My mate says I shouldn't have feelings for my FWBs, but I can't help it. What do I do?

Question:

Hey hey, I have a quick question. So I'm polyamorous, my partner is monogamous, our relationship is open, he has a person I'd call another partner, he sees her often enough, maybe once weekly, but he claims he has no feelings other than sexual there. I think he expects me to cut off any relationships I make it I develop any feelings, but I don't think we have the same definition of feelings. I care for people very easily, if there was someone I met with for sex as often as he does I would bet I'd have some connection with them. Is he lying to himself? Should I downplay it if I get feelings - they wouldn't threaten my relationship with my partner. I get feelings with many of my friends where I just look at them and admire their beauty as they're relaxed and chatting away. It's all so blended together. He's very against polyamory but he has someone he's been seeing for months. He says the difference is that he'd stop seeing her if I asked him to. So is that where I should draw the line for myself?

Received via Telegram (name withheld)

Answer:

It does seem to be true that some people tend to attach emotional investment to sex more or less involuntarily, whereas others are able to have casual sex for pleasure and recreation without making any emotional investment whatsoever. Put more bluntly, some people seem wired to be able to masturbate inside of others and deeply enjoy it, whereas others can't easily sex without it meaning something or having at least some loving component.

If your partner is the type of person who does not form emotional attachment from having sex very easily, his insistence that you not form attachment and only select sex partners you could comfortably discard might seem perfectly reasonable to him, and indeed, these are fairly typical open relationship expectations.

The problem here is that you are the other type of person, the type who forms emotional attachments easily and almost involuntarily, particularly when repeated instances of sexual intimacy are involved. Your partner doesn't seem to understand your perspective or your predicament, and as a result, your discussion of forming emotional attachment to sex partners sounds very threatening to him, because in his mind, emotional investment is only for a romantic sexual partner, not a casual one.

It's a challenge to make a relationship work between two people with such vastly different experiences of sexuality and openness in romantic relationships, primarily because whereas an open relationship is the best possible fit for your partner, a polyamorous relationship would probably be more your speed.

What you need to do if you have not fully done so already is to explain to your partner what you did to me, that you catch feelings easily but that they don't threaten the primacy of your relationship, but that when you have sex it's essentially impossible for you to keep feelings out entirely.

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Ultimately, if you've carefully explained all of this to your partner, your partner must make a choice. Either your partner loves you sufficiently to be able to tolerate your emotional investments in others, or the two of you ought to go your separate ways romantically on account of a fundamental incompatibility. 

You might be tempted to downplay feelings or offer your partner keeping emotion out of the sex you have with others -- either genuinely, or even worse, falsely, rationalizing to yourself that these relationships don't affect your primary relationship and therefore justifying failing to disclose rising levels of emotional and romantic intimacy. If you do choose to go this route, realize that cheating, deception, lying, and committing errors of omission always come with steep personal costs -- you might think you can hide your feelings for others from your partner, but it's much harder to hide from your conscience and feelings of guilt and shame over your duplicity, particularly when you're trying to sleep at night.

Hope that helps! For the record, I'm quite similar to you in how I form emotional and romantic attachment to the people I am sexual with, and this is why I refuse to enter into open relationships and only choose to engage in romantic relationships with people who are comfortable with polyamory and/or relationship anarchy. I just wouldn't do well in an open relationship, as I'd be consumed with guilt over what I perceived to be my own emotional cheating. Moreover, I enjoy sex far more when I know I can invest emotionally without experiencing guilt, and that is the type of sex I chiefly desire in my life, so I'm not willing to accept compromises on this point. You need not be either: Never underestimate the importance of sexuality compatibility to a long-term romantic relationship!

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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.