Help! I think my boyfriend's husband is ghosting me!

Hi Andre! I'll try to keep this as short as possible! I've been in open relationships for a while but am new to poly. I am a gay man, have a husband, and two unconnected boyfriends. With one of the boyfriends, it started as me dating both he and his husband, but over time the husband has become less sexually interested in me; when I asked what was going on, his response was that "nothing is wrong." They have another boy that they are both dating, and I'm finding myself becoming resentful. Feeling slightly replaced by the new throuple, but mostly upset that the non-relationship between me and the husband is impacting my relationship with his other half, i.e. if the 4 of us are out together, I sometimes feel excluded and/or awkward having to be completely not-intimate with the husband. I don't know how to move forward and get to a place where I am not jealous or, frankly, how I can interact with his husband without it being forced/awkward. I would love to hear your thoughts!

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I recently connected with one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met in my life. I walked away from our time together thinking how hard I’d fall for her if only my relationship configuration could fit yet another glorious being into it. At the same time, I marveled at my own heart’s capacity. Here I was actively in love with three humans - and maintaining a strong, loving, remote connection with a fourth - and yet I could so easily see myself expanding to include this woman. Chuckling to myself, I wondered aloud, “When does it stop? Where IS my heart’s limit?”

You remind me of me, dear reader. You have a husband and two boyfriends, one of whom’s husbands you're also involved with. You’re swimming in love’s excess, and that isn’t to say you should feel ashamed of yourself by any means. However, before I dive into my advice, I want you to sit with that for a minute. Your life is obviously so full and vibrant, and often when we have as many partnerships as you and I do, we’re running around from person to person and place to place so much that we forget to pause and be grateful. Soak up the gratitude for this family you’ve created. Feels awesome, doesn’t it? Alright, let’s get rolling!

For ease’s sake, I’m going to give my own names to each party: your husband is Bill, the boyfriend in question is Alex, and HIS husband’s name is Charlie.

It sounds as though you’ve been “ghosted” by Charlie, which is its own problem in and of itself. The practice of ghosting - ie the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date - is, frankly, insulting and disrespectful. The only allowances I make for it are if:

  • You’re under the age of 21, and/or
  • The person doing the ghosting is leaving an abusive relationship, and feeling as though the abrupt cessation is the only way they can escape their abuser’s manipulation.

    Assuming neither of those are applicable in your case, it sounds like Charlie is at least ghosting you sexually, if not in a more holistic way. Ghosting sucks the most because it feels as though you're going through a break-up that only one of you signed off on. The silver lining? Even if things don't end up working out with Charlie, this will prove to have been the most difficult transition period. Everything will feel "easier" moving forward.

    Another silver lining? All of this could just be poorly-communicated New Relationship Energy (NRE) that Charlie is experiencing, perhaps for the very first time. A smart and succinct description of NRE can be found here. As the author states, the greatest test of many relationships is the transition OUT of the NRE phase. If you and Charlie can work through this period, it will forge an even stronger and more stable connection between the two of you.

If I were you, I would give Alex a heads-up that you’re having a very challenging time sharing space with Charlie at the moment because of his lack of communication around this issue. Let him know that you’ll be initiating a conversation with Charlie to hash it out, and in the meantime, you’d appreciate it if he - Alex - wouldn’t bring up the new boy that they’re now dating when around you as it’s painful for you to hear about, particularly while there is still a lack of transparency around your and Charlie’s situation. Also, if you haven’t filled your husband in on all of this already, now would be an excellent time to do so.

Then, initiate the conversation with Charlie. Make sure it’s more than a coffee date, and that you reserve a good 2-3 hours in a private setting. Tell him what you told me - how difficult this has been for you, how you were owed a more detailed, honest, and empathetic conversation with him prior to this stage you're now in. Remind him how much you care for him, are sexually attracted to him, and how much you love seeing him happy. Do your research on NRE and introduce the term to him; see if it resonates, then work together to come to an agreement around a few different ways that he can still be over the moon for his new boy while also acknowledging, reassuring and giving attention to YOU. It’d also be a good idea to make a date with your husband and/or your OTHER boyfriend for immediately after the conversation, just in case it goes south and leaves you feeling vulnerable and in need of secure, stable, loving support.

Best of luck to you. And remember: GRATITUDE.

Get Your Tickets NOW for the FIRST EVER "I Am Poly...LIVE!" Event!

