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Q: Am I setting myself up for an emotional disaster?

Dear KitschMix,

After years of strictly monogamous relationship, my partner passed away. Our relationship had many ups and downs, but we were always in love. After getting tired of being alone, I decided to get back into the dating scene, though not really knowing what I wanted. I’m past the “making a family” stage, so I was torn between just wanting a girlfriend(s) and wanting, once again, that feeling of having a close relationship with one woman.

Eventually, I met a wonderful, free-spirited woman. But her past lifestyle experience is vastly different from mine. She left an abusive husband five years ago and began a polyamorous lifestyle with “friends.” We’ve dated steadily since our first meeting three months ago. In that time, we’ve fallen in love.

I am not judgmental in any way, nor am I ever jealous. At the same time, in a love affair, I do not share my intimacy, so her lifestyle is in contrast to mine. Simply, if she wishes other people to be intimate with her, I cannot be involved with her. I made my feelings clear, and after a few days she committed herself to our monogamous relationship. Since then, the relationship has intensified wonderfully.

She still remains in contact with some of her “friends,” and occasionally goes to lunch or dinner with them – but only as a friend and not a lover (as far as I know). She has not lied to me (as far as I know) and has always been forthright and upfront in advance about her meet-ups (as far as I know). She has done nothing (as far as I know) to cause me to feel doubt about her actions. In the back of my mind, however, I have not been able to relieve my concern about the situation. I have not had to change my lifestyle for this relationship, whereas she has. And in conversation about this, she freely admits that this is a vast change for her.

I do not want to be controlling or overbearing and demand. I have no doubts about her feelings about me. I am about to bring her deeper into my life (financially and emotionally) but I could not stand for her to fall back into her past lifestyle, even briefly, as I would end the relationship over it. Am I setting myself up for an emotional disaster? Is there some way I can assure myself about our relationship?

I have a few words for you that will most likely not be easy to swallow:

Those who identify as strictly monogamous are often unable to be involved with someone who identifies as polyamorous. Likewise, those who are polyamorous are often unable to make the transition to monogamy without at least an occasional “slip-up”.

I don’t want to tell you that she’s definitely sleeping with her friends, because that’s not necessarily the case. As she has been monogamous in the past, she can make the change, but it will be hard, and I would recommend that you do anticipate a slip-up. Of course, I hope it never happens – but you will need to know that the temptation may be there.

I have been involved in open relationships before, and they weren’t really my thing. Personally, I could never be romantically involved with someone in a non-exclusive relationship, but I have “shared” before – just making sure to keep my emotions in check. You can feel for someone without allowing yourself to get attached, but it’s definitely a learning process and it won’t come easy.

For your particular situation, the fact that she tells you things ahead of time is reassuring. Inwardly, she is acknowledging that it is a point of temptation for her, and she is also acknowledging that your opinion matters to her. From your description, I would say she is giving this current relationship her full effort.

My advice to you is that you do not move forward with the relationship until you are absolutely confident that she will not regress to her “old ways”. Of course, there’s not really such thing as certainty, especially as it pertains to other people. But if there’s a question in your mind, you’re not ready to take that step yet – and I would venture that she might not be, either.

Sadly, there’s not really any set-in-stone way to be sure. It’s always going to be a risk, on both ends – but the fact that she tells you ahead of time tells me that she wants to know that you’re ok with it. I hope that she is being completely honest with you. If I had to guess based on this limited information, I’d guess that she is.

I completely understand why you are hesitant to discuss this with her, but for the sake of your sanity as well as your relationship, you must. It’s going to be awkward, and it might even be painful. But it’s necessary, especially if you are considering a deeper commitment. If you’re hinting at the type of commitment it sounds like, there’s no reason to ruin the surprise – but you can discuss your feelings and your fears without coming across as controlling.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you discuss this with her:

  • Let her know that you appreciate her monogamy and honesty.
  • Tell her you understand how big of a change it is for her.
  • Thank her for keeping you informed on the situation with her “friends”.
  • Ask her (politely) if she feels tempted to return to her old lifestyle – and if she is, you should tell her that it’s not something wrong with her, but rather an incompatibility between the two of you.
  • If the two of you determine that the temptation is too high to promise anything, you may choose to extend a one-time “hall pass”. This is where you basically give her permission for a last “hurrah”. I know you said that you would end the relationship if it came to that, but if it turns out that it’s just something she needs to get out of her system, it can help to have a predetermined period of time where it wouldn’t count as cheating. This is not like forcing you into an open relationship; think of it as “a break” instead. It can be painful – make no mistake – but it will give her time to decide if her relationship with you is worth giving up the lifestyle she knows.
  • If the thought of a “hall pass” is too much for you to handle, but she is incredibly tempted, you might be best to let each other go. At their essence, polyamory and monogamy are not compatible, and both are lifestyle choices. Since it is a choice, it can be changed – but only with dedication. If she thinks that the draw is too strong, she won’t be able to resist the temptation, and it would be best to say goodbye before you get more attached.

The unfortunate downside of this hypothetical conversation is that it’s nearly impossible to tell if she’s being honest through it – the only thing you can guarantee is that you speak honestly. Pay attention to her body language. You said she has given you no reason to doubt her, so keep that in mind. Your intuition may be your best friend or your worst enemy here.

From my outside perspective, I don’t think you have anything to worry about, but I know it can be hard to decipher these things without knowing for sure. She seems like she is doing her best to be honest and upfront with you, and I think that if she were trying to hide something from you, she wouldn’t give you the little details to work around; she’d be making things up completely. Since she tells you when she is with them and usually before it happens, she is laying herself in the open to you. She is trying – just try to be understanding if she’s not perfect at it.

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