ASK ARIA: I'm monogamous. Can I date someone who's not?

Category: Advice

Author: Aria Vega

Dear Aria,

This pandemic has been one long dry spell for me, in terms of sex and dating. Not for lack of trying — once I got vaccinated, I made profiles on basically every dating app, flirted with hot strangers in public, and even enlisted the help of friends by asking to be set up. That last plan was the one that paid off, and after all these months, I’ve finally met someone that I connect with. The only trouble is, I’m monogamous, and she’s not. Our mutual friend didn’t think to screen for this, and by the time it came up between us, I already had a huge crush.

I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual, which is so exciting! Especially after all the time and effort I spent looking for just this type of connection. But I’m worried about falling for someone who wants a different relationship structure than me. I know for a fact that polyamory isn’t for me. I had a partner in the past who wanted to open up our relationship after about a year, and it was an unmitigated disaster that hastened our breakup. Is this new relationship doomed, or is it possible for both of us to get our needs met?

Sincerely,

Just the Two of Us?

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Dear Just the Two of Us?,

I'm so happy you've met someone special! That's not easy to do even under ideal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic, so congrats to you both on finding each other. I really love that your mutual friend set you up, by the way. A lot of people, especially younger ones, find this type of matchmaking to be pretty retro, but our friends do know us best. Besides, anyone who's ever used a dating app knows it's not exactly the promised land.

However you found her, I'm happy to report that there's lots of reason for optimism here. It's very possible to have a monogamous relationship with one or more polyamorous members. Much like gender and sexuality, relationship structures are a spectrum and not a binary, and the descriptive terms can vary slightly in meaning depending on who you ask. Many people are flexible, and can be genuinely happy in a relationship that's either monogamous or polyamorous, which is known as "ambiamory."

You say you know polyamory isn't for you, and I believe you. However, your prior relationship and this potential one can't quite be compared directly. In the first relationship, you entered into it under one set of circumstances, and had them change on you at the behest of your then-partner. Presumably, you went along despite your discomfort because you didn't want to lose that person. But that's very different from how things are unfolding with your new lover. This time, you have full agency at the outset to determine the parameters of your unique relationship, and can decide together how you'll honor them.

In this case, it's especially important that your lover provide the utmost clarity in describing exactly what her vision of polyamory entails. Is she going to actively seek out new partners, or is being able to pursue a spontaneous connection what's most important to her? Will she want you to build a relationship with her lovers, or will she want more privacy? You don't have to totally let her drive the bus, though. Monogamy can be a lot more than just "physical and emotional exclusivity until death do us part." You can and should experiment with your notion of what monogamy means to you, and occasionally check to see if it's expanded.

All that said, I can't help but worry that you might be setting your sights on someone who isn't right for you. You open your letter lamenting your multi-year dry spell and describing the myriad attempts you've made to end it, which, believe me, I totally get. As someone who's been single for the bulk of the pandemic, I know firsthand that it's not for the faint of heart! But there's a part of me that wonders whether you're so determined to make all that time and effort count for something, that you might be tempted to minimize valid concerns about incompatibility.

It may not be quite as simple as a sunk cost fallacy, as feelings don't always develop in a linear fashion. Admittedly, there's a lot I don't know about this courtship. But no matter what, it's important to remember that having the wrong partner is so much worse than having no partner, especially during COVID, when our ability to socialize has become so constrained. The most important thing is to take your sweet time going forward, while you figure out the shape that this relationship is meant to take.

Talk extensively about things like boundaries, time management, and information sharing, should metamours become part of the picture. Have a plan for handling jealousy. Don't set rules that are impossible to keep, like "you're not allowed to fall in love." If you're meant to be together in a committed kind of way, moving at a slow pace will only help you build a stronger foundation, and support your longevity. If the relationship structure truly becomes an impasse, then hopefully that becomes apparent before anyone's jumped in with both feet.

In short, yes, it's very possible for you and your new lover to have both of your needs met should you partner up. Of course, the reality of it would come with some complexities. The relationship would require you each to bring to the table as much honesty and vulnerability as you can muster, plus a willingness to regularly reevaluate the structure. You would each need to have the same vision for how that structure plays out in practice, with no one silently waiting on the other to change. It may be tough sometimes, but this is the work that keeps all relationships healthy and happy, regardless of how many people are in it.

Best of luck to you both, and all my love!

xo

Aria

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