Advice – Our full-swap went wrong [NSFW].

The night was perfect. The other couple was great.

I couldn’t rise to the occasion at all and now I’m awake the next day and I’m just bitter at myself.

This is not how I was planning for my morning to be. We were meant to be excited together. Instead I feel like I’ve just dampened the whole mood because I am so angry with myself.

What am I supposed to do? What was I meant to do? Just considering organizing another night makes me cringe to my core.

Jeremy, Reddit.

Dear Jeremy,

I hear your anger, frustration, and disappointment. Your disappointment lives in the gap between anticipation and reality.

It could be possible that you indeed had a very specific idea of how that swinging experience was going to go. Whether it was from a previous successful experience or it was a proactive planning on this one, it is clear that your feelings of disappointment and frustration overwhelmed you.

There could be a couple different contributing factors here. So we’ll take some time to elaborate on them, talk a little about where they might come from, and then find a way to manage those feelings in a productive & healthy way.

I also think we need to talk about sexual performance.

A lot of guys are too stubbornly wound up in their own internalized ideas about masculinity. In specific, a lot of guys attribute their sexuality entire to the hardness of their penis. This is problematic for three different reasons.

Let’s first talk about the misconception around arousal non-concordance. Arousal non-concordance is a fancy way to say your erotic headspace is aroused, but it isn’t reflected in physical arousal. This phenomenon is much more common among women than men. According to this 2010 study, around 74% of women and only 34% of men had experienced similar arousal non-concordance. That means that roughly a third of the male population that have experienced arousal non-concordance according to this research. So it is that even though you were aroused mentally, it just wasn’t being reflected physically.

Another important aspect for you to consider is that your sexuality is more than just your penis. Your perineum (area between your scrotum and anus), prostate (the gland that produces your seminal fluid), and sacrum (the small of your back) are all erogenous zones that can be incredibly sexual and sensitive. So even if your arousal does not manifest in a diamond hard penis, there are ways for you to be intimate with your partners that doesn’t involve your penis at all that is more centered around sexual pleasure rather than anyone’s orgasmic release.

More importantly, your partner’s erogenous zones extend beyond their genitals too. It might be worthwhile to expand upon your sexual repertoire beyond just penetrative intercourse. If you do want to have a penetrative intercourse but cannot maintain an erection, you might want to consider using your fingers, your tongue, or even a strap-on to simulate PIV intercourse. Do your part to close the orgasm gap.

Now let’s talk about what it might look like to successfully manage those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

According to this study, Chadwick et al (2017) theorize that “men felt more masculine and reported higher sexual esteem when they imagined that a woman orgasmed during sexual encounters with them.” So it is possible that you might consider reframing or broadening your idea of “rising to the occasion.” For some partners, that image of you rising to the occasion can look like a masterful wielding of a diamond-hard cock. But for others, rising to the occasion can look like a sensitive wielding of a delicate tongue. I just think it’ll continue to be problematic for you to use your genital response as the only measure for your sexuality; you are far more than just your penis.

Another aspect to consider is to communicate this insecurity with your partner and engage in a more thoughtful & proactive dialogue about your vulnerabilities. In this, you don’t need to do anything or make any immediate changes to your swinging experience. Instead, you can use this experience to relate to your partner about being more mindful in your next full swap attempts.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – How can I learn to heal after a breakup?

My boyfriend [29M] and I [27F] have decided to mutually split up after lockdown. We are very different people; he wants children and I don’t, for example. A lot of things in the short term have been the final nail in the coffin for me. We had a chat today and agreed that we will break up sooner rather than later. Do any of you have any tips in terms of getting over the love of your life who would be perfect if it wasn’t for one thing? Our relationship is great but then we can’t be together. How do you reconcile yourself with that? My brain hurts trying to figure it out.

Bebe, Reddit.

Dear Bebe,

I am so sorry to hear that you are in the middle of such a disorienting end to an otherwise good relationship.

Even quality relationships can end for countless different reasons. Some of them explode spectacularly over a discovery of a chance infidelity. Some of them collapse through many years of built-up and unresolved resentment. Some ends are completely irrational while others are calm transitions to something other than a romantic relationship.

And perhaps that is a potential mindset where we can first rest in, that this does not necessarily have to be a definitive end to your connection with your ex-boyfriend. Queer communities often comment on the importance of chosen family, or a group of people who are bound by choice and not necessarily by blood. For many of those chosen family members in queer communities, they happen to be former lovers or distant flings. And so, it could be possible that the end to your romantic connection with your ex-boyfriend can instead be reframed as a transition and a beginning to your platonic connection.

Another important point to make here is your perception and experience with grief and loss.

It sounds like both you and your ex-boyfriend understand logically and rationally that the breakup is necessary. But even if you and your ex-boyfriend logically agree and accept that the end is inevitable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you and your ex-boyfriend have each come to terms with it emotionally.

And Bebe, I think it is possible that you feel a sense of regret, not for the great relationship you had with this incredibly human being, but how things could have been different if those things were different. It is very easy and also dangerous to trap yourself in that mental loop of different hypothetical scenarios. That trap is easy to fall into because it lives entirely in your own headspace, and therefore requires no change or growth from the people involved. That trap is dangerous because it really is a hypothetical disguising as reality. The trap itself is an emotional distress coping mechanism. But there are cleaner ways to recover and heal than through this mental loop.

It is important to keep in mind that this one thing isn’t just any One Thing. Along with openness of your relationship and clear emotional incompatibilities, disagreement on parenting has very little room for negotiation or change. So be kind, allow yourself to breathe through those hypotheticals, and break the loop if you can see the repeat patterns in your head.

Photo by Drew Taylor on Unsplash

And I want to come back to reframing this breakup as a transition to a new beginning.

If you feel it is necessary, many do take the time off to heal before reconnecting with their former paramours. And if it is true that everything else was perfect and this was just the one thing that didn’t work for your romantic relationship, then you can be there for each other after you’ve both healed and recovered from the pain of this breakup. And perhaps from the charred remains of your former love can rise a different but equally meaningful friendship.

I want to leave you off with a thought that the process to heal from breakup looks different for everyone. For me, I get comfy and watch my two breakup flicks: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Through those movies, I conscientiously chew on my pain through the similar pains the characters on the screen share. And it could be that your healing process can involve a reservation at a rage room (with proper safety precautions), long stomps at a local hiking trail, or multiple scream-cries into your squishiest Squishmallow.

In the meantime, make sure that you have space away from your ex-boyfriend so that each of you can heal.

I feel for your heart and I really hope that your healing process can be as fruitful as it is meaningful.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – How can I verify my open status while I am on dates?

I have a question about navigating dating in a newly opened marriage. When I reveal to a date that I’m married but honestly “open”, is the woman I’m with just supposed to trust me? Apparently, some guys lie about this kind of thing.

