Dear Em & Lo,
I am in a very loving relationship where I love my partner very much. However I fear I may be polyarmorous and I feel I need an open relationship to be happy. Also I am bisexual and have yet to really experiment with others of my same gender. My partner is very cautious about the idea and isn’t very happy about it and feels he wouldn’t find anyone else he is interested in and would lose me. We both have expressed how we don’t want to break up, even though it might be the easier option. How can we make this work without going insane? Is this a time in our relationship that requires someone to sacrifice, or should we just do the fair thing and both get hurt by breaking up?
It’s too bad you “fear” the possibility of being polyamorous. You’d think discovering a significant part of your authentic identity — and wanting to embrace it — would be a source of inner peace and happiness. If this is truly who you are, why shouldn’t you be free to be yourself?
Of course, being in love with someone who is decidedly not polyamorously-inclined is a big part of the problem. He’s the Montague to your Capulet, the Julia to your Winston, the Augustus to your Hazel, the Ennis to your Jack, the Jack to your Rose. It’s the familiar story of a great love being ruined by one annoying obstacle: feuding families, Big Brother, cancer, homophobia, icebergs or, in your case, incompatible styles of lovin’. Maybe you can take some comfort in the fact that obstacles like these can make your relationship seem even more special, more worthwhile than it actually is. After all, we always want what we can’t have.
But your fear probably doesn’t just stem from a resistant partner. We imagine a society so invested in the romantic ideal of heterosexual twosomes is partly to blame as well. When you say “polyamorous bisexuality,” it sounds like your options are endless! (Remember the old Woody Allen joke, “Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date Saturday night”?) But in reality, trying to express yourself sexually and/or romantically in a non-traditional, non-binary way can sometimes be pretty lonely, especially in a world that loves to marginalize minorities.
Of course, understanding the roots of your fear doesn’t make it any less painful.
So what do you do? Well, we definitely know what NOT to do. Don’t stick with him out of love but then, out of lust, sneak a little secret action (of any orientation) on the side. It’s dishonest, disrespectful, potentially physically harmful to your partner (think STDs), and likely emotionally devastating once he find outs. (And they always do. Just ask Joss Whedon’s ex.) We don’t judge consensual non-monogamists, but we do judge cheaters. Have as many partners as you’d like — spread the love, as it were! But only so long as all parties involved are in the know and on board.
That leaves two options: compromising or breaking up. Both can feel soul-crushing.
First let’s take compromise: All relationships — at least the healthy ones — include some amount of compromise, because no two people are perfectly, immaculately compatible. But — and this may be our monogamy bias talking — it seems like a bigger deal to ask your partner to sanction your extracurricular sexplorations than to ask you to limit them for the time being. After all, this relationship isn’t necessarily forever. From your letter, it sounds like you’re both fairly young and not considering a life-long commitment (at least not yet). People change, relationships come and go, opportunities for non-monogamous bisexuality surely exist in your future. Could you just enjoy the love you two share for now, giving monogamy a go, at least temporarily, until it becomes untenable for you?
But perhaps that’s why you’ve written us now: you’re already there. Maybe your longing for other expressions of love/lust with different people has become so great that you’ve begun resenting your partner for denying you those experiences? If that’s the case, then you already know what you need to do.
If you’ve asked your partner if he’d be willing to just try an open relationship and he’s responded with a definitive “I can’t,” then it’s time to break up. Maybe the threat (or the reality) of the end of your relationship will give him the courage to expand his horizons and experiment with a little non-monogamy with you. If so, proceed in baby steps with lots of ground rules (e.g. “First, let’s just give each other permission to kiss someone else, nothing more…”). Or maybe you’ll find dabbling with non-monogamous bisexuality isn’t worth losing him for. But either way, just as he shouldn’t ask you to permanently change who you are, you can’t expect him to suddenly become an enthusiastic polyamorist missing the jealousy gene.
Ultimately, you two may just want different things. Neither one of you is wrong. But in this case, two rights seem to be making a wrong.
Em & Lo