Advice – Managing infatuation for a secondary partner.

I feel a little weird even asking this but I actually have no idea who to talk to in my life about it. I’ve been in a relationship that’s only grown stronger with my partner for five years. We have kept it open the entire time in the physical / sexual aspect. We have come across all sorts of situations in this time, and are really open about discussing any potential issues that come up. But overall we are really happy and tied to just each other emotionally.

My partner was the one who wanted it open initially and has been comfortable with keeping it that way. But I’ve been way more active with pursuing physical relationships with others.

For the most part, it’s been fine but I have felt really strange because I’ve had an on/off thing with one individual for the last few years and I find myself thinking about him a lot and wanting to see him. Let’s call him Peter. Peter knows about my relationship. Throughout the years, we occasionally stop communicating usually when he’s in a relationship (that’s not open), but we always end up seeing each other again and fall into the same routine. I don’t see anything romantic with this person, and I know there is no future or anything so I don’t know why I can’t control my thoughts of wanting to see him. I’ve met lots of other people and never have these issues. Even if there’s an initial thrill or fantasy of thinking about someone constantly, it always dies out.

Is this something that has happened to others? I’m so confused and I’m getting really sick of it because it’s been a few years of the same sort of thing and then I end up feeling sad when he stops communicating with me but I also feel like I shouldn’t be because I’m in a really solid relationship. The only thing I can think of is that I don’t have a lot of friends in my area anymore, and when I do see this person, we end up actually hanging out and it’s always enjoyable. So maybe he’s fulfilling a friendship aspect that I’m missing.

I think I need to stop contacting him since it is feeling more emotional than I want it to, but I’m also at a loss as to why I’ve even gotten so hyper focused on this one person. I hope this makes sense. If anyone has recommendations, I would really appreciate it.

Helen, Reddit.

Dear Helen,

Let me tell you about this cherry blossom tree that I have in my backyard. The tree came with the house when my nesting partner and I first purchased our home. And while I generally love the aesthetic of cherry blossom trees, I wasn’t a big fan of the placement of this tree – it felt too close to home. So we chopped it down ourselves and thought it’d be gone.

Well, it came back the next year. This time, the branches out of the bark we cut weaved into our deck. This made the tree management even more difficult. But, again, we trimmed all the branches off. I remember looking at my nesting partner in her eyes and saying, “I guess that is that.”

What do you know, the tree came back the following year. This time, we threw our hands up in the air and decided we’ll just keep it trimmed to the best of our abilities. And we will hire someone to move the tree when we can budget for a relocation.

Trees don’t just die and wither because the branches are cut off. Nature inevitably find ways to survive and thrive, even in uncharacteristically challenging environments. In this way, our feelings resemble my very resilient cherry blossom tree. We cannot truly control our feelings; we can only acknowledge those feelings, then manage them by altering the context around those feelings.

Photo by Miti on Unsplash

Let’s do an even deeper dive into your feelings.

You say that you don’t see anything romantic happening between you two, and that this present agreement works for both of you. You also say that you feel sad when Peter drops in and out of your life. And you also mentioned that you don’t have a whole lot of other friends in the area you can authentically engage with. As you’ve already laid out, it appears that you’ve grown to depend on Peter to engage with you as friends and as partners over the years.

And those types of feelings are a natural response to developing attachment, whether they are a platonic friendship, quasi-romantic sexual connection, or a full-spectrum romantic relationship. Your feelings regarding your connection with Peter is further compounded by the uncertainty of your connection. It sounds like Peter is forging monogamous connections with others, so you never know if the next time he disconnects from you will be the last disconnection. That is very difficult to manage.

And your fears here are very valid and real. You want to be able to depend on people you share vulnerabilities with.

Then you have complicated meta feelings related to the your connection anxiety. I get an underlying sense of guilt as you reflect on the casual nature of your connection with Peter. More specifically, you feel like you are not allowed to have these intense feelings of longing for a connection that you know probably won’t be “forever and ever.” And because you have such difficult time navigating your negative meta feelings, you feel a desire to sever this connection. That desire comes from wanting a semblance of control – a sense of security – in that if you can assert control over this connection with Peter, then you might also be asserting control over the feelings you have about this connection with Peter.

So let’s spend some time with the core issue within your situation.

The question you initially asked – “Should I end this connection with my secondary partner?” – might not be the right question to ask. A better question is – “Should I allow myself to feel emotionally connected in my secondary partnerships?” You said that you are content just being emotionally involved with your primary partner. And if you want to reserve exclusive emotional vulnerability around your primary partnership, then it makes sense to sever this tie so that you can remain compliant with your relationship agreement. If so, then setting proper relationship boundaries should be something you should implement for any of your future connections.

Those boundaries can look like limiting the amount of time with your secondary connections (i.e. only seeing them once or twice a month), limiting the amount of vulnerability you share with your secondary connections (i.e. not talking about certain topics beyond basic sexual chemistry), or even setting a time limit on your secondary connections (i.e. “burn notice” clause). All of those can help manage the context around your feelings for not just this secondary connection but your future ones as well. Do note, this won’t manage your feelings themselves. It’ll only help alter the circumstances around those feelings.

But if you’ve never struggled with setting those boundaries around other secondary connections, maybe this is just a Peter thing. And there is something special and unique about this connection that is making you much more vulnerable than you really want to be with your secondary partners. These feelings aren’t wrong or unethical. But if you don’t want to have attachment-based connection with your secondary partners, then it might be for the best to sever this connection so that you can focus on connections where you have positive meta feelings about.

Cherry blossom trees can also be beautiful in the right places.

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 wife has high libido with other partners, but not me.

My wife [31F] and I [38M] have been together for 9 years, married for 2. We are best friends, communicate openly and honestly, make each other laugh, and are always physically affectionate. Our poly style is to date separately, and it’s worked brilliantly for us since we opened our relationship in 2017. We are both bisexual. My wife prefers to date women and has had tons of success. I am a man who prefers to date women and I’ve also experienced a lot of great things and success. Everything to everyone else looks, well, almost perfect!

Only one problem. I can’t for the life of me get her to have sex with me anymore! She always says she’s tired, or not feeling well. But when she visits her other partners (she dates two women separately) she’s a love-making machine! I would chalk it up to NRE versus ORE, but she’s been with these women for a while! I’ve even asked her honestly if she prefers women or if there is anything I can do to make her feel more comfortable being intimate with me – but she just apologizes and says “it’ll get better. we’re just going through a dry spell.” Well, this “dry spell” has lasted over a year now! We’ve made love maybe 8-10 times in the past 16 months. I do everything in my power to give my wife a comfortable life. I do most of the cooking, house cleaning, and rub her feet almost every night. I tell her how beautiful she is every day. Still nothing! I’d say maybe it’s all due to the crap couple of years we’ve had in the United States, but again, she’s getting down and dirty with her girlfriends regularly! I am starting to feel a little resentful because I am dating one other woman and I don’t get to see her as often. Maybe once every 6 weeks. And I have to “get in all of my sex” in the little one night only overnights we have. Help!

Fred, Reddit.

Dear Fred,

Learning to manage the surge of New Relationship Energy is one of the most critical skills to develop for any person exploring and engaging with ethical non-monogamy. Many of us learn to manage our NRE by channeling that initial burst of lust and desire back into our old relationships. That can look like harnessing the newfound sexual energy back into old relationships. Others prefer to manage their NRE by establishing proper boundaries around how much engagement they have with their new objects of sexual desire, as to not exhaust all relational energy in new relationships.

But one of the most common misconception is that there is a static timer on how long NRE lasts. The complicated truth of NRE is that it varies a lot from person to person. For some people, NRE is measured in months. Whereas for many others, NRE can last several years. Another complicating aspect of NRE is that its length and influence can vary from connection to connection as well. In many cases, the experience with NRE depends heavily on the context of that relationship. So for example, a comet-type relationship that might meet only once or twice a year might have a more drawn out expression of NRE, simply due to reduced exposure to the object of affection. Age can also play a significant role in how someone experiences NRE. So I think it is very important to keep these different factors in mind as it relates to your wife’s relationships with her other partners.

All of this is to say, it is very difficult to get to the root of your current sexual disconnect with your wife because there are multiple contributing factors to your disconnect.

And I think we need to elaborate on the degree of sexual disconnect and deconstruct the various “why’s”.

You say that you’ve picked up on the household chores as a way to lessen the emotional labor burden upon your wife, so that she may be enticed to be more intimate with you. While it is a wonderful thing you are doing, it might work better in a marriage where the imbalance in household chores manifests as a sexual brake in a relationship. In addition, if you dig deeper into your intentions you might find that you are doing those things with an implicit, unspoken intention for sex – that which your wife might be sensing through your actions as if your enthusiasm for household chores is contingent upon her enthusiasm for sex with you. In short, you might be trying to hard to address the problem by yourself when it should really take a collective effort.

I also want to touch on the dangers of keeping score. It is very easy to get in your own head if you keep tabs on the type of sex your partner is having with her other partners. This becomes a more fundamental problem if you end up comparing the dysfunctions within your sex life with your wife to the (assumed) vitality in her sex life with her two other partners. In reality, it might be more beneficial to ground yourself on the dysfunctions of your own sex life.

I also think that your wife bears some responsibility in the current sexual disconnect you are both experiencing with each other. While it is true that many couples do occasionally go through “dry spells”, it could be possible that your wife is less enthusiastic about sexually reconnecting with you because she has two other partners with whom she already has good sexual chemistry with. Dismissing the current sexual disconnect in your marriage as a temporary lapse unfortunately perpetuates the disconnect because that unintentional dismissal also dismisses your lived experience of erotic disconnection. In specific, I am really curious as to how your wife foresees her sexual relationship with you “getting better.”

So what does this all mean for bridging your erotic disconnect?

Esther Perel was once asked if it is difficult to be a partner to a relationship therapist as world-renowned as she is. She responded by saying that she has evolved over the thirty five years that she has been with Jack. She further elaborated that relationships constantly develop and change, and it takes an intentional effort on individuals to mind the inevitable disconnects, plan the reconnect, and celebrate the connection when you do reconnect.

It is clear that even though your wife acknowledges that there is a sexual disconnect, she doesn’t feel motivated to reconnect in the same way you want to. This leaves you with two viable options.

The first option is to address and reemphasize the importance of the reconnect. This might be the easiest to bring up if you can sit down with your wife in a monthly check-in like a RADAR where you can proactively establish action plans for the acknowledged problems. But it is important that you elaborate on the degree of disconnect you’ve experienced and ground yourself in the present pain. This will help your wife understand the gravity of the situation and be more conscientious about reconnecting with you in a more intentional, mindful way. This will also help each of you hold each other accountable in reconnecting with each other. This will allow you and your wife to get on the same page about not only what “getting better” really means, but also what each of you need to do to get better at being intimate with each other. Stated intentions are powerful!

The second option is to acknowledge that this disconnect will have to stand until your wife can independently acknowledge her own pain from this erotic disconnect without any further push. It takes two to tango. And if she really isn’t into bridging this gap, you need to work out a contingency plan to stay sane in your two relationships. You mentioned that you feel like your other partner that you meet once every month or so has to meet all of your sexual demands. And that is a lot of undue pressure filtering through one connection. If your needs are not being met by your current set of partners, it might be time for you to start looking outward to add new partners who can fill in that gap without adding any pressure on your existing partnerships.

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 we address couple’s privilege in a quad?

I am in a square-shaped polycule where my nesting partner is dating my boyfriend’s wife. It had very complicated beginnings due my nesting partner breaking my trust early on but we eventually settled into this dynamic.

For a while now, it feels like our lives revolve around the other couple. At first I thought it was more of an adjustment period but I’ve been with my boyfriend 8 months and nesting partner with meta now 4 months.

There’s kids and jobs in both households and we live about an hour from each other. I completely understand having to work around schedules but lately feel like it’s always their call and I have little to no say, almost like a “third”. My nesting partner also doesn’t get treated well in regards to time, but he doesn’t like to speak out and just accepts as things are which is frustrating because I feel like I am on my own here.

How do I discuss in a non-confrontational way that they are using their couple’s privilege in a harmful way that feels unhealthy for all of us and that my pain is not just an over-reaction but I’m actually being hurt by the way things are and honestly they are hurting each other when they bump heads on how to divvy up time, attention, and resources especially without involvement of us as their partners in the conversation.

Mary, Reddit.

Dear Mary,

Couple’s privilege is usually defined as the strength of the originating dyad improperly overpowering any new existing partnerships from occupying the appropriate relational space. A common example of couple’s privilege is relationship priority, or explicit hierarchy. There is actually a pretty good example of an implicit couple’s privilege inherent in your post as well. When you say that you don’t feel that your nesting partner gets treated well, you are able to say so with conviction because you have added clairvoyance into his thought process that the other couple isn’t immediately privy to. So I’m not sure if there is a problem with a couple’s privilege in your situation, even if there exists a natural privilege in your own relationship with your nesting partner.

In fact, I think that when you say that you feel like “a third”, you are actually trying to say that you feel like you lack a sense of agency in the decision making process within your polycule. And that lack of agency is really the core issue at hand.

In a recent column, I wrote that “[y]ou never just date people on a blank slate; you also date their circumstances.” And Mary, I think that philosophy is something we all need to be considerate of in our relationships. As you noted, there are existing life commitments that need to be accounted for, such as careers and children. Not only that, you two live an hour away from the couple you are dating together. However, even if those aspects were not in the picture, we have existing agreements and expectations to uphold and honor with our existing partners. And those can conflict with emerging new agreements and expectations, creating inevitable friction between the echoes of two dyads.

This isn’t to say that your pain is invalid.

It can feel incredibly disempowering to feel out of your element in your romantic relationships. In specific, if you feel that you have to constantly check in with and clear schedules through them, of course it is going to feel unhealthy and painful.

It is further perpetuated in the echoing conflicts in your own relationship with your nesting partner. Even if he can also recognize that this aspect of the relationship is challenging, he doesn’t feel as bad about the imbalance and relative lack of agency in his two relationships. And from your perspective, that unfortunately exacerbates the underlying frustration you feel. This in turn makes you feel alone and isolated in a love of four.

When you say that your partner does not get treated well in terms of time, it is possible that he himself doesn’t necessarily feel that way in his relationship with your metamour. It is very difficult to truly assess someone else’s lived experiences without being in their bodies. And externally projecting your internalized pain upon your partner’s relationship is a possibility you need to be aware of.

So when you ask how you can engage in a non-confrontational but meaningful dialogue, you aren’t just asking how you can talk to the other couple; you are also asking how you might engage in a non-confrontational but meaningful dialogue with your nesting partner as well.

And I think that might be the best place to start this discussion: with your nesting partner.

Sympathetically connecting with your nesting partner on the subjective reality of your feelings accomplishes two specific goals.

The first goal is that it helps ground you into your feelings. While your pain is valid, many of the feelings we feel are often irrational. And like dusting a house with open windows, we sometimes just need open channels to get our bad feelings pass through us.

The second goal is that getting on the same page with your nesting partner will help you rebuild that troubled trust from prior violations. It can be very difficult to mindfully rebuild upon a shaky foundation. And intentionally re-establishing a more fundamental foundation will help you feel more aligned for not just this quad relationship, but for all other relationships you might forge together in the future.

This discussion might look a bit like a deeper fleshing out of the pain that you each feel in this quad relationship dynamic where you take turns candidly speaking your respective experiences, then relate to each other about each other’s pains.

And that brings us back to the core conflict at hand: lack of agency.

Once you’ve had an opportunity to ground your experiences in each other’s lived realities, the next goal is to communicate so with the couple you two are dating together. In the same way you sat down with your nesting partner to have a frank and honest discussions about each of your pains, sit down with your partner and metamour and have a frank and honest discussions about the challenges you four each faced throughout this relationship.

It might be very beneficial for you to phrase your experiences in “I” statements (such as “When the dates are scheduled around your availability, I feel that I lack agency in our relationship.”) to help each of your partners understand how you feel about your relationship. This will give each of your partners an opportunity to step in and acknowledge to your pains. And only once you’ve all acknowledged that this is a pain point that needs to be address can you proactively move forward to an action plan that might help you feel more empowered in your relationship.

In reality, that action plan might look a bit more like your partner and metamour being more intentional in planning around meet ups that is both mindful to your schedule as well as theirs. Nevertheless, it’ll have to be a group effort to make sure that you all can deconstruct this specific privilege in your quad together.

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 used to be a cam girl. Should I tell my boyfriend?

About four years ago, I [22F] was a web cam girl for a few months. It still haunts me to this day and I am very fearful of my now partner [28M] finding this out because I know that he will torture me over this. It is such a slim chance of him finding out but there are pictures and videos of me online that have been reposted on some websites and that makes me feel so sick to even think about. I love him so much and I am a great girlfriend to him but this makes me feel undeserving and shameful in a way. Should I tell him this or does it even matter much? I would rather die than have him know. I want to get them removed online but I just don’t know how. I feel like if I tell him this it will just define me and I don’t ever want him to see me differently.

Melody, Reddit.

Dear Melody,

There are so many different types of pain and misunderstanding packed in such a short post.

There is such a powerful, pervasive, negative cultural stigma around sex work. And it looks like you have internalized some of the shame (“… this makes me feel undeserving and shameful”), disgust (“… that makes me feel so sick to even think about”), and guilt (“I am very fearful of my now partner finding this out”). Each of those are interwoven into not just the way you conceptualize and experience your romantic relationship with your partner but also with yourself.

I want to spend some time with each of those feelings and what they could mean. Each of those feelings intersect with each of the relationships you have with your past self, your current self, and your boyfriend. Then we will talk about whether or not you should tell your boyfriend and how you should if you do decide to share this part of your past with your partner.

Photo by Hoang Viet on Unsplash

Let’s first focus on your relationship with yourself.

Through all of these internalized social stigma about sex work, it is very clear that there is a major disconnect around reconciliation between your past as a sex worker and your present reality as your partner’s girlfriend. And deeply imbedded in that disconnect is a self-inflicting wound that unfortunately acts as the mouthpiece for many of the negative feelings you are experiencing right now. And each time those negative feelings come up, they are immediately measured against the dysfunctions within your past self (shame), dysfunctions within your current self (disgust), and dysfunctions within your romantic relationship (guilt).

Shame is a fundamental reflection of external societal pressure making an impression on your past. In reality, sex work is work. People engage with sex work for multitude of different reasons. So camming might have been a means to support yourself financially. It could have been born out of self-empowerment exercise through which you explored previously unrealized parts of your sexuality. Ultimately, your rationale surrounding why you chose to pursue camming is unimportant. What is more important is recognize that it happened, reflect on what it meant to you as a person, and move forward with new experiences.

Disgust is a more nuanced feeling that has deeper roots around how you perceive your experience with sex work. Based on what you have shared, it is unclear if your sense of disgust is just a different manifestation of the same shame or if there are deeper roots in your general attitude about sex work. It might be more beneficial for you to do some digging by yourself or with a sex-positive therapist to heal and recover from your experience.

Out of the three, guilt is the easiest to explain. Some of your guilt originates from obscuration of your past from your partner. As in, you feel that you should have come clean about your sex work experience with your partner before you got into a romantic relationship. It could also be possible that your guilt stems from internalization of negative stigma around sex work. As in, you have difficult time moving beyond your sex work history. And because you have such struggle moving past it, your inability to move past it manifests in guilt.

Now let’s talk about your relationship with your boyfriend.

I was quite alarmed to read that you feel that your boyfriend would “torture” you if he found out about your history with sex work. I wondered if that could be a sign of a very dysfunctional relationship with your partner where your partner never reacts well to aspects about yourself and your past, even in your most vulnerable moments. I also wondered if that was another manifestation of the internalized social stigma around sex work on his behalf as well. Either way, your pre-emptive reaction to this hypothetical conversation with your boyfriend tells me two things.

First is that your relationship does not feel like a safe place to share this very vulnerable aspect about yourself. If his immediate reaction is to assume negative judgment about your previous work history, it says a lot more about how little foundational trust there is to support any of the vulnerability you want to share with any prospective partner, much less this one. We will talk more about this in the next section when we discuss if and how you should approach this discussion.

