Dear Audrey,
My girlfriend and I have been together since high school. We’re now in our late 20s. A few years ago, she “came out” to me as polyamorous. At the time I thought it was just about sleeping with other people before we got married, which made sense to me, since we’d been together for so long. But now she’s found this other guy that she also wants to have a relationship with, and I’m not cool with it. I love her, and I thought she loved me. I thought we’d settle down and get married and have kids. Now she’s mad because I didn’t take her seriously about being poly, and I’m hurt that she wants another guy in her life. To me, that’s just not love. I don’t think you can love two people at once. I know that’s not PC, but it’s just not who I am. What should I do? I can’t imagine breaking up with her, but I also can’t imagine a lifetime of her being with other guys.

I feel for you, buddy, I really do. But unfortunately you are the one in the wrong here. I get that it’s hard to accept that someone you’ve known and loved for so long isn’t on the same page with you, but that’s life, I’m afraid. When your girlfriend sat you down and told you she was poly—which couldn’t have been easy in a relationship with so much history—and you internally dismissed it as basically a short-term hall pass, that’s kinda shitty.

Ideally in that conversation you guys would’ve negotiated boundaries and whatnot for your new relationship, including how serious your other relationships can be. Maybe you did, and you just weren’t paying attention? Who knows. Either way, clearly she now wants to have other boyfriends in her life.

Your feeling blindsided by this is due primarily to your not taking her stated needs seriously, so you should probably meditate on that for a while. But if you aren’t comfortable being with someone who is poly, then you’re just not. That’s ok. It’s not about being PC or not PC—it’s about your individual boundaries and feelings.

Where you get into trouble is your insistence on universalizing those feelings. Love is not monogamy. Love is not marriage, or children, or long-term commitment. It can be any of those things, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m sure there are as many definitions of love as there are humans, but to me, at its core, love is: respect, care for a person’s feelings, and a desire to see that person happy and safe. According to that, you’re the one who hasn’t been loving your partner well. You haven’t respected what she told you about who she is, and you’re demanding she put your happiness above her own.

So here is what I’d say. If your desire for monogamy is a deal-breaker for you, then you’re incompatible. End it. That sucks, and it’s hard, but expecting her to change is not fair or realistic. However, I don’t feel like you’ve given her definition of love a real chance. Maybe you could try reading more about poly relationships and at least attempt to understand where she’s coming from. Approach it with a truly open mind, and sit with it for a while. If you really can’t imagine being without her, you’re going to have to figure out how to be with the real her and be happy.

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