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 – Should I tell my girlfriend I slept with other people while we were on a break?

For clarification; we’ve been dating on and off for about 8 years and she is my best friend.

A couple of years ago we had a year or so apart, she broke up with me. We still had some same friends so we saw each other around on and off through that time and around a year or so later we got back together and are together still. We are as strong as we’ve ever been and there is no immaturity about it all.

In our time apart I did what any newly single person would do and had fun, met up with people and had a few drunken ONS. But I never mentioned it to her, as we were not together ofc. And haven’t since then, I didn’t bring it up when we got back together.

However, in a jokey game recently with friends where we had to answer questions about each other to see how well we knew each other, the number of people each of us has slept with came up. I didn’t correct her number she gave me, mostly because I didn’t want the first time she hear about it to be in front of friends, when were having fun etc.

It has played on my mind a bit all this time. The line between being honest and being too honest.

Would bringing it up, long after the fact, be pointless?

Or would her finding out through other means, and me having not told her, be worse?

Anonymous, Reddit.
Photo by Vee O on Unsplash

Dear Anonymous,

I understand your initial decision not to tell your girlfriend about who you slept with in the year apart. It is possible that you didn’t feel the need to disclose how many partners you slept with for couple different reasons. The safe and obvious assumption from when you were apart from your girlfriend is that both you and your girlfriend found others to meet your sexual needs for that year. In addition, you might not have been emotionally prepared to hear how many people she slept with while on break, even if you operated under the assumption that you both slept with others.

Your recent decision to not correct your girlfriend also makes sense. Not only would it have been incredibly humiliating in that specific circumstance, I agree with you that it would not have been a safe place to openly talk about vulnerable topics. This in turn explains the retrospective ambivalence and guilt you feel about not being upfront about your sex life during the break. This current ambivalence and guilt stems from the initial decision to not share, because at least a small part of you believed that you should have shared.

As you pointed out, there is a very fine line to toe between being honest enough and being honest to a fault. And the thing is, that fine line varies wildly between person to person. There is no universal morality around when or if you should talk about your previous sexual history with your partner because it greatly depends on your overall comfort level as it pertains to discussing previous sexual experiences, the context of that discussion, and your personal intention leading to that conversation.

Photo by Nashad Abdu on Unsplash

Another wrinkle in this circumstance is your intentions.

If you sit back and reflect on why you want to share your sexual history during the break, you might find that the inherent ambivalence flows deeper into each of those possible intentions.

If your intention is that open and honest communication should be always be exercised, then you might find yourself contending with the decision you’ve already made not to share. The difference here is clear. Timing is all different. You might not have known back when you got back together that you would continue to stay together. And for those couple years, you were able to build upon the baseline of trust that you had before you two decided to went on a break. And so, because the context of your decision back then was different from the context of your decision now, this decision need not be the same.

Your intention could also be brewed with the desire to gain control over the narrative of your own sexual history. Built into the initial assumption of sexual activity during break are two separate foundational beliefs. The first belief is that you and your girlfriend were on the same page about your respective sexual activity during the break. The second belief is that you and your girlfriend would each inform the other any aspects of your sexual history without each other, if it was deemed relevant. As such, your desire to correct the wrong comes from a deeper place where you want your girlfriend to live in the same reality as you do. That is both fair and sound.

However, if your only intention is that revealing the full extent of your sexual history will alleviate your feelings of guilt, then that is neither a compassionate nor safe way to approach this revelation for your girlfriend. After all, your girlfriend could find her anxiety and insecurity triggered to hear that she wasn’t exactly on the same page as you for the past couple years.

What is the ongoing price of admission that you are willing to pay to keep this hidden from your partner?

Your decision will also have to reflect your girlfriend’s headspace.

How has she handled learning about your sexual history or general sexuality in the past? If the overarching modus operandi regarding sexual history in your relationship has been a more of a Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell approach, then the risk of unknown and the risk of negative reaction greatly outweighs the overall benefit of alleviating your guilt and true honesty about the past. However, if she has taken talks about your and her sexual history well in the past, then this conversation could absolutely be an opportunity for you and your girlfriend to connect deeper as a couple and as individuals.

I sometimes jot down my own thoughts down on paper (or screen) as a way to have a dialogue with myself over complex decisions. On paper, my idealistic self would outline all the good a potential decision might bring. Then I would sit back and talk back in person to my idealistic self all of my worries and fears about that decision. And this back and forth would go on until I decide that either:

  1. The overall goodness of the decision outweighs the possible badness, at which point I push ahead with my decision.
  2. The possible badness of the decisions outweighs the overall goodness, at which point I take time to grieve through the decisions unmade.

My two cents: take this opportunity to develop yourself or your relationship. If that means sharing this very vulnerable and neglected part of your past history, then use that momentum to share why this felt so vulnerable to share and connect deeper with your girlfriend to explore other vulnerable spaces. Even if this doesn’t go well, you can still use this as a learning lesson for yourself on the boundaries of your and her fine lines on honesty.

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 – What is considered emotional affair?

I (27/F) am very upset that my relationship has ended because my ex boyfriend, “Todd” (30/M), thought that I have an inappropriate relationship with my best friend, “Zach” (27/M).

Zach and I met over a year ago and quickly became best friends. We are in the same professional program and rely on each other a lot. He is also my lab partner and I am required to spend at least 3-4 hours with him a week. Todd and I met four months ago, and our relationship had been incredible aside from his issues with Zach. He checks all the boxes, and I could see us having a serious and long term relationship.

Now this is what I don’t understand. I do talk to Zach everyday. We text frequently about school or ongoing drama with our friends. We’ve never had a romantic or physical relationship. However, I’ve told Todd that I don’t have an interest in Zach as anything more than friends, but Todd still sees the relationship as inappropriate due to the frequency that Zach and I talk, and because we’ve talked about intimate details of our lives. Nothing too graphic, but Zach supported me when I was having trouble in school and when my dad had a health scare. I would say that Zach has been an excellent friend to me and one that I can trust.

Todd doesn’t like Zach because he thinks Zach would sleep with me if given the chance. And thus, this is why Todd thinks I’m having an emotional affair. He thinks I’m too close with Zach and he shouldn’t have to “share me” with anyone. He thinks it’s wrong that I asked for support from Zach and that I’m leading Zach on. I can see his point – Todd should be the number one guy in my life. And I thought he was.

So I guess what I’m asking has two parts. How do I get over Todd’s judgment when I feel like I haven’t done anything wrong? And was my relationship with Zach truly inappropriate and emotional cheating?

/u/TomorrowProof9689, Reddit.

Dear Tomorrow Proof,

Let’s start by defining an act of infidelity. An act of infidelity is loosely defined as an intentional violation of any explicit or implicit relationship agreement(s). There are few socially agreed-upon and implicit relationship agreements, such as “Do not have sexual encounters with other people while we are in a monogamous relationship.” However, most of the specific relationship agreements are for the people in that specific relationship to determine.

Based on what you have shared, I don’t get the sense that “Do not have close friendships with someone of the opposite gender” was not an explicit relationship agreement. As such, I don’t think that we can qualify your deep and rewarding friendship with Zach as infidelity.

Even if we look only at the emotional infidelity, I don’t think we can qualify your connection with Zach as an emotional infidelity. In general, emotional infidelity is even more ambiguously defined as any pursuit of forging a romantic connection without a physical/sexual component that usually earmarks any infidelity, which is distinctly untrue for your connection with Zach.

It is difficult to fully gather Todd’s rationale on how he saw your connection with Zach. But I think we can make some educated guesses based on what he said and what made him feel insecure before we get to what this means for you personally.

Let’s first talk about what Todd said.

Todd said that he saw your connection with Zach as inappropriate because:

  1. Of how frequently you and Zach exchanged messages;
  2. Of the depth of your connection with each other.

Both of those rationale speak more about what he personally assesses as inappropriate, completely without any reflection from what your actual stated intentions were. In fact, the context of your connection with Zach alone should have explained the frequency of your communication with Zach (since you two are in the same professional program) as well as the depth of your connection (since Zach helped you manage your emotional labor associated with school as well as with your dad’s health scare). So in his words, he not only disregarded the context of your connection with Zach but also disregarded your own words that defined your lack of romantic intention toward Zach.

I also want to touch on Todd’s comment about how he thinks Zach will sleep with you “if given the chance”.

What does “if given the chance” even mean? Is he implying that you have poor judgment and therefore should feel unsafe around Zach because he will disregard your lack of interest and disregard your complete lack of consent? Or is Todd saying that he doesn’t take you at your word when you declared your lack of romantic or sexual intention toward Zach?

I get the feeling that his animosity towards Zach is more likely a product of his own projection rather than one that is grounded in the reality of your connection with Zach.

That gives us a better idea on what made Todd feel so insecure.

In modern monogamous relationships, we are so often programmed to believe that we must be everything for our partners – emotionally, physically, and sexually. And any failure to fulfill all of your partner’s needs is immediately unbecoming of you as a partner. It is at core an incredibly faulty and dangerously unhealthy premise because asking one person to meet all of your needs for your entire life is too much of a Big Ask. A much more reasonable expectation to uphold is that you’ll do your best to meet as many of your partner’s essential needs as is reasonable.

It could be that when you sought out Zach’s emotional support, Todd could have felt like he was unable to meet your emotional need in that specific way. And that inability to meet your need fed into his insecurity about your connection with Zach, which in turn manifested through his underlying animosity toward Zach for providing that which Todd himself could not or were not made available to provide. Note that what Todd believes as his perspective on your reality is very different from your own perspective on your own reality. This is important.

You can also see his rationale spreading and manifesting in your retrospective justification as well.

He thinks it’s wrong that I asked for support from Zach and that I’m leading Zach on.

Just because he thinks that it is inappropriate for you to seek emotional support from a friend doesn’t mean that you should think so as well. Just because he thinks you are leading Zach on doesn’t mean that you are actually leading him on. Zach knew that you were in a monogamous relationship, and you knew you had no romantic or sexual feelings towards Zach. You are grounded in your own beliefs and needs; and if you believe that diversifying your emotional support portfolio by maintaining close connections with multiple people of different genders is better for your mental health, it isn’t your partner’s place to judge you or critique your connections. And in a way, it looks like his projection of his own insecurity has morphed and manifested in self-internalized guilt for you (“I can see his point – Todd should be the number one guy in my life. And I thought he was.“).

So let’s go back to the two-part question you asked at the end of your post.

I’ll answer the second question first (“And was my relationship with Zach truly inappropriate and emotional cheating?”). No. I don’t think the connection you have with Zach qualifies as cheating. It is perfectly okay to maintain a close connection with anyone who feels good for you to stay connected with as long as you feel confident in your own ability to set appropriate boundaries.

As for getting over Todd’s judgment, it is okay to feel some guilt over the end of any intimate connection. Your feelings are real and valid. And if you feel that you did nothing wrong in fostering a deep connection with a platonic friend in Zach, then your feelings also have weight. Regardless of the happenstance surrounding the end of your relationship with Todd, give yourself some space and time to grieve the end of your intimate connection with another human being. Allow your feelings to complete the cycle.

It is important to remember that the narrative you want to create from here on out is yours and yours only. Will you choose to beholden to a twisted story that your ex will weave in order to avoid resolving his insecurities, even as an echo? Or will you choose to write your own story based on your own experiences using your own words?

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 support my boyfriend through a big life change?

My (32f) boyfriend (34m) just had a bomb dropped on him by his wife (38f) of 10 years. She confessed that she doesn’t love him anymore, not like she used to. She doesn’t yet know what she wants to do, and he’s terrified. He doesn’t have any family here in the US, he emigrated here to be with her, and all his friends are her friends too. I’ve made it abundantly clear that I will support him in any way I can, even going as far as letting him move into my spare room if need be even though I’ve only been seeing him for 2 months.