My second thought is that being a great girlfriend has nothing to do with your previous sexual or work history. Your experience with sex work was only for a few months several years back. And while that might be a pertinent information that your partner might want to be privy to, absence of that sharing does not predicate that you are a bad partner at all; it just makes you a hesitant one. And perhaps, for a good reason.

A good partner should enthusiastically embrace as many aspect of your personhood within reason. And if you feel that your boyfriend will shame you for your past, then that is unbecoming of him as a partner.

Photo by Lisa Hobbs on Unsplash

I think it would be worthwhile to consider why you might want to disclose your sex work history to your partner.

Since we have just established why you don’t feel that it is safe to talk about your camming experience, we will need a better way to determine what you need in order to feel safe to share.

Perhaps a good start to that discussion is by first gauging how his real-life reaction might be like by bringing up a similar experience someone else might have had. This accomplishes two goals. First is that it takes the burden off of you since you’d be talking about someone else’s experience. But more importantly, this helps you gather more data on how he might react if this did apply to you. This would provide valuable data for your current relationship predicament.

Another valuable exercise that you can implement today is to shadowbox and project what that safe space might even look like. Imagine in your head what context you need in order for you to feel safe talking about your sex work history. What level of trust do you feel that you need to preemptively establish with your partner? Does this take place in a one-on-one setting or with other loved one in attendance? Better fleshing out what that type of dialogue might look like should help you do the necessarily emotional labor associated with the actual dialogue itself.

You should only have to share that which you feel comfortable sharing. And if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your history (and you aren’t even sure how to get to that level of comfort), you should know that your boyfriend is absolutely not at all entitled to know every aspect of your sexual or professional experience.

I also want to touch on possibility of videos and pictures that might be posted on internet without your permission.

I strongly urge you to contact organizations like March Against Revenge Porn, Without My Consent, and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) to help take down those videos from websites who published your contents without your explicit consent. Doing so will greatly alleviate the anxiety you feel about not just your boyfriend but all the people who are non-consensually engaging with unethical sexual material online.

You are not alone.

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 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 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 – 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 – 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 – I started hooking up with a couple out of impulse, and I’m starting to catch feelings.

About 5 months ago my girlfriend of 4 years and I [28F] separated after some unexpected infidelity on her part. I was devastated but got myself back together with help of friends and family. I wasn’t AT ALL ready to date and I’m still not. I was however feeling very impulsive after the break up and had a few hook ups that I’m not too proud of.

In the midst of these sexual exploits, I also started hooking up with a “seeking couple”. I cannot express enough how out of character this is for me, but I had a great time. We all hit it off right away and became fast friends. My impulsive sexual behavior came to a halt, but I kept seeing them and continue to do so at present day.

The two of them have even alerted me to some shitty behavior from my ex after I recently opened up to them about my break up. Basically, they are just pretty chill people and we get along really well.

Flash forward to present day- one half of the couple [28f] has admitted she has feelings for me. The other half [29M] is fully aware and encouraging of this. I can’t say the feelings aren’t mutual. I even really like the male counterpart despite being super gay. We play video games and hang out and its honestly all just easy and feels good.

I am however really panicked I’m going to get into this too deep. I’m debating breaking it off with them and just refocusing my time and energy on myself (not that I’m not still doing that). I’m also afraid to lose something really special we might be developing.

Does anyone else have experience with this sort of thing?! I am FREAKED and don’t know what to do.

At Sign Work, Reddit.

Dear At Sign Work,

It sounds like you are experiencing an intense bout of relationship anxiety that stem from multiple sources. Your anxiety can come from your previous relationship trauma as you heal from the traumatic and unexpected end to your previous long-term relationship. Your anxiety can also come from the uncertainty regarding the future and where this newfound relationship might lead. And it can also come from as well as the internalized stigma regarding the non-traditional aspect of your non-monogamous arrangement. Let’s unpack each of those.

While each person has a different recovery timeframe, five months is not an appropriate time for you to mourn and heal from the end of your four-year relationship. Many of us recovering from breakups channel our frustration and confusion at the end of a relationship in different ways. And it sounds like you could have channelled a part of your pain from your breakup into forging and exploring new sexual connections.