This happened to me today and I had no good answer for my lovely friend to back up what I was telling her. Fortunately in this case, I have a long platonic relationship with her and she knows me well enough to know I wouldn’t deceive her. But I’m wondering about a prospective date who would want to verify that I’m not lying to her.

My wife and I talked about it. She joked about writing me a hall pass. Seems kinda ridiculous. And why would a date believe a piece of paper I produced if they’re not believing me? Maybe get it notarized haha. My wife is not keen on the idea of being contacted directly by my dates, she’s pretty clear about that. One of the ground rules is that I date women who do not know her, and she doesn’t want to hear about it. Any ideas?

Waterloo SD, Reddit.

Dear Waterloo,

Based on what you have shared, I gather that you have what is traditionally known as a Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell open relationship – or DADT for short. And in every DADT arrangement, you need to figure out a creative but meaningful ways to verify that things are above board without the in-person verification from the spouse. But maybe flashing your gold-embossed, notarized print of your wife’s consent to non-monogamy isn’t the best idea for a first date.

Dating is in part a practice in mindful suspension of underlying fears. For the women you date, they might fear that they might unknowingly engage in an unethical relationship with a partnered person. For you, that fear manifests in the form of rejection from the women who cannot reasonably suspend that fear. Each sides of that fear are valid. And without proper verification, it can be difficult to establish a basic level of trust to help dispel that fear.

And that type of initial trust can be difficult to establish because, as you noted, there are unethical people who misuse or lie about their non-mono status. One particular former metamour of mine never discloses that he is solo poly until after they’ve already established an emotional connection. But the existence of these unethical non-monogamy does not mean that there can’t be a way for your dates to confirm and verify that you are indeed in an ethical non-monogamous relationship with your spouse.

At its core, verification process emphasizes that everything is “above board”.

So if a written permission slip is out of the question, perhaps your wife can record a short pre-recorded video of herself outlining that she is totally into the idea of non-monogamy. The video specifically accomplishes two different goals that a “hall pass” could not.

First is that the video verifies that your wife is a real person with real feelings. As a potential interest, it can be very difficult to estimate the context of your other relationships from a distance. But with this video, there would be a face to a name. Since it isn’t like the DADT goes both ways, you don’t have to be secretive about your relationship with your wife to your potential interests. And since the words are in wife’s own words, your dates can confirm that the consent wasn’t forged.

Second is that it provides immediacy. There is no real way to verify when a hall pass is written. But time-stamping on videos can be provided as a receipt to give your prospective dates an idea of when the permission was last refreshed.

For your wife, it is going to feel a little awkward having to record a video for your prospective matches. But this will only have to be done once. You didn’t specify if your wife is also dating others. So this might be something that you can record for her as well.

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Even if you have a written hall pass or a pre-recorded video, the goal isn’t to show them on a first date unprompted.

Your goal on first date should be to establish basic emotional chemistry. Multiamory recorded a great podcast episode on the initial six topics to talk about on a first date, abbreviated as MOVIES. And MOVIES stands for:

  • Metamours – What should you expect from your metamours? In general, what is your current poly circumstance?
  • Openness – How open are you about your non-monogamy?
  • Vetoes – Do you have vetoes in your relationship with other partners?
  • Intimacy/Intercourse – What does your idea of intimacy entail? If it is sexual intimacy, what does that look like?
  • Events – Are family/friends events off the table? Can you travel with your non-primary partners?
  • Scheduling/Sleepovers – What type of advance notice do you need to schedule time? Can you do sleepovers with your non-primary partners?

Hopefully, they already know that you have a primary partner before the first date. So you can probably talk about the general idea of your DADT arrangement here, and mention that you have verification from your wife available if they need it. It might be more fitting to send them a link on later dates or if they specifically request for it after a date.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My friend declared that she is polyamorous, revealed an affair, and then moved out.

M (28 M) & F (28 F) are two of my very best friends. I love them both and they’ve both been incredibly consistent and supportive figures in my life as a couple and individually for years. I do not know what to do here.

A few days ago, I found out they had separated (they’ve been together for 10 years and married for 4). I have spoken to both of them separately, and the particulars of the stories are consistent although their perceptions/feelings are quite different. Recently, F came to M and announced that she was poly. She wanted to have sex with other people and this was non-negotiable. She arrived at this conclusion after a couple of months of serious reading on the subject and listening to podcasts. They had casually discussed opening their relationship/having a threesome, but due to the pandemic, nothing had progressed. But now, she was insistent that she needed to open the relationship immediately. She brought up a mutual male friend (T) that she had been discussing polyamory with and wanted to try sleeping with him. M was hesitant but she said she was absolutely certain she needed to do this or she would have no choice but to leave.

She ended up convincing (it is now clear that this meant coercing through threats of divorce) M to have a threesome with this other man. It went poorly, in that M did not enjoy it and did not want to do it again. F was insistent that she now not only wanted to have sex with T, but was also in love with him and needed it to be okay that she nurture a romantic relationship as well. M said no. So, she moved out.

She wants to continue to see T and live separately for a couple of months while she decides whether or not she wants to work on their marriage. She told me with great apparent clarity that M is “incapable” of meeting her sexual and emotional needs and that she does not see herself growing old with him. But she isn’t sure she’s ready to leave him entirely and wants to “take it slow.” She also said a lot of things about M “holding her back,” and said she’d always wanted to live all over the world and he was preventing her from doing that–even though the entire time I’ve known her all she has talked about is buying a house and settling down in our city. Not to mention M supported her while she was in school and until she got her first serious job.

I’ve spoken with her best friend (BF), who thinks she is having some sort of manic episode. Unfortunately, F is not receptive to discussing mental illness as a factor in this. She does have a psychiatrist, but we are under the impression she is sugar coating the situation to them and they are just validating her. She has also apparently gotten seriously into horoscopes and other forms of spirituality, whereas before she was a staunch atheist. T is known to be unreliable/flaky by mutual friends and is unemployed and nomadic, so we are not expecting him to stick around long-term.

F’s friends are pretty unanimously of the opinion that she is suffering from some sort of mental illness and that she’s also being a total a-hole. I am utterly speechless–this is just not the person I thought I knew. I know she suffered with depression and anxiety during the COVID lockdown, but it seems to me that she used polyamory as something to latch onto and used that as an excuse to nurture an emotional and eventually physical affair. She has not expressed real interest in making it work with M–she is spending all her time with T, and getting into all the same hobbies and spiritual stuff he is into. BF thinks from their conversations that she was having an emotional affair with him well before she “came out” as poly to her husband.

I don’t want to dismiss the possibility that she is actually polyamorous and that is something that will be a lasting priority for her–but the way this developed is disturbing to me and our friends. She is treating M terribly. We are all focused on supporting M and trying to help him set boundaries with her (she is still calling him for reassurance that what she’s doing is okay and he is struggling to tell her that no, it’s not). At the same time, I want to sit her down and lay out for her how unfair/awful she’s being, but I’m concerned that if she is genuinely in some sort of mental distress that this will just alienate her when she crashes and needs support. Up until now she was literally just the sweetest, most reliable person from my perspective, and I do feel obligated to try to help or at least tell why before I ice her out.

Tl;dr: My friend has made a lot of drastic decisions in the last month including leaving her husband. I am struggling with how to talk to her and hold her accountable while also not alienating her in case she needs help.

Any suggestions or advice on whether or not to try talking to her and what tone to take would be appreciated.

Anonymous, Reddit.

Dear Anonymous,

My heart breaks for you and your friend’s husband.

Let’s first start with this. Coercion is not consent. If the context of their opening up was measured against an ultimatum, then the consent derived from that context is not meaningful. Her behavior is neither kind nor respectful of the ten-year relationship they’ve fostered together. And even if he had to say yes, that was more of a partner loss prevention strategy rather than an informed and fair consent. It should be disqualifying of a partner to unilaterally change agreed-upon rules of the relationship without any negotiation.

In addition, it also sounds like the context of her ultimatum didn’t come from an ethical place either. Going from casually discussing threesomes to deeply discussing polyamory with a mutual friend shows how massive that disconnect has been between his and her perceptions of their marriage. That divide is further elaborated in the ensuing threesome experience with the very mutual friend who she has been flirting with online. He clearly wasn’t into bringing in another person, much less involving a mutual friend he feels no sexual attraction toward. And that too is coercive, and therefore non-consensual.

I also want to touch on how wild it sounds that even though M did not consent to a polyamorous relationship, F is sort of forcing herself into being in a polyamorous relationship with both T and M by not immediately pursuing a divorce with M. In doing so, she gets validation of self-worth when she is calling M for reassurances, without doing any of the actual emotional labor required to do polyamory with M. It shows how incredibly disconnected from reality F is, and how she is taking advantage of M at his weakest. It just sounds like F is keeping M as a safety net in case this polyamory experience doesn’t (and likely won’t) work out. And since they are still married, what else could M do but take F back when she says that “this was all just a mistake”?

Photo by Egor Lyfar on Unsplash

It is important to remember that polyamory is a subset of ethical non-monogamy.

And if their behavior is unethical (like strong-arming a partner into an uncomfortable sexual scenario), then it doesn’t matter how much they stomp their feet into the mud and claim that they are polyamorous; they are not. Reading all the books, listening to all the podcasts, and flirting with all the polyamorous people doesn’t make you polyamorous. And F would be no more polyamorous than she would be a good partner. And she is unfortunately neither of those things.

The truth is that you are never an island in relationships. You never just date people on a blank slate; you also date their circumstances. We all have people we already care about, long before our partners arrive into our lives. And in polyamory, that can look like your overall polycule, the pre-existing agreements you’ve established with your existing partner(s), and everyone’s relative transmission risk profiles (COVID and STI). Not only that, polyamory takes a different set of skills than monogamy. Proactively abridging communicative gaps between all relationships, keeping everyone informed on any changes to COVID or STI transmission risk profiles, and managing multiple relationships so that each relationship is still meaningful in its own way are all skills that a 401 course in monogamy will never cover. And there is no better example of how to fail at polyamory than what we have here.

This is one of the reasons why I think it is more prudent and beneficial to ask “Can I do polyamory?” rather than “Am I polyamorous?”

Even if we operate under the assumption that whatever transpired between F and T could never be classified as an emotional affair, it should be clear to T that whatever is happening prior to F’s unilateral decision to open up has been not only unethical but harmful to his lover’s marriage. And his inability or negligence to take accountability for the harm he has caused in F’s relationship should be unbecoming of T as a friend.

Photo by Emre on Unsplash

Now let’s talk about your friendship with F.

You have gathered a mountain of data here, both through your personal reflections and through cross-referencing your data with her childhood best friend as well. And in the data you have gathered, it is very clear that F is no longer the best friend you once knew her as. And in the face of these changes, consider reassessing what it means to be a friend to a person who is in denial of their potential mental illness, who is possibly manipulating her psychiatrist to gain validation, who in her mighty “clitful thinking” shattered the very relationship she has been in since she was just eighteen, who continuously talks bad about your mutual friend M in such humiliating and dehumanizing way, who constantly disrespects M’s boundaries around the relationship he wants to have.

If you met this person tomorrow, would you have fostered a friendship with this person?

Your friend is a grown adult, unfortunately very capable of making her own decisions, however destructive or dispassionate they may be. But it isn’t like seeing all these things unfold in front of you gets rid of the connection you’ve already fostered with her over the years. However, there is a significant display of codependent patterns here – both from you and from M. I strongly, strongly urge you (and M) to take a look at this list of common patterns and characteristics of codependence because, even if you aren’t out there validating her perspective like her psychiatrists might be, not addressing it perpetuates through enabling.

Your friend is responsible for her mental headspace. Even if you are right that this is a reflection of her mental disorder, F is responsible for acknowledging it and addressing it. So I don’t really know it would be fair to retroactively justify her bad behavior through the filter of her undiagnosed mental disorder. That feels like trying to read a book before the book is printed.

And I think it is a good time to establish some healthy boundaries here.

Near the end of the post, you say that you “feel obligated to try to help or at least tell why before [you] ice her out.” Let’s assume that F’s behavior is a result of an undiagnosed mental disorder. Even so, it isn’t your responsibility – as her friend – to diagnose how her depression and anxiety has manifested in the form of polyamory. That would be the responsibility of the trained medical professional like a psychotherapist or a couple’s counselor who have had extensive clinical experiences. It also isn’t your responsibility to help M or F patch up and fix their broken marriage; that would be their own responsibility should they choose to reconvene their marriage. Lastly, it isn’t your responsibility to hold F accountable in how she is failing in her relationship with M; that one falls solely on M.

It is however, your responsibility as a friend to let her know that you cannot support her current destructive behavior. At this juncture, you can continue to be friends with her, but establish boundaries around talking about relationships such that you don’t perpetuate and continue to enable the relationship trauma upon M. As in, “Hey F. I really miss the reliable and compassionate version of you. But please stop telling me about your relationship with T or M. It costs me too much sanity to keep hearing your hurtful comments regarding my friend M.” Or you can just put a contingency pin on this friendship with F until she comes to you for support. As in, “Hey F. The way you hurt M made me reconsider our friendship. I can’t be a part of your life while you keep hurting M. So we can’t be friends for X amount of time. I really want to be able to celebrate your polyamorous connections, but it’s too painful right now. Let’s reconnect when the pain isn’t so raw anymore and catch up with each other then.”

I understand your inclination and desire to be there for your friend F. Like I said, it isn’t like your appreciation for F disappeared the moment she stopped being a compassionate partner to M; that is still there. But a fond recollection of your good times is not enough to sustain a failing friendship, in the same way that ten-year relationship history between F and M is not enough to sustain a failing relationship.

Lastly, we should also touch on your friendship with M.

In the same way that F is entitled to make destructive decisions, so is M. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should establish the same boundaries you’ve had to establish around F. As someone who has supported a partner through a devastating end to a decades-long relationship, I can tell you that, based on experience, M could be experiencing major relationship withdrawal, desire to “relapse” back to F, and severe depression from this traumatic experience. M has to work through the pain from grief and loss of not just his past-tense marriage, but the loss of the future he intended to have with his wife. That is way above your pay-grade. If he isn’t already speaking to a therapist, I would strongly urge M to seek therapy and counseling.

If you have the (emotional) resources to do so, grieve with him because you too have lost a best friend in F, someone you’ve known to be dependent and reliable. And perhaps that dependent and reliable F will re-emerge when she recognizes that her heart is writing checks that her brain cannot cash.

I personally hate to see polyamory get such a bad rep, like it does here. Because when it works, it is great. But F is not polyamorous. She’s just an asshole justifying her shit behavior through words of polyamory.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – I have no idea how to date.

I was single for 4 years since I moved cities for a job after graduating college. Since my field is very competitive, and with not many women, I decided to put my dating life on hold and focus on my career.

I have no regrets as to that decision and I am now professionally established and doing quite well.

I have however been working from home since March for obvious reasons and suddenly I realised that I was lonely. I live with two close friends and while we spend a lot of time together, it felt like something was missing.

Like everyone at home, I decided to download a dating app and try my hand at it.

Enter Peter (26M). By all means, the perfect partner: we have similar interests, make the same dumb jokes, and he is both brilliant and attractive.

We have been dating for a little over 3 months now, my friends love him, I get along with his friends and it’s all going great except- I am not feeling it. He often talks about the future and my immediate reaction tends to be just freeze up, pipe up a platitude and smoothly change the topic.

When this first started, I thought I wanted something casual and in the now, and we were on the same page but I feel like that might have changed for him after seeing how well we click?

For me though, I still have trouble being vulnerable around him, and instead of excitement, I feel increasing amounts of dread before every date.

On Sunday evening, he confessed to loving me and I told him that while I wasn’t at love yet, I did like him and he said that was enough for him for now.

I know I should break up with him before it gets any more serious and I hurt him, but at the same time I am terrified: if I can’t love someone like him, am I going to find love outside of this relationship? Should I settle for this camaraderie?

Lily, Reddit.
Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Dear Lily,

I am a big fan of Brene Brown’s work.

I’ve referenced her work once or twice on this column. I often recommend her podcasts – Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead – to others who want to learn more about what she has to offer. At the end of each podcast episode, Brene Brown asks her guests a series of rapid-fire questions that start with this question.

“Fill in the blank: Vulnerability is ….”

Recently, she had President Obama who answered, without hesitation, “Inevitable. Be open to it.” And Lily, I think this advice would be remiss if I don’t echo the same sentiment to you.

Part of what makes dating so thrilling and scary at the same time is that becoming vulnerable is an essential part of dating. If dating was a book, vulnerability would be the very binding that holds all the pages together. It is through the vulnerabilities shared that we weave together and bind our histories in a relationship. For some, shared vulnerability can look like making impactful life decisions together. For others, it can look like being open and honest with each other about sensitive topics. And for your partner Peter, his acknowledgment of his deep adoration for you as a person could have been another vulnerable thread to weave into your history together.

And let’s talk more about that concept – a history together.

Each person in a relationship comes with our own respective personal histories – narratives that we each tell ourselves which define who we are as individuals. It could be as simple as characterizing yourself as a poor picker of fruits, enforced through series of bad experiences with spoilage. Or it can be as complex as repeat behavioral patterns found in our partners.

As I was reading through your initial post, I gathered that you are quite adept at acknowledging your own context and making quick decisions based on your desires. That ability is reflected in your decision to pursue your career. It is also in your decision to start dating three months ago. And your interpersonal assessment even extend to those around you – specifically in the ways you can assess how Peter fits into your life and how your friends feel about him. You have even had the clairvoyance to pick out your own avoidant patterns whenever Peter brings up what your relationship might look like in the future.

Then I wondered what type of stories that you might tell about yourself, beyond what you’ve already shared in this incredibly brief history of you. You say you initially wanted something more casual. But I am curious if that was in response to the absence you felt when you first started dating or if it was a learned one you adapted through your history with Peter.

So let’s go back and ask ourselves the same question that Brene Brown asked Obama: Vulnerability is _____.

There was a point in my life when my answer to that question would have been “terrifying.” I was gripped with the insecurity and anxiety about the folks I was dating. It made me rigid and held me tight until I could no longer bear the weight of the insecurities and anxieties. And so, I found myself going through relationships against a checklist of flags. I asked myself the same exact questions you did. I wondered that if I couldn’t make it work with this particular partner, I just couldn’t see how I could make it work with someone else.

At some point, I realized how that process made me feel and started investing more of myself into my relationships. That meant I had to make myself more available to not just sharing my own vulnerability with others but to respond when others shared their vulnerabilities with me. At that point, my answer to the question changed to “empowering.”

And Lily, that particular reflection has made all the difference in my relationships.

Ask yourself what factors contribute to your hesitance to be vulnerable around Peter. Perhaps you’ve had some bad past dating experiences that conditioned you to associate vulnerability as something to be avoided. It could also be a reflection of your male-dominated career where vulnerability is seen as a weakness. Or perhaps your experience with vulnerability has deeper roots in your childhood or adolescent experiences. Try to dig deeper and see why your perception of vulnerability is so intertwined with fear and avoidance.

Vulnerability is the main way we build our marbles of trust.

It does sort of become a catch-22 when you think about the feedback loop of trust building. You need to be vulnerable in order to build trust. But you can’t trust enough to be vulnerable. If we define trust as a basic building block of relationships, we need to be mindful in the way we build on trust through our relationship experiences and shared vulnerability.

Perhaps a good starting point is to openly discuss with Peter how you sometimes freeze up when the topic of your relationship’s future comes up. You can use this discussion to assess and accomplish three different goals.

First goal is to create a safe and secure space for yourself. For me personally, I have found that it is easiest for me to get comfortable when I am surrounded by softness – such as blankets, bare skin, and compassion – and the people I trust – such as lovers, close friends, and family. The contextual clues that allow you to be comfortable in your vulnerability might look different than mine. In your head, visualize a mental and physical space that brings you safety and comfort. And do your best to bring that vision into reality. Even if your first attempt isn’t perfect, it’ll get you closer in your next attempt.

Second goal is to set some expectations. You can do this by drawing a basic idea around how you think this conversation is going to go. Anxiety will likely have some say on perpetuating your internalized dread. But anxiety is not the only feeling that needs to have a say. Sometimes, it can be as simple as saying out loud “This conversation is going to make me feel very vulnerable”, either to yourself before the conversation or as a preface to the conversation with Peter.

The last and the most important goal is to measure the trust building. Spoken words have power. Stating out loud “This conversation made me feel closer to you” can feel a bit sentimental. But it is very meaningful to communicate how intense the conversation felt and make space for reflection & reciprocation as well.

I will leave you off with this final thought.

There is a big misconception in modern dating. And it is that you should love and care for your partner to the exact same way that your partner loves and cares for you.

This perception is flawed because it incorrectly assumes equality. As we talked about, each of us come with our own respective histories that determine who we are as individuals. As such, we harness different characteristics and present our care and affection in unique ways.

This misconception is one of the reasons why there is such a heavy weight and burden around the words I Love You in the western culture, because a non-immediate reciprocation is considered a red flag.

The truth is that different people love in different ways. And to expect that you should care for Peter in the same exact way that Peter cares for you might be misguided and unfair. Instead of immediately jumping to a breakup, it might be more beneficial for you to first reflect on the quality of the relationship from your own perspective, isolated from how Peter perceives his relationship with you. Because even if this particular relationship doesn’t stand the test of time, this exercise will help with your next one.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Dad hired a female sex worker for me even though he knew I was a gay man [NSFW].

A year ago I (20M) made the decision to tell my parents I’m gay. A week ago my dad made the decision to surprise me with a female sex worker (25F) for my birthday. If that sounds weird to you, you’re normal. If it doesn’t, welcome to my world. My old man gave me the whole “nothing beats pussy” speech before leaving me alone in the house with a random stranger. I was so embarrassed and awkward I didn’t know how to react. The sex worker introduced herself as “Zoey” and encouraged me to relax. Without wasting time I apologized and made it clear that I’m not interested in girls. Zoey asked me a bunch of questions about my sexuality. Questions I never had to answer out loud before. Her attitude seemed really sincere. Like she genuinely just wanted to learn about my life. The two of us ended up having a good time talking. However, talking turned into touching, and touching turned into my first sexual experience with another person.

As soon as we were both naked, Zoey wrestled me onto my stomach and started humping my butt. She humped me harder and harder without slowing down. Even though nothing was penetrating me, the feeling off getting pounded from behind was enough to send me over the edge. I came from that alone. Nothing touched my penis. Didn’t even know that was possible! It wasn’t over though. I wanted to be inside Zoey. I’ll be honest, it felt amazing. It made me question everything I thought I knew about my sexual orientation. It’s been a week and I still have no idea what to make of it. My dad is now convinced I was never actually gay and that all I needed was the right woman to remind me I’m as straight as they come.

Is my dad right?

Can you be gay and still enjoy sex with girls?

Even now I don’t feel any sexual attraction towards other girls, but when I think about Zoey it makes me excited. Is she a unique case?

I’m lost.

Chris, Reddit.
Photo by Oleg Ivanov on Unsplash

Dear Chris,

Let’s first talk about sexuality.

For many, sexual expression and sexual orientation exists on a plane or a spectrum. It is the easiest to explain this complex concept by first visualizing a triangle. In this case, the first point of the triangle represents a homosexual sexual response, the second point a heterosexual sexual response, and the last point an asexual sexual response. And somewhere in that triangular plane – between each of the extreme endpoints – lies your true sexual orientation as a simple point on a plane. Many people decide to use the endpoint labels (gay, straight, or asexual) to describe their sexuality even though they actually don’t lie in the extreme ends of the sexual orientation plane.

It is so wild how much power we lend to the words we created ourselves.

It appears that for you your sexual orientation also exists somewhere in that plane of sexual expression; not all the way at the gay end of the plane nor all the way at the straight end off the plane (like your father appears to believe), but somewhere in between. If it is comfortable for you to hear, I am connected with many self-identified gay men who have had semi-successful long-term relationships with opposite sex partners in the past. They still identify as gay. So it could be possible that this particular experience need not alter your self-identity as a gay man, but represents a minor blip in the radar that is your sexual orientation. Or this experience could be more than an incidental point of data that might help you question where specifically you belong on that plane. Perhaps homoflexible or queer might be better words to describe your sexuality if you decide that gay no longer represents your sexual orientation.

And the fun part is that you are never static in your sexual expression. Sexual orientation is often flexible and grow as life circumstances change. You are never beholden to the label itself. In fact, it’s the other way around. So even if you believe that you were more homoflexible now, your sexual expression and orientation can lean back towards identifying again as a gay man sometime in the future. Part of the fun in life is in wading through the unknown and figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you. So keep an open mind and don’t feel hurried to shed your previous sexual orientation just because of this one experience.

I do think that there is a different, more profound conversation to be had about your relationship with your father.

What your father did was really awkward and inappropriate. It is very difficult to look past the negative intentions imbedded in not just the words he shared with you but the actions behind his decisions.

It is possible that your father had good intentions when he hired a sex worker that he knew to be incompatible with your sexual orientation. But I do not get the sense that his decision was framed in a compassionate way to allow you to expand upon your sexual expression. However, it is much more likely that he thought you might change your mind “about the whole gay thing” if you had a successful sexual encounter with an opposite sex partner. The truth is that your father just happened to hire a really great, professional sex worker who worked with your sexual expression to help you to experience sexual pleasure in an otherwise very unsexy sexual context. And digging deeper into his decision reveals a more dangerous and scary thought – that he is willfully ignoring your gay identity.

I think it is important to be in a place of mind where you can be both appreciative of his decision which allowed you to more holistically experience a wider range of sexual expression but also apprehensive about your father’s obvious boundary violations.

It could be that your current inability to rationalize what just happened to you is tied up behind how upsetting and humiliating it was to have your father boil your entire identity down to your sexuality. As such, you lack the proper resource to accurately gather data about what happened, to internalize what this experience means to you, and to externalize what changes you need to make. And until that stressor – your father in this case – has been acknowledged and addressed, this can’t move forward.

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Your father is not entitled to know anything about your sex life.

There really needs to be a healthier set of boundaries around how much influence your father has on your sexual orientation. That could mean that the next time he asks you about your sexual orientation, you remind him how weird and awkward that experience was. And keep mentioning until he understands how weird it made you feel. Do note that this doesn’t reflect on what your actual sexual orientation is or even what specifically happened with Zoey. It only calls into light that it is weird to talk about it with your dad who is weirdly engrossed in ensuring that his son is straight. The goal of this approach is for him to acknowledge and understand that what he did was not acceptable and that your sexual orientation is for you to validate, not him.

If you are currently living with your father, this would also be a great time to start looking outward for a new place to live. I’m not sure what other weird things your father might do to keep encroaching on your boundaries. But I am willing to guess that this won’t be the last time he disregards your boundaries or willfully ignores your sexual orientation. You mentioned parents in plural form, so you might also want to check in with your mom about how weird your dad has been about this. Perhaps she can address this in a more productive manner, especially if the message is clear from two of his family members.

And if your father keeps pushing, you have my permission to lean into his boundaries and tell him all about the gay porn you masturbate to and the sexual scenarios you fantasize about. Two can play at that game.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My girlfriend’s best friend wants to watch us have sex [NSFW].