Anybody have any advice on helping him through this? I’ve helped partners through breakups before but never something this heavy before. I’m feeling really apprehensive about everything, but I’m also feeling very protective of him and I want to be as much help as I can.

/u/BomberBootBabe88, Reddit.

Dear Bomber Boot Babe,

Your boyfriend is going through a tremendous relational traumatic experience in his decade-long relationship with his wife falling apart.

There is something even more terrifying in the uncertainty of what she will do next once she figures out her next steps whether that is a drawn-out divorce process or mutual efforts to rekindle their marriage. And the most challenging part of all this is that from what you have shared, what happens in their marriage appears completely out of your boyfriend’s control. That precise lack of control (or even ability to scope out what his next several months could look like) is further compounded by his lack of support network here in the States – other than his relationship with you.

That lack of scope and inability to anticipate also applies to your own future as well. Helping a partner through any kind of trauma can be a very draining experience for the supportive partner, especially if you are still romantically engaged with the person resolving trauma.

Two months is not a long time to get to know someone. While the decision to offer your spare room to your boyfriend came from a place of deep compassion and empathy, it is possible that you might want to think more about what that could look like. Is it a temporary offer for while he resolves separation and divorce? Or is it a semi-permanent offer for until he can get back on his own two feet? If he does decide to take you up on the offer to live together, what does that mean for both of you?

In short, what does your support entail?

Let’s talk more about the different divergent paths.

There is three likely possibilities in the current situation, not directly accounting for any changes to your relationship with him.

First is that they decide work on their relationship together. Whether that is through couple’s counseling or through individual therapy, they will each need to work on why and how they became so disconnected in their respective experiences within their relationship. That is most likely to impact your relationship with him in the amount of energy he has available to be present in his distinct relationship with you. If he is already sharing with you about the types of intimate conflicts he has with his wife, then I would guess that he already struggles with compartmentalizing relationship experiences between different relationships. As such, you will get more exposure into why their relationship has struggled as he struggles to selectively filter information that is both honest and compassionate to you.

Another more drastic option is that they decide to separate and pursue a formal divorce process. Divorce in most US states take months (if not years) and thousands of dollars in legal fees to just to get to the settlement point. Your boyfriend will likely experience significant grief and loss in his discordant past and unrealized future with his now-ex-wife. And even if the divorce itself is finalized, it could be possible that he might struggle to be in a healthy mental headspace to be a good partner to you (or anyone else). Even if we assume that he was on the same page as his wife about the end of their marriage together, you can’t just wipe away a ten-year history with another with a penstroke. He’ll have to find his footing on his own, even if you are there for the initial support to help him get back on his feet. One thing to keep in mind is that polyamorous relationships are not recognized in the court of law. Many courts do not look kindly upon a divorcing partner residing with their other partner while the divorce is being finalized, and his living with you will definitively negatively impact his divorce proceeding.

The third option is that they stay married but de-escalate. This option is the most likely if they already have kids but lack the financial reserves to go through an official divorce process. This means, that he’ll have to continue to encounter his partner in close encounter while still passing as a loving couple in front of all others, especially so in front of his kids. That is an immense emotional labor to undertake, especially so since this wouldn’t be his decision, but a decision his wife would have thrust upon him. Like the first two options, he’ll have a lot less emotional capital available here as he’ll have to compartmentalize and manage his grief and loss.

Regardless of what happens, it is important for you to keep supporting yourself.

It can be very easy to fall into codependent habits when supporting a grieving partner. And the best way to ground yourself in reality is to take care of yourself and make sure that you are in a place of mind to be able to support someone else.

That could mean regularly checking in with yourself to see if you have the support necessary to be able to support another. If you are dating anyone other than this particular boyfriend, you are going to have to creatively carve out spaces that are entirely your own. If you decide or realize that you cannot support your partner, the best thing you can do is to be honest with him about the support you can no longer provide. Doing anything less than that is dishonest.

If he decides to move in with you, you two should have a very honest conversation about what that means for each of you, and what your respective expectations are going to be. Setting a timeline will be a must.

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 – Our triad is breaking up.

So, we’ll call my gals Jane and Mary. Not their names obviously. We’re all F24, and Jane and Mary have been together 2 years, Mary and I 1 year, and Jane and I 7 years.

Jane wants to break up with Mary.

Mary has severe anxiety, abandonment issues, depression, a lot of Things. We all 3 live together. If Jane breaks up with Mary, I’m afraid I’ll end up pulled between them, a high-pressure crutch between two vulnerable people, and I frankly don’t have the emotional strength for that.

To be perfectly honest, if I’m forced to choose between them, I will choose Jane. We’re basically soul mates, and to be fair, a lot of the same things driving Jane and Mary apart have been putting a thorn in the relationship between me and Mary as well. But I feel weird and wrong dumping her as a duo, just kicking her out of the triad completely. It would destroy her. I’m terrified she’ll need to be hospitalized or something. But I don’t know if Jane and Mary’s relationship is salvageable at this point, either.

I don’t even know if this is a vent or advice post. I’m so confused. Should I just stand back and let Jane do as she wishes, or try to fix this before it’s too late?

Anonymous, /r/polyadvice
Photo by Ena Marinkovic on

Dear Anonymous,

I am really sorry that your polycule is going through this. We already live in a deeply troubling and stressful times, and it sounds like this end to Mary and Jane’s relationship has been some time coming. I’m sure this has been adding additional stress to you to see two of your lovers disconnecting more and more over time. It is never easy watching a romantic connection come to an end, even if you have absolutely no personal stakes in that relationship. You have arguably the most to lose as you’ll have to help both of your partners deal with their respective end to the relationship with each other.

Let’s start with this. Jane has always been able to do as she wishes. It’s part of the relational autonomy we grant ourselves by proactively consenting to the relationships of which we are parts of. Just like you are free to walk away from either Mary or Jane at any point for whatever reason, Jane too is free to walk away from you or Mary at any point for whatever reason. If Jane wants to break up with Mary for whatever reason, there is nothing you can do but to accept and respect Jane’s autonomous decision to do so.

