Dear Lovehacker, I’m four years into a wonderful relationship with a wonderful girl. We had our bumps to begin with, but the last two years have been really good. Our relationship is traditional by most standards, in the sense that I am a man and she is a woman, and we have explicitly agreed to a monogamous relationship. However, my GF recently told me she thinks she is bi and wants to explore this side of her identity.
I’m not entirely surprised, and have no issue whatsoever with who she’s attracted to, so long as I’m one of them. What I do have an issue with is that she feels she needs to have sex with another woman. She said she absolutely doesn’t want to lose me over the issue, and she’d much rather never have sex with another woman than damage our relationship.
So I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. As someone I love, I want to support her in this. I totally understand where she’s coming from, and don’t see this as a betrayal of trust, but at the same time I kinda liked the monogamy part of the relationship. (I have nothing against polyamorous couples – it’s just not for me.)
I have suggsted a threesome, but she’s afraid she would get jealous. How do I strike a balance between what I need and what she needs? And am I being unreasonable? Thanks, No Win Situation
It’s good of you that you want to support your girlfriend at a time that is, quite honestly, probably confusing and stressful for her.
It’s also a tricky time for you in trying to be the support she needs. This is one of those times when there’s rarely an easy answer, but there’re a whole lot of ways to fuck things up. And one of them is to misunderstand what’s happening here.
Sexuality can be surprisingly fluid. A number of people who’ve thought that they were pretty solidly heterosexual or homosexual have been surprised to find that they have been having sweaty thoughts about someone outside of their preferred gender. This can be pretty damn disconcerting; something you had considered a core part of your identity has come into question. Now you’re left with any number of questions.
Is this is just random neurons firing off, and does it ultimately mean nothing? Is this specific person just the exception to your sexual orientation? Or does this mean that you’re not exactly who you’ve always thought you were?
That can be difficult enough when you’re single. When you’re in a long-term, committed relationship? Now you’re in a position where making the wrong move could potentially detonate your relationship… but not making a move might be just as bad. After all, there’s the worry that if she tries to ignore this and it becomes a festering canker in her soul, that’s going to destroy the relationship just as surely and a hell of a lot more painfully.
So right now, your girlfriend is probably as confused and worried as you are. In all likelihood, she knows what her ideal option would be, but is worried about the potential fallout. And I suspect that right now, she’s worried that if she tells you what she really wants that you’re going to have a bad reaction.
Of course, this puts you in a tricky situation. On the one hand, you love your girlfriend and want her to be happy and fulfilled. On the other hand, there’s the non-zero chance that her happiness and fulfilment may mean the end of your relationship. How does one square that particular circle?
To start with: ditch the threesome idea. It was a bad idea in Chasing Amy and it’s a bad one here. If your wife wants or needs to explore that other side of her sexuality, then the last thing that’s going to help is having you in the mix.
Even if everyone goes into it with the best of intentions, it’s not going to teach her anything about herself. Same with her fooling around with a woman while you’re watching; that becomes less about her trying to learn about herself and more about putting on a show. (And that’s without the way that this sort of “experiment” can detonate any number of emotional landmines…)
Instead, let’s talk about you for a moment, because sorting through your feelings will put you in a better position to help your girlfriend with hers. I know that right now the uncertainty is getting to you, so let’s game things out a little.
Let us pretend for a moment that your girlfriend decides that the best thing she can do right now is actively date women. How does this make you feel? It isn’t an idle question; if we want to find a potential solution, it’s important to really interrogate your feelings and get to the core of what is bothering you.
Do you worry that you’re not enough for her and feel like this is a failing on your part? Do you worry that, in sleeping with someone else, she may decide she likes them more and leave you? Or that she may be a lesbian, rather than bisexual?
You don’t want a polyamorous relationship, which is perfectly legitimate. But what about one where she’s allowed to date and sleep with women as long as it’s just sex? Why would breaking up with her be more acceptable than giving her a certain amount of freedom? Do you fear that, if she were to date someone else, you’d end up being a secondary figure in her life? Would the clean break now be easier because you feel that you could compartmentalise those feelings away?
On the other side of things: does sex need to be a zero-sum game for you? Would knowing your girlfriend is feeling happy and fulfilled make you happy? Would you be able to take pleasure in knowing that your girlfriend is feeling better, even with another lover – something that the poly community calls “compersion”?
There really aren’t any wrong answers here; you feel how you feel. Don’t worry if the way you feel is possessive or that this brings out ugly emotions. Feelings are primal things, after all. Even “I worry I wouldn’t be as special to her” is completely understandable. Feelings in and of themselves aren’t bad things; it’s how we act on them that makes things good or bad.
I ask you to really dig in and question how you feel because the more you understand how this makes you feel, the more you’ll be able to talk this out with your girlfriend. One of the best ways to deal with jealousy is to talk it out with your partner.
And being able to talk about this with you — openly, honestly, without fear of judgement — is going to help her to feel empowered to open up to you about how she feels. By being open and honest with each other — not just about your desires but about what you are afraid of — you can work together to try to find a path that helps her without damaging your bond or causing unnecessary pain.
Right now, ya’ll are in a no-win situation. A major reason why she’s clammed up about things is that in all likelihood, she’s afraid to bring things up for fear of hurting you. You, on the other hand, are finding the ambiguity of the situation intolerable.
So start with a long, open talk. Get your feelings out in the open in a productive manner. Focus on the “I feel” statements – “I feel that…” “I worry that…” which will let you express how you feel without putting the responsibility for those feelings on one another. The more that you two feel as though you can talk about this, the more you’ll be able to start finding options, whether it’s a sexually open relationship, time apart or breaking up.
Regardless of what options you take, I’ve got some homework for you. It may well be worth your time to read More Than Two: A Practical Guide To Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert and Opening Up: A Guide To Creating And Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino. Even if you choose not to try some form of non-monogamy (which, again, is decidedly not for everyone), these books can help give you the tools and vocabulary to try to find a path to happiness for the both of you.
You’re in a tough spot, man. I hope you can find a way through it that works. Good luck, and write back let us know how things are going.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove.