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 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 – Making a relationship feel meaningful without a relationship escalator.

For context, I’m establishing a new V dynamic, with me as the hinge; the points being comprised of my nesting partner and a new partner I’ve been seeing for about 3 months, and really enjoy.

I’m somewhat new to polyamory, and I’ve never started a new relationship, from scratch, in this context. In my previous monogamous life, I would have pushed for exclusivity early on to provide a security blanket of sorts to explore our feelings and get on the old relationship escalator. Obviously, that’s not the course of action I want or am able to take.

So, I’m struggling a little bit to know how to ethically go about things- what questions should I ask, or conversations should be had, to make sure my new partner is well supported, and to set up our new relationship for success? It’s important to note this person I’m seeing does not identity as polyamorous, but hasn’t had any concerns or issues thus far, and seems (on his own accord, without prompting or encouragement from me) very open minded and interested in pursuing things.

Also, without monogamy or the “relationship escalator”, what are some ways you can recognize the relationship/connection is growing? Or in the same vein, are there steps I can take to undo this innate thinking that every good connection absolutely needs to grow? Obviously I’m fighting through some monogamous programming. Thank you in advance!

Helen, Reddit.

Dear Helen,

Before we can talk about how we can deconstruct the relationship escalator, we must first talk about what relationship escalator is and why it exists.

In short, relationship escalator is defined as a set of societal expectations or norms built around intimate relationships – that intimate relationships must follow specific steps in order to be meaningful. Amy Gahran / Aggie Sez does a great job of outlining the specific steps for the relationship escalator in her book Off the Relationship Escalator and her blog. Sometimes, the relationship escalator manifests in the invalidity of a relationship until it passes a certain milestone or threshold. A good example of this type is in explicit exclusivity. As you had noted, exclusivity can provide security since it stabilizes the external aspect of your romantic relationship. Sometimes, the relationship escalator can also manifest in specific thresholds and internalized hierarchies as well. Think of this like an imagined “glass ceiling”, an invisible boundary that which your non-nesting relationship with your new partner cannot cross. Built into that acknowledgement is also an implicit admission that you buy into the substance of the relationship escalator.

There are very good reasons why relationship escalator exists. As we just talked about, the security is nice. But when we are taught from a young age to associate exclusivity to security, the escalator then becomes an internalized manifestation of our societal norms. The escalator also acknowledges explicit steps, which can be used as an inherited structure to measure the health of your relationship compared to the duration of your relationship. Many folks have a pretty good idea of how long you should date before you marry someone, and that is just one example of this structure. And the structure is comfortable, because it doesn’t ask you to ask the really important questions on what makes your relationships meaningful. The structure tells you the each step make it meaningful.

That is all to say, I don’t think the relationship escalator was created in bad faith. It clearly has virtues and values.

The structure itself falls apart when unaccounted factors are added into the equation.

In one specific way, marriage rates have been going down from the Boomers (91%), to Gen Xers (82%) , to Millennials (70%). So it is apparent that society as a whole is getting better at deviating from assigning marriage as the final step of that relationship escalator. But as you’ve discovered, this structure holds even less weight when we bring non-monogamy into the equation.

Since you have been with your partner for three months, you should each have a pretty good idea on how your relationship might look in the next month or so. So this might also be a good time to gauge what the next six months to a year might look like by having an explicit conversation about it with your new partner. Having a proactive conversation about the future of your relationship will accomplish two goals.

First is that you can better align each of your respective values on what you two collectively find meaningful in romantic relationships. Each person has different set of values and looks for different things to validate their relationships. For some, it is through social acceptance by introducing partners to new friends. For others, it could be more about making impactful life decisions such as getting an apartment together or adopting a pet together. But more importantly, having an explicit discussion about the future of your relationship will also allow you two to build toward that future in a more conscious and accountable way. Spoken words have power. And even just speaking out loud what your intentions are and where you feel like this relationship is going can be a powerful way to bring that vision into existence, just by the virtue of saying so.

I also want to touch on something very specific. Poly communities online are not always a great representation of how your poly relationships should look and function like. I often repeat in my column that different people love in different ways. And you don’t necessarily need to step completely away from the concept of relationship escalator to acknowledge that it might have some practical application for your relationship. For example, many polyfolks do cohabitate with their multiple partners. Just because that happens to be an explicit step in the relationship escalator doesn’t mean that when polyfolks also cohabitate with their multiple partners is a bad thing.

I also want to touch on “successful polyamorous relationships.”

Like the relationship escalator structure, successes in a polyamorous relationships can look wildly different from person to person, and from relationship to relationship. One person might classify a handful of comet-type relationships as a success. Others might only consider their relationships a success when they’ve been together for at least ten years. And a third person might only consider it a success when they can have series of fulfilling short-term threesome relationships with their spouse.

