Advice – How much can you love a friend?

“I recently have come to realize that all of my close friends are a little bit in love with me. I am pretty open about being bisexual and polyamorous and I tend to show a lot of love and affection for my friends. Lately I’ve been finding it difficult to keep everyone at the distance of only being platonic. I want more and they want more, and I don’t know how long I can go fighting myself from acting authentic about just how much I do love them.

I’m not exactly sure if I want to end up in a romantic relationship with everyone but I feel at least wanting to express affection outside of the realm of socially accepted platonic behavior. (Aka, hand holding, kissing, cuddles, and openly saying ‘I love you’s.)

That’s what my heart says, but my head keeps telling me that you keep friends longer by keeping things as they are, as strictly platonic. Is there any advice out there for my situation?”

– /u/King_C_21, /r/polyamory.

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Dear King C 21,

Let me introduce you to the world of relationship anarchy.

“A relationship anarchist begins from a place of assuming total freedom and flexibility as the one in charge of their personal relationships and decides on a case by case basis what they want each relationship to look like.”

“Relationship Anarchy Basics.” The Thinking Aro, May 7, 2013.

It is impossible to define relationship anarchy (RA) in one sentence. But I would like to start from a place that RA throws all the rules out and starts from the very basic nature of human relationships: a connection. And instead of assigning expectations or preconceived ideas about what platonic or romantic even means, RA folks blur those lines and state that even those lines are a spectrum. Instead of pigeonholing each connection into a box, RA folks build the fluidly moving boxes fit for each of those connections as appropriate so that they may decide for themselves what each of those connections may look like. The core facets of RA are inherently independent and autonomous.

Relationship anarchy asks for us to challenge all of our ideas about what is a romantic relationship as opposed to a platonic friendship. Instead of the society telling us what is proper and improper behavior embedded in the hierarchy of connections, RA folks each own their own personal ideas and guidelines on what they feel are appropriate and inappropriate with each of their connections. One person’s practice of relationship anarchy might look completely different from another’s RA.

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I myself am not a relationship anarchist, but I am very close to a few.

My first encounter with relationship anarchy was on a sushi date that I didn’t know was a date. Let’s call them R. R was from a local polyamory meetup group we both frequented and matched each other on OkCupid. Over dinner, R told me about their very personal journey to accept and embrace relationship anarchy. They revealed to me how closely it aligns with their solo poly practice and how they could never go back to how structured and regimented their relationships felt prior to RA. R had two long distance connections in which there were some form of romantic and sexual entanglement with and held that they were open to exploring as many (and as deep) connections as necessary.

The second relationship anarchist I have ever met is my current partner of six months. Let’s call her L. She found that the completely lack of restraint of RA most closely represented the way she wanted to live her life. L once described being introduced to RA with the same kind of closeness as coming home. She has many very close connections with countless people with whom she would identify as her soul humans, and never value one connection over another regardless of existence of romantic or sexual component to that specific connection. Instead of obsessing over the fit of the predetermined roles, L decides at the level of each relationship what she is and isn’t comfortable with. L is openly affectionate with each of her soul humans, many of whom she kisses and cuddles.

With both relationship anarchists, I’ve learned how radically but differently they both approached boundary setting. R was very clear about the boundaries they set early on. They were very intentional and direct about everything that was said and done. L was much more flexible and agreeable. She approaches each of her relationships with nuance and generosity that welcomed many to sit by her hearth. Like I said, no two people’s practices of RA look alike.

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One of the patterns I am committed to breaking this year is to live more true to myself regardless of what others think. In that, I recognize I need to be more brave. Brave in the authentic self I believe in. Brave in face of external critiques and judgments. Brave in faith that this will be good for me long-term even if I have to burn some bridges.

You say that you struggle to fight against the authentic parts of yourself who want to realize all these feelings and express all these affections around the people you care for. Then I ask you, why is your head telling you all these ideas about what it takes for longevity of different connections? How much of it is monogamous programming you’ve not yet unshed?

How brave are you willing to be so that you may be more true to yourself?