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Guys, I am SO FUCKING EXCITED! This is my first LIVE event, and I'm bringing two other local experts on stage alongside myself to answer YOUR NON-MONOGAMY QUESTIONS in real time!

Doors at 7:30p / Panel starts at 8:00p
Tickets: $30/person or $50 per couple
ADVANCE TICKETING ONLY! There are a limited number of seats at this venue, so get yours' STAT!
Ticketing Link: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3111858
Accessibility Tickets: Please email Andre personally for information on discounted tickets at ms.andre.shakti@gmail.com. This event IS wheelchair accessible!
A limited supply of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages will be served at no cost for attendees. Attendees are also welcome to BYOB. Please drink responsibly! We reserve the right to remove anyone from the event who we feel has imbibed to an unsafe level. This event is 21+.

......

Meet the Panelists!

Andre Shakti

Andre Shakti is a journalist, educator, performer, activist, and professional slut living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their clients, and not taking herself too seriously. Andre wrestles mediocre white men into submission and writes about sex work, queerness and non-monogamy for Cosmopolitan, Rewire, Kinkly, Thrillist, MEL, Vice, Autostraddle, and more. Andre is the reigning “polyamory pundit” at her non-monogamy advice column, “I Am Poly & So Can You!”, which you can visit — and submit questions to! — via IAmPoly.net. Visit her on Twitter @andreshakti, on FB as Andre Shakti, and as a pleasure professional on the new inclusive educational platform O.School.

Andre graduated cum laude from Towson University in Maryland with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology and LGBT Studies in 2010. She worked in HIV risk assessment, harm reduction education, and community activism in Baltimore from 2008-2011, studied at San Francisco State University’s National Sexuality Resource Center (NSRC) in 2010, and graduated from San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI)’s Sex Educator Training in Fall 2013. She’s held educator and sales associate positions at sex-positive adult boutiques Sugar (Baltimore, MD) and Feelmore510 (Oakland, CA), and is one of the founding crew members of Atlanta’s Sex Down South Conference in Atlanta, GA. Andre has taught classes, moderated panels, and filmed instructional clips for Dark Odyssey, Catalyst Con, Sugar, The Garden, PassionateU, Kink Academy, Feelmore510, Towson University, Kink University, University of Maryland, UC Berkeley, She Bop, The Feminist Porn Conference, International Ms Leather, Sex Down South, Harvard University, California College of the Arts, and many more.

Dr. Liz Powell

Dr. Liz believes that great sex can change the world. She is on a mission to help you have more meaningful, pleasurable relationships in life and work, as well as the bedroom. She’s a coach and licensed psychologist (CA 27871) helping couples and singles develop self-confidence and authenticity in their relationships, whether conventional or non-traditional. Dr. Liz has made multiple media appearances, including as a co-host as on the Life on the Swingset podcast and on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio show Ideas. As a sex educator, Dr. Liz has spoken on many stages internationally including the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists Annual Conference, CatalystCon, and the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit. Dr Liz believes that being confident in who you are is the gateway to great relationships and great sex - and great sex, according to Dr. Liz, can change the world. Learn more about Dr. Liz at sexpositivepsych.com.

Jasper Stone

Jasper is a San Francisco native. Long since fascinated with nuisances of sexuality, he joined the adult industry when he was 19. From there his interest in exploring the depth of the human sexual experience expanded, leading to him founding the Mango Dome, a venue for sex-positive education, in 2014. In 2016 he became a part of the leadership team for the Organ House, a series of play parties designed to spread enthusiastic consent culture. He also recently joined the leadership team of the OrgyDome at Burning Man, the world’s largest play party. As an openly bisexual man - and a sex worker! - he has devoted much of his focus to the empowerment and normalization of non-monogamy and traditionally alternative sexuality.

theorganhouse.org www.andthentheresonlylove.com themangodome.com https://twitter.com/jasperxxxstone

Help! I fell in love with someone whose partner isn't cut out for polyamory!

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I fell in love with someone whose partner doesn't seem cut out for polyamory. The partner has been very much up for an open relationship, but now that he's encountered his own jealousy he forbids his partner (my lover) to let feelings enter the equation. He also doesn't talk about his problems with his partner or anyone else. We're in love but this guy is his life partner and neither of us wants to upset him. How can I get along with my metamour?

