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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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He’s Monogamous, I’m Polyamorous — Can This Work?

Hi Yana!

I’m currently in a mono-poly relationship. My primary partner is monogamous and has no interest in being with other people. He is reading More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert and is searching for resources when feelings of jealousy or envy come up. We’ve known each other for two years and have been dating for three months. I was already dating my current girlfriend when he and I started dating, and I have also ended a relationship with a boyfriend while we’ve been together. He says his biggest fear is what might happen when I meet someone new and fall for them, since that hasn’t happened yet. But I know it will, and now I’m afraid of it happening, too.

How do I stop freaking out about hurting my amazing partner while still being my autonomous, polyamorous self? We love each other and we want to put everything into making this last.

In a Poly Predicament

Dear Poly,

True: monogamous/polyamorous relationship structures can be extra tricky and take a lot of work.

False: they never work.

However, they certainly thrive stronger and longer if built on a sound, ever-updated structure.

It sounds like your primary has been (very naturally) struggling with jealousy for the short few months that you have been together. It also seems like he’s developed enough jealousy-coping strategies to at least manage these strong feelings about partners who were already on the scene when he arrived.

The idea of having a new person show up can rock the boat even with seasoned non-monogamous folks, and can definitely feel like you’re waiting for a huge, catastrophic other shoe to drop when you’re unfamiliar with non-monogamy or are naturally monogamous like your primary is. Will he be replaced? When will this happen? What will happen when this happens? Who will it happen with?

First, validate these scary feelings he might be having. It’s important for each of you to confirm for the other person that the differing, but intersecting fears you have are natural.

Then, reinforce the power you have to handle change in your relationship by making some plans to support each other before, during, and after that change…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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How Do I Leave My Husband?

Hi Yana,

I’ve been with my husband for a decade. We married young and, in a lot of ways, he’s a great guy and right for me. But I still want to leave.

I did leave once a few years ago and he put me on a major guilt trip until I came home. Things have been better, but I’m still not happy. I feel completely obligated to him because he has no friends and I’m his whole world. I know me leaving would devastate him, but I also know I can’t stay and put his happiness above my own. For some reason I feel completely blocked to actually toughen up and tell him it’s over. There’s some barrier in my way, and I think it’s obligation.

— Dismayed to Stay

The hardest part of leaving a marriage is deciding to do it. And this you’ve already done. So, now what?

As a graduate student studying and practicing couples therapy, I would be remiss as to not recommend marriage counseling. Despite some popular opinions, couples counselors aren’t there to convince you to stay in your unhappy marriage or shame you for leaving it.

In reality, couples therapists are there to help couples make informed decisions about how to work on their relationships, give couples the tools and practice to do that work, help each partner make an informed decision about whether to stay or go, and even help navigate the transition of ending the relationship.

You don’t even have to have the same goal (Stay? Go? Separate? Divorce?) as your partner to benefit from work with an informed third party. In fact, couples counseling might help untangle this guilt/obligation cycle to the benefit of both you and your husband.

But I’m not your therapist, today, Dismayed, I’m just your local sex columnist. So, what say I? Consider what has your staying done to help your husband. It sounds like he still has no friends, no independent joys, and here you are still feeling unhappy.

This isn’t to say that your husband is a mean loser — you yourself describe him as a “great guy.” But you need to ask yourself: what has this obligation done for him, what has it done for you.

The tricky thing about anxiety, guilt, and obligation is that they hold illusions of grandeur. Obligation, for example, tells you “You’re definitely the only thing holding your spouse together. And if you don’t, you will be the sole person to blame for his eventual collapse.”

You have the power to break this misconception by telling Obligation to get over itself…continue reading…

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I Told My Boyfriend I’d Try Monogamy, But …

Hi Yana,

I’m in a relationship with someone who I really love and we’ve been together for three-ish months. Before we started dating he knew I wasn’t a huge fan of monogamy, but I agreed I would try and now I’m feeling trapped. He’s so important to me and I don’t want to lose him. I guess I don’t know how to talk to him about it because I want to be in an open relationship, but I’m worried he will get super mad. Help!

Oh No, I’m Monogo

Hi Oh No!,

When a monogamous person hears the telltale phrase “We should see other people,” they’re more likely to hear “I’m breaking up with you” and not “… AND keep seeing each other in an open and mutually satisfying relationship!”

Because monogamy has long been the preferred Western relationship style — what with the institution of marriage and fairytales — the monogamous mindset is a strong one that many of us take for granted. This means that when you tell your boyfriend that you want to be non-monogamous, rather than coming across as a valid, natural, or viable option, this might instead sound like a direct threat to your relationship.

A common response to emotional pain or threat is anger, especially when interpreted through male socialization. So yes, it’s possible that he may express anger when what he really feels is pain and fear. Unless this expression of anger is dangerous or abusive to you or him, it doesn’t need to be a reason to avoid stating your non-monogamous desires.

You say you don’t want to lose him, but if you decide not to tell him what is true for you, you will. Maybe not now, but certainly later.

