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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…

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The V-Spot: I’m a Queer Woman in a Hetero Marriage

Dear Yana,

I’ve been thinking about writing to you for a long time. My husband and I are about to celebrate 11 years as a couple and we’ve been married for six. It’s been amazing and so much fun to spend all of this time on planet Earth with such a soul-mate dreamboat of a life partner.

And also: I just keep wanting to hook up with other people.

Five years ago, I hooked up with someone. And then I hooked up with someone else a couple years later. I told him and we went through a harrowing process of separating for a while, talking/crying for a million hours, bringing all of our shadows out of the closet, and reaffirming our commitments. The last several months have been really healthy and strong. And now I have a crush on a woman. This time I told him first and things have been really hard ever since.

We seem to have arrived at a fundamental schism: I feel like the truth of the person I want to be in the world is polyamorous, and his truth is monogamous. How do we reconcile that?

I don’t want to hurt him. But I also don’t want to not live my truth. But then, I’m like, should I just be going to therapy or something so that they can implant in me whatever mechanism he has inside of him to make him fine with monogamy? Ugh.

— Too Late to aPOLYgize

It takes a lot of emotional muscle to do the heavy lifting it sounds like you’ve both done to move through your transgressions and into your new relationship. And that’s exactly what this is: a new relationship.

As Esther Perel talks about in her amazing TEDTalk “Rethinking Infidelity,” after an affair, no matter how long-lasting or fleeting, the old relationship as you know it needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt anew with the raw material you now have in front of you: your self-assuredness in your queer and polyamorous identities; his new understanding of how/if/when to trust you; what he’s willing to forgive, forget, or hold onto; and what you’re willing to put aside or prioritize for yourself.

Relationships don’t thrive because we squash our differences, they thrive because we learn to integrate, tolerate, and celebrate what makes us different from each other. They thrive because we can support one another in our personal growth process while still remaining connected to each other.

This almost flies in the face of what we’ve been told — that relationships are about being more similar than different, and are more about compromise than self-definition. This is especially true for the monogamous ones.

The first step to getting anywhere near a place of seemingly contradictory-yet-connected co-existence is to define yourselves, for yourselves. As Perel waxes so damn poetically — Can you turn the crisis of infidelity into an opportunity?…continue reading…

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I’m Dating Three Women; Does That Make Me Polyamorous?

Hi Yana,

I’m a 38 yo male currently involved with three women. One is a long distance relationship. We met at a concert and had one night together and stayed in touch. We speak regularly on various chat and texts. Two is a nonsexual relationship. She spends the night and we spoon. We have some common interests, but that’s it. And Three I met on an online dating site. We go out and have sex once or twice a week.

On one hand I feel like between the three, I’m actually pretty fulfilled and all my needs are being met. On the other, this is a lot of work. Even though it hasn’t been discussed, there is no expectation of exclusivity with any of them.

I guess my question is, is this healthy? I’m spending all my time divided between three partners. Should I be trying to find one person that can do it all? I don’t have any illusions that any one of these girls couldn’t just move on and/or that my relationship with any of them could change at any moment.

Have I stumbled into being poly? Maybe I’m just over thinking and should just enjoy what I have?

Three’s a Perfect Crowd

Dear TPC,

If you explore what true-blue polyamorous folks have to say about their non-monogamous orientation — which you can do extensively on morethantwo.com — you’ll find that one of the unifying concepts is the freedom from the belief or expectation that one person — The One — can fulfill all of our needs.

In the monogamous mindset, it’s believed that one partner should be and can be it all: the best overnight snuggle spoon, our favorite long-distance sexter, and our hottest in-real-life copulating cutie.

In non-monogamy, this trend is bucked and folks are free to explore a wider variety of human sexual and romantic experiences. The pressure is taken off of one person to be All The Things and having multiple partners can scratch our multitudinous, ever-changing, relational itches. As you’ve accidentally discovered, TPC, this feels nice — and is hopefully worth the work.

But is this healthy? It’s my belief that among enthusiastically consenting adults, any relational, sexual, or intimate structure can be healthy and wonderful. Are you unhealthy because you’d rather date three women than one? No. Are you a weirdo because you’d rather keep it casual than head down the aisle? Definitely not. Your body, your time, your intimacy, your choice.

However, in order to enthusiastically consent to something, each party involved should be clearly informed about what they are saying Yes or No to. You say that there are no expectations of exclusivity between you and these women. But you also say that this has never actually been discussed. And without clear communication, that healthy enthusiastic consent we’re looking for isn’t there.

My advice to you, TPC, is to discuss it…continue reading…

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I Want a (Not Too) Open Relationship

Hi Yana!

I’m a lady in a happy, healthy, committed relationship with a man. We have a good sex life but my sex drive is much higher than his.

I’m also really into girls and have wanted to ask him for a long time how he would feel if I was Friends With Benefits with another girl. The idea excites me, but I’m really nervous to open up to him about this.

I’m afraid that he might propose an open relationship but I’m not down with that. I feel like me being intimate with another female is different than him being intimate with another female.

Is that hypocritical and selfish of me? How do couples talk about these things? If I take the plunge and all goes smoothly, where does a lady find another lady in the Pioneer Valley who shares similar desires?

— Slightly Ajar

Dear SA,

I hear this a lot when I talk to people about open or otherwise non-monogamous relationships: “I’d love to do that if I was the only one sleeping with/dating others” or “I could never let my partner sleep with/date someone else. I’d be way too jealous.”