Oh friend, dear one, I’m not going to have good news for you. Brace yourself? Trigger warning? Whatever modern social construct of “beware” you choose to subscribe to. Here are some solid poly “rules of thumb” specific to your situation:

When in a “V” formation, the pre-existing couple needs to be prioritized. Right now, your lover is at the bottom of the “V”; you and his life partner are the two “tips”, and, in short, the relationship between him and his life partner needs to be 100% solid before he enters into another physical and/or emotional relationship with a third party. There’s the “he was there first” camp,  but in my opinion, your relationship with your lover doesn’t stand a chance at success or sustainability until he can get on grounded footing with his pre existing partner.

When in ANY poly configuration with more than two folks, it’s a good idea to move as slowly as the person who is having the most difficulty adjusting...within reason. Otherwise, said person runs the risk of feeling rushed, backed into a corner, and/or like their feelings are no longer a priority. That being said, it’s a good idea to initiate a “family meeting” early on to determine exactly how long this purgatory-adjustment period is going to last. You don’t want to put the ball entirely into one person’s court, and then find yourselves still stuck in the same predicament ten months down the road. Schedule check-ins either every two weeks or once a month, and try to reach a mutually-consenting agreement to allow for a bit of relationship progress/evolution after each check-in - while still letting the struggling person largely lead the discussion. It can be a slow process, but the payoff is in the unparalleled trust and connectivity that will be built throughout; again, lending to the success and sustainability of your relationship with your lover.

Whether or not you and your lover end up together, he needs to learn from this. It’s never a good idea to enter into non-monogamy when one half of the OG monogamous equation is hesitant, reluctant, in a period of destabilization, etc. Now, it is possible that your lover’s boyfriend THOUGHT he could handle non-monogamy, and “sold” his viewpoints to your lover as such before doing a complete 180 after experiencing jealousy for the first time. Possible, but not likely. A more likely scenario is that your lover was privy to “warning signs” from his partner that he chose to ignore because you were so shiny and new and attractive to him, and he just decided to “hope for the best”. Alos, poly isn’t just something that you hold your breath and plunge into. When done ethically and intentionally, it involves a massive amount of conversation, negotiation, education (books, lectures, podcasts), and exposure to non-monog communities (hanging out with non-monog friends, finding discussion groups, going to non-sexual meet-ups), all BEFORE taking on additional partners. It’s a lot of labor! If your lover and his partner didn’t initiate and follow through with that labor prior to your introduction, then it’s no wonder the partner is backpedaling!

“Feelings” rules never fucking work and I hate them and they should die. Sorry, I’m beginning to unravel a bit in the wee hours of the morning - bear with me! I’m fully aware that some people are going to disagree with me on this, and that’s perfectly fine. This column is a literal platform for my opinion, after all. With that, it’s my opinion that while physical intimacy can be finite, emotional intimacy can not. Emotions are unpredictable, and are almost impossible to stymie when you’re constantly connecting physically. That’s just the way in which most hearts and minds work. To allow your partner a physical connection with someone while forbidding them from developing an emotional connection is to literally set everyone involved up for failure. It’s an unreasonable expectation, plain and simple, and your lover should have never agreed to it in the first place, PARTICULARLY in the earliest stages of “trying on” non-monogamy.

So, reader, in conclusion: Show this column to your lover, then take a step back and allow your lover the space and time to reassure and re-prioritize his partner (this includes digital space and time in addition to the physical). If I were them, I’d rewind back to before you came into the picture. I’d find a non-monogamy-savvy therapist and schedule 3-6 sessions to help them reconnect and to facilitate honest and open communication between them. I’d also initiate the “education” and “exposure” components of familiarizing themselves with polyamory community and practices. After a few months of this, if things are genuinely going well, your lover can reopen the lines of communication between you two, and you can start building a happier, healthier relationship. Best of luck!

Is it possible for me to establish a relationship with a sex worker that's part customer, part friend/lover?

I do my best to be a SWer ally. I know and love several SWer friends, regularly holding space. I often volunteer at ________. I'm also very lonely and very horny. I love women. I'm lucky if I make love twice a year, and I only lost my virginity at ___ a couple years ago. I've never been good at talking to people but I've gotten much better in the last few years.

