I can't date the love of my life officially because he's already with someone else. Help!

Question

For a year now I've considered myself to be in a relationship with a guy who I love with everything I have. He's the first person I've ever had these feelings for, the first person I've ever dated, and the first time I've been romantic with another male.

Technically, however, we are not in a relationship because he already has a long-term girlfriend. He has considered the possibility of become a polyamorous triad and has asked her about this option, but she is uncomfortable with the idea and is unlikely to be persuaded otherwise. He has not told her about me or our relationship because he does not want to hurt her and lose what he's had for a number of years.

He also lives in another part of the country so I'm only able to see him for a few days between long periods of time, putting further strain on things. Add to this the fact that his parents would be mortified if they found out their straight eldest son was dating another man.

I'm really struggling here. On the one hand I want to be with this guy as much as I want to have air in my lungs. But I can't express my love for him without the potential for a serious emotional backlash. Will his girlfriend find out? His friends? His parents? etc. This has left me in an emotional dilemma: If I try getting the affection and emotional support I'm craving from others, then I feel like I'm cheating on him, but if I don't then I'm slowly going to fall apart from a lack of affection because he can't give it to me without huge risks.

So I guess the question I'm asking is: Am I insane? To think that I'm in a secret, long-distance, semi-polyamorous, closeted, almost-relationship? I'm not expecting a perfect solution to my conundrum but I'm desperate for advice. I don't want to hurt anybody, but I can't keep this up with a smile forever.

Received via email (name withheld)

Answer

Unfortunately, this doesn't sound like a story with a particularly happy ending for any of the people involved. The situation you describe is something we call a "polyamorish" relationship, a polyamory-like relationship structure in which some of the participants are significant others in all but name, usually under the auspices of a primary couple's open relationship terms, which allow for sexual intimacy outside of the main relationship, but perhaps not emotional or romantic intimacy.

Polyamorish relationships can be ethical if they have the full, enthusiastic consent of all parties involved; for example, sometimes a primary couple wants to be perceived as monogamous, so no other partners get to have the boyfriend or girlfriend label, but they are okay with other partners operating at the level of intimacy that a boyfriend or girlfriend would.

In most cases, though, polyamorish relationships are not conducted ethically, and are lacking in informed consent on the part of at least one party to the relationship. They often evolve from purely sexual relationships that deepen in terms of the feelings involved. Once feelings deepen in this way, though, such feelings need to be disclosed to all parties, or it is impossible to maintain proper consent, as not all parties are aware of the relevant and pertinent facts. It is quite common for participants in this kind of a relationship to rationalize not disclosing their feelings because they "don't want to hurt anyone." The problem with this logic of course is that, if you truly did not wish to hurt the person, you would choose for your actions to reflect that desire, and not merely your words.

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Based on the situation you describe, to put it quite bluntly, you are enabling your lover to cheat on his girlfriend with you and conduct an affair behind her back. It doesn't sound like your lover is supposed to be sexual or romantic with anyone but his girlfriend according to their relationship terms. This is unethical behavior and needs to stop, no matter how strongly you feel for your lover. If he wants to maintain his relationship with you, he needs to do so with his girlfriend's consent, or he needs to leave his girlfriend in order to be with you. Continuing with this relationship in any other way is wrong.

Unfortunately, considering your lover's circumstances, I highly doubt he would be willing to leave his girlfriend for you and begin to live his life as an openly gay (or at least non-heterosexual) man. That means your lover has made his choice, and you need to break ties and move on.

Sorry to have such bad news for you, but I hope the advice is helpful in some way. If you have any follow up questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment or to get in touch with us via our contact page.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.