Second is to understand that just like Jane has the autonomy to choose her relationships, so do you. Jane does not get to dictate who chooses whom. I’d argue that a partner who forces you to choose should be no one’s partner. Instead, it might be more beneficial to envision your two post-breakup relationships as individual, non-intersecting planes that now run parallel. Your relationship with Jane will need to be independent from your relationship with Mary.

Photo by Vladyslav Dushenkovskyi on

If you foresee that your relationship with Mary will be too heavy for you to carry on your own following the end of the relationship between Mary and Jane, that it is your own prerogative to also end that relationship with its own unique set of reasons that are independent from Jane’s decision to end her relationship with Mary.

You mentioned that some of Jane’s problems with her relationship with Mary is echoed in your own relationship with Mary as well. Then that should be discussed separately and independently from Jane’s relationship issues with Mary.

Think of it like this. Your relationship with Mary is like chocolate milk. Mary’s relationship with Jane is like cereal with milk. I suppose that makes your relationship with Jane is like chocolate cereal. Chocolate milk, cereal with milk, and chocolate cereal all share similar basic theme with similar ingredients. But the combination of those ingredients make each of those end results completely unique. Even if all the ingredients are the same, how it is prepared and cooked will make it completely different. In the same way, just because Jane could not make a relationship with Mary work does not necessarily mean that you cannot make a relationship with Mary work. Jane is a wholly separate person and human being with completely different human experience than you. The end to their relationship does not need to necessitate an end to yours as well.

That sense of weirdness and wrongness likely stems from a sense of guilt that you preemptively feel toward Mary as you might not be able to support the end of this relationship as well as you could have. It could also stem from feeling as if you’d be participating in Mary’s own ostracization from this particular polycule. By owning your own reasons on ending your relationship with Mary as one that is separate from Jane’s own rationale, you should be able to rationalize and better envelop your guilt in a sense of righteousness.

Photo by Lum3n on

If you decide that you want to continue seeing Mary post-breakup, then the most important step will be to immediately establish proper intrapersonal and interpersonal boundaries that is both fair and respectful of each of your relationships while mindful and conscious to your emotional bandwidth.

This sounds a bit rigid and structured, but setting aside days of the week where they can openly approach you about their respective breakup stress can be a good way for you to diffuse the situation in a productive and proactive way. If setting aside days is not possible, then just setting a timer of an hour where they can just rant and cry and scream (if they need to) is not a bad idea either. Their own headspace is for them to own. And while you can be there to support them through this pain, you cannot manage their pain for them; that is their own responsibility.

At some point, you’ll have to communicate with Jane your own rationale on why you are choosing to stay with Mary, and have a separate talk with Mary to reassure her that you are still staying with her despite what is happening.

Figuring out some longer-term expectation for what comes next should probably be figured out as well. Since you are all living together at the moment, figuring out if one or both of your partners need to move out to a separate place should be discussed. It’ll probably be a bit of an awkward discussion, since we don’t really have a social prototype to tell us what to do when your partner breaks up with your other partner. If living together is the only financially feasible option, then you will all have to figure out what would be the best way to manage and handle this transition while being fair and respectful of each other.

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 met someone while on a break with my partner. How can I initiate opening the relationship?

“My partner Ashley and I have been together for five years. The first four years were pretty great, but the last one was really difficult. She started partying a lot with her friends. This new change made me feel like she forgot about me since she was very absent in our relationship even when she was with me. I just didn’t know how to handle it. So in October, she came home a bit drunk and broke up with me. She left the day after for three weeks but communicated her regret at breaking up with me.

When Ashley came back, she told me she wanted to be with me, but as an open relationship. At the time I was still devastated with the breakup. So I asked for some time apart because I just wasn’t in a mindset to be with her at that time.

During this time apart, I decided to see if I was able to meet someone else. Through Tinder, I met a wonderful girl named Belinda and we had a nice time together though nothing sexual or romantic happened between us. She then left for another country for three months.

I got together with my Ashley not too long after that. Things have been amazing, just as it used to be. We communicate better and she isn’t partying as much. She hasn’t been with anyone else and I haven’t either. But she reminded me that if she haven’t been with anyone else is because she wasn’t feeling like it, not because she couldn’t.

Now, Belinda is back in town from her time abroad, and she has been looking forward to seeing me. I would like to meet her since last time was quite nice, but I don’t know how to tell it to my girlfriend without feeling that I am doing/did something wrong. I really love her and I don’t want to mess things up again, but I know that my girlfriend will not hesitate when someone interesting is on her way.

How can I handle this situation?”

Anonymous on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

Dear Anonymous,

I can definitely sense a lot of confusion and ambivalence in your story. The rules of exclusivity in the context of monogamous relationships are sometimes a little ambiguous and bears a heavy emotional weight in managing your own feelings by society’s standards. It sounds like you have experienced a pretty heavy relational trauma through your breakup and reconnect with your partner Ashley, but never really gave yourself enough time to sit back and assess the damages done from that heartbreak. I see this kind of behavior in cis men a lot, especially in serial monogamy, where they jump into building new connections with potential partners way too quickly after their previous relationship has ended. Hell, you’re reading from a person that did exactly that when he met his future wife on OkCupid a week after a breakup with his long distance girlfriend!

I think the first things you need to do is to take Belinda completely out of the equation and hammer out your relationship with Ashley. It is implied but unclear from what you’ve shared if you even have a non-monogamous relationship with Ashley. Her unilateral end to your relationship in October caused you a major relational trauma and could have shattered your trust in Ashley not not out of the blue break up with you again.

