?

— Is Three Good Company?

Dear Good Company,

I’ve written a lot about the “Relationship Escalator” this year as alternative relationships are becoming increasingly common. In a nutshell, the Relationship Escalator is what the stereotypical suburbs are made of: boy and girl date, get engaged, get married, have a couple kiddos, and put up that signature white fence. Escalator ride complete.

You can certainly be logically on board with a non-monogamous, escalator-free life and also have a lived experience that’s a little more confusing than that. Relationships are hard work no matter what the style, and primarily dating two people leaves you with little time to seriously date others.

It seems like your current ambivalence is being impacted by uncertainty you’re feeling about your role in their future life. After about a year, the Relationship Escalator really starts rolling in traditional, monogamous relationships and couples might start considering moving in together or getting engaged, etc. So perhaps this clock is ticking in the background, nagging you to get some clarity about what’s to come next with your married men. Perhaps you’re feeling wary that your time is up considering that we have few role models for long-lasting and healthy relationships that involve more than two people…continue reading…

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How Do I Introduce My Girlfriend To Polyamory?

Hi Yana,

I recently began a polyamorous relationship with my girlfriend. We dated previously, but things didn’t work out due to extenuating circumstances, but we remained friends. We’ve recently gotten back together with a different foundation to the relationship. She had not previously had any interest in non-monogamy, but is now much more open to it. What advice can I pass on to her that may help her better establish her thoughts about the topic and follow through on meeting other people?

— Boyfriend with Benefits

Dear Boyfriend,

You’re wise to give her the space to decipher her own thoughts about an open relationship at her own pace. You’d be even wiser to not hold the expectation of her going out and meeting other people as an end goal.

Why? Because putting the pressure on our partners to force relationships with other people is generally tied up in other baggage. For example, will it reduce your guilt around seeing other people if she’s doing it, too? Does a tit-for-tat polyamorous agreement really suit everyone involved, or does that create a structure more focused on a scorecard than on the humans in the relationships?

Perhaps your girlfriend’s hesitation to see others is based on her fear of how you’ll take it. To reinforce what you’re saying in theory — that it is truly okay to enjoy other partners and come back to the security your relationship — be sure to maintain your usual level of affection and attention to her if/when she does go out with others.

But first, give your girlfriend some resources to help her sift through her own suitcases. Morethantwo.com is a website packed with poly gold as is their accompanying book More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert. I also recommend Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, which is well-suited to new-to-poly readers.

But don’t let yourself off the hook just yet, Boyfriend…continue reading…

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When Did I Get on the Relationship Escalator?

Hi Yana,

I have a few questions about monogamy. I guess, part of it stemming from a recent post I saw on your Instagram — @the_vspot — about “The Relationship Escalator,” polyamory, and monogamy. In my last partnership, my partner and I were very intentional about not falling into that trajectory, but now I think that The Relationship Escalator is something that I want.

Can The Relationship Escalator coexist alongside actively constructing your relationship? I know The Relationship Escalator is the norm and people just tend to fall onto it when there isn’t intention, but parts of the escalator are things that I want — like moving in together, monogamy, or having kids. I just want these things to happen intentionally and with discussion and amendments, instead of just “because that’s what happens next.”

I can’t figure out if my desire for things on the escalator are desires I should try to resist because they stem from people drilling norms into me?

— Things Are Escalating

Wanting to move in together and have babies doesn’t make you an Escalator sheep. But stepping onto the Escalator and letting it whisk you and your partner away like some choice-less zombies might.

Offescaltor.com defines The Relationship Escalator like this: “A default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships. Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal. The goal at the top of the escalator is to achieve a permanently monogamous, cohabitating marriage. In many cases, buying a house and having kids is part of the goal.”

On the cusp of 2017, New York branding agency Sparks & Honey released their annual trends report A-Z Culture Glossary of 2017, which has a reputation of being 81 percent accurate in predicting what will be at the forefront of pop culture in the coming year. Polyamory, conscientiously sharing love between more than two people, made the list of 100 up-and-comers, which also includes elusively hip topics such as: death positivity and the museumification of everything.”

This month alone, a cool 85 percent of questions submitted to The V-Spot have been about non-monogamy. Polyamory is on people’s minds, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be or love being monogamous. Further, being monogamous doesn’t require an “escalator” ride.

In my opinion, it’s not the Escalator that’s negative — many enjoy it. It’s how people use it that matters…continue reading…

 

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Am I in a Healthy Open Relationship?

Hi Yana –

I’m in a happy, long-distance monogamish relationship with the human of my dreams. Really; things are so good. This is my first time having an open relationship, and I think we talk through things really well and effectively. He has several partners (all of which I’ve met and adore) and I can say really genuinely that I’m happy that he has these other sexual relationships in his life.

The thing is, even though I was the person to suggest an open relationship, I’ve had yet to “take advantage” of our arrangement, if you know what I mean.