Hiring a SWer for me seems like the only way out...but I feel like I'm betraying the trust of those SWer friends at ____which I do not want to do. They all talk about how much they detest most of their customers. What is wrong with me? Can I be an ally and a customer? Can I be more? Is there some point between customer and friend/lover?*

*Some information above has been redacted in order to protect the identity of the author.

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I hate to tell you, reader, but if you’re inserting yourself in a community predominantly for selfish intentions - such as hoping to land a partner within that community - then you cannot rightfully call yourself an ally.

This is a situation that sex workers offering direct-client services face all too often: Bad boundaries and unrealistic expectations. A lonely client may be initially attracted to a provider’s advertisement based on looks and/or offered services, but although the relationship begins with both parties consenting to the transactional nature of it, it soon becomes clear that the client is looking for something “more”. This is often exhibited by increased communication breaking the sex worker’s previously-stated protocols (blowing up the worker via texts, emails, social media friend requests, phone calls, etc), and can unfortunately escalate severely. I know sex workers who have been stalked, outed/doxxed, threatened, etc. by clients after turning down their romantic advances.

Why do men do this? Ego fragility, for one thing. But also because they know, deep down, that society doesn’t hold sex workers in the same regard as it does non-sex workers. That we’re frequently seen as shameful and disposable. They know that they’re unlikely to face any threat of law enforcement, and that empowers them.

This is all to say: Do us a favor, and if you hire us, please ensure that you have a firm grasp on reality and already see your sex worker as a business professional, not as a date. We sell fantasies, and we’re damn good at it. But never allow yourself to forget that fantasies can be - and often are - substantially different from reality. Do you think your sex worker is REALLY flirting with you? Was it that wink she gave, that seemingly-authentic moan that escaped her lips, or how nice it was of her to offer to help you pick out sex toys? Mark my words: That’s. Her. Job.

To address your second concern - that if you hire a sex worker, your sex worker friends and comrades at the organization you volunteer at won’t like or respect you anymore, and/or you have a fear that because of all of the dirt your friends dish about THEIR clients, that means YOUR sex worker will be “faking" her behavior towards you - well, it’s a little more complicated.

I’m going to say something potentially controversial here: I don’t have much respect for sex workers who shit all over their clients (figuratively, that is!), UNLESS they’re “survival” sex workers.

What makes a survival sex worker? That’s typically a person who feels pressured into the work they do to some extent, usually because they don’t feel like they have any other options. Survival sex workers are disproportionately PoC and transgender because our society still stigmatizes them and puts challenges and barriers in front of them to ensure that they don’t obtain “lawful employment”. They’re usually street workers, folks who can’t afford beautiful online advertisements or luxurious incall spacious. If these workers need to talk smack on their clients as catharsis - something to ensure they can make it through each day - I’m all for it.

However, I get hella pissy when I hear non-survival sex workers shitting on a client who hasn’t actually done anything wrong to them (i.e. stiffing them money, no-showing, pushing boundaries, assaulting them, etc).

To steal Donald Glover’s character’s words in Magic Mike XXL (oh yeah, I went there): “...These girls have to deal with men in their lives everyday who...they don’t listen to them, they don’t ask them what they want. They don’t even ask them what they want. All we have to do is ask them what they want. And when they tell you, it’s a beautiful thing, man. It’s like...we’re like healers or something.”

Dishing about clients with other sex workers can feel cathartic to any of us, especially if we don’t have non-SWer friends/family/partners that we can disclose work information and experiences to. However, there’s a difference between “dishing” and ripping them apart. I’ve heard sex workers complain about how “fat” or “ugly” their clients were, how “disgusting” their fetishes are, how “pathetic” they come off as. I’ve watched sex workers imitate their clients in buffoonish ways, or disclose - gleefully - how they manipulated a lovely client out of more money than they could afford. I do consider myself a healer, I love my work, and I feel protective of my clients. I can’t empathize with workers who don’t. But sadly, not everyone is like me, and it’s impossible to know “who” your hired fantasy really is in their off-the-clock hours. But trust me - I know WAY more SWers who feel as I do about the work, and way LESS who feel negatively. Hire us. Please hire us! We’re generally really fucking awesome, and no matter what society tells you, there’s no shame in hiring a sex worker. If you want to email me privately with details of what you’re looking for, I may even be able to play matchmaker!

So. Can you be an ally and a customer? Abso-fucking-lutely. Those are the best kind of clients! Many of my clients routinely read my writing, follow my educational endeavors, and champion my activism, and I love them for it.