Have you ever thrown a big stone into a lake that is just starting to freeze over? When it makes an impact on the surface of the lake, it disturbs all of the icy surface surrounding its still surface. Sometimes, shards of the broken ice will float back to the top and help the lake continue to freeze over. But it would never be the clean sheet of ice it once was. Your relationship is a lot like that frozen lake. Just because it looks thick enough for you to ice fish in doesn’t mean that the spot you threw the big stone in before it all froze over would be a stable spot for you to sit either. Just because it feels like everything is okay between you and Ashley on the surface, it doesn’t mean that it is strong enough to support opening up a relationship (if it isn’t already open).

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Your guilt and hesitation about reconnecting with Belinda tells me that there is a strong possibility that you did not fully reveal that you met with Belinda while your monogamous relationship with Ashley was on a pause. And it could also be possible that Belinda doesn’t know about what happened between you and Ashley in October or that you and Ashley has gotten back together. And the phrase “being with someone else” is a bit loaded, don’t you think? It really isn’t important if either of you slept with other people while you were on a break or since you got together. What is more important is what your intentions were when you met Belinda on Tinder.

Focusing just on your budding connection with Belinda, it sounds like you only went on one or two dates with each other. So this is on a very casual level still yet. I don’t imagine that you brought up a potential open relationship scenario with Belinda since you were on a break with Ashley when you met Belinda. The potential depth of your connection with Belinda remains a murky unknown. How would Belinda feel about starting a non-monogamous relationship with you while you continue to be involved with your long-term ex-ex, now-girlfriend Ashley?

There is a LOT more questions that we still need answers to.

How intensely would you have pursued Belinda if she never went out of country? Is this a connection you really want to pursue completely regardless of your relationship status with Ashley? Do you think there is a distinct possibility you might have ended up in a monogamous relationship with Belinda if you never got back together with Ashley? How does Belinda or Ashley feel about verifying with each other that you aren’t cheating on either of them?

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What I am trying to communicate here is that open relationships are so much more than just finding someone else to sleep with. It requires extensive communication skills, very firm foundation in either yourself or the relationship being opened up, and the right type of people to make it all work. If any one of those three facets are lacking, opening up your relationship will prove to be a mistake as it will highlight all of those foundational flaws that might otherwise be covered up in a traditional monogamous relationship.

If you and Ashley have already discussed opening up with Ashley (and it just happens that neither of you found someone to connect with), then it might not be a bad time to get those early agreements down pat. Have discussions about what each of you consider best safe sex practices. Talk about how each of you will make space for each other to explore other connections. Flesh out what kind of trust you two need to have in each other to make this work. At the very least, come up with a better idea of why each of you would like to have a non-monogamous amendment to your previously exclusive romantic relationship.

Then have the same discussions with Belinda. Belinda too needs to have informed consent in who she is involving herself with.

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 long distance partner is separating from his wife.

“I’m a long distance branch off of a kitchen table polycule, my companion and I have been dating for over a year.

Recently it’s become clear that my companion is separating from his primary partner, wife, and nesting partner. She and I have become quite close over the past year, a slow burn of friendship and sharing special time together. I have spent weeks at the group house, and feel close to everyone there.

I’m struggling so much with if I have the ability to remain in a romantic companion relationship as the chaos ensues in the family. My parents went through a very unhealthy divorce 9 years ago, I ended up in the middle, and am still dealing with the emotional fallout and damage from that. I have been feeling certain aspects of that cPTSD triggered over the past week, as communication trickles in.

I feel like this is a cement wall that I’m facing with the poly world, maybe because of my past, maybe because there’s a lot more healing for me to do.

I don’t want to dial back our relationship, but I don’t know if I can handle it any other way. I’m completely caught between playing the supportive companion during this difficult time, and putting myself and my emotional well-being first.

I feel like a bad companion asking for space and pulling back into a platonic friendship. But I feel my heart hardening and my teeth being bared in self-defense, which wouldn’t be good support either.

Has anyone else gone through the split of a primary couple/cule? Any advice on navigating this ENM-specific situation?”

Barefoot Q 47 on /r/polyamory.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on

Dear Barefoot Q,

I am so sorry to hear that you and your polycule are going through such a rough transition. I can definitely empathize with the amount of pain and insecurity that can stem from wanting to be present for your partner while also managing your own pain and grief from the loss of this idyllic polyamorous future. I’m also really sorry to hear that this current experience witnessing their fallout is triggering your cPTSD of your parents’ divorce.

It can be really difficult to witness any friend group or couple break up, much less a couple that you are romantically intertwined with. So I think the first things you should be asking is… Are you okay? It is really important to make sure that you take care of yourself first before you opt to take care of others, especially in emotionally draining circumstances such as this one. Intentionally commit time and space to self-care in whatever form that works for you. If you haven’t already done so, checking up with a local poly-friendly therapist to have them reconfirm your reality might not be a bad idea. They might even help you work through your cPTSD in the context of your polyamorous relationships.

Once you feel like you can stay afloat, the next thing to do is to be kinder to yourself. Recognize that their separation and eventual divorce might have happened anyway completely regardless of your involvement in your boyfriend’s life as his secondary partner. It isn’t your fault. And forgiveness of yourself won’t come easy, especially when you aren’t seeing what is happening behind their marital curtains.

Photo by Pok Rie on

Managing your partner’s breakup is never easy, local or long distance. But maybe it is good that you had some physical distance as a buffer to the end of their relationship. The one major advantage that you have due to the circumstances is that you should be able to set some really clear and firm boundaries about what is going on. You said that you have become close friends with your metamour. But that does not mean that you have to hear about exactly everything is going on in their marital fights. You might benefit from establishing a boundary with your partner as well as your metamour that you will not be a venting channel through which they can talk to you about what is going on in their marriage. This will probably trigger some of your cPTSD symptoms. But at least it’ll be a controlled communication rather than the trickling of communication that itches as it drip, drip, drips onto our skins.

De-escalating – as you mentioned – is also a viable option as well. It does not make you a bad partner to say this is not a level of emotional labor you want to commit to your relationships. It is one thing to help and support because you can but another thing entirely to do so at an immense price of self. The first is kindness while the latter is codependency. It is difficult to be vulnerable with each other in general; it is impossible when all the senses are cranked up to eleven. You need not authorize your emotional bandwidth for that which you cannot reasonably budget for yourself. If this price of admission is too high, de-escalation is the kindest thing you can do.

