General Question

shadowfelldown's avatar

Advice on entering a polyamorous relationship.

Asked by shadowfelldown (381 points ) July 26th, 2010

(Sorry for the length of the question, but the situation is pretty specific, and I am pretty conflicted about the whole thing.)

Ok. So. Recently I have begun seeing a girl (let’s call her Tess for the purposes of this question) and she is perfect. I can talk and have fun with Tess unlike anyone I have ever met. I could go on about how amazing she is, but I would probably drown you in the tidal wave of gushy feelings I am currently swimming in.
The other night she introduced me to her best friend, (sue) another amazing girl who seems absolutely awesome and mature and funny etc. she also introduced me to Sue’s boyfriend (don) nice guy, real quiet, pretty cool.
Well, last night I asked Tess to be my girlfriend (like the complete dork I am) she said yes, but that she wanted to make sure I knew something important first. Apparently, Tess and Sue are more than just best friends; they are bisexual and enjoy each others company in all the ways that one might imagine two bisexual girls might. She says that she really wants me to understand because apparently Sue had made a simmilar deal with Don at the beginning of their relationship… which don did not take seriously enough… leading to hurt feelings.
Tess says that she will only be with Sue and I, and this is not (at least to my understanding) a completely open relationship.
I have never done this sort of thing before. I really want to take this seriously so I am trying to figure out how I should uptake this new information.
I also am entirely used to and agree with the feasibility of polyamory. I know many couples, triples etc. that are leading successful polyamorous relationships. Still, I am worried about becoming jealous, or competitive, or selfish. I have never been that type of person, but when I am with someone, I don’t think about anyone else… I can’t really wrap my head around the concept of loving two+ people at the same time … So while I entirely respect her feelings, I don’t really know how to relate.
I want to know how I should think about this, so that I can be with Tess… And I want to know if it is a bad Idea that I even attempt it. I have always understood that if anyone in this type of relationship is even a little unsure, it is doomed fail… I dont really believe that, but still I am scared.
Any advice/ thoughts/ testimonials etc. would be greatly appreciated.

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43 Answers

theichibun's avatar

If you’re not cool with it then stay out of the relationship. It’s a perfectly legitimate reason to not date her. If you’re not sure, or if you start to not be cool with it, then let her know. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to change your mind about, and would be a perfectly reasonable reason to leave the relationship.

Her wanting to be with a girl doesn’t make this any different than if she wanted to still sleep with another guy. It’s still the person you’re in a relationship with wanting to sleep with someone else.

Spider's avatar

I second @theichibun‘s response. The most basic necessity for an arrangement like this to work is honesty and trust. Allow yourselves to build this, as it might take some time, and it might not go smoothly all the time. Also remember that what works or doesn’t is more about the relationship – not one person or the other… or the other. :)

Austinlad's avatar

I’m not trying to be flip—the heart wants what it wants—but I think it’s a mine field.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Hmm. the only real advice I would give is that you have two options. Break off the relationship or give it a try. That sounds a little too obvious, so let me elaborate.

You’re currently not all that okay with it (otherwise I assume you would not have asked here). So, if you believe you will not be able to handle it, you need to break it off. As @theichibun said, it’s a legitimate reason to break it off. If you don’t want your partner sleeping with someone else, then that’s not what you want in a partner, case closed.

However, I don’t think unsure thoughts are a reason that it will crash and burn. Not ever having been in one, I can’t say from experience, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to try. I think if you’re willing to be open with your partner, and talk about it, that you should try.

And, my last point was totally just ninja’d by @Spider, but i’ll reiterate because it’s very important: Trust and openness is very, very important. In every relationship, of course, but a polyamourous one could very easy become a huge, giant mess if you are not open and honest with each other. But if you have that, I think it’s worth a shot.

CMaz's avatar

Go with the flow. See where it takes you.

But, if Don is not crazy about it, not with the program. His GF sleeping with you and your girl. Stay away from the situation.

Personally, Poly is ok with me. As long as the ladies stay with the ladies.

NaturallyMe's avatar

Well you’ve already stated the doubts and concerns you have about having such a relationship…perhaps you should follow your initial instinct about what you think you can handle? On the other hand, if you’re the adventurous type, give it a try and see where you end up! But feelings are at stake here, so it probably won’t be as easy as that.
I say go with your gut feeling, and if you’re uncertain about it, don’t go into it.

wundayatta's avatar

Like any relationship, communication is crucial. You have to be unafraid to bring up any issue that bothers you, and to work it through. If you are jealous, you guys have to talk about it. What is it from? What can be done to make the situation happier for all involved.

If you are worried about this, this suggests to me that you are not sure there will be the communication you need. Perhaps you don’t know your girl’s partner well enough? Whatever, you have to talk about it with them. Tell them your worries, not us.

