I'm a male high school student who found this column through a Google search, and I need some help. I've been casually seeing this girl in my grade who I'm really into, but the problem is that I think I'm polyamorous. I live in a rural area and I haven't really had anyone to talk about this with, and while I'd love to bring up an open relationship to the girl I like, I'm afraid she's just going to think that I want to cheat on her. How do I have a conversation about this with someone who hasn't really had that much relationship experience to begin with - let alone non-monogamous experience - without it going badly?
This is the second in a new series of advice columns written by professionals in the field of alternative relationships here at “I Am Poly(amorous) & So Can You!” . I hope you enjoy these fresh, intersectional new perspectives on evolving non-monogamous relationships!
Broaching the subject of non-monogamy in a monogamy-focused society is always complicated, and being in a rural area complicates it further. Getting from where you are in your relationship to where you'd like to be requires confronting multiple obstacles. We're going to look at them one at a time, and make a roadmap the two of you can follow.
1) Make sure your partner knows that non-monogamy exists
The first obstacle is a simple one of information, namely, is your partner aware of what non-monogamy is? Traditionally, monogamy is presented as the one and only option for relationships, so presenting an alternative requires even acknowledging that another choice exists. Fortunately, non-monogamy is having a bit of a cultural moment, so opening the discussion is easier than ever. Netflix, in particular, has programs that touch on polyamory in almost every genre, from Sense8 to She's Gotta Have It to Wanderlust, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Find a program that features a relationship that looks like what you would like to have, then sit down with your partner and watch it together. Which brings us to...
2) Find out how your partner feels about non-monogamy as a concept
The concepts of monogamy are central to many aspects of traditional Western society, so many people react with anger or anxiety to learning that some people live and love in non-monogamous ways. You may be tempted to immediately follow whatever show or film the two of you watch together with "so, what do you think about that?" Resist that urge. If you have the discussion right then, you will very likely get a negative reaction as your partner struggles to readjust their worldview to include non-monogamous options. Instead, give them some time to process what they've seen, then bring up what you watched the next time you get together. Ask them if they had ever heard of relationships like that before, and let the conversation flow from there. Avoid asking if your partner would consider a relationship like that, because they will almost certainly have a lot of unanswered questions, so...
3) Do research together
As I mentioned earlier, non-monogamy is finally having its moment, so there are numerous resources (like this column!) to learn more about what non-monogamy is, how people practice it, terminology, and the like. This is the place to address concerns like whether opening a relationship is a license to cheat. You've already done your Google research, so let your partner drive this round. Resist the urge to steer them, and instead be supportive of their journey. At some point, something that they come across will lead to...
4) Finding out how your partner feels about being non-monogamous
The moment of truth: can your partner see themselves in a non-monogamous relationship? You, of course, know the answer that you want them to give, but what matters is the answer they actually give. They may find through their research that the idea resonates with them, they may feel like it would be something to try out for a while, or they may not think that it's right for them. If you don't want things to end badly, the most important thing is to respect their answer. Period. Coercing, guilting, threatening, ultimatums, etc. will only make things much worse in the long run. If your partner says that they can't see themselves in a non-monogamous relationship, then you have decisions to make about what you want to do, but you can only decide for yourself. Your partner's decision is their own. (A note: sometimes, your partner hasn't had enough time to fully wrap their mind around the concept at this point, so don't be surprised if their answer to this question changes multiple times in the early days of opening up. That is another column all to itself!)
In short, dear reader. the best thing you can do is to help facilitate the same journey for your partner that you yourself have gone on. If you aren't pushy, you will be a part of educating the world about non-monogamy, you will earn your partner's trust by respecting their journey and their needs on that journey, and at the end you may find the relationship that you hope to have. The best of luck to you, and thank you for writing!
Nolan Lawless is a Licensed Professional Counselor, sex educator, public speaker, and polyamory advocate. He has presented across the United States and Canada on alternative sexuality and alternative relationship models, both to professional and community audiences. Nolan is owner of Mount Scott Counseling in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he provides clinical services to a diverse range of clients, including many in non-traditional or non-monogamous relationships. His current focus is on increasing the number of polyamory-informed professionals in the Bible Belt, and he coordinates and teaches continuing education workshops for mental health workers about working with non-monogamous clients.