Can you be “more”? i.e. Something “in between” a customer and lover? Absolutely not. And I recommend that until you’ve fully accepted that fact, you not only abstain from hiring a sex worker, but abstain from volunteering at that organization. Trust me - sex workers can sniff out ulterior motives a mile away, and it might be the only act you can take to preserve some of the friendships you’ve made there.

How does one go traveling with multiple partners while keeping the trip enjoyable for everyone?

Hey there! I have a primary and a secondary partner who I love very dearly. I see them actively multiple times a week, and I live with my primary full time. My birthday is coming up soon, and I would love to plan a weekend trip that involves all of us going somewhere. We have regular family dinners and coffee dates, so we're used to hanging out together in the same space. So my question is: How does one go traveling with multiple partners while keeping the trip enjoyable for everyone?

Thanks,

Many Loves in Minneapolis

1. Discuss your individual travel styles ASAP. In my personal life I’m rarely alone, so part of what I typically enjoy about traveling are the opportunities for solace and isolation. I also have a much lower tolerance for organizational errors - like a hotel accidentally giving me the wrong room - than I do for food-related errors, like a server accidentally delivering undercooked meat. I need at least seven hours of sleep a night to function, and I don’t do well around large, condensed groups of people, like you’d find at a festival or concert. It’s really important for my partners to have all this information about me, and I encourage them to tell me everything and anything they can think of around how they like to travel.

2. Delegate, delegate, delegate. You want to simultaneously make sure that everyone’s wants and needs are being addressed while also tasking each individual with responsibilities based on their strengths. Trust me; as a Type A personality, I often try to take care of ALL of the logistics of an impending trip myself. As a woman, I also can fall into the role of “emotional baggage handler” all too easily, and to my detriment. To avoid any one individual feeling stretched thin, burned out, or underappreciated, task task task! Is one person fluent in the language of the foreign country you’re visiting? Make them the translator. Does one individual have a better sense of orientation? Make them in charge of maps and directions. Is one person in the group a definitively better driver? Put them in charge of booking and piloting any rental vehicles. That way everyone feels important, as well as confident in their ability to carry out their task(s).

3. Make extensive emergency contingency plans specific to the location(s) you’re visiting. First, make a comprehensive list of everyone’s allergies, illnesses, medications, chronic pain needs, etc. Then map where the closest hospitals, police stations, pharmacies, veterinary clinics, and/or embassies are to wherever you will all be staying. Finally, talk out plans for specific hypothetical occurrences. What do you all do if someone gets food poisoning? If the dog runs away? If someone loses their passport? The more prepared you all feel as a unified group for potential crisis, the more confident and relaxed you’ll be.

4. Let the budget of the lowest-income partner be your guide. More likely than not, the folks in your polycule have differing incomes, and budgeting a trip with people from different socioeconomic classes can be a challenge. One partner may be feeling financially secure and is suggesting you stay in a five star hotel, while another may have just lost their job and is feeling like they can’t contribute; you want to make your experiences feel as accessible and non-judgmental as possible. Finally, create a daily budget for the group.  The daily budget should cover food, lodgings, travel, and group excursions; it should NOT cover optional expenses such as any souvenirs one or more people want to purchase. Even if you go a little over the daily budget sometimes, having a set spending amount as a goal will significantly increase the chances that you don’t spend more than you were planning to.

5. Negotiate sleeping arrangements BEFORE booking your lodgings. Who is sharing whose bed? Is anyone an insomniac? How will you re-negotiate shared space if two or more folks want to be intimate with each other? Also, make sure to agree on protocol should one person in the unit have an intense day and desire company when none is scheduled. For example, if Beth was supposed to sleep with Charles tonight, but Travis just received word that his grandmother died and could use some bed company, is that a “legitimate” reason for the sleeping order to be rearranged?

6. If possible, “test drive” your travel ahead of time. Are you gearing up for a big cross-country roadtrip with your whole polycule next month? If you all aren’t already accustomed to traveling with one another, plan a short weekend getaway for all of you PRIOR to the bigger trip. That way you can work out the kinks in a low pressure environment where the end is easily in sight. Christmas with the family? Not an ideal first trip away. Neither is a destination wedding where you’re all invited or an extensive international backpacking adventure. Try two or three nights at a bed and breakfast, rent an AirBnB by the beach, or jump on a flight to Vegas and try your hands at the slots together!

