Just the Tip: Polyamorous and Casual
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Just the Tip offers smart and compassionate sex and relationship advice from queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. If you have a sex or love question you’d like Jera to answer, email jera@jerabrown.com or DM Jera on Twitter @thejerabrown.

How do you handle a polyamorous relationship where your partner wants to be more serious than you are comfortable with? One of my partners wants a more serious relationship with me than I am capable of. Between job and parenting stresses, in addition to my relationship with my nesting partner, I don’t have time for a second serious relationship. I care about her and don’t want to lose her, but I’m not sure I can provide what she needs right now. How do you navigate negotiating relationship expectations making sure to respect the needs of both people?

So you have a nesting partner and are open in some way — sex, romance — to other people, but you don’t have time or energy for something serious. I think you need to spend time thinking about what you really want out of non-monogamy right now so that you don’t go into relationships having unrealistic expectations of what you’re able to provide.

I’m not saying you should close your relationship. Plenty of people are OK with dating or sleeping with people on a “casual” basis. But it’s possible you’re sending mixed signals to others about what you’re looking for. Do you know what you’re looking for?

And here’s a thought: If you did close up for a while, you can still identify as non-monogamous or polyamorous … you’re just taking a break to get some other life stuff in order. Polyamory, in particular, can be a philosophy you live by even if you’re not pursuing other partners.

Regardless, there’s already someone in your life you care about. So what do you do?

I know this is hard to hear, but you need to be willing to lose her. Not saying you will lose her, but you need to be okay with it if it’s best for her. It needs to be her choice whether what you’re able to provide is enough, and in order to help her make that decision, I think you need to go into any conversation fully thinking about what is best for her.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you have this conversation:

  • Let her know her needs are valid, even if you can’t fulfill them.
  • Let her know she is worth investing in and what you see in her.
  • Tell her what you’re looking for out of the relationship because maybe it has changed since you met and/or started dating.
  • Be brutally honest about what you’re capable of. Don’t be vague and overestimate — it’ll bite you in the ass. Can you see her once a week? Do you have the time and energy to respond to her texts daily? Let her know what you are and are not capable of.

The goal is for her to walk away feeling good about herself and armed with enough information to decide what is best for her. And then, give her time away from you to decide whether it’s enough.

Also, this shouldn’t be a one-and-done deal. Recently, a friend talked about how she and her partner intentionally maintain the mindset of actively choosing each other. I love this. I think you can do this through check-ins. “Does this still feel good to you?” “I’m with you because …”

What if neither of you is willing or able to change your expectations? If she’s continually being hurt by what you can’t provide, but unwilling to walk away, you might need to be the one who ends things.

The good news is, it might not mean goodbye forever. One of the things I’ve learned from being open for a decade is that what feels good to me and what kind of relationships and expectations I’m capable of — it all continues to change. What you both want today might not match up, but they might six months from now. You never know.

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Jera writes about sexuality, spirituality, and social justice. They are the author of Just the Tip, a queer-friendly, sex-positive, relationship advice column and the editor of Sacred and Subversive,...