Ask Dr Nerdlove: She's Poly, And I'm Confused

Ask Dr. Nerdlove: She's Poly, And I'm Confused

Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating column that can help you find the Best Ending to the dating sim that is your life. This week, we untangle the snarled web of relationship complications. How do you navigate dating someone who's polyamorous? At what point does it go from three's company to four's a crowd? Another reader wants to know how to stop falling in love so easily, while a third simply isn't sure whether he can take "yes" for an answer.

It's time to quit save-scumming and make our way to the endgame. Let's do this thing.

Dear Dr NerdLove,

I'm 30 and trying to get back into the dating game after my divorce. So I jumped back onto OkCupid because in the past I've had pretty good luck finding like minded people on there. While going through some old messages I came across a girl I talked to quite a bit who had deactivated her account. After a quick review I remembered we went on a coffee date once a while back. Things went well. A little too well. We were both attached at the time and I was afraid of doing something I might regret if I kept spending time with her so I started talking less and less and after a while we both stopped talking to each other all together.

I see her phone number in my old messages and think, well why not? So I send her a text and after a quick update on who I was she remembered me. Surprisingly well. She asked if I was still with that girl, no, long story. Before I could even ask if she was with the same guy she told me she wasn't. Good sign. She asks about my old job, we talk about things we discussed last time we talked. We kept talking all night up until she had to get to bed for work in the morning. The next day we text some more and she mentions her boyfriend. OK, it's cool she was talking about being in a poly relationship before and I am similarly inclined myself. So I ask her if he would be upset that some random guy is sending her texts. "Oh no, I told him all about you." Promising. I ask her about him, she gives a short description and mentions that he's a lot less depressed than her lady boyfriend. OK probably still poly. She asks if I'm single. Another good sign. I explain that I'm not dating anyone seriously but I have two partners I don't see so often.

This next part confuses me. Everything up to now seems, at least to me, like she's interested in me. She then tells me how she decided poly wasn't for her, and that it just takes too much energy. OK she has two partners but isn't polyamorous any more? Maybe it's just open, I'm not sure. She then says she understands why I'm looking for more and keeps talking to me all night.

I can't really tell what she wants. The things I'm kind of jumping between are:

1. She likes me but isn't interested in a relationship.

2. Things with her and her boyfriend aren't too serious or aren't going well so she's thinking about maybe jumping ship.

3. Her relationship isn't poly, but it is open. So no real dating, but maybe we can have some fun or something.

4. ??? something else I haven't thought of.

Modern relationship dynamics are hard enough to navigate, but this is making my head spin. First rule of poly club is not don't talk about poly club, it's quite the opposite: talk. Talk early, talk often. I'm going to keep talking to her and try to steer the conversation to what she would be interested in, but until then I need another perspective.

Thanks for your perspective,

Polymorphously Perplexed

Polyamory is one of those areas where it really helps to have everyone define their terms. Polyamory is a wide, wide descriptor for many different relationship styles. There are poly triads and quads where everybody is involved with everyone else, hierarchical poly relationships with a primary partner who comes before others, poly relationships where one person has two separate partners (who aren't involved with each other). You can have an open poly relationship where each person can have lovers outside of the group. You can have closed poly relationships where there are no outside partners. It can run the gamut.

The single biggest commonality of poly relationships is the kind of relationship - the generally accepted assumption is that it's primarily romantic, or at least emotionally committed. And when you add more individuals into a relationship, the relationship maintenance involved (not to mention the potential for drama) scales up exponentially. You are now trying to balance many people's emotional and physical needs with your own. And when you factor in issues of envy and jealousy (and believe me, being in a poly relationship doesn't mean you aren't susceptible to those), not to mention just plain ol' scheduling and time management, that has the potential to be a logistical goddamn nightmare.

Not surprising then that your friend declared that polyamory was exhausting.

Now with all that in mind, let's pick things apart a little here. Right now, you've got a number of signs of emotional interest, if not physical interest. You've been talking a lot, and on a number of personal topics. You've been sharing a fair amount about your social lives and the level of curiosity she's shown you -- asking whether you're single, etc. -- is a good sign.