My girlfriend (“Izzy”) and her best friend (“Mel”) are obviously very close. They talk pretty much about everything. I’m pretty sure she has told her a lot about our sex life. Sometimes, we even talk about it occasionally when the three of us are together. I’d say we are all about the same sexually, in terms of our openness to trying new things and our kinkiness. Well, the other day, her friend mentioned something that turned her on that she hasn’t ever done before. She admitted to my girlfriend that she really wants to watch another couple have sex. They spoke more about it and went into the details of it.

My girlfriend asked her if she thought the idea of watching us have sex would turn her on. She agreed and said that’d be even better since she knows both of us. The friend clarified that she doesn’t want to join, but may would want to touch herself if we were okay with it. My girlfriend pretty much agreed on the spot to it all. Later, my girlfriend brought it up to me all excited. It sounded like she had already made up her mind for both of us. She was telling me when we were going to do this and how great it’d be. I had to stop her to tell her that I never agreed to it. She said “yeah but I knew you would.” She is honestly probably not wrong about that, but it still hasn’t given me much time to think about the logistics of it.

The plan was for it to happen this coming weekend. I wanted to see if anyone had any advice on this. I honestly think it could be hot. I just want to make sure there isn’t anything that I’m not understanding or thinking through about it. Because honestly it’s mostly my other head that’s doing the thinking right now lol. Has anyone else ever done this? How does it work? Is it enjoyable? What should I do?

Michael, Reddit.

Dear Michael,

What you are describing here is a bread-and-butter voyeur/exhibitionist kink scene. But even before we get to what it might actually look like or what you can do to make this an enjoyable experience, we need to talk about how this was all initiated.

Let’s first talk about your ambivalence. It is one thing to have open and frank conversations about sex and sexuality, but another to become part of it. I get the feeling that the conversations about sex and sexuality that you’ve had with Izzy and Mel are deeper and more practical than it appears on surface, especially so if you can gauge each other’s kinkiness through conversations. But like you, I don’t really get the sense that this is much about what you or Mel wants to do, but rather what Izzy wants you two to do.

Here is a good example of why this feels so icky. When you initially pushed back and said you never consented to this, her response was that she knew you would say “yes.” So in that one set of exchange, she not only disregarded your “not yet” but also inserted intent behind her presumed “yes.” Like you said, she had already made up her mind, with very little regard for your actual consent. Based on how Izzy has steamrolled your consent, consider that it is also very possible that Izzy could have steamrolled Mel’s consent here as well.

Remember, a lot of what happened beyond what you saw or heard and are only framed in Izzy’s recollection and retelling of her conversation with Mel. And because much of what we have here are she-said-she-said, it is also unclear if Mel actually initiated this conversation about watching you two have sex or if Izzy did.

Let’s now operate under the presumption that everything was on the up-and-up.

Preparation is absolutely important because there are two connections at risk from this going wrong: Izzy’s romantic relationship with you and Izzy’s best friendship with Mel. There is a lot at risk and committing to this weekend is far too early!

It might be beneficial for you to confirm with Mel on your own that this conversation happened as Izzy claims it did. This accomplishes two specific goals.

First goal is that it clarifies the questionable consent. Hearing it directly and clearly from the third party of interest is one of the reasons why Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policies in non-monogamous relationships are such a bad sign. This also allows you and Mel to develop your own connection. Voyeurism and exhibitionism operate under the assumption of safety and security above all. And it sounds like most of your conversations about sex with Mel has been attended to by Izzy as well. Even if the quick touch-base with Mel doesn’t immediately spark a sexual connection, allowing for a space for her to feel safe with you will also help her (and you) feel safe when she watches you and Izzy have sex.

Remember, proactive consent is sexy.

If you have confirmed that Mel is as into this as Izzy said she would be, great! Now is a great time for you three to get together and each weigh in on how you each think this is going to go. Even if it is a dry mechanic-oriented conversation (“We are going to take clothes off. Then you sit down in the chair some distance away where you can masturbate while watching us.”), this conversation can be used to elevate the sexual tension. This also has the added benefit of no unexpected Big surprises on the next evening that Mel comes over, since ya’ll would have already talked it out.

Another important conversation you three need to have is a safe word. Since Mel won’t be physically engaging in this kink scene with you, determining and agreeing to a safe word will allow anyone to halt the scene if necessary.

Another aspect of this to consider is that there is going to be a lot of new elements for you as well. You aren’t just having sex. You will be having sex in front of someone new, which is already complicated enough without having to consider that that same person will also be masturbating to you. You might get in your own head about whether or not you are hard enough to be able to perform for two people. So figuring out how you can manage performance anxiety ahead of time is a good idea.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – It started as a hotwifing dynamic. But I’m having a hard time with my husband dating.

My husband and I have been together as a couple for about twelve years and open for two of those years. in the last two years, I have been with two other men solo and ongoing (about once per month), and we’ve played with couples together.

It first started strictly as a hotwife dynamic, that quickly turned into more of a polyamory/FWB dynamic. Admittedly, in the beginning I was open to the hotwife idea for him. But when things happened in reality I realized I actually do like connecting with people on a more friendship/personal level. In the beginning, it was all about me, him seeing me in my element, him seeing me as an individual, him seeing me feeling so alive and excited. When we discussed his desire to sleep with other women solo, he insisted that wasn’t the priority; that wasn’t where the “hot” factor came in. So while a part of me feels a little misled now that he wants to also have solo experiences, I do understand that things change and it’s ok to want something new that you didn’t want before (or, didn’t want enough to go seek it).

At this point, I have a FWB, we continue to play with other couples when we want to, and he has been on two solo dates. During the two solo dates, I basically died inside. Sex didn’t happen on those dates, and yet the difficult feelings still shook me. I am trying very hard to sit with my feelings and think rationally before I react. I know that he has also dealt with some sadness/jealousy on some of my early solo dates, but there is a sexual turn on for him even if he isn’t participating. Whereas, there is no sexual turn on element for me when I picture him being sexual on his own with another woman. So his feelings are more like, a mixture of jealously and turn on, while mine are only jealousy and sadness.

He has made clear that if the icky feelings are too much to handle, then he doesn’t need to continue the solo stuff (and in turn, I would also need to stop my solo stuff). He hates seeing me hurt, he truly does. I am pushing myself HARD to become okay with this but I don’t feel okay yet. I don’t know if my solo stuff is worth having to deal with the sadness I feel when he does solo stuff. I don’t even know if I have a question, but I think I’m just looking for advice or experience that someone else has had and can relate. I do understand how hypocritical this sounds. Should I suck it up and deal with the jealousy when he goes on dates because I get to have solo experiences? Or is it understandable that I am way more uncomfortable with him doing solo stuff since there isn’t a sexual turn on element in it for me?