Should you decide to heed my advice and venture into relationship anarchy, your own secular practice of relationship anarchy could be very different from how R or L or any other relationship anarchists do relationships. What’s more important is whether or not you are being more true to yourself. You are the master of your own domain and who am I to tell you otherwise?

What is socially acceptable is only socially acceptable in your own headspace and the community you surround yourself with. You are already out as bi and poly to your folks. So you already broke two walls. What’s a third?

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 teatimetomato@gmail.com. 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 – Half in, half out of poly closet.

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/u/sadiemess writes on /r/polyamory…

“My husband [39M] and I [36F] had our 7 year wedding anniversary on Sunday and my gf [31F] of two years is upset about a post my mother-in-law tagged us in (with a pic from our wedding). It’s brought up feelings for her about being closeted, and our relationship not feeling as legitimate… and while I understand where she is coming from, I can’t control what other people post, and the fact of the matter is, I do have a husband. Fundamentally, I think that that fact is her real issue with things. She’s monogamous and we have had many ups and downs with her feelings over not being able to have what she ultimately wants (to marry and live with me full time). We are out to my family, and they have totally accepted her (we literally have family game nights once a week and I think they bought her as many Christmas presents as they did me). However, we’re not totally out at work (we all work together) even though it’s sort of like an open secret, and we are not out to my husband’s parents (they are very religious and we know it’s not going to go over well), or to her family (they know we are together and that she is gay/bi, but not that I am also married). Personally, I wouldn’t mind being out completely about everything, but I can’t force my husband to come out to his parents, and not being out makes social media stuff (among other things) tricky. She and I went away together for our anniversary a few months ago, but I didn’t post about it. And I didn’t post anything about mine and his anniversary either, to be fair. I’ve shared a lot less on social media since all of this started because I don’t want to out anybody who doesn’t want to be out, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m trying to encourage my husband to come out, so we can control the narrative. We are both openly affectionate with our other partners in public (and we have a chatty six year old that we are open and honest around) and I feel like it’s only a matter of time before something gets back to them. Blerg. Not really sure what I am looking for here, but thought I’d post it anyway. Thanks for listening!”

Dear Sadie Mess,

I agree with you that it is not up to you to dictate what your mother-in-law posts about you and your husband’s relationship. I also agree with your girlfriend’s perspective about this descriptive hierarchy in your marriage and her relationship with you not as widely acknowledged. She is obviously feeling a lot of jealousy about the social media space and the marital privileges you and your husband get to enjoy that your girlfriend will be explicitly excluded from. Both you and your girlfriend have valid points to make in this discussion about how “out” everyone is.

I think it is important to first establish where her headspace is. We need to unpack and understand her source of insecurity. It appears that the scale is heavily unfavored for your girlfriend of two years in the level of enmeshment and “outness” she would like to have in her own life, especially since she is coming into dating you – a person who is legally married to another. She could definitely feel slighted in not being able to use that social media aspect to have her relationship with you be openly celebrated in front of everyone, especially following the anniversary trip you two took few months ago. So there’s a lot of emotional labor on her balance to process here.

It sounds like based on the circumstances you’ve outlined, you’ve honestly done your best to be as out as you can be without facing any legal or professional recourse. But one thing you can utilize is in a more strict privacy setting in social media so that you can continue to acknowledge and celebrate your relationship with your girlfriend in public space. There isn’t a functionality like this on Instagram, but on Facebook, you can selectively filter who can and can’t see your posts. So next time you go on a vacation, maybe you can exclude the people you aren’t out to (your coworkers, your husband’s side of family) and celebrate your relationship with your girlfriend in the company of people who do accept your relationship with your girlfriend.

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I do think the bigger issue is the underlying set of hierarchies that she has not fully realized. You mentioned in follow up comments about how you stay three to four nights at her place, the specifics of commitment ceremonies, and selective determination on why she’s not out to her own family. I am really curious to dig deeper on her perspective and rationale on why she isn’t fully out to her family and communicates discomfort at how her metamour isn’t fully out to his family. Her perspective on the living situation – and your ideal living situation with everyone together – appear to be a bit contradictory as well.