Moran et al (2020) found support for the hypothesis that many women feel bad about themselves after engaging in breakup/rebound sex. That seems to mirror your own experience with sexual exploration following the end of your relationship with your ex girlfriend, manifesting in regret for the past hookups. And in that phase of promiscuity, your stress was not allowed to complete its cycle to resolution.

That leads to the very next point about the uncertainty of the current relationship.

One of the reasons why you are debating breaking things off with this couple is because of your unresolved trauma from your previous relationship is manifesting through relationship anxiety regarding your current relationship. You’ve been so hurt and betrayed from someone you had feelings for, so you feel anxious about the feelings you are starting to develop. Because you did not have full control in the end of your previous relationship, you seek to have better control over the current relationship, which is through breaking up.

Based on what you have shared, I gather that this was a very fast and hot connection that materialized very quickly. One of the things about immediate connections is that they often have rushed foundation. I think the significant part of the draw of this relationship for you was how easygoing and free this connection felt to make. And the very airiness of it is now manifesting as an uncertainty as the innate insecurity dances with the developing feelings.

This isn’t to say that you all need to sit down and have a Very Serious Discussion tonight. Since you already know that the feelings are shared between you and the female-half of the couple, you can start the discussion by talking out loud about what those feelings mean to each of you. You don’t necessarily need to settle on a label, but at least having some base level of expectation would be a good way to facilitate the talk.

Then there is the added wrinkle of the internalized stigma around non-monogamy.

I’m not sure if you have had any previous experience with non-monogamy. But there are a lot of internalized stigma around non-monogamy that many non-mono newbies shed as they explore what it is like to date multiple folks and to date folks who might also be dating multiple folks.

One of those internalized stigmas non-mono newbies learn to manage is guilt and shame about the number of partners. Sometimes, that internalized stigma can look a lot like that internal voice that says you can’t be open about the relationships you are a part of. Sometimes, that can sound like sex shaming. Each person’s social programming might look a little different, but each of those toxic foundations needs to be reworked or renovated.

It is okay to feel scared and anxious about the unknown. Part of what makes life so grand is in its unpredictability. No one could have truly anticipated how 2020 would have turned out. But we all learned to adapt through the constant stream of changes. For you, that meant an expansive sexual exploration that led to the current couple you are seeing.

The last thought I will leave you with. As a polyamorous individual, I always thought the implication that you have to be single in order to focus on yourself to be very strange, because it also implies that you don’t truly grow when you’re in relationships. You can definitely grow, change, and develop in many different areas of your life regardless of your relationship status. So learn to accept and enjoy this moment of your life. In the immortal words of Britta Perry,

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 – Am I the asshole for messaging my partner’s FWB?

When my husband and I first started this journey into poly, I joined a local-ish fb group, and a few people on there friended me. Fast forward a few months and I am seeing this wonderful woman, who mentions that we have a common fb friend. I explain to her that a few people had friended me and I probably had quick hello chitchat with them at some point, but nothing ever evolved. Come to find out, this is one of her play partners, more of a FWB situation. Ok, fun fact to know about this person that I have never met before, that’s cool.

I come across this person on Bumble, swipe for yes, because I figure that if my gf likes them, they must be good person as well. Gf and I still VERY loosely use the term gf, she is seeing at least one other person other than me. And as far as I know, things are pretty open to my understanding.

I message the person on FB, just a general “hey, I noticed you on bumble and remembered we are fb friends. Covid really puts a damper on meeting anyone new, huh?! How have you been / what have you found of interest in these weird times / whats up?” and we have the general easygoing introductory conversation.

A few days later, gf brings up this person in general conversation, stating they are going to get coffee or something this coming weekend. I ask if she had ever mentioned me to this person, she says no… why?

I explain that I saw them on bumble, and it triggered my memory that we were fb friends so I started a conversation.

She says that doesn’t make her feel great, “is weird to seek out someone I’ve slept with”, starts making jokes about “[her] replacement”, and then says she needs space. “It will be fine, I’ll get over it.”

Then I started apologizing and explaining that I didn’t know this was a boundary, I should have mentioned it to her (gf) before starting a conversation with the other person, etc etc

It has been a few days and part of me feels so empty now, I hate that I hurt her, or made her feel uneasy at all, that was not my intention. I was just trying to broaden my friends base with more open-minded people.