My advice is to be both firm in what you do and do not want out of your relationship with him and also prepared with some options for him to look into for himself such as resources about polyamory from monogamous people (morethantwo.com has a whole section devoted to the complexity of navigating polyamorous/monogamous couplings). Give him the space to feel the big feelings and move through them rather than stuff them down (again, unless they are dangerous or abusive to you or himself).

Before you talk with him, sit down with yourself and determine what it is you envision for your relationship with him moving forward…continue reading…

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My BF Is About to Leave Me; What Do I Do?

Hi Yana!

My boyfriend and I are approaching our four year anniversary. He recently called me and asked if he could vent to me about what he’s been feeling. He got diagnosed with anxiety and depression this past summer, but stopped going to therapy when he went back to school; so, I was glad he wanted to talk to me.

He told me that he didn’t know if he was in our relationship because he loves me or if he is just trying to keep me happy. He explained how he isn’t happy anymore and he doesn’t know why. He explained how nothing I did or said, or don’t do or say, wasn’t the issue. He explained how he sees how excited I am when we finally get to see each other and he doesn’t feel that same excited. He said he doesn’t want me in a relationship where I love him more than he loves me.

I’m heartbroken and completely lost. We started dating my freshman year of high school, which was his junior year of high school. We’ve been through so many obstacles of growing up, changing, learning, distance, and communication between different colleges that are four hours apart. I know he explained that none of what he is feeling is my fault, I just don’t know what to do. I can’t lose him; I love him. I thought he would be the person I grow old with.

Please, help me figure out what to say or do. He’s coming to visit for our anniversary and I feel like I need to be ready to defend our love.

— On the Edge of Heartbreak

Dear Heartbreak,

This is one of the most painful places to be: stuck between what it is that you want (to stay together) and what it is that your partner wants (seemingly, to be apart). Throughout our intimate relationships we are faced with this conundrum in big and small ways: What do we, as a couple, do when we each want different, contradictory things? This stuckness is what convinces us to shut parts of us down to “save” the relationship. It coaxes us to the couches of couples therapists, and is most clearly visible at the end of relationships.

The traditional love narrative tells the story of partners perfectly synched who share more than they don’t and use compromise as the true glue. But this story never teaches us how to handle difference — the ever-present force that makes our relationships exciting and robust.

So how do you do this now, Heartbreak, in a moment of emotional panic and pain?

If you trust that what your boyfriend is saying is true (and that there isn’t someone else waiting in the wings) then the feelings he’s sharing are about him and not about you. They affect you, yes, but they aren’t your fault. The minute we play the victim to our partner’s feelings, we swallow them up and our partners are left feeling unheard, alone, and like you just proved their point: you’re not as connected as you once were…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: Help! My Boyfriend Hates My Vagina

Hi Yana,

I’m a straight 20-something lady and have been with my boyfriend for two years. We have a great sex life and we’re totally in love! He doesn’t seem to have much of an interest in my vagina — and my vagina, in my mind, is kinda the main thing that makes me a female sexual being. He likes my breasts and loves my butt, but he (literally) never goes down on me and I get the feeling that he only fingers me because he knows I like it, not because he does. He also prefers anal sex to vaginal sex.

Personally, I’m super into my guy’s penis and I love going down on him; it’s one of our main bedroom activities. The fact that he has zero interest in going down on me makes me feel like he thinks my vagina is gross. I’ve mentioned it to him a few times, sometimes teasing but often serious. Just the other night I said to him, “I wish you liked going down on me. I love going down on you, and it makes me feel hurt and left out that you don’t.”

He actually didn’t say anything … no response, as if I hadn’t said it at all. It hung in the air and now it’s just making me feel terrible. I guess I thought he’d at least deny it. Sometimes I feel like he thinks I’m sexy because of the sexy things we do together, not because I (myself, my body) are sexy to him. It’s not the best feeling. What’s a girl to do?

— Trying to Get Ahead

Dear Trying,

I’ve been teaching strangers about sex for 10 years now and just celebrated my sixth year as a sex columnist. I’d like to consider myself quick-witted, resourceful — a dame that can get any dick out of a sticky pickle and any vagina more blissed-out than a babe at Burning Man. But damn, this is tough!

You’ve done great work already — telling him how hot you find him, clearly stating your desire (“Cunnilingus, please!”), and then sharing your feelings (“Hurt and left out”).

You’ve also got valuable tools to use: you’ve got high self-cuntfidence (so if he confirms “Yes! I hate your vagina!” it seems like you can process this hurtful reveal and bounce back), you’re not afraid to talk about sex, and you’ve got great insight.

Use these tools to get some answers. While he’s entitled to his own body and desires, you do deserve information that impacts your shared sexual and loving relationship. Invite your boyfriend to tell you the truth: tell him why it’s so important for you to know how he feels about your vagina and reassure him that whatever he has to say will likely hurt you less than continuing to receive radio silence.

Don’t set him up to fail by asking “You do like my vagina, right?!” in a way that communicates in tone and delivery that if he doesn’t say “OMG, babe, of course, I love it” that he’s in deep trouble. Instead, ask him blunt, unavoidable yes/no questions in baby-steps: “Do you dislike vaginal sex?” “Do you dislike vaginal sex with me in particular?”…continue reading…