It might be really beneficial to sit down and have a deep discussion on what kind of enmeshment she is exactly looking to have with you. Does she want to be fully acknowledged as your partner all across the entire polycule? Is she willing to come out to her family so that at least you’ll have your and her family to be open about in regards to your polyamorous arrangement? How does she plan to respect the already-enmeshed life you live with your husband of seven years and your six year old child while carving out a space of her own? What is she willing to do on her own to make sure this jealousy that she feels about social media space isn’t directed to hurt you?

More and more I think about what is going on between you and your girlfriend, more and more I am realizing that a lot of this is on your girlfriend to resolve. It is her own insecurity about social media (since you don’t post about your husband much either). It is her own insecurity about outness (since you’re already out to your family while she is not). It is her own headspace about descriptive hierarchies (since she’s wishy-washy about having a commitment ceremony with you). I really hope she can see that you’ve been trying your best, doing your best, to make sure that you are creating and maintaining space for her to occupy in your life.

It might be a good start to recognize some of these things and set an actionable plan to close the gap between the relationship you two currently have and the relationship you two want to have in the future.

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 teatimetomato@gmail.com. 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 NOT breakup?

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/u/isnotalwaysrainbows writes on /r/relationship_advice…

“Hello! Sorry for the formatting, I’m [23F] always on mobile. I’ve posted on relationships before, but every time it’s been about a relationship that hasn’t worked out. Which brings me to this issue that I have. I always break up with people.

I wasn’t super popular for dates in highschool, and I had a bit of a glow up before college. Like, mid-2000’s teen rom-com glow up. And all of a sudden I started getting attention. I wound up picking the wrong guy who was in all ways abusive for about 4 years until I finally left him over a year ago. The problem is, since then I’ve had this lasting fear of commitment?

I’m not sure if I should call it a fear of commitment or not, but the best way to explain it is that I will really like someone and then before even 2 months has passed, I will not like them anymore. And it’s different every time. Usually I just start to find the little things they do annoying. Mannerisms, the way they eat, something. And I convince myself that they aren’t right for me and I shouldn’t be settling. I feel like this is rooted in the fear that I will end up staying with someone for a long time and ultimately breaking up with them. And I hate the idea of dating someone else for 4 years and having to start over.

But this new guy [24M] is different. I think. I like everything about him. He’s got the perfect occupation, he’s great with kids. He supports what I do. I find him attractive. Our personalities seem very compatible and he has a great relationship with his friends and family. I adore this guy. But we’ve been together a month and I’m nervous that I’m going to reach my time limit and like clockwork I’ll find something wrong with him and end it.

To be fair, I am the type to fall for someone very quickly. Which is what makes me nervous in new relationships and only increases the paranoia that makes me leave after 2 months. I would ask friends for advice, but not many of them seem to be in happy relationships. They seem incompatible with their SO’s but they haven’t left because they don’t want to start over.

My question: Is there any advice out there to help me avoid breaking up with someone for bad reasons?”

Dear Is Not Always Rainbows,

Have you ever eaten a substandard ice cream? The one that you’re not thrilled about but were happy to grab at the ice cream aisle of your closest grocery store? You might have looked at all the Ben & Jerry’s million flavors and grabbed your favorite flavor in a hurry as to not be seen eating grocery store ice cream brands. But you were all settled in in your unicorn-patterned jammy jams by the time you realized that you accidentally grabbed Chocolate Fudge Brownie instead of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. You might have just shrugged your shoulders and go, “Meh. This is going to be an experience.”

I sometimes have relationships that feel that way too; that while they’re not my perfect matches, I know it is going to be a brand new experience with this human being and go into it with a plan to learn about how other people love.

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

I think you recognize in yourself the kind of role that your long-term abusive relationship has played in your subsequent relationships, and is continuing to play in this new connection. There is a reason why you fall in love so quickly, and why you get burnt out so quickly after you recognize a minor (or major) personality flaw.