Hotwifing For Fun, Reddit.
Photo by Nada Gamal on Unsplash

Dear Hotwifing For Fun,

Because rapid personal growth and emotional development is very common (especially in the early stages of non-monogamous exploration), two major parts of that growth and development are in staying connected with your partner through those changes and extending empathy & compassion whenever they have a difficult time with emotional management. And the thing is, your exploration with non-monogamy brought a separate set of challenges than the one your husband’s exploration did. This is a very, very important distinction to make.

So let us separate the your motivations behind non-monogamy from the his motivations behind non-monogamy. Each of you, while compatible, are two very different people. In the same way that two jigsaw puzzle pieces fit well together, it might be more productive to see each of your relationship styles as separate and distinct from each other. While the ideal is to be fair and equitable in our relationships, approaching our relationships as if everything should be equal is often an incorrect way to approach fairness and equitability.

You say that your non-monogamous journey initiated around the desire to explore and expand on his hotwife fetish. It is unclear who initiated the conversation to open up. But I don’t get the sense that the initial conversations were met with significant resistance, even as the initial casual hotwifing over time became a more polyamorous arrangement.

For you, exploring and connecting with others represented a self-empowerment and self-validating exercise. It is true that were aspects of his enjoyment in your erotic awakening that reverberated back into you in the form of self-assurance. But based on your subsequent push for the hotwife dynamic to evolve into a more polyamorous dynamic tells me that you were adequately content with your growth and desire superseding his. Which is a bit puzzling considering how discontent you are with his growth and desire to also date others on his own.

For your husband, it sounds like your husband might have worked through the initial phase of jealousy and subsequent changes to the relationship agreement by productively channeling them through a hotwifing sexual outlet with you. The truth is that this is not the case for most non-monogamous people who are not explicitly sexually attracted to the idea of our partners sleeping with others. Most non-mono folks I know just learn to manage our emotional labor because the overall joy of being with our partners greatly outweighs the negatives of being without them.

Since your husband made it clear that solo play agreement needs to be reciprocal, you have three main options in front of you.

First option is to concede that emotional management is not a worthwhile price of admission to keep engaging in solo play without your partner. It is a testament to the strength of any relationship to survive changes and endure challenges. And if you deem that committing to growing and changing to meet the needs of a polyamorous relationship is not something you can handle at this moment, it is ethically imperative for you to let your partner know as such. This will mean that you and your husband will have to scale down on your existing connections and renegotiate on your now-outdated relationship agreements. Swinging together only might be the next best option for your relationship. That way, you don’t get any of those intense negative feelings of him on solo dates while still exploring the type of non-monogamy that appeals to you both. Downside of this option is that it does restrict the amount of available matches since the scope is only for swingers who want to play with a couple as a package deal.

The second option is to accept the emotional labor associated with solo play and strive to improve your emotional hygiene. This option opens both and each of you up to the widest range of connections possible. The overlaps between swinging and polyamory as well as the overlap between solo play and couple play allows each of you to be able to flexibly form the type of connections each of you are comfortable with. The obvious downside is that this requires some labor of love from your part. Much like your husband, you will also have to put some effort into managing the intense feelings of jealousy and sadness. Whether that is through channeling your negative feelings through a creative medium, processing those feelings with your husband or close friends, or distracting yourself through other partners, you will need to complete the stress cycle of the negative feedback loop.

The last option is to acknowledge that each of you have different but compatible styles of non-monogamy. The goal here isn’t to commit to casual swinging or to full-blown polyamory as a pair; rather, it is to compromise that even if you two don’t share the same exact non-mono motivations. It is very possible that your husband’s desire to maintain reciprocity in your non-monogamous arrangement is because that self-channel to hotwife fetish isn’t as clean as it appears; he could still feel jealous and sad in emotional context even if he is erotically charged in sexual context with you. And the reciprocity suggestion could then come from anticipation of retribution from you (because he too sees the hypocrisy of it all). In reality, your side of the non-monogamy isn’t “broken”. What’s broken is just your method for emotional hygiene. This last option obviously comes with an immense cost: imbalance. But life has a strange way of evening itself out, and the balance will always come due. You just need to find a fair balance that isn’t equal but equitable.

I also want to touch on the difference between your internalized perception of your husband’s sexuality and the way he experiences his own sexuality.

We are not our partners. While we should aim to holistically understand our partners’ sexualities and sexual expression, our perceptions are limited by the filters of our own personal views. It might be true that for your husband, there was indeed jealousy and turn on when he saw you go on your solo dates. But we don’t truly know what that balance looked like or if there were any other complex feelings present that he did not want to share with you.

We also don’t know that what his exact thought process was when he “insisted” that it wasn’t a priority for him to go on solo dates with other women. Depending on the context, he could have said those under pressure from you to provide a definitive answer. Or it could also be a reflection of the internalized self-guilt about ethical sluttery. It is evident in his appeal to step back if you also step back on solo dating. So while your feelings of deception are valid, you have to try your best to extend your compassion and understanding for the partner who has been there for you from not just the two years of your open marriage experience, but for the twelve years you’ve been together.

In short, yes. Your feelings are valid. But your feelings are not facts. You might not have the tools to deal with the bad feelings that come up today. But you might tomorrow.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My husband didn’t react well when I told him that I wanted to find a new career.

I have a career where I make good money. But it is an hourly position with no pension or benefits that tie me to it. I also have “side gig” that I love and enjoy, but obviously make less doing. I discussed my desire to further my learning, maybe take some courses, even start my own business this year, or at least move in a direction that will get me closer to my own personal happiness. We have no financial stress, he makes good money, we have rental properties that cover most of our own personal bills…

His response was just to keep doing what I’m doing, that’s it’s good money, he doesn’t just quit his job because he doesn’t love going every day.

The conversation didn’t end well, I got upset, we both got a little defensive, and I’m just feeling really really let down.

How do we get past this?

Emma, Reddit.
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Dear Emma,

Let’s first take a quick step back and review what happened.

In the cusp of a new year, you looked back upon your current financially satisfying but personally dissatisfying career. And when you decided that you wanted to expand upon your personal growth by exploring a more personally rewarding career or enrolling in personally enriching courses, you communicated so with your husband. And instead of nurturing or engaging in the type of constructive dialogue you wished to have with your spouse, he got defensive about your desire to keep growing.

It is no wonder you feel disappointment and sadness from that interaction! Disappointment is the gap between your expectation and your reality. And you might have had a very different expectation of how that conversation was going to go than how it actually went in reality. You did expend quite a bit of emotional labor on what you wanted to accomplish in the new year, long before you approached your husband. And when you did come to him with what you have internally processed, you already knew the gravity and sincerity of what you wanted to communicate with your spouse – the very gravity and sincerity your husband appear to have missed or misunderstood. That is where your pain is coming from.

And I think that is the best place to start your next conversation with your spouse.

Even you acknowledged within the very first sentence that your current career is financially rewarding. But your career dissatisfaction is a deeper reflection of your personal desire to keep expanding upon your foundation, not as a reflection of how much money you earn from your hourly job. And it could be possible that your husband could not or did not see how much of a role your personal dissatisfaction played in your overall dissatisfaction with your current career.