Also, I’m not sure what “girlfriend” means here. However it seems to me that it is something more serious that I would consider it. More like moving in, or something. However, if it is less serious, then being boyfriend and girlfriend could be a chance to try things out and see how it goes. You’d have to keep a bit of yourself back if you don’t want to be killed if it has to break apart.

My advice is to have the conversations you need to have up front, and spend a lot of time and energy on them. If they aren’t willing to do this, it’s not a good sign.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think she approached this situation correctly by letting you know right up front and I think you’re correct in taking it seriously (unlike the other girl’s bf who made a major mistake) – you can absolutely be in a polyamorous relationship but you should let her know that this is your first time entering such a relationship and that you’ll need a lot more communication about their involvement and boundaries expected of you. You should figure out which questions specifically concern you the most and ask for answers. I am in an open marriage, have been in polyamorous arrangements and I think they can absolutely move you forward in terms of understanding yourself and love and don’t be scared. P.S. – you should figure out if this means that you can also go outside the relationship.

RareDenver's avatar

Personally it just couldn’t work for me but as you are giving it serious consideration then I would suggest you go out for a few beers with Don and try and talk to him openly about how he has coped or not with the situation. He may help you get your head around where you would likely fit into this relationship.

shadowfelldown's avatar

Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the input, can anyone in this type of relationship explain how they think about the whole thing? How do you handle loving multiple people at the same time? I know every love is unique… but do you love them each person entirely or is your love spread around? Does love get spread around?
Gah! I am so frustrated with myself!
I am just surprised and ashamed that this sort of doubt is even entering my head, seeing as I believe strongly in an endless capacity for love…
it goes against everything that I aspire the world to be to feel this way. I WANT this to work. Is it possible that I just can’t do it? Could it be that something primitive in my brain just can’t open itself to this? Even if I truly do believe in it?
I don’t know…
I feel like I am such a hypocrite… I have never been jealous… ever. I’ve always looked at jealousy as the most base of emotions… stemming from a basic disrespect of the other… but now I feel it creeping in and I want it to stop.
I am so conflicted… and I don’t want to make her feel awkward, because clearly she has no hang up about this sort of thing…
I think what I am going to do is back off and get to know the situation and the players better before deciding… I know she will understand. I want to explain myself to her and get to know her totally before we move foreword… But what do I do? I really want to be with her, and I can’t restrain myself while I am around her… and neither can she…
I don’t know…

Paxan8's avatar

How old are you? This really matters because if you are in your early 20s go for it…it could be allot of fun and you may or may not love it. If you are in your 30s and are thinking about settling down you may want to not waste your time with this relationship because it could be years before you determine it’s not really what you want.
So do you get to be with Tess’s friend or watch or what’s the deal on that end?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@shadowfelldown We talked about it some here, here, here, and here – you might find useful things in those qs. At the point when I was with two people, they were both equal partners to me and they were able to be with others as long as everything was out on the table. These days, with my husband, he’s my primary love and soulmate, we have children together and are completely committed for life to be with one another. This means that I will never enter into a marriage w/ kids like relationship with another person and the same goes for him – this means that any relations we have with others are not for those who want that kind of thing for themselves. Jealousy is a low emotion, in our opinions, and we simply get over it. We have learned, over time, how to be in an open relationship and the key is talking, talking, feeling each other out, being honest. The more honesty, the easier it is.

zenvelo's avatar

as @Paxan8 asked, you really haven’t defined how the relationships will be worked out. It sounds like Tess wishes to explore both sides of her bi-sexuality, but not necessarily with Don, and not indicating you and Sue ever being together, with or with out Tess. So it’s not really polyamory as much as it is Tess being up front about her relationship with Sue. And you need to be clear for your own sake exactly what Tess wants and doesn’t want.

shadowfelldown's avatar

@zenvelo
Unfortunately, I’ve told everything that I know.
I am going to talk to her tonight, to figure out all the details…
all I know is what she told me last night. her and sue are together, it is not an open relationship, and she is not interested in don. Apparently it is only sue and I that she will be with. I do not assume that I am allowed to be with sue, (I dont even really know sue that well) I do not assume I will be allowed to be with both sue and tess, and I do not assume that I am able to be with anyone else aside from tess.
I dont know if I want to be with anyone else but tess.
It is polyamory if I were to agree to the relationship, because Tess would be with multiple people and I would be concenting to her doing so. Even if I am only with Tess it still effects me because I am one of the two relationships that tess is having.
I wish I knew more, but I dont.

loser's avatar

I’m in an open relationship right now for the first time. It’s working out really well but I had trouble wraping my head around it at first. I found that I have to be 100% honest with myself and talk about how I’m feeling. That’s helped get rid of all the feelings of doubt, fear, etc.

