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Miss Information

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My boyfriend's definition of monogamy is most strange to me.

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Dear Miss Information,

I met a great guy online. He just turned forty-six; I'm thirty-seven. We've been dating for about four months, although it seems like longer. He is much more social than I am, spending most nights in the week out with friends or doing activities. He also travels quite a bit, because he doesn't have obligations and it's something he loves and can afford to do. When he's in town, he mostly spends weekends with me.

He's been married twice, and the most recent divorce was just about a year ago. I haven't been married at all, and have only had a couple serious long-term relationships. The subject of polyamory was brought up relatively early in the relationship, since his ex was poly, and a lot of his friends are active in the local poly community. He stated that it wasn't for him. He is monogamous, wants to find one person to be with. I feel the same way. It was only about a month before he confessed his feelings for me, and I've fallen pretty hard as well.

But.

There is a lady friend who he has feelings for as well — someone he doesn't see very often, but when he does, there's usually snuggling and that sort of intimacy. I am the only one that he has sex with. At first I wasn't too sure, but I met her, and she has stuff of her own going on, and they really don't see each other too much, so, okay. Plus, with the recent divorce and whatnot, he doesn't want to be too tied down, and I do understand that.

This past weekend, he confessed feelings for yet another lady. He just said, "J and I discovered that there might be something there." Suddenly, I feel myself being torn apart.

Whenever I've gotten involved with someone, it's been me and him and that's it. I'm starting to feel like I can't give him what he needs, so why am I even around? How much of this is him playing the field and being a carefree single guy, and how much of it is him keeping me on the hook for the sex part and waiting for something better to come along? I don't want to drive him away, but I sure as hell don't want to share him either. What can I do?

— Helplessly Hooked

Dear Helplessly Hooked,

Who is this guy who has lots of money, a string of poly exes, and "no obligations?" He sounds like James Bond's slightly disappointing younger brother.

While we're talking fictional characters, I'm going to go a little Sherlock Holmes on this subtext. (The Benedict Cumberbatch one, natch.) My reading between the lines suggests that monogamy is likely something he does want intellectually — after all, he told you he wants it — but may not be prepared for emotionally. After two major poly relationships, he's probably used to a poly mindset: being able to have his cake, and his eclair, and his croissant, and sleep with them too. (I shot my handgun at a wall for a whole hour before writing that last zinger.)

Monogamy is, in many ways, easier said than done. It requires one to prioritize feelings and act accordingly (i.e., his commitment to you needs to outweigh his curiosity about where things might go with another woman). This is a recalibration every monogamous person has to make. There's no switch that turns off attraction to other people: there is only willpower, and the decision that your love/duty/commitment for X is more important than whatever exists with Y.

It's great he is being so open with you, but it seems like he's a little rusty on word definitions. He says he wants monogamy, and yet he continues to maintain other relationships. Some re-learning is to be expected and even tolerated when jumping back into the dating pool, but at a certain point, he's going to have to pick a side.

You've spent a lot of this letter rationalizing his position. Now, how about yours? You have every right to tell him you want actual monogamy — not "monogamy except for movie nights" or "monogamy except for Julie." There is nothing needy, controlling, or prudish about wanting to be monogamous. Talk to him about it. If your desire for exclusivity "drives him away," then perhaps he was less prepared for monogamy than he thought.