Relationships

I Want To Try Polyamory But My Partner Doesn’t. What Now?

Can I explore these desires without risking my relationship?

LINDSAY HATTRICK/ELITE DAILY; Getty Images; HANNAH ORENSTEIN

Q: I’m currently in a monogamous relationship with my girlfriend. I envision seeing myself marrying this person and having a life with her. However, I’ve recently also been extremely attracted to someone and have asked myself if I really want a monogamous relationship. I think that I’m polyamorous and it doesn’t surprise me. When I had that talk with my girlfriend, she took it really hard. I don’t really know what to do. I really wish to know this other person more, but not at the expense of my relationship… — Tara

A: Hi Tara! You say you’re currently in a monogamous relationship with your girlfriend. I wonder, how did that happen? When you first started dating, did you two choose to be exclusive? Or did you fall into that because it’s the norm, even if it might not have been what you really wanted? It’s OK if it’s the latter. It’s really easy to mimic patterns you’ve had or seen in other relationships. Ethical non-monogamy is definitely more visible now than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean everyone is in the habit of examining what kind of relationship would make them feel the most fulfilled.

(A quick aside: Finding another person attractive while you’re in a monogamous relationship doesn’t mean you’re necessarily poly. Monogamous people in exclusive relationships get crushes, too. If you think you’re likely poly for other reasons, awesome — but one outside attraction on its own might not always mean a ton about your identity.)

I’m also curious about the kind of life you envision having with your girlfriend. In your ideal world, would she be your one and only? Or would she be your nesting partner who’s totally cool with your other paramour? Would you want an open relationship with date nights at swingers’ parties or sex clubs? Are you curious about forming a triad? Anything is possible — that is, if you and your girlfriend are on the same page.

I’m proud of you for being brave enough to initiate a talk about all of this with your girlfriend. It takes courage to share something vulnerable. I’m sorry the conversation didn’t go the way you hoped. It’s a heartbreaking situation.

On the surface, this seems like a choice between sticking with your girlfriend versus pursuing someone new and exploring polyamory. But it’s not quite that simple. Unless this is truly a singular crush you can move on from, if you decide to commit wholeheartedly to your current monogamous relationship, that means shoving your true feelings into a suitcase and locking it away in a dusty attic. You’re not getting rid of those desires. You’re just ignoring them. They’re still there, even if you don’t face them every day.

The thing about unmet desires is that they have a mind of their own. They don’t want to stay hidden away in the dusty attic. They will burst out of the suitcase, bang down the door, and stay firmly put in your house like unwanted guests. If you’re poly, you’re poly. Pretending you’re not doesn’t do you any favors. If you choose to stay with your girlfriend, it could absolutely work out smoothly for a little while. But eventually, I bet those same questions about relationship structures will tumble down the attic stairs again.

Forcing yourself to be someone you’re not also does a disservice to your girlfriend. It’s clear that you care about her deeply. You wouldn’t be thinking about marriage if you didn’t. But in the same way that you deserve to find happiness exploring polyamory, she deserves to be with someone who genuinely wants a monogamous partnership.

I don’t blame you for wanting to hold onto your current relationship. You don’t want to hurt your girlfriend, you do want to preserve the beautiful connection you share, and you can see yourself spending a lifetime with her. These are all understandable impulses! I get why you’re conflicted. But I also think you owe it to yourself to discover who you really are. It’s time to start living the life you really want.

Your girlfriend already knows how you feel about monogamy, which means you won’t be blindsiding her if you choose to have another big conversation on the subject. Here’s what I think you should say: “[Girlfriend’s name], you know that I’m pretty sure I’m poly.” If you want to tell her about everything that led to that realization, you could do that here. “Even though I love you so much, I don’t think a monogamous relationship is going to make me happy in the long run. I’m heartbroken to tell you this, but I want to be honest because I care about you and don’t want to mislead you.”

She might take this conversation as a breakup. It’s also possible that she’ll realize how important this is to you and is more open-minded than she initially thought. She might want to give non-monogamy a try. Maybe you wind up getting to know your crush or maybe you hop on Feeld to meet new people. I can’t predict how this will go and neither can you, but what I can say is that your happiness is important. It’s not something to sweep under the rug.

You’re going to encounter situations like this again and again in life — and I’m not just talking about relationships. Maybe you’re curious about moving to a new city, but you’d hate to move away from your local friends and favorite spots. Or maybe you’re pretty comfortable with your job, but suspect you might be even more satisfied in a different line of work. It can be terrifying to make a leap when you don’t fully know what the other side will look like. But sometimes, risks pay off. Aren’t you curious about what could be waiting for you?

Dating, Decoded appears on Elite Daily every other Tuesday. Have a question for Hannah? Submit it here.