hungerforpizza's avatar

I say date her, worst case scenario you guys split and move on.
Also, a wise man once told me:
“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”

shadowfelldown's avatar

@Paxan8 I am in my early 20s, but if this deal goes south, I don’t want to have my heart broken… I just don’t think I can take that right now. I’ve been in some abusive relationships over the past couple years and I really don’t want to be used like that again… (Not that anyone IS using me right now…) I am pretty apprehensive about a relationship in general… but this type of relationship… I don’t even know what to expect. I will do anything for the person I love, even if it hurts me… and I know that’s fucked, but that’s why I am so cautious…
There are those who take advantage of that sort of person.
I know that if I do agree to this, and then I start feeling hurt, I won’t back out because I become too committed to her.
I will just suffer quietly… and she will probably not know.
I know that feeling this way is not good in any relationship, but since I am trying to be 100% truthful, I have to tell you.
After my last relationship I vowed that I would stop just following blindly…
So you see: I want to be with Tess. I want to trust Tess, I want to love Tess forever and know that she loves me too. I don’t want to doubt. I don’t want to question…
But I am not healthy in my head… so I don’t want to just go along with it because that’s what she wants.
Is there any way that somebody like me can find solace in a relationship like this? because I don’t tell people what I feel most of the time, I just love them unconditionally and do what will make them most happy, hoping that they will do the same… through some sort of mind reading… because of course I never have the balls to assert myself when I need something…
I don’t know…
I feel like this was kind of a weighted question for you guys, I am sorry. The root of my problems I am sure is based on my unhealthy view of relationships. But how do I start to fix myself unless I am with someone who understands?

ZEPHYRA's avatar

To put it simply, I’d say run run Rudolph!

Paxan8's avatar

@shadowfelldown, I didn’t mean to make light of your situation. Since you feel as strongly as you do and are not out just for the fun and giggles it does not sound like this is a healthy relationship for you. You seem like you are a dedicated and a one woman type of young man and being with someone who is splitting their time, love, emotions and intimacies is not going to satisfy you. You sound like you have to do some soul searching in order to be able to speak your mind. It is great that you want to make your partner happy but not to the extent that it is going to hurt you. Unconditional love really only exists between a parent and their child and just isn’t healthy for adult relationships. Yes you should love your partner but you must love yourself first.
I know it is very difficult for you to turn away from Tess because you already have strong feelings for her but she allowed you to get this close without telling you about the other love of her life. That was selfish. I wish you luck and let us know how this turns out.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It sounds as if you already know the answer to your question. You can love someone but not be in love. Experience and maturity help define the difference.

Vincent_Lloyd's avatar

I think it all depends on what you’re thinking on it. I mean if you don’t get drowned into selfishness and being a jealous person toward the two, then don’t do it. If you don’t mind the second one and you’re both kind sexually and mentally (I think “mentally” was the wrong word) then sure, give it a shot. If it were in my opinion I would most likely not do due to the fact that it might become complicated or it might affect me in a way that will give me a different view of how I look at a relation ships in the future. But It’s all up to you. Do you trust them both that much to stay with both of them. Or do you not and just stay friends with everyone. I think it’s up to you.

perspicacious's avatar

All I can say is it’s not for everyone—and I’m one of the everyone.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir is a wise and helpful person. You need to have a long talk with Tess and possibly Sue as well to understand what kind of relationship this may be for you.

As you understand this better, you will be in a better position to make informed decisions.

I wish you happiness. Do not let the fear of being hurt keep you from loving and being loved.

Dr. Lawrence

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lapilofu's avatar

Don’t enter into this relationship if you feel that you’re being pushed into something that you don’t want to do as a compromise—that will build resentment. Only enter if you find that you can develop a genuine interest in polyamory, or at least take it slowly and don’t get too invested right off the bat.

If you do find that you’re serious about this, pick up a copy of The Ethical Slut and read it. It’s a beautiful and wise book full of practical advice about entering and conducting non-monogamous relationships. In fact you might consider picking it up anyway, just because it’s so good about communication and how to deal compassionately with yourself in emotional situations. Here’s one tidbit that I think is relevant to some of your concerns:

“Many people believe, explicitly or implicitly, that our capacities for romantic love, intimacy, and connection are finite, that there is never enough to go around, and that if you give some to one person, you must be taking some away from another. [...] It is important to distinguish between starvation economies and real-world limits. Time, for example, is a real world limit: even the most dedicated slut has only twenty-four hours in a day. Love is not a real world limit: the mother of nine children can love each of them as much as the mother of an only child.”

And for heaven’s sake, COMMUNICATE. Don’t ever suffer silently. Be honest about your feelings, because that’s the only way you can feel supported. Polyamory is built on clear, constant, and honest communication. Anything less than that is doomed to be unfulfilling.

