I just got out of a serious long-term relationship, and now I am trying to ease myself back into the dating world. I’ve been seeing a few people, but about two months ago I met this guy on a dating app and we’ve been hanging out every week. On our first date, he revealed to me that he is polyamorous and has three other partners with whom he’s romantically involved.
He said he’s only looking for something casual with me, and since I’m not looking for anything serious right now either, I was fine with it. The problem is that he often talks about his primary partner, and now I can’t seem to get out of my head about it. Since I know a lot about her, I can’t help but feel jealous. I find myself comparing myself to her, and whenever he compliments me, I think about how many times he’s given the same compliment that week. Is there a way to get past this, or should I call it quits?
In 2015, I texted a friend a story headlined, “I have a fiancé, a girlfriend and two boyfriends” because I thought it was funny. Two years later, I found myself earnestly reading The Ethical Slut as I was trying to make sense of hookup culture. Now, it seems like every other guy on Hinge is “ENM” (ethically nonmonogamous), and you can’t go to a social gathering in Brooklyn without someone recommending Polysecure, which is basically the handbook on nonmonagamy.
Most people would say this guy, let’s call him Greg, already fucked up by waiting until the date to tell you he’s poly. “Whenever I’m talking with somebody, even before we go on a date, I tell them that I’m not monogamous,” Ishmam, a polyamorous dater, told me. “If I have a partner, I tell them I’m partnered.”
I don’t know what your pre-date convo was like. Maybe Greg just thought it would be easier to explain in person, but I agree with Ishmam that he should have mentioned that he’s romantically involved with three other people. Up-front communication is one of the elements that’s supposed to make the practice of nonmonogamy “ethical,” and it may have been nice to consider the implications ahead of going on a date with him.
But now that we’re here, let’s talk about your options. You ask if there’s a way to get past your jealousy with Greg, but before getting into that, I think we should revisit what you want in the first place. You say you’re not looking for “anything serious” because you’re “trying to ease myself back into the dating world.” It makes total sense to want this after a breakup. But seeing a polyamorous guy once a week for two months isn’t exactly dipping your toes into the dating pool. It’s more like jumping off the ten-meter high dive without any training.
When I asked some experienced divers, so to speak, about how they manage jealousy, it came down to getting their emotional needs met. The way my friend Freida goes about this is by “dating herself.” In other words, she meets her emotional needs outside the context of romance, on her own, and with friends. This enables her to have fun casually dating, rather than putting her emotional security needs on a potential partner. Alex, who is in an open relationship, said she would be upset if her boyfriend was putting “someone’s needs before mine,” but so long as he’s attentive to her, she’s fine with him dating other people. She noted that negotiating boundaries and security is an ongoing conversation and that communication “fortifies” their relationship.
Speaking of communication, everyone I spoke to said you should be transparent with Greg about your jealousy. You could ask him to stop talking about his partner, but he may not be comfortable with that request. But even if he is, since he’s already explained that he’s looking for something casual, he’s probably not going to be the person to give you the emotional certainty you’re looking for.
Of course, you could try Freida’s “date yourself” method and cultivate security from within. Practically, that means things like going to therapy, working on self-compassion, and learning how to be comfortable spending time alone. If you want to do that for yourself, it could be a worthwhile growth experience. But I’m not sure it’s worth doing it just for a casual relationship with Greg.
Where does that leave you? Are you just not built to have fun and be casual? Not necessarily; you might just need to figure out what makes a relationship go from “casual” to “serious.” What was the tipping point with Greg? It might be instructive as you date others to figure out what makes you feel attached to someone. That might mean limiting the frequency with which you see someone, or the types of conversations you have with them. If it’s intimacy or sex, maybe you avoid that, or go celibate for a while.
But in the end, I actually don’t think this is about Greg being polyamorous and you being jealous. He’s just another version of an emotionally unavailable guy, and your feelings are a reflection of your insecurity in the relationship. You’re getting attached to someone who isn’t looking for attachment. And neither are you! So end it with him and either find some truly casual fun, or seek out a secure relationship when you feel ready again.
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