When we dig deeper into what defines success and attributes significance in our relationship, we might find that success is not always defined in very explicit or measurable metrics. Instead, it is more often felt than assessed. Part of this is because our logical sides do not always communicate well with our emotional sides. There is only so many different ways we can fragment and compartmentalize our romantic relationships in small segments as a measure of success, which isn’t always going to be validated through your feelings. So as you connect with your monogamous-minded new partner about the benchmarks that might be measured as success markers for your relationship, keep in mind that growth and success looks and feels different for everyone.

We often don’t always know we are in the good parts of our relationship until we are no longer in the good parts of our relationship. So keep that in mind as you progress through this relationship and find creative ways to celebrate the goodness of your relationships in their own unique ways.

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!

Variations of Ethical Non-Monogamy

Hi! Welcome to my new advice column/blog Tea Time with Tomato. I am Tomato and this will be my first entry where I hope to set some groundwork for discussing non-monogamy at large. In this post, I will define what each of the larger classifications of non-monogamy and what distinguishes each subgroups from another. So grab yourself some tea and let’s talk about non-monogamy.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

According to this study from 2016, at least one in five individuals have engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point in there lives. Also four to five percent are currently in consensual non-monogamous relationships according to another study from 2018. With so many people practicing non-monogamy, there are also wildly different forms and options of non-monogamy available.

There are three major subgroups that fall under the larger ethical non-monogamy umbrella.

  • Swinging
  • Open Relationships
  • Polyamory

I’ll start by talking about swinging.

Swinging

“Not that kind of swing…”
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Swinging is largely defined as partnered or non-partnered casual sex encounters. It is often referred to in the context of partner swapping as well as non-partnered folks joining a pre-established couple in a more casual scenario. Swinging can also be defined by low emotional entanglement among its participants. Main assumption in swinging is that it is a purely sexual engagement. Swinging as a culture and lifestyle originated in WWII according to Terry Gould in his book A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers. But the culture didn’t really gain much traction until the 1970s. Movies like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) paved the way for this casual style of non-monogamy to thrive.

Swinging in specific varies between hard & soft swap. Soft swap would encompass making out, mutual masturbation, and sometimes oral sex. Hard swap would include all above in addition to intercourse.

Swinging mostly happens in swing clubs (such as Le Boudoir in London or the Lux in Chicago) where there is a dungeon master who keeps the place under wraps and organized. Most swingers clubs (like some kink clubs) have separate rooms where participants can leave the curtains open for others to watch. In most swinger’s clubs, only single ladies and couples are approved for membership.

One of the major drawbacks to swinging is in that it mostly implies partner swapping. It is also often plagued with heteronormativity and contentious gender dynamics.

Open Relationships

Open relationships are a more generalized version of swinging. They are often accompanied by a strong presence of a long-term committed primary relationship. Similar to swinging, open relationships often have an implicit understanding that the sexual component will be the focus.

One major difference between open relationships and swinging is that while swinging happens in specific environments (i.e. clubs) with the couples specifically seeking to swap partners together, folks in open relationships tend to be more open to meeting others outside of those specific exchange as individual people.

One popular iteration of open relationship structures is monogamish. A term coined by a popular advice columnist Dan Savage, monogamish is loosely described as a committed but sexually nonexclusive long-term relationship. In essence, it is a mostly monogamous relationship with couple exceptions to the rule.

Polyamory

“This is my boyfriend, Derek. And this is Derek’s boyfriend, Ben.” – April Ludgate, Parks & Recreation S02E01, NBC.

Polyamory is defined as a practice of seeking ethical and consensual committed relationship with more than one partner. Polyamory can both be a preferred relationship structure (i.e. I prefer to do polyamorous relationships) and an identity (i.e. I am polyamorous). In a future post, we will do a deep dive into all the wildly different variations of polyamorous relationships and the current trends in modern dating.

Polyamory is different from open relationships and swinging in that the focus of polyamorous relationships is in developing emotional connection rather than a sexual one. For example, I have encountered many lovely asexual folks who all had incredible practices of their own polyamorous relationships that did not include sex in their own relationships.

Polyamory is also different from swinging and open relationship in that participants don’t necessarily have to be partnered. Single folks on their own polyamorous journey would be classified solo poly. In the above captioned image, we get to see a traditional V hinge polyamorous relationship where Derek is the hinge partner between April and Ben, where April and Ben are not romantically involved.

Exclusive? Inclusive.

One of the most fascinating learnings I have personally experienced in my own journey through polyamory is that so many different people love in different ways. Swinging is just as valid as open relationships. Different variations of polyamory are all just as valid as another. In addition, you can absolutely have an open relationship-like approach while being more polyamorous. And you can absolutely attend swingers clubs to swing while you are in a traditional open relationship.

The one certain thing about life is that life is always changing. And relationship structures and preferences can change overnight. Some swingers often have to establish firm boundaries regarding emotional attachment. Some monofolks often discover that they are open to exploring polyamorous relationships after an infidelitous experience. And a lot of folks roll back to exclusive relationships or take pauses after particularly bad swinging or open experiences.