I befriended this person at my school a year ago who is super sweet and kind and whom I get along with really well. We started getting closer in the past couple months, spending a lot more time alone and having sleepovers together, until eventually we kissed and it was really lovely!
We text fairly regularly and I’m thinking at some point I would like to be in a long-term relationship with them, as I really like them and feel a deep and rare connection to them. But! The thought of being in an exclusive, monogamous relationship fills me with mild dread. I really think it’s just that I’m coming into my sexuality in a new way, especially following my gender transition, and it’s all so new and exciting that I want to explore it with as many people as I have the energy for. Unfortunately, all the advice I’ve seen online about hooking up during the talking stage implies that if your energy is spread out among more than one person then you’re really not invested in any one of them, which I don’t feel is true for me at all as I really enjoy and care about this person, and can easily see myself committing to a relationship with them. I just don’t see myself being exclusive.
I’m also planning on processing this with a therapist who can help me with specific identity issues (Black and queer) related to this, but when would be a good time to bring this up to my friend? We haven’t gone on any dates yet and I would really like to ask them out at some point in the future. How can I soothe my anxiety around messing this up and hurting my friend?
Dear Cautiously Non-Monogamous,
I love getting a letter that is just full of good news! I wish everyone would email me each time they started seeing someone new, because almost nothing is so delightful to me. Can you believe we get to fall in love with other people? How lucky!
Now, onto non-monogamy. I think your plan sounds fantastic! It genuinely seems like you’ve done the work to make sure that you’re not making choices for yourself from a place of insecurity or fear, which is more than a lot of people can say for themselves, monogamous or otherwise!
You worry because you’ve been hearing people say that “spreading yourself out” between partners means you’re not invested in any one of them. Frankly, I think that’s utter bullsh*t. Why are people worried about your spreadability? You are not a jam or a schmear! Of course you can form meaningful connections with multiple people. We’re unfortunately conditioned to be very uptight about romantic love. The supposed ideal suggests that we only love and are attracted to one person, and that we ought to remain “faithful” to that person for decades on end until death magically does us part. (That’s right, everyone is single in heaven!) I do not personally know anyone whose love life fits that description. And in fact, to me, the idea of only being into one person for my whole life sounds like a waste of a lot of love and desire. And, anyway, we don’t think of any other forms of love this way. No one says you can only love one family member and you have to pick them and stick with that love forever. I think you put it beautifully when you said how exciting your newfound sexuality is, and how you want to share it with as many people as you can. Your instinct here is phenomenal! Give your love out freely and openly, share yourself with people who are good to you and whom you are good to back. Ask for what you need and give what you can.
You may find that with a specific partner or at a specific time in your life, non-monogamy doesn’t bring you what you want. But you can always change your mind. You are not choosing today how you will date for the rest of your life. That is for you and future partners to negotiate together. All you’re choosing right now is how to navigate this one specific relationship with this one specific person.
So, how should you bring this up to your friend? Well, I think what you wrote to me was very moving and vulnerable and, most importantly, it was incredibly clear! Non-monogamy requires you to be extra good at communicating with clarity and honesty. I am obviously not the arbiter of who gets to be non-monogamous or not, but one of the reasons I am so supportive of you specifically pursuing non-monogamy is because based on your letter, you are so good at sharing your feelings and desires. That’s a base level requirement for relationships in general and especially for relationships that are not exclusive. Just say to your friend pretty much what you said in your letter. Until you’re looking to go on a date with them, I don’t think you need to spell out your desire for non-monogamy; if you’re happy with what is going on, then keep it up! If they bring up their own boundaries or desires, you can respond accordingly, but you don’t need to type up a Google doc of exactly what you might want with a potential partner in the future and share it with them on View Only.
You can always change your mind. You are not choosing today how you will date for the rest of your life.
You can say something like this, but in your own, much more personal words: “I am absolutely loving where this is going with you. I can’t tell you how excited I am by the fact that we’re making out! I love our sleepovers and I love spending time with you, and I’d like to ask you out on a date. Because I’m really into you and I care about where this is going, I want to share that I’m looking to be in a non-monogamous relationship. I’m so excited to be discovering all these newfound desires I have to their fullest, and I really don’t feel like being with one partner exclusively will work for me right now, and possibly ever. I want to talk to you about what that might look like, if you’re interested, and if monogamy is a boundary for you, I understand that, too.”
The last part of the above little speech is kind of key, in my mind, because your friend might not be OK with non-exclusive romantic relationships. I do not suggest you move your boundary for them, especially at this exciting time for you when you have all this great exploratory momentum going; instead, I would recommend reading that as an unfortunate but understandable incompatibility between the two of you. To my mind, it’s not about whether a person is “worth” changing your dating desires for, but whether or not your desires are worth fulfilling — and they are! They always are. Even if this specific person isn’t into the idea of non-monogamy, many, many hotties out there are. And they would be so lucky to have a partner like you.
As for how to soothe your anxiety about hurting a friend? I’m so sorry to say this, but you will hurt people while dating. Even if you do everything “right,” even if you don’t intend to. Sometimes, two people’s needs don’t align at the same moment, even if they’re attracted to one another. (It’s bullsh*t, someone should fix this bug!) Your job in dating people is not to feel the least pain possible. Your job is to give love and kindness and receive it in return. Your job is being faithful to boundaries that work for you. Your job is being vulnerable and honest and asking for what you want.
It’s A Pleasure appears here every Thursday. If you have a sex and/or relationships question, email Sophia at BustleSexAdvice@gmail.com.