Q: I’ve been seeing a new guy for about a year, and we have decided to be non-monogamous. Other relationships I’ve had haven’t lasted this long, or I wasn’t this emotionally invested, so non-monogamy wasn’t an issue. I’m still having trouble with feelings of jealousy and low self-esteem, even though he has told me that he loves me and he isn’t going anywhere. –Open Season
A: As you’ve already begun to discover, issues that can affect a relationship with one partner can (and usually do) show up in relationships with more than one. Some people are absolutely cut out for this. They’re happy with some sexy friends or a lover in every port and don’t feel any lack of intimacy in their lives. Others—and you might be one—are choosing this option as a kind of massive distraction. The fact is, if you develop deep feelings for one or more of these other partners, it doesn’t matter if you’ve both agreed to define yourselves as fuckbuddies or more; jealousy and unmet emotional needs can be just as painful as they are in a monogamous pairing.
If you have trouble with self-esteem, you might have trouble with jealousy. You might also not feel OK about stating and negotiating for your needs and expectations. If there are holes in your people patchwork quilt and it doesn’t keep you warm, you have to take responsibility for admitting to yourself what you do want out of a relationship (or several). Sure, this is scary, because if you say you want something and don’t get it, it can hurt. But hurt heals, and seeking the truth about what you want and expect puts you on a path toward getting more and more of it. Not asking the question at all is a way of giving away your power, or refusing to use it to begin with. It could be worthwhile to spend a little time with a therapist looking at these kinds of questions.
There are excellent reasons to be in an open relationship, but I never recommend that people yearning for monogamy settle for poly or open relationships just because that’s what their partner expects. However, there are absolutely ways to build and maintain intimacy in a non-monogamous partnership. There’s no better starter tome than The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, to introduce the best practices of polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships. Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships can help you examine your situation with fresh eyes. Above all, start mulling over what it would look like to have what you really want out of a relationship. The odds of you finding your best future are stacked against you if you won’t value your own happiness enough to open yourself to that vision.
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Image: The Ethical Slut
Carol Queen is a staff sexologist at Good Vibrations
Illustration by Marcellus Hall