7. Try and pack comparably. As a unit, you want to try and proactively eliminate any opportunity for resentment to flourish. For example, if three folks in your flight party have restricted themselves to carry-on luggage only, and you all are forced to spend an extra hour at the airport after you’ve landed to accommodate the retrieval of your fourth person’s checked baggage, there may be some hostility around perceived “wasted time”.

8. Get on the same page about how you'll be introducing yourselves to new people. Depending on where you're traveling to, some destinations are more accepting of non-monogamous configurations than others. If you unanimously decide on a "cover story", make sure you each have it down pat!

9. If you haven’t already, cultivate the ability to compromise. Traveling with one other person means that you’ll each be making a few sacrifices to ensure the other’s happiness, so adding MORE folks to the equation means even more sacrifice. Go into the trip in question knowing that you’ll be trying new things - some of which you hadn’t planned on trying - and accept the fact that you will sometimes be uncomfortable for the benefit of others. Staunch stances, rigid routines, and superficial preferences disguised as “needs” can all become problematic.  

10. Take care of your bodies while you travel. This tip isn’t necessarily poly-specific, but it’s still important. Often when we’re going on vacation, we give ourselves permission to “go crazy!”, and that can extend to how we treat our bodies, and THAT can extend to how we treat those around us. For example, if I generally eat healthily, drink a lot of water, and exercise 3-4 times per week, and then I leave for a two-week trip where I’m eating copious amounts of junk food, going to bed drunk every night, and barely moving my body, I’m probably going to feel like shit after a while. And if I feel like shit, I’ll be less inclined to enjoy myself, be interested in my surroundings, or be pleasant company for my partners. My recommendation? Allow yourself some small “cheats”, but don’t pull a complete 180 on your routine.

11. Make sure every person in your travel unit schedules themselves regular alone time. No matter how much you care for one another, or how copacetic you are as travel companions, you WILL need time away from one another. Think about how you most like to spend time alone - listening to podcasts, exercising, reading, exploring a new place solo, etc - and know that you don’t need anyone’s permission but your own to take a mental health break.

12. Make a list of “controversial” topics that are off limits for the duration of the trip. Identify recurring arguments in your polycule and commit to setting them to the side temporarily. For instance, if Mike is a heavy snorer, and his snoring is famously obnoxious and disruptive in your polycule, AND you know that being privy to Mike’s snoring during your trip is unavoidable, you may want to set a boundary where discussion of said snoring is off limits for the duration of the trip. Set yourselves up for success.

13. Take ALL THE PICTURES. Seriously. I say this as someone who hates taking photos, and therefore has made many amazing memories that sadly have gone undocumented. I’m sure I’ll regret saying this, but selfie sticks are kind of amazing. Whether one person in the group wants to take charge of the photography, or whether you switch back and forth depending on the day or excursion, photos are the simplest way to secure heartfelt, financially-accessible souvenirs from your trip. That being said, moderation is key, so you’ll also want to....

14...Have a code/safe word within the group that means “disconnect from your device, STAT!”. We’ve all traveled with the person who is WAY more wrapped up in how their trip LOOKS - to their Facebook friends, Instagram followers, etc - than how it FEELS. It can be frustrating to find yourself wanting to engage and/or connect with your travel partners only to have to physically tear their phone out of their hands to do so. Now, the next time your girlfriend pulls her tablet out at the Argentinian restaurant you’ve all been dying to try, all you have to say is, “Sheep testicle!”, and away goes the device!

15. Don’t forget that you love one another. Go out on dates while traveling, reestablish connection with nonverbal affection like hand-holding, shoulder-rubbing, and cuddling, and for the love of everything holy, don’t forget to FUCK!

How responsible am I for my ex's healing process when we're cohabitating?

My bi male/gay male/bi fem (I'm the fem) triad of two years (the works: cohabitation/king bed/meeting ALL the parents) just ended amicably. I'm still living with my ex who is a gay male. We're not continuing intimacy together but we support each other a lot. He is way more upset about the breakup than I and I'm having trouble with how swiftly I want to move on. How do I take steps to start dating again when he's still miserable? There's never been a road map for our relationship, but right now I'm feeling so lost...

