Dear Lovehacker, My girlfriend of five months has asked how I’d feel about our relationship opening up (i.e. — becoming polyamorous) though she hasn’t fully specified what that means for us yet. I don’t think I could really define myself this way, and I’m really not sure how this will affect our relationship moving forward. What should I be bracing myself for, best and worst case, and is it fair or selfish of me to consider this a dealbreaker? Thanks, r-matt
You need to brace yourself for more conversations, particularly in regards to definitions. It’s important that you both clarify what your expectations are about becoming poly. The term tends to be thrown around a lot to describe a variety of relationship types.
Is it about sleeping with other people, casually dating or having committed relationships with others? If she does want to explore other relationships, that opens up a whole new series of questions and poly possibilities. Here are just a few:
- Separate poly relationships: you aren’t involved in her other relationships and vice versa.
- Hierarchical: despite other relationships there is still a primary partner who takes precedence over the others.
- Poly triads or quads: you’re all involved romantically with each other.
- Open poly relationship: where you can have lovers outside of the group.
- Closed or monogamous: There are no sexual or romantic partners outside of the group.
These are simplistic, entry level definitions and don’t describe everyone’s experience with polyamory. Some people who identify as poly prefer fluidity over labels. In your case being as specific as possible will be beneficial, particularly if you’re considering it to be a deal breaker. Honest communication is imperative, you need to know what you both want and where you stand.
This will be just as beneficial for her as it is for you — particularly if this is her first time engaging with polyamory. She may be just as unsure as you.
You should also ask yourself where you saw the relationship going before she dropped the p-bomb. You mentioned that you were only five months deep, which is well within the honeymoon period. Were you already thinking long-term? Did you think she was The One or were you just casually cruising along?
Your answers to these questions may determine whether a poly relationship will be worth it for you.
Relationships require substantial maintenance, and that just increases when you start adding other people into the mix. The most obvious factor is jealousy — even people who are 100% on board with polyamory still experience this. Are you ready for that? How about balancing the emotional and physical needs of more than one person?
And let’s not forget logistics — one or both of your social calendars will fill up more, so you’ll need to work on time management and ensuring that your relationship is being nurtured.
You’re coming to an unavoidable crossroads in this relationship. The best case scenario is that you’ll both discover what you’re looking for — whether that’s commitment between two people or being open to other possibilities. The worst case scenario is ending up in a situation you hate because you didn’t value your feelings enough to speak up.
I can understand why you might consider traditional monogamy selfish, particularly when it isn’t what your girlfriend wants, but that isn’t the case. Failing to share your wants and needs, or just agreeing to hers, is a far more selfish act. Engaging in dishonesty just to keep her isn’t fair on either of you, and it won’t end well.
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