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Coming from experience, I’ll also tell you that things will get both a lot easier and a lot harder as time goes on. It’ll get easier because each of you will get better acquainted with the overall process and respectively develop routines that help you better manage the stress that comes with the separation process. But it’ll also get harder because you’ll have to constantly adapt and adjust as new information comes to light. This will put undue and unanticipated stress factors into your life you cannot reasonably allocate bandwidth at this time. You absolutely do not have to consent to what you don’t know, especially if things as they are today is already too much for you to handle.

I’m really sorry that you are going through this. I’m sorry for everyone. It’s hard enough to manage polycule breakups – doubly so if you also have to manage your cPTSD symptoms. As another who is coming from a divorced household, know that I see you and I see how difficult it has been for you.

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 – Becoming close friends with an ex-partner.

“We [32M] started talking and became friends more than two years ago. She [26F] lives literally on the other side of the planet.

We had a romantic relationship for about a year. It was very intense. Then one day she said that it wasn’t realistic for us to be together. It was hard for me to hear that, but I respect it.

We talk literally every day. She’s a huge part of my life. She’s my best friend. I’m trying really hard to navigate this in a dignified way.

I want to remain friends. In the past, I would just end a friendship because perceived rejections and all of that. I’m trying to grow and I want to get beyond that pain. I want to value friendship properly.

We love each other on a friendship level and I value that highly. It’s something I’ve been missing for a long time. She’s my family.

Sometimes, it’s really hard. I’ll feel everything rushing back and it takes everything to not break down and cry. Most of the time, I just remember how much I love her, want her to be happy, and to thrive.

I am looking for any advice to deal with this. Most people say to go on dates or create distance with her. Honestly, I don’t feel ready for dates. I also don’t want distance.”

/u/datawillnotsaveus, /r/relationships.

Dear Data Will Not Save Us,

For me personally, relationships are about managing and occupying space. It is about the space you create and curate for your partners, friends, and family. What kind of emotional bandwidth and time can you allot for each person in your life? Does that space match their expectation of a space they’d like to occupy in your life? Can they reciprocate and create spaces for you to reside in in their lives? Are you okay only occupying that size of space that they’ve left for you?

These are all really great questions for you to ask as you think about the space and role you expect to take up in your best friend’s life. You say that you two had once been romantically entangled, but since decided to remain as platonic friends instead. Are you mindfully consenting to the space that she has asked you to occupy? Are those being reciprocated in the space you have created for her?

Photo by Pixabay on

For whatever it is worth, give your pain too some space to breathe. Acknowledge and embrace that you are experiencing one form of heartbreak. One that comes is exacerbated by the massive physical distance between you two. Realistic or not, it ended for the reasons that you both feel are justified. And because it was such an intense relationship, you are left longing in the shrinking container in which you’re asked to occupy. Do you know what happens when you shrink a container with the same amount of air inside? It gets pressured, keen for the thinnest layer to burst through.

So instead of pressuring yourself under this shrinking container, why not just step away for some time, re-evaluate what this means to you, then come back smaller chunks at a time? It doesn’t matter if that means you step away for two days or five months or decades. Whatever time you feel is necessary in which you can feel ready to reinvent with her this new phase of your connection yet.

I am really sorry to hear that she broke your heart. But you don’t have to continue to take part in activities or connections that do not add to your life and passively causes you pain. That’s just self-inflicted emotional harm. So treat yourself better. You deserve some rest that isn’t contingent upon another. If she really is family, she’ll be hurt but she’ll also understand. And if there’s a friendship to be rekindled in the future, today is as good as any day to start your journey to recovery. Once you have recovered, there will be room for friendship somewhere.

I can guarantee you that that new container will be better than this 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 – How do I end my poly relationship nicely?

“I have been questioning whether I was truly poly or not for sometime. So I started dating someone who has a personal history with polyamory to gauge that orientation for myself. I really enjoy our relationship and my metamour very, very much. However, I also started dating a second person but have found I have much deeper feelings for. Let’s call him the second (not hierarchical, just because chronologically he happened secondly). I’ve found now that I do want to continue a monogamous relationship with the second, but I am worried about how this will affect the first, as well as our shared friends.

I’m not usually the one to dump people (I usually get dumped) so I’m not sure how to go about this in the first place. Let alone doing it with the added modifier of being poly.

Really, there is nothing wrong with this guy. He’s amazing and I try to be friends with all my exes, as it would be great to still be friends with him too. He is very understanding and calm, but I still don’t want to hurt him in any way. Especially because to me, I worry that it looks like I’m just ditching someone who had ‘first dibs’ in a way, for someone else. I don’t want him to think it’s because he’s not good enough, or anything like that.

I think I have the ability to be poly and can very much enjoy it, but that I also find benefits from focusing on just one person. As well as my anxieties about having a full home life in a poly situation. While I may like poly dating stages, I don’t think I would like to live married (i.e. forever) in a house with multiple people. I like one-on-one time, and it seems there wouldn’t be enough of it with the first person. I’d rather just focus on the second person, with whom I’ve bonded with more closely and feel more of a connection to.

But geez… how in the world do I explain that?”

/u/fennix32, /r/polyamory.

Photo by samer daboul on

Dear Fennix 32,

It sounds like you gave polyamorous relationship orientation an honest and conscientious try. And as you said, there are sides to polyamory that monogamy cannot satiate much like there are sides to monogamy that polyamory cannot satiate. I’ll add that different people love very differently. And his model of polyamorous relationship just might not be compatible with what you’re looking for (i.e. married with multiple partners in the same house). There are many solo poly or relationship anarchists who maintain their own living space without any cohabiting partners. And there are also many married polyfolks who date other married polyfolks and maintain a perfectly full home life without enmeshing living situation all together. Only you can be a master of your own domains, and that includes your own romantic headspace. That also includes whether or not you are making a mindful decision on whether or not you are monogamous with someone, not as a default choice. Lastly, I’ll add that polyamory vs monogamy is not a binary end-to-end; it is much more of a spectrum with many congregating toward one end or the other. You are simply making a more mindful decision to pursue and focus on one romantic connection for yourself.