Am I the asshole? How do I make this better? Obviously we need to have a talk about boundaries because I didn’t think things through first.

/u/kdassatti, Reddit.

Dear Kdassatti,

Before we dive deeper into the right-and-wrongness, let’s first define the term boundaries.

The term boundary comes up a lot in discussions about modern relationships. I have previously deferred to Vicky Tidwell Palmer’s general definition of boundary as a form of personal or relational protection from unforeseen harm. I also believe that a sound boundary has three distinct characteristics.

First is that they are internally driven. Boundaries need to be assessed and determined by the person who owns the boundary. For example, a common boundary in modern non-monogamous relationships states, “I will not be in a sexual relationship with someone who exhibits extremely risky sexual behaviors with others.” The internal driver of that boundary falls on the “I” to discontinue the sexual relationship if the connection is deemed too risky to continue, not the person breaching the boundary. In your girlfriend’s case, this boundary never appeared to be driven by her. Instead, it appears that you interpreted her hurt feelings as a boundary violation. Feelings are not facts.

Sound boundaries are also mindful and conscientious. Boundaries are a powerful way to create protection around yourself and your loved ones. Even though boundaries are owned and enforced by one person, the responsibility of boundary acknowledgement is shared by many. So being mindful about how others can interpret and assess your boundaries on your behalf is crucial. In your girlfriend’s case, limiting a partner’s connections to a mutual friend through a boundary is neither mindful nor conscientious. It is controlling to ask your partner to clear an introductory greeting to a friend.

Most importantly, good and sound boundaries are clearly communicated. Personal and relational boundaries can vary from person to person. As such, boundaries need to be explicit and clear, especially if those boundaries deviate from the common social norms or implicit societal boundaries. You are not responsible for the emotional labor of practicing and enforcing others’ non-standard implicit boundaries. It is evident that your girlfriend has never communicated this as a boundary. So even if this classifies as a boundary, it is definitively not a sound one you were expected to honor.

Now that we have defined what boundaries are, let’s revisit what happened with your girlfriend.

It is difficult to peer into true and precise reasons on why she felt upset. It could be possible that your reaching out did trigger a deeper sense of insecurity that she unknowingly harbored. It could be that your girlfriend felt very insecure about her connection with you or her play partner. And she assessed that your independent connection with her play partner jeopardized either or both of her connections. It could also be possible that the contextual framing around this discussion – Bumble – made her think that your intentions were more romantic/erotic than you initially let on.

Either way, she reacted by misreading your intention (“weird to seek out someone I’ve slept with” was not your intention), then threw a self-deprecating joke (“finding a replacement” was not your intention either), then pushed back by asking for space to analyze her feelings deeper. Underlying each of those subsequent reactions are emotional management strategies and coping mechanisms that help her reframe her hurt feelings around internal language that only she understands.

What might be a more productive endeavor is to dig deeper into your headspace, rather than hers.

It is clear that your girlfriend experienced some hurt feelings – justified or not, valid nonetheless – when you shared that you connected with her play partner. And when you recognized that her feelings were hurt, you acknowledged that her feelings were hurt then immediately leapt to make things right by making future amends. It could be that your desire to apologize and find fixes is a deeply ingrained reaction to resolving a stressful scenario. Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for our partners in distress is to hold them tight and let those bad feelings stand without jumping to an immediate problem-solving mindset.

Let’s take your stated intention at its face value, that you only intended to connect platonically with her play partner. If so, then your intentions clear you of any wrongdoing. Not only is it not wrong to make new friends, it is also not wrong to expand upon a connection you have already made before your girlfriend became your girlfriend. So consider digging deeper into why your emotional aspect had such a strong kickback reaction to your desire to connect with others.

Some of the hardest lessons that I have learned through dating was to provide enough space for my partner to experience those bad feelings, as much as it hurt to see my partner suffer.

There might not be anything active you can do to make things better. There’s no threading the needle in that regard. Instead, allow your girlfriend to process those bad feelings and anticipate a reconnection. By providing space for your partner to process those feelings, she will learn to cope with any future bad feelings they might encounter in not just this relationship with you but her other current and future relationships as well.

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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