But it's also a potentially mixed sign. You had that intense attraction when you first met, but time has passed and circumstances have changed. It could be that she's fond of you and thinks you're a cool guy but isn't necessarily interested in a relationship with you outside of friendship. Mentioning that she's not poly any more could be a way of waving you off.

Here's the thing that I noticed you didn't say: that you let her know you're interested in seeing her again. She may not realise that you're looking into possibly rekindling things with her. She may think that you might be but isn't sure and doesn't want to push things. Or she may well be aware and is deliberately not broaching the subject in hopes that you'll take the hint without her having to say it directly.

You're understandably confused. Right now, you're trying to interpret what she's saying through a host of "what-ifs". Fortunately, there's a simple answer to this: use your words.

Make sure you're on the same page and define your terms. What does she mean by not identifying as poly any more? Does this mean that she's got her boyfriend and a play-partner? Clarity is always your friend, especially when you're dealing with a term that's so polymorphous.

Meanwhile, take some initiative on your own so that she knows what you're about. Let her know that you're interested and the kind of relationship you're looking for. Are you looking for something more committed? Are you open to just fooling around if that's all she has to offer?

Being clear, open and direct is much more desirable than trying to read the tea-leaves and guessing at what other people mean. When in doubt: ask. You may not get the answer you were hoping for, but you'll get an answer. And then you won't be stuck wondering "what if" and "what does this mean?"

Good luck.

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

Yesterday I've been labelled as neurotic, which is something I kind of knew and I was a bit happy that someone finally said it in my face. Besides that, I've been more or less called a freak for falling in love too easily, and apparently the guy was totally disturbed by it.

I do get attached too early, there's one moment my mind decides "this is the one" and everything goes downhill. I haven't had a proper relationship in three years and it's not because the guys I liked didn't like me back, but because I forced the things and, in the end, suffocated them. After I fall for them, I feel the constant need to be with them, talk to them, get closer to them. I feel my chest is shrinking, my mind is filled with thoughts of the guy, I can't concentrate and feel depressed. My body is in pain. I do realise this kind of emotion is not real love, but the suffering is real. And now I'm filled with regret that I lost a good guy (he really is, he was so harsh probably only because I asked him to be 'brutally honest') and I won't find a better one (I know there are, but my brain doesn't really comprehend it right now), not to mention that I traumatized him (I honestly feel like a useless person). What's worse, I still haven't got over him. In fact, usually I find it hard to move on because I still hope for the best, but in this case there's definitely no rainbow at the end of the tunnel so why am I still thinking about him?

I know I have some issues: I broke up with my ex twice, and each time I felt the same anguish and reluctance to let it go. And it wasn't even a happy relationship. So basically, I fall easily, my narcissistic side believes they also want me that badly, and then I have a hard time letting it go, brooding over it for several months, even if there was nothing serious at all. I'm thinking about trying therapy as I do believe my problems may be pathological, but I might leave the place I'm currently living in so I'm not that eager to start. Maybe remote therapy? Meanwhile, I would highly appreciate some advice on how to diminish the crappy emotions I'm experiencing. Thank you!

Best regards,

Anxiety Queen

Deep breaths, AQ. Slow, deep breaths. You're dealing with a number of common issues, especially amongst people who don't have much relationship experience. Let's break them down one by one.

Let's start with getting attached so quickly. One of the things that people often do is confuse that initial excitement of a new attraction - what many call "new relationship energy" - with love. That rush of endorphins is intoxicating and exciting, to be sure. But it's not love. It's a state known as limerence, and it's defined by, among other things, intrusive and obsessive about the person you're crushing on. It's an emotional rollercoaster; you're going from the highest highs (he's the most amazing person ever to walk the earth!) to the lowest lows (I SHALL NEVER LOVE AGAIN!!) with very little in between. It feels so extreme and incredible that we assume it must be love, but in reality it's not. It's all surface. You don't really know this person. That connection you feel isn't your two souls merging, it's simply your junk kicking your brain and yelling "Let's party!"

This intense feeling fades pretty quickly as the novelty wears off and you get to know your crush as a person, rather than as an idealised being. That initial intensity fades and becomes something quieter and more intimate. But many people assume that the early rush is the entirety of the relationship and freak out when it starts to go away.

Once you've accepted that the initial rush is just that -- a rush -- then you're better able to see it for what it is and to navigate it more successfully.

Now let's deal with the pain. Part of limerence is that crushing despair; it's part of the lowest lows that comes with your feelings not being requited. It sucks, but, like limerence, it passes… if you let it. When you start to obsess about how you screwed this up and how you'll never find anyone as good as them, you make it impossible to get over your own pain. You lock yourself in a cycle of punishment, masochistically hurting yourself for "losing" them and then picking at the scab of your attraction so that you can properly appreciate what you've lost, which then leads back into punishing yourself for losing it.

What you need to do is take a deep breath and just relax. Don't brood. Don't berate yourself. Don't yell at yourself for how you "ruined" things. Just… be. Let yourself feel. Remind yourself: you aren't sad, you feel sad. You aren't hopeless, you feel hopeless. Let things flow through you without trying to force them or dam them up. Accept your feelings, that you have them and that this relationship fell apart.

And then forgive yourself. You're inexperienced. It happens. What you need to do now is forgive yourself for making a mistake and learn from it so that you don't make the same mistake again.

As you're doing all of this, take the time to work on yourself. Hit the gym, talk to a therapist, do any of the little things that make your life better. A little self-upgrade goes a long way to healing after a breakup; feeling like you're improving yourself makes you feel like a better, more desirable person instead of a failure.

Talking to a counselor definitely isn't a bad idea. But the best thing you can do right now is to relax, heal and learn. You're not a bad person, AQ. You're just human, same as the rest of us. And you'll do better. I promise.

Good luck.

Hey Doc,

I have seen you columns on Kotaku in the past and know you have dished out solid advice to folks like me.

Here's my issue. I have been working at my office for about 7 months. We had some interns come and one of the female interns and I really hit it off. We have an annual party at the end of our busy season (I'm a CPA) where everyone blows off some steam after the most stressful time period in our line of work. After the official, there's always an afterparty at another bar downtown where the younger staff get together.

2:30 rolls around and the bar is closing. Female intern isn't wasted by any means, but she didn't intend to drive home. I extend an invite to stay at my place and she accepts. I wasn't the only offer, mind you, she could have gone home with any of my female peers. We get back to my place and I offer up my bed, insisting that I would sleep on the couch. She wouldn't hear of it and we ended up sleeping together. I got the vibe she wanted me to put the moves on, but I knew I would be seeing her in the future and didn't things to get awkward. She got close to me and we just talked for a few hours about everything from work, to school, to our families. Turns out we both lost our fathers to cancer, an experience that impacted both of us greatly. She revealed she had a crush on me and had for a few weeks. I really felt like we connected and I really want to see her again. She's laid back, smart, and a knock-out. I've asked her out on a date already and she happily accepted.

There are a few problems that make me hesitant to pursue this. 1) She will be returning to my firm next year. At which point in time, if I'm still around, I will more than likely be her superior. I know dating co-workers is a slippery slope and if things go south, I can find myself in a difficult situation at work, let alone the strange situation in which she would be my subordinate. 2) There's a little bit of an age difference. She's 21, and I'm 24 (soon to be 25). 3) Can't say I've ever really had a serious girlfriend to speak of, so these are uncharted waters for me. Usually I'm the one crushing on someone, usually unreciprocated. It's like I'm Wile-E Coyote and I just caught Roadrunner.

What do you think, Doc? Should I try and forget about hot intern and move on? Or should I dive in and see where this relationship goes? Thanks!