I don’t think that there is any way to break up with someone that guarantees that it’ll be painless. Pain originates from mismatching expectations. And there will be some mismatching expectations here. And it’ll be a really difficult road to traverse here for several factors. He could feel that you utilized your connection with your first partner to determine that poly really wasn’t going to be a forever-thing for you. He will likely experience some sense of loss and grief over the expectations of future romance with you. Then there is that actual poly modifier to carefully tread to make sure the causes for breakup was about polyamory, but not necessarily about him specifically. Pretty thorny, yeah?


Sometimes, the best way forward is the only way forward.

And the most compassionate way to break up with him could be by de-escalating your relationship. I wrote a previous column about the PLEASE method for de-escalation. De-escalations are a good poly-specific way to end a romantic or sexual engagement with someone without losing them as a friend. And since you said you would like to remain friends with your partner, this could be a viable transition for this particular relationship so that you two may continue to be involved in each other’s lives, albeit in a different context. Instituting a brief hiatus in your connection while you each heal – for the soil to be revitalized – is something I’ve implemented in some of my past de-escalations as well, to assist with the transition.

If you decide to de-escalate instead of flat-out breaking up, you also have to recognize that your partner could decidedly not take that well and break up with you anyway. It is important for you to embrace that his pain is his pain. And if you’ve done your best to be compassionate and feel that you spoke impeccably & honestly, that is all you can do. You’ve done your best and the rest is in his hands now. Regardless of what happens, be prepared to give some time & space to your partner, your metamour, and all the friends you’ve newly connected.

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I have found that my polyamorous relationship orientation have allowed me to expand my patience and allow for a belief that we are no way settled in any one state for too long. You are not necessarily choosing your second partner over your first. A better way to reframe that mindset might be to reimagine that you want to stabilize and focus on this one partner regardless of where you lie on the poly-mono spectrum. This particular bridge need not burnt. The foundation is still sound, and the materials are still quality. Maybe you can assemble a new fort with what comes out of this de-escalation / breakup.

Regardless, the joie the vivre is in the journey of self-discovery.

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 need help with non-hierarchical polyamory.

“Here’s my situation: I’m a bisexual cis-woman in my mid 20s who started dating a queer cis-man several years older than me. We’ve been together for a few years now. I had never heard of polyamory until I met him. He introduced me to The Ethical Slut and it changed my world. I’ve always been poly, but not ethically. I cheated on my partners in monogamy before him (shamefully) and realized that when I was cheated on I found it sexy and easy to forgive. So my identification as polyamorous is unwavering.

His proposal of non-hierarchical poly seemed ideal to me. The idea of keeping my own agency and him keeping his agency sounds like how unconditional love should be. I don’t want to control him in any way by “vetoing” something or someone. And I wouldn’t want him to do that to me. He has over a decade of poly experience and he’s my first.

We’ve recently hit a rough spot that is making me question my ability to be non-hierarchical. I started dating this girl a year ago and then I introduced her to him and they started dating. We were briefly a triad until I decided I wanted us to break up with her as we would comment regularly on how she wasn’t a good match. So when I broke up with her, I thought he was too. Turns out he didn’t. It was bad communication on our part. They’re still together today and it hurts me so much. It hurts to hear them have sex and it hurts when he wants her to spend the night (we live together) and I don’t like spending time with her. I think she’s an energy-drainer. And then I don’t get to sleep in my own bed or I have to spend the night elsewhere. It has become a real problem in our relationship because technically he’s not doing anything wrong. This is what we agreed on. But the more time he spends with her, the more it feels like he doesn’t care about how it makes me feel. He also mentions that he’s not really that into her, just that he benefits slightly from her kind words and sex. He doesn’t want to be her boyfriend. So it makes me feel like “why are you choosing time with someone you’re not really into over me?” It just doesn’t make any sense to me. He has tried to explain it but it doesn’t stop it from hurting each time.

At the same time, he deserves all the love and sex in the world! He doesn’t have many people in his life and I DO NOT want to deprive him of someone who is sweet to him. Why can’t these feelings of love and compersion overpower my feelings of hurt and insecurity?

Am I not cut out for non-hierarchical poly? Do I just need to continue working through the pain until eventually hopefully it won’t bother me anymore? Should I consider being hierarchical? If I end up doing that, I’ll for sure lose him. I can’t believe I’m turning to the internet but I honestly don’t know where to turn. Not many people I know are poly and don’t understand my relationship. I’m hoping people with experience can give me guidance on what to do or maybe how can look at this differently. Thanks!”

– Nicki, /r/polyamory.

Dear Nicki,

I am really sorry to hear that you are having a lot of difficulty with his other relationship. Your ongoing struggles make a lot of sense, and here are the three reasons why.

First is that you are completely brand new to polyamory which has its own weight. First steps to poly are rife with mistakes. There is a lot of monogamy conditioning and programming that you have to take apart and deconstruct in order for you to start thinking about the kind of relationships you want to have. So allow yourself some breathing room and forgiveness. The feelings you feel are legitimate and not unfounded. You asked why your feelings of love and compersion is not enough to “overpower” the feelings of hurt and insecurity. I will ask you in return, why should it? It isn’t like love and compersion stand directly opposite hurt and insecurity. You can feel both of those feelings without one cancelling the other out. Love, compersion, hurt, and insecurity can all exist side by side. So maybe reframing your mind to accept those hurt and insecurity while continuing to celebrate your love and compersion would be a good place to start for you.