There are a few reasons for this. I have a lot on my plate; between school and work and volunteering, there are no days off in my schedule and limited “free” time. It feels like a lot to prioritize my friendships, let alone go through the work of introducing a new romantic/sexual partner into my social circle.

The few people I had periodical, casual sex with prior to starting this relationship are not comfortable continuing sexual relationships with me after I’ve started this relationship (a decision I understand and respect). And honestly, I think I harbor a little bit of lovesickness for my partner, and therefore I don’t want to put myself (and truthfully, another person) in a situation where I can’t be fully present in our sexual encounter because I’m wishing I was with my partner and not them, you know?

On some level, I know this is okay. But I can’t help but ask myself, am I doing “monogamish” right? Is it okay that for now, I like having the option to sleep with other people even if I don’t readily take advantage of it?

Sincerely,

Lovesick Monogamish

 

Dear Lovesick,

Leaving the proverbial door open even just a tiny crack on any and all tethers to one particular place, person, or thing makes a world of difference in my commitment to that place, person, or thing. It’s not that I want to flake on my responsibilities or relationships: it’s more that if it’s my choice to be here I will be here more and better than ever. On the flip side, if I perceive no breathing room or exit, you bet I’m going to spend my time clamoring to find and utilize one.

Maybe you just find comfort in knowing that if you want to experience sex with someone other than your long-distance love, you can. But that doesn’t mean you HAVE to. Just because you’re surrounded by delicious cupcakes doesn’t mean you have to eat them all or even swipe your finger through the frosting. But put you in a room full of desserts and tell you not to touch any of them and you might start feeling extra sweet in the tooth and/or resentful of whoever slapped that rule on you.

So much of what you’re saying here in regards to protecting other partners from your lovesickness, keeping strong boundaries around your friend/school/volunteer time, and being extra comfortable with his other partners all sounds like you’ve got a really healthy relationship-self balance going on here. Whether monogamous or not this is quite a feat in itself so pat yourself on the back!

Many folks who practice this style of non-monogamy, where their partner sees a lot of other people but they don’t, come up against extra skepticism from friends, family, and acquaintances. People can easier accept the novelty of “having your cake and eating it too” as long as it’s “fair” even though non-monogamous relationships that rely on tit-for-tat scorekeeping often crash and burn; faux fairness is often masking some deep-rooted not okay-ness with relationship agreements.

I would imagine that you get a little extra of this skepticism due to your perceived gender imbalance of him “being able to sleep around” and you “just letting it happen”. But it sounds like you know and feel much better than that. If it’s my stamp of approval that’ll tip the scales in favor of you internalizing the belief that if it works for you, him, and the rest of the crew then it’s A-OK then yes! You seem happy! Stamp! You’ve got it!

 

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Open Sex, Closed Conversations

Hi Yana,

I’ve been in an on-again/off-again, oftentimes long-distance, relationship with my for-now ex-boyfriend for six years. Right now we have a “when we’re together, we’re together” arrangement and we’ve defined our relationship as open in the past.

Well, things are shifting again and we’re thinking about moving toward being more seriously together, but still long-distance and open. If we decide to get back together, I’d like one of my boundaries for our open arrangement to be that he not sleep with anyone that I know personally. But now I’m not sure if I want to know if he has slept with anyone I know during any of our in-between times.

On the one hand, I feel like I might make myself crazy if I don’t ask and am left wondering. On the other, I once accidentally found out that he did sleep with a friend of mine during a time when we were broken up that also made me feel really bad. What would you do?

— Friends with Benefits

You’ve combined some of the most challenging relationship dynamics: long-distance, open, long-term AND on-again/off-again!? Damn. Something tells me you might be a glutton for punishment, but that’s 50 shades of a different column for another week.

There’s a common Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell “policy” generally popular with folks new to non-monogamy. DADT tells partners “Do what and who you will, but I don’t want to know anything about it.” Though I get the appeal of DADT for non-monogamy newbies, it does little to shield folks from tough feelings. Instead, it sets people up to deny jealousy rather than learn from it, it closes partners off from each other rather than holding open space for others, and these arrangements typically end with everyone in worse shape than if they Did Ask and Did Tell.

Me? I would want to know. When Dorothy pulled back the curtain on the all-powerful wizard in the Wizard of Oz, she found he was just a nice, lil’ shrimp of a man. Meaning, our minds can play some terrible tricks when we’re feeling emotionally raw, downright jealous, and awfully creative; a fleeting thought that he may have slept with a mutual friend can magically become a convincing story about him randomly meeting Jennifer Lawrence at a cool underground party in NYC and having the best sex of his life with her in some glamorous penthouse because JLaw is basically someone you know right because you just loved her in Silver Linings Playbook and now your ex is going to be famous and you will be nothing. Nothing!

In reality, the people your dude has slept with are all real people — with qualities both wonderful and flawed, sex moves both explosive and meh, and their own set of insecurities and relationship baggage. But, if you never peek behind the curtain, you’ll never know this for sure…continue reading…