@vamtire, That’s awfully judgmental of you. I know, from real-world experience, that polyamory makes a great many people happier than they would be in monogamous relationships. Everyone is looking for different things in relationships—they don’t all have to be pigeonholed into the sort of relationship you are looking for.

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Spider's avatar

You said: “I want to be with Tess. I want to trust Tess, I want to love Tess forever and know that she loves me too. I don’t want to doubt. I don’t want to question…”

At the risk of reading too much into this, please realize that the future is always uncertain. But that’s okay. You can choose to not doubt or question. There are so many possible ways any relationship can turn out, and the only thing anyone can do is respond to what they feel is right, right now. And then, in the next moment, right now. So, if it doesn’t feel right, right now, then wait. What feels right, right now, may not necessarily be what you want because you may also realize that the reason behind your wanting may not be in the best interest of everyone involved. Or, maybe it does feel right, but you are fearful of being hurt…

You said: “But I am not healthy in my head… so I don’t want to just go along with it because that’s what she wants.
Is there any way that somebody like me can find solace in a relationship like this?”

You sound like you are beginning to recognize the importance of knowing the kind of relationship you want and what you want from it. Remember that if the relationship Tess is offering is not what you are looking for, it’s not that you are rejecting her – just the relationship – because you cannot make the relationship into something it isn’t. And that’s true for ANY relationship. You can still be part of each other’s lives, but you don’t have to give yourself over in a way that you are sacrificing yourself.

You said: “because I don’t tell people what I feel most of the time, I just love them unconditionally and do what will make them most happy, hoping that they will do the same…”

If there is one basic thing I’ve learned about romantic relationships is that one cannot make another truly happy. It’s a tough concept to swallow because someone else’s happiness is often what drives our actions toward them. But when a relationship is healthy, nothing makes a person happier than seeing the one they care deeply about being happy by just being theirself.

You said: ”… because of course I never have the balls to assert myself when I need something…”

It’s not about courage – it’s about how much you care about yourself. If you don’t recognize and respond to your own needs (even if you can’t do it completely on your own), you are actually letting down the ones who care about you.

And just as a side note, there are also polyamory forums on the internet, and I know at least one has a “new to polyamory” section that might be helpful.

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wundayatta's avatar

@shadowfelldown I spent some seven years of my marriage not talking about what I wanted and getting more and more miserable. I was afraid to talk because I thought that if my wife knew what I really wanted, she would tell me to get out. I didn’t start there, but it gradually happened.

It sounds like you are about to choose to get into a relationship where you can not be who you are. You can not talk about who you are and what you really want. You’ll be afraid to say the wrong thing all the time. You’ll give and give and expect her to give you what you want, even though she doesn’t know it.

I do believe this is the very definition of a co-dependent relationship. It will make you miserable. What you see as unconditional love is really just putting her up on a pedestal—something she won’t like when she figures out what is happening.

You will be in constant fear of losing her. Whenever she feels you are getting too close, she will go to the other lover and tell you she needs her space and you’re invading it.

You are setting yourself up for misery, and you are doing it voluntarily. If you can’t talk about these things before hand; if you can express your desires and needs, the relationship is doomed before it ever starts.

People usually don’t behave the way you do unless they don’t feel very good about themselves. I think you should work on yourself first, before taking on another relationship that will hurt you more. The increased pain will set you back even further. Please don’t do it.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@shadowfelldown You’re on the right track by being open and honest. I was in such a relationship for 12 years (described in @Simone_De_Beauvoir s fourth listed thread). The three of us had a written agreement describing the structure of our relationship, how we would resolve problems, household decision-making, duties of each partner etc. Our relationship was very similar to what your girlfriend is proposing; my wife was bisexual, her female lover was an equal part of our household (and would have been married to her as well had the law allowed). Our relationship was “closed”, I don’t have any experience of “open” relationships but know that some are successful. My lady passed away last November; her lover and I remain good friends and business partners, although now in separate relationships.

The biggest stumbling block is jealousy, if you can avoid that you are well on your way. Finances, decision-making and household arrangements should be carefully worked out in advance. This isn’t “spoiling the fun”, but avoiding major areas of conflict.

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stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I don’t fully understand Queer Theory, but I respect all orientations. Some of us have a strong attraction to one gender, others don’t.

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KatawaGrey's avatar

[mod says]: Keep it on topic folks. The question is about a specific situation described in the question, not about unusual sexual behaviors. Stop with the insult slinging and take it to PM’s if you must continue off-topic conversation.

GreenRider's avatar

I strongly recommend anyone considering polyamory go to http://xeromag.com/fvpoly.htm and read the entire site, it is such a great resource. He has other works at http://www.xeromag.com/fvessays.html and http://tacit.livejournal.com/ (click on the polyamory tag to the left to narrow it down).

If you want to talk with poly people check out http://polyamoryonline.org/smf/index.php, the main site there has good articles as well.

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