First of all, reader, my condolences for the end of your triad, and congratulations on navigating the transition with some semblance of grace, compassion, and mutual respect. Transitioning out of a relationship with a single individual is hard enough, but transitioning out of a multi-person poly configuration is, well, akin to splitting up a family. My heart goes out to you and yours’.

I feel like I need more information about how your triad worked - the dynamics within it - before I give you my best ruling. Were you all single when you decided to date, or did one individual join a preexisting couple? How much experience with open relationships did you all have before getting together? Who initiated the break-up, and what were the circumstances? etc.

That being said, the three pieces of advice that I feel confident giving are as follows:

1. *This first point is based on an assumption I made with the information at hand. Move past it if it doesn't apply.* Keep in mind that connections between folks who were assigned the same gender at birth are often more emotionally intense than folks who were assigned different genders at birth, which in turn can make the ending of those relationships more challenging. There are multiple camps of thought on why this is the case, but in my opinion it’s because we have so many shared experiences built in from the get-go. When you date someone who already has a context for so much of your life...it forges a bond that can feel more complex and powerful in a way that is difficult to articulate. I’m not quite sure how much of your gay male ex’s sorrow is over the loss of the bi male partner versus how much of it is over the loss of the triad as a whole - and it doesn’t sound like conjuring up empathy for your ex is the problem - but this may put his grief in perspective. Also, perhaps past experience is partly to blame. If you and/or your bi male ex have more experience with non-monogamy than your gay male ex, it would make sense as to why he's taking the separation harder than you.

2. Consider ending cohabitation with the gay male ex, even if it’s just temporary. If I were you - and if it’s financially accessible to you - I’d sublet my room out for a few months and live elsewhere to give both you and your ex some breathing room and time to heal. It certainly doesn’t mean that you have to stop seeing one another or supporting one another once you’re no longer sharing a space, but it will release you from much of your sense of obligation for his healing process, and will work to ensure that you’re able to remain in each other’s lives in a healthy and meaningful way in the future.

3. “There is nothing wrong with me for moving on.” Have that sentence looping in your mind on the regular. Your lingering guilt about moving on while your ex continues to grieve is a direct result of your socialization as a fem. I give a lot of lip service to feminine emotional labor, but only because we as fems need to - and deserve to - be reminded, frequently. Folks of feminine experience are trained both subtly and overtly to elevate, nurture, care for, and serve the whims of masculine folks so that they may never be uncomfortable and never feel unappreciated whilst reaching their full potential. Meanwhile, all of our needs get de-prioritized. These socialization strategies are being triggered by your witnessing of your ex’s pain. You may care about your ex deeply, but you are no longer responsible for him or his emotions - truthfully, you never were! - and right now the guilt you are experiencing is stifling your own healing process. Your ex needs to seek out other sources of support that aren’t you if he hasn’t already; friends, family, other past exes, etc. He needs to distract himself, either with work, hobbies, travel, a passion project, Tinder, etc. Perhaps he needs to find a professional, sex positive, poly-savvy therapist. It doesn’t sound like he is consciously trying to manipulate you or place a monopoly on your time or attention, but that’s what he’s doing, and you need to free yourself before you get stuck.

As a woman in a polyamorous marriage, how do I flirt with women while wearing my wedding ring?

"I have recently gotten to know myself well enough to accept that I am a bi woman. At the same time, my husband and I decided to try polyamory. What recommendations do you have for flirting with women (something I've never intentionally done before) while wearing a wedding ring?"

I've been taking my ho prowess all around the country this month! First to the annual Naughty in Nawlins swingers' convention in NOLA, and now to Portland, OR, where I'm shooting content for Yanks.com, stripping it all off at Devil's Point, and teaching people how to do the sex at She Bop. In fact, this week's question comes from one of my awesome She Bop workshop attendees!*

*Note: I specifically requested that said attendee submit this query to my column. I didn't feel qualified to answer it on the spot, as I've never been married, so I opened the question up to my beloved community of polyamory experts. I've combined the best of the [paraphrased] responses with my own observations and opinions. A major "thank you" to everyone who contributed their labor!

In my flirtation classes and coaching, I often speak to something I call "leading with awkward". This is the practice of identifying what we are feeling insecure, shy, self-conscious, or uncomfortable with pertaining to ourselves, then naming it out loud in order to ensure that we retain power over it.