One of the reasons why you fall in love so quickly after the end of a long-term relationship is because you were already there at an intense level of intimacy with someone else before. You feel that void your ex has left behind and you’re anxious to fill it with something anew that can provide that same kind of warmth and safety again. Another contributing factor could also be that your personal background on not really dating much in high school has warped your sense of mutual attraction, in that you greatly overvalue the attention you receive and try your best to reciprocate that same level of (often sexual) intensity back. So that when you first meet someone, you burn hot for a couple weeks to a month before simmering down when that same intensity cannot reasonably keep up when the lighter fluid of newness runs out. This is what you are feeling when you hate having to start anew after four years of a relationship. You did invest four intense years of your life into a relationship that ended up not working out.

Another major contributor to why you tend to break up with others so easily over character flaws originate from your previous abusive relationship. You didn’t go into too much detail about the kind of abuse you’ve had to endure, but I am going to assume your ex displayed an incredibly toxic and unhealthy behavior patterns around you. Those behaviors left a lot of open wounds and scars you were quick to cover up. But because you had to endure four years of abusive behaviors and patterns, you lost a lot of control along the way. And in a way, you could be asserting control back into your life by picking at those scabs of your past wounds and ending things at a moment’s notice. Your patience is dangerously low in the romance department after four years of abuse.

Photo by Ashan Rai on Pexels.com

Good news. There are some counterspells you can cast here to make sure you aren’t prematurely ending things with this new promising connection.

First is to recognize that your past is your past. Sometimes, people are just really bad matches for you at any given time. It takes two fundamentally functional people to make any kind of relationship work, and you just might not be in a mental place currently to make another long-term relationship work. And that is okay. Clearly, it didn’t work out between you and your long-term ex for very good reasons. Forgive yourself for the place you’re in. It is okay to experience pain and grief after a devastating end of a long-term relationship. It sounds like you’ve been on a path to recovery for the past year, and have been doing some underneath work already. You just haven’t really recognized the amount of work you’ve been putting in to be just okay again. So keep doing what you’ve been doing to acknowledge that you don’t have to be perfect after a difficult relationship, even after an entire year. That recovery alone could take years, decades, or even lifetime. That doesn’t mean that you are undeserving of love. You just have to accept that that is going to be a baggage you’re going to have to carry in your life going forward.

Second is to give yourself a break. That paranoia and anxiety you feel two months into your relationships is your internal voice asking you if this particular relationship has the legs to survive another four years. Why do you even have to answer that question? Two months is far too short to know if you can even survive the next four months, much less four years. Instead of fixating on whether or not long-term relationship is viable with this person, why not go into these engagements without any of that kind of restrictions and experience them for the experience’s sake? You’re 23. You’re young and attractive. You are going to command attention from twentysomething men who see that charm and glow about you. So breathe through that anxiety you feel, and repeat to yourself that you don’t have to have it all figured out in two months. Sometimes, even two years is not enough.

The last counterspell I have for you is to accept that relationships end for whatever reasons, valid or invalid. The character flaws you saw, the scabs that you picked at, they’re all reasonable. The time you invest into your relationships is not going to always yield a reward. Sometimes, it is just a journey.

I’ll tell you that I’ve been in a handful of really toxic relationships in the past. Some that chipped away a year of my sanity and mental well-being. I’ve always tried my best to make those relationships work, but they failed anyway for all perfectly valid and invalid reasons. And I’ve accrued my own set of baggage along the way. For example, I cannot date someone who loves horses anymore. But I’ve enjoyed my relationship with my equestrian ex for the intense experience we were able to have together. In the same way, I hope you can evaluate your relationships not just on the beginning and end points of those connections but the overall trajectory and the good memories you were able to build with them instead. Sometimes, a relationship is just a journey.

Photo by Soloman Soh on Pexels.com

I am really excited about your journey. You’ve got such a long and enjoyable path to happiness ahead of you. One month is far too short for you to know if this [24M] is going to be the long term fit for you. Part of the fun in modern dating is to figure all of that compatibility out along the way, you know? So enjoy each of the steps along the way.

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 teatimetomato@gmail.com. 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!