Some of those monogamy conditioning that you’ll have to unlearn is in owning your own shit. Your partner is not necessarily choosing her over you when he chooses to spend time with her. His time isn’t automatically designed with any of his partner as a priority. If he truly is non-hierarchical, then his time is fairly and independently allotted by himself. Please take some time to recognize that the source of this specific feeling is coming from you in the form of projected exclusivity, not necessarily anything he is doing. So acknowledge that this is your emotional labor to own, and decide only if then this ongoing emotional labor is something you consent to.

In addition to all of this, you’ve only been ethically non-monogamous / polyamorous for a couple years at most whereas you’ve been monogamous (albeit flawed) for twenty plus years. So you should not start from the place of expecting perfection even if you closely identify with polyamory now that you’ve embraced it. Different people love differently. And your natural version of polyamory will take some time to establish as you explore it more and more. It is way too early for you to say you need to be non-hierarchical in your approach in the same way that it would be way too early for me (with absolutely no experience riding a motorbike) to commit to a new Harley-Davidson. It’ll take time. So be patient.

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That leads me to my second point. You have your own personal history with your partner’s other partner which continues to add to your ongoing emotional labor.

It appears that there was a bit of a miscommunication at the end of your triad-phase where you ended things with your girlfriend expecting that the other leg of that triad will be ending as well. That is a pretty major disconnect, but not one that seems too unaligned with the way that your partner appears to be doing his own relationships. There is a lot of pain from the breakup and the subsequent miscommunication that has not yet been resolved, and constantly get retriggered when you have to be okay and accept his other relationship with your now-ex. You were not given proper opportunity to grieve the end of your relationship or enough time to adjust to this new reality where they continue dating. Instead, your partner is asking for you to continue to this emotional labor from a place of deep dispassion.

And I realize that there are two distinct possibilities here.

First is that your partner really is straight up telling you how disengaged he feels with your ex / metamour and he is not really into her. That would make him a terrible hinge partner by badmouthing his partner and your ex / metamour. It’s one thing to talk so negatively about their partners, but it is another thing entirely to continue to vent negatively to someone who has negative history with that person while that person is still grieving over the end of that relationship. In this possibility, it is also likely that he is telling the same thing about his relationship with you to his other partner and your ex / metamour. What a nightmare! This kind of behavior would make me rethink what his previous decade of poly experience has been like, and if he was the common denominator on why they all previously failed.

The other possibility is that you are projecting your own negative feelings onto their relationship through confirmation bias. Things didn’t work out between you and your ex / metamour for very valid reasons. And the ensuing miscommunication further exacerbated that disconnect you still feel to this day. There are a lot of pain here that you definitely do not have enough resources to resolve on your own. You said you don’t know many poly folks to process these feelings with. Online is great for that, but can be very limiting. Meeting and engaging with your local poly community can help even if you aren’t going there to meet new partners. Otherwise, unpacking these pain and hurt within the confines of a safe poly-friendly therapist’s office would be recommended. At least they can help you navigate through these turbulent times.

Like I said above, it’ll take time. So be patient.

Photo by Dmitry Zvolskiy on

The core issue at hand is not about non-hierarchical polyamory. Nicki, you are being asked to do so much more than you can reasonably handle. You even said in a later comment that he even invites you to bed while he is in the bed with your ex / metamour. That is so fucked up. So I think it is proper time for you to establish some better boundaries and renegotiate your agreements with your partner.

First is to create and maintain your own space. You mentioned that you currently live with your partner. But at no point do you have to feel obligated to share your own bed with her (or anyone else for that matter). If he wants to find a space to maintain his relationship with your ex / metamour, he can rent a hotel room, find an AirBnB, or figure out an arrangement at her family’s house. Or he can provide you with a space that you can stay while he is having sex with your ex / metamour. You have a right to your own space in your own home. And you absolutely do not need to consent to your ex / metamour sleeping in your own home. Your home is your own personal place that you pay to live in. A proper boundary in this regard would read, “I will not nest with partners who unilaterally share my space and bed without proper reconciliation.” Any partner who disregards that boundary is not worthy of your time or energy.

Second is to revisit and renegotiate your existing agreements. Things have changed. You are no longer in a triad and you are entitled to re-discuss and better formulate a set of agreements that work for both of you. You also now have a better visibility into the kind of polyamorous relationship you would like to have – hierarchy or not. Do not allow him to weaponize his poly experience to beat you into submission. You are a person with real feelings too. And shouldn’t it be in his best interest to compassionately approach his other relationships in a way that makes sure that all of his partners are content?

Last is to think about and develop a contingency / back up plan. If your partner holds that the agreements that you made when you first jumped into polyamory, then you’ll need to figure out what to do with what you’ve got. That means making some really difficult decision to either de-escalate your relationship with your partner, move out to a space you can call your own (so that he may continue to explore his respective relationships in his own respective space), or even break up. Whatever it is, you need to communicate the urgency and importance of maintaining your own space so that you can continue to exist in his world. In absence of compassion will come rushing in desperation.

Photo by Andy Vu on

I know this column is running long, but I have to say one or two words about non-hierarchical polyamory. As a person who practices non-hierarchical polyamory, I am always astounded to hear in how many different aspects that insistence on lack of hierarchy can be misconstrued to mean “I do what I want.” A relationship is nothing but a commitment for an ongoing connection between two or more people. And there is no relationship if only one person gets the say-so in how that relationship is structured, conditioned, and realized. Nothing about the way he has structured his current relationship with you and your ex / metamour appear to be coming from a place of compassion, but rather from a sole place of authentically realizing his own polyamorous relationships. Those are completely independent ideologies.

You asked if you are not cut out for non-hierarchical poly. I honestly don’t have an answer for you. It is much too early in this journey for you to even know that. What I can answer for you is that you need more time. You are in no way depriving him from his other relationship by establishing your own boundaries over the space you own. It is merely time for him to respect your space.

Like I said earlier, the core issue at hand isn’t whether or not you can do non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship.

It isn’t even about whether or not you can do polyamorous relationships.

It is about whether or not you can do a relationship with him.

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!