While people can easily imagine the value of having both a committed relationship and outside sexual partners for themselves, they’re unable to trust that their partner could do the same without leaving them. No one ever says, “I could never be non-monogamous; I’m afraid I would leave my partner for my fuck-buddy.” Put clearly: fulfilling our own sexual diversity sounds swell, but when it’s our own vulnerability, the stakes are suddenly too high to bear.

Monogamous/non-monogamous pairings like you’re proposing above do exist. Couples can decide to do this for a number of reasons, such as one person being bisexual and the other not, or one person is living with a sex-life-impeding illness, or there’s an extreme difference in sex drives. But these structures aren’t about one person being “allowed” to sleep with others and the other being “forbidden” from doing so — they succeed because it’s the arrangement that both partners want.

One of the major myths supporting monogamy is that our partner’s commitment to us is synonymous with our control over them. Any relationship needs to be a positive choice for the people in the relationship in order for it to be healthy and happy. “Positive” meaning that it brings all involved more joy than pain and “choice” meaning it’s comprised of autonomous people choosing to commit to each other…continue reading…

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My BF is Pushing for Polyamory


My partner and I have been together for five months. He wants to be polyamorous, specifically to have sex and be in relationships with other women. He recently got out of a long term relationship so he doesn’t really want to be in a serious relationship now, but we’ve grown to be close friends and more. We make each other very happy.

I told him I would bring a third into our relationship, but he doesn’t want that. I’m not just afraid of losing him — knowing that he’s having sex with other women significantly decreases my desire to have sex with him. He’s being very supportive and caring and won’t do anything until I’m truly okay with it.

It’s really hard for me to not see this as a fault of my own. I feel extremely attached to him and feel like I have to detach myself in order for me to be okay with this. I feel like it’s too soon in our relationship, that we don’t have a stable enough foundation to be seeing other people. But knowing he doesn’t want to be in a relationship makes me feel like I’m holding him hostage.

The beginning of your letter includes the phrase “we make each other very happy,” but your sign-off sends a much different message. I’ve had all kinds of relationships from polyamorous to monogamous and each has its joys and challenges. I’ve seen polyamorous relationships flourish with a lot of work and dedication, but never without difficult self-examination. The only healthy non-monogamous relationships I’ve seen survive honor each partner’s needs and happiness, with the benefits outweighing the challenges.

It seems like you have some weighing to do yourself. Neither of you is wrong for desiring a certain relationship style: you’re not less enlightened for wanting monogamy and he isn’t careless for wanting polyamory. But you have to honor each other’s boundaries.

His boundaries include: I want to have sex and relationships with other women. I don’t want to be in a relationship. I want to be supportive and caring of you.

Your boundaries include: I want to feel valued. I don’t want to feel like I’m holding my partner hostage. I have to detach myself from and don’t desire sex with a partner who wants to sleep with others…continue reading…


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Feeling Menage-a-Trepidatious

About a year ago my girlfriend told me that she thinks she’s bi and that it was important for her to explore sex with women. So, I know at this point, as a dude, I’m supposed to go all crazy excited about a three-way, but I had a lot of reservations and asked for time to think about it. She brought it up again a couple months back, saying that it was selfish of me to deny her an opportunity to explore her sexuality because of my fears. Basically, I gave her a hall pass.

She decided that she wanted the experience to include me, so we started pursuing a three-way. We fooled around with a mutual friend for a bit and it was great for all parties, but it didn’t work out long-term. We aren’t totally sure how to proceed as far as pursuing other options. My girlfriend set up an OKCupid profile, but we’ve been together for over 10 years and so other than drunken, teenage hook-ups, I have no idea what we’re doing. While my girlfriend is really just looking for sex, I’d like someone that I feel comfortable also hanging out with.

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Hopin’ 2 Open

My husband and I were married in May. We’ve been together for eight years. He’s leaving in April for a year-long residence out of state. I’d like to be able to have a “monogamous-ish” (thanks Dan Savage) type thing while he’s gone. How do I bring that up to him? I’ve tried in the past in a casual way, and I don’t think he’s okay with it. How do you start a real conversation about that? I’m totally okay with him doing the same while he’s away and I’d want a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Any tips?

I applaud you for considering alternative relationship arrangements, for supporting your husband in making choices for himself even when they require him being away, and for writing in. You’ve shown a lot of bravery and openness to change in these actions, yet your question drips of very valid fear.

Opening your relationship whether it’s through a “monogamish” relationship, or “clopen” relationships, as I like to call them, polyamory or something else can be scary. But if you can’t be brave and honest with yourself and your husband, an open relationship will never work. Continued…

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Halp! I’m Totes Jelly.

My ex-boyfriend of five years cheated on me the whole time we were together. My low self-esteem let him convince me he still loved me despite the cheating. By the end we had opened our relationship to outside sexual partners, but it was mostly him going out to get sex.

Now I’m in a triad, with two amazing men who’ve been together nine years [we’ll name them Peanut butter and Wonderbread] and dote on me in all the best ways. Before I met Peanut butter and Wonderbread I used to see Wonderbread around town with another man who he was very grabby with. He says they’re just friends. We ran into Mr. Grabby last night and I panicked. I stormed off, told Wonderbread I didn’t believe that he and Mr. Grabby are “just friends” and a spat ensued between the three of us. My jealousy in these kind of situations is inappropriate. Advice?

Sounds like you’ve got yourself quite a green, briny pickle called Jealousy on the side of this otherwise scrumptious sandwich you’ve built with Peanut butter and Wonderbread. Explore what the green-eyed monster is telling you, Jelly, instead of cramming it into a jar where it’ll surely ferment into resentment. Continued…