Here's a non-sexual example: Imagine that you're running late for a party being thrown in your honor because you've been desperately trying to cover that enormous, erupting pimple on your forehead (hey, adult acne is a bitch!). Your imagination is already churning with folks' horrified reactions to it. If you arrive at the party and spend the entire time wringing your hands and avoiding eye contact, terrified that someone is going to point out your blemish, you're disempowering yourself (and robbing yourself of a perfectly good party!). Instead, if you stride confidently into the party and immediately snag the arm of a friend, rolling your eyes while gesturing to your forehead and loudly lamenting, "Can you believe the timing of this monstrosity? The nerve!", you've immediately put the ball in your court.

In your specific situation, your wedding ring - as well as your new sexual orientation as a bisexual woman - are your "pimples", although that doesn't mean you need roll both of them out at the same time. I would recommend using the wedding ring first as a lead-in to talk about polyamory. Make eye contact with a hot woman, make a gentle but pointed approach, and - assuming you're in a bar-type setting - offer to buy her a drink.

I'm recommending being more bold as a way to set yourself up for success. I happen to know - from meeting you - that you identify on the more feminine side of the spectrum. There is a nationwide epidemic of feminine women having difficulty hitting on other feminine women, largely because of how AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) people are socialized. We're told to accept advances, not initiate them. We're taught that we're the vessels, the passive ones; that we get partners by being demure, not forward. As such, I've attended sex parties that were exclusive to femmes, and I've watched a dozen or so gorgeous women sit around in a painfully-quiet circle fidgeting with their hair and asking each other where they got their shoes from. It's fucking maddening.

The point of me saying this is that oftentimes hitting on femmes AS a femme is incredibly confusing and challenging, and not just for the noobs, so be kind to yourself. By crossing the room to make that initial approach yourself, you're already making an impression and setting yourself apart. Here are two possible ways of elongating the interaction:

After introductions, tell an anecdote or make an observation about the venue that makes her laugh and/or relate to you. Admit that that's your cliche and inexperienced way of flirting with women, and explain that you're new to the scene because you and your husband recently opened up your relationship. Wait for her to react or respond, then lightheartedly offer her the opportunity to decline if that sounds like more than what she was bargaining for. Follow up with, "But if you ARE interested in some company while you drink, I'd be interested in getting to know you more."

After introductions, tell an anecdote or make an observation about the venue that makes her laugh and/or relate to you. Then throw something out there like, "Boy, it feels weird to be flirting with a wedding ring on!", or "I bet this gay bar doesn't see a whole lot of women with wedding rings in it!", or something less flippant and more vulnerable, like, "Oof, can I admit something to you? This is my first time out cruising with my wedding ring on, and it's totally tripping me out!" Then segue into discussing non-monogamy. 

If she's interested, let her take the lead in the conversation, and make sure you clarify any boundaries or intentions that would be pertinent for her to know, i.e. if you're looking for casual sex only, if you're looking for a committed female partnership, etc.
 

Other recommendations...

"I'd start with a reminder that queers can get married too, and even when it wasn't legal we've been having ceremonies and wearing rings. So on the surface a ring doesn't say anything about the gender of your partner. On top of that, it's true that queers are less familiar with wedding rings, but that also means very few people scan your hand for a wedding ring or make assumptions about what it means if they see one. I wore a wedding ring for about a decade and only ever had someone notice and mention it maybe 3 or 4 times -- and never when I'm flirting with someone."

"Definitely find a group of like-minded people, whether that’s an explicitly queer space or an explicitly non-monogamous one. If you can’t find any, consider starting your own! It's easier if you get to make some friends. I would rarely try flirting with a woman if I didn't know she was either gay or bi and somewhere on the non-monogamy spectrum. Meetups, munches, these are all good gatherings for building relationships. But take your time. I flirt a lot. All the time! And I'm not convinced the signals quite work the same way with women."

"If she's interested in dating lesbians, I'd tell her she may want to prep for a little burn. Right or wrong, a lot of gay women could have strong negative reactions to being hit on by a bi-woman who is married to a man. One time I was on a first tinder date, and she found out that I had been married to a man before, and she reacted pretty strongly... she went on a tirade about how so many bi-women expect you to pick up all the tabs and do all the work in bed (My tinder profile didn't explicitly say bi at the time so she was surprised). I was patient with her concerns, so it turned out fine. It's good to have perspective on what people might have been through or why they might be suspicious of married bi women."