A good way to help your husband understand how you feel is to relate his actions and words to how you felt. When your husband dismissed your desire to take new courses, you felt disappointed. You currently feel very disconnected as a result of the last conversation with your spouse. It could be that his intent wasn’t necessarily to be dismissive or defensive. Perhaps his emotional hygiene was cluttered with other aspects of your collective lives together that disconnected him from being fully present in that vulnerable conversation with you. But your recollection of that memory – the feelings they brewed – are just as valid as his recollection of his words.

Here is an exercise I believe you can implement into your next conversation with your spouse about your intention to expand. Try having your husband explain to you in his own words where he thinks your headspace is at. Relating to others and teaching others is one of the most effective ways for us to learn and absorb new information – 90% of new information, actually. And he might have a better time understanding the gravity and sincerity of your intention setting if he had an opportunity to empathize with your deeper desire to grow in his own words. After all, this is your own experience and reflection. Clearly, your husband has a different relationship and experience with his own career. It is important for him to acknowledge and understand that your experience with your career is not at all the same from his experience with his career.

It might be a good practice for you to also take on his role in this conversation. Try and speak out loud what you thought he felt during the conversation and gauge where his deeper motivation or insecurity could have stemmed from.

Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

If the first step was for your partner to validate your feelings and intentions, then the next step is to figure out why this happened and how you can avoid this type of disconnect in the future.

I am curious if there have been any other instances of obvious communicative disconnect in your relationship history with your husband. We only have a smallest slice of your relationship at this specific conflict point. So you might have a better idea if this is a next example in a general dismissive pattern or if it was a truly random one-time occurrence from an otherwise attentive partner.

It is also very important to note that we are all experiencing a massive societal trauma through this pandemic. We are all on edge, pushed to the brink of our own respective sanities. So it could be possible that your spouse just did not have the adequate emotional capital to process what you shared in a meaningful and productive way. Explicitly allocating time and space for a discussion of this magnitude might be a good way to avoid this type of miscommunication in the future.

I’ll leave you off with one last consideration. In each of our engagements, we sometimes make emotional bids for our partners. Gottman Institute defines emotional bids as “the fundamental unit of emotional communication” where we request to connect with our partners in an emotional, physical, or sexual nature. This video explains emotional bids in more detail. In your case, your partner turned away from the bid you made, which prompted you to retaliate in defense of your vulnerability. It is important that both you and your husband acknowledge and understand that what happened was not okay, before you two can even attempt to reconnect and rekindle over this miscommunication.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – How should I talk about finances with my non-nesting partner?

At what point does it become acceptable to discuss finances and financial planning/management with non-nesting partners?

I’ve been with one of my partners for about 2 years now. We both have primary spouses that we live with, though we spend a fair bit of time together as well. We are not primary logistically but we are primary emotionally and sexually.

As we approach middle age, I have some concerns about how my partner is managing money. I want to discuss it with them, help them budget and ensure they are saving for retirement. There have been money problems in the past.

But I feel like since I’m not the nesting partner and we have no shared finances that it’s not my “place” to have these kinds of discussions or help in that way. I’m afraid to bring it up.

What do you all think?

Anonymous, Reddit.

Dear Anonymous,

Your reticence and reservation about discussing financial standing is valid and real. There are a couple different reasons why you could feel this way.

It could be that it is a simple manifestation of general anxiety folks often feel about discussing finance. We as part of western society have made it louche to talk about money, and often are made to feel embarrassed to talk about how much money we have or make. It could also be a different manifestation of internalized guilt many non-monofolks feel about the legitimacy of our non-primary relationships. And that fear can also be a personal reflection of the type of financial decisions your non-nesting partner has made in the past. As in, it could reflect negatively on your own financial situation to be associated with someone who previously made bad financial decisions. While your deeper machinations are unclear, it is clear that you see this as a potentially vulnerable discussion.

And it can be.

Interweaved into this future discussion about your partner’s finances are more fundamental discussions about long-term planning. Of course those feel vulnerable. They are deep, personal, and incredibly revealing. It is their nature to be vulnerable. But it doesn’t mean that it should be avoided either.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

One of the biggest advantages of monogamy is that there is an expansive wealth of examples to draw experience from.

It is easy to envision what the process of dating might look like in a monogamous context because much of popular media has already covered what that is supposed to look like. But it isn’t like that in non-monogamy. There is no good example for us non-mono folks to defer to when thinking about how to discuss finances with our non-primary partners. We sort of have to pave our own path in many of our unorthodox choices.

I believe that there is a more fruitful discussion to be had about your internal desire and intention to have this discussion with your non-nesting partner. It could be that you are coming from a place to help your partner set their financial vision in order. Because you feel very well-equipped in handling your own finances, you want to utilize your strengths to improve different aspects of your partner’s life. It could be that you sense this discussion about finances as a visible next step in the relationship escalator that you want to address with your partner. It could also be possible that you have finally gathered enough trust and insight in your relationship with this specific partner that you want to cash in on those trust-reserves to have the vulnerable discussions you want to have about their finances.

Whatever your internalized reason is, set them aside to think about how they might feel about and react to your desire to talk about finances. While you can’t truly estimate how their reaction is going to be, you might have a better idea than I do around the type of programming they might have to detangle or the shame they might feel about their past money problems.

If you still feel that it is beyond a reasonable assessment that a discussion about finances is well in order, then start thinking about your “in.”

And by “in”, I mean to think about how you are going to initiate this conversation. It could be just straight and frank starter that sounds a bit like, “So I have been thinking a lot about how I want to plan financially for the future lately, and I am curious about where your headspace is at.” Or you can try to anticipate for an opportunistic “in” by waiting for the right moment or conversational context to discuss financial planning.

One of the best ways I have found to have those uncomfortable discussions is by playing the “What If” game. So for example, it came up in one of my previous relationships that we never actually talked about what would happen if my partner got pregnant (in the case of failed protection). We started by talking about different hypothetical scenarios without actually being in it, such as possibility of meddled parenthood, prohibitive healthcare costs, and health complications. That particular conversation made us both feel really vulnerable because we each had other nesting partners. So we took some time after the discussion to reconnect and become whole again. Perhaps that could be an approach you can use to open this dialogue with your partner.

The last suggestion I have for you is to have this discussion be a part of a monthly check-in with this partner. I talked a bit about the immense value of having a regular check-in with a partner in a column from last year here.

Whatever you decide to do, you can also take this opportunity to also question what you perceive as is and isn’t your place.

There were some very intriguing rhetoric in your post about what parts of your relationship with this partner was primary and what was not. It could be that these words and labels bear power and allow both you and this partner to describe your relationship in a way that others can better understand.

But as you have discovered in this particular experience, nesting these discussions around conditions can be problematic. In your case, it appears that you nested the ability to have discussions around finances around the condition that you must share finances. It might be worth your time to dissect and reflect on why that condition exists.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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