Dating, Decoded
Advice columnist Sarah Ellis helps a reader whose boyfriend wants to have sex with other people

My Boyfriend Wants To Have Sex With Other People. Are We Doomed?

For now he says he wants to be with me... but I’m jealous of the safety my friends have in their relationships.

Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for five years. I keep seeing all my friends get married and start lives together, but he has told me he is unsure about only being with me in the future (aka he doesn’t want me to be the last person he has sex with). We have talked about polyamory, but he is hesitant about me seeing other guys, and I feel like I have to make room for his feelings about seeing other people.

For now he says he wants to be with me, and those feelings about being with other people will exist and will be handled in the future. I’m scared and jealous of the safety my friends have in their relationships. I’m hurt, mad, and also want to understand and do what’s best for him.

How do I make sure I don’t lose myself in this, and choose what I want instead of doing something so the relationship works? — Michelle*

A: Hi, Michelle! I want to give you a hug. This situation sounds so tough, and I completely get why you’re feeling scared about it. It’s admirable that you clearly care about your boyfriend’s feelings enough to want to to support and understand him better.

That said, I also want to make sure he’s caring for your feelings in this situation. Based on the tone of your letter, I don’t get the sense that you feel particularly safe emotionally. You said he wants to be with you “for now” and will handle his feelings “in the future” — but respectfully, he’s putting you in a sh*tty situation by bringing up something this major and kicking the can down the road in regards to dealing with it.

No wonder you’re feeling insecure! He’s thrown a huge, confusing thing into the mix and wants to continue like everything is normal.

What that essentially does (whether he realizes it or not) is put you in a holding state while he figures out what he wants to do about this desire to sleep with other people. No wonder you’re feeling insecure about the future! He’s thrown a huge, confusing thing into the mix and wants to continue the relationship like everything is normal.

I don’t say this to invalidate his hesitations about long-term monogamy. It’s very normal and human to be nervous at the prospect of having sex with just one person for the rest of your life. One of my favorite voices on this topic is the famous psychotherapist Esther Perel, whose book Mating in Captivity is all about the tension between sexual attraction and stable commitment. (TBH, I think this book would be a fascinating read for you and your BF.)

TL;DR: Perel explains how it’s hard to stay excited about f*cking the same person you do the dishes with, go on family holidays with, and wear your unsexiest pair of sweatpants on the couch with for years on end. Your boyfriend is valid for feeling that way! What’s not OK is for him not to consider your (also valid) feelings about this whole sitch.

It sounds like what you’re seeking is a clearer sense of emotional security — basically, not having to wonder whether your BF is going to wake up tomorrow and decide he can’t get past this and needs to end things. I’m proud of you for knowing that it’s not worth sacrificing your needs and well-being to make this relationship work. Whether you decide to open the relationship or not (which, BTW, should be a choice both of you feel good about), you need to be a solid unit first and foremost. It’s clear there’s a lot of emotional work to be done before you can get there.

The best advice I can give you right now is to have a lot more discussions with him about this. Even though he may want to revisit the topic later, the truth is that it *is* impacting your relationship currently. If couples therapy is an option, this feels like a perfect opportunity to try that out — and if either of you is in individual therapy, I’d recommend talking this through in that setting as well.

Most importantly, continue to listen to your intuition and trust that feeling in your gut. I can’t stress enough how essential this is. You are your own best advocate in this life, and you are the only one who truly knows, deep down, whether this situation is serving you.

Don’t push down that little voice to placate anyone else, even a partner you love very much. You deserve a safe love, no matter what it takes to get there.

*Name has been changed.

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