-Like A Boss

Don't make things more complicated than they have to be, LAB. A three (soon to be four) year age gap ain't that big. Not having had a serious girlfriend doesn't preclude you from dating somebody. Everybody starts off as a beginner, after all, and the only way you learn is from actually dating people. And you don't know for sure where you'll be a year from now. If she works at your firm and you're still there, talk to HR. Until then, quit borrowing trouble from a future that may never come to pass.

You like her. She likes you. That's really all that needs to be said. Go for it already.

Good luck.

Ask Dr. Nerdlove: She's Poly, And I'm Confused

Do you have an open or poly relationship? How did you navigate those early days of a new relationship? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and we'll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.

Ask Dr. Nerdlove: She's Poly, And I'm Confused

Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.

Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.


Comments

    Poly? Jesus fuck that's a kettle of fish and a half.

    Amateur advice from limited poly experience: I think Nerdlove is going too far in giving options for this to work out. There's some good points there on the importance of defining boundaries and expectations in the poly community, but the biggest take-away point I learned is: If you're not into it but they are? Get the hell out. Don't waste your time and emotional investment trying to find some sort of place for yourself in that framework that doesn't involve deep emotional compromise.

    It doesn't matter how perfect they might be in every other way, this particular issue is too central to a relationship to gloss over or compromise on or 'make work' or all the other bullshit excuses people give to avoid having to go back out into the cold, searching, when 'so close but so far' is right there. There are entire books on this shit, how to make it work... but your relationship shouldn't require that level of homework and mental or emotional contortions.

    Other advice is bang-on.

    Amused by 'falling too quickly' girl obviously confusing infatuation with love. (The glimpses of self-awareness are pretty admirable. When you 'feel' something your head knows isn't right. Pretty sure everyone's been there.)
    But the first 1-3 months of a relationship? I call that 'the bunny phase' (on account of how you spend that time), and what on earth has a chance of comparing to that? I have no idea how to fix any particular obsession with having that phase over and over... Known a few girls who've never been single for more than a week. There's always another guy waiting in the wings, and the next 1-3 month relationship begins (with the guy who, in reality, was already being vetted and lined-up well before the girl's let go of her previous guy, even if she wasn't consciously aware of it). 'Time alone' is a decent suggestion, especially since the ones who've never been a week without a boyfriend have never actually ever BEEN alone. Not lonely, but alone. Independent. There IS a difference. It has a lot to recommend it, and you learn more about yourself.

    That first one...
    1. Text saying DTF?
    2. After the act ask about her current poly/not poly thing.

    AQ sounds like a person trapped by a debilitating fear of loss; so the moment things are going well in a relationship her mind wants to do everything it can to secure the investment. The only way to really deal with this is to learn to be happy by yourself; independence and I mean true emotional independence is the only way I know of in terms of neutralizing that fear. Once you get that down pat you'll be a lot more comfortable just being yourself and probably lose the anxiety and suffocating act.

    The honeymoon phase is a different issue all together and doesn't seem to be the one AQ is referring to in her letter.

    I have a lot of trouble taking people who use the term 'poly' to describe themselves seriously. There's just something inherently experimental about it. I've never known anyone who had why they were poly nailed down enough to explain why that was who they were rather than something they were trying out. As soon as they reach that point they understand themselves enough to be way more specific. They can tell you where and why their boundaries don't align with standard one man one woman relationship structure.
    It goes from this weird thing that they're trying to make work with a thousand rules and exceptions to simply statements like 'I like romance, relationships and intimacy, and I'm happy to be in just one relationship, however I don't like what exclusive relationships grow into and how that impacts my independence'. They're no longer trying to fit into this nice little club they think is right for them and instead have the confidence to say 'this is what I want' rather than 'this is my classification'.

    Last edited 04/05/15 5:20 pm

    Poly NEVER works out. Do as Transientmind says and get the hell out.

      Just use half that comment for a general rule in TAY "Do as Transientmind says" =P

      I've been in a polyamorous relationship (triad) for 5 years now. Been living together for 4 of those years so going pretty strong overall. Most of my monogamous friends have changed partners multiple times during the same time period.

    Read headline, didn't know what "poly" meant, thought it was racist.

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