All is not fair in love and nonmonogamy

Sex on Tuesday

Photo of Rachel Musselwhite

Related Posts

We were walking down the street, his hand entwined in mine, when he told me he wasn’t allowed to fall in love.

We were having the relationship talk. The one that comes when you’re a few months into seeing someone you really like and you want to know that they really like you too. So far, our conversation had been going well; we had both admitted our feelings were more than physical, and we wanted to keep this new relationship going.

I asked about his marriage, how our relationship would affect it. “Obviously, the ground rule my wife and I have is that no other relationships should threaten our marriage,” he said. When I asked for clarification, I didn’t vehemently oppose any of the actions on his list — things such as no sleepovers, no spending multiple days with other partners — until he got to the end.

“Oh,” he said. “And we have a rule that we’re not allowed to fall in love with anyone outside of our marriage.”

Well, fuck, I thought. I think we’re a bit too late for that.

I didn’t voice my actual feelings — that I was definitely falling for him, and that I wanted to fall in love with him. Instead, I tried my best to communicate that if I fell in love with him, it wouldn’t change anything. I was never going to try to replace his wife, or attempt to wreck their marriage. To me, “I love you” was just another way to say “I care.”

Up until this conversation, his marriage hadn’t caused any problems. Actually, I felt the opposite; I felt that it made our relationship easier. He and his wife seemed happy together, and I loved that he already had another partner in his life, that I didn’t have to try to be everything for him. The boundaries he had mentioned when we first met — action-based rules like always using condoms and not having sex in their bed — were not a problem.

But having rules about feelings? It seemed unreasonable to me. It’s possible to control the things you do in a relationship, but emotions are different; you can’t control how you feel about someone.

I dropped the topic, despite wanting to ask what would happen if we broke that rule. I was afraid he’d tell me it would mean an automatic end to our relationship, and I didn’t want to hear that. Our relationship may have been fairly new, but I already cared about this person, and I realized that I wanted him around for a while. I didn’t want to risk losing him.

As we continued to see each other, I began to grow slightly bolder. I admitted that I really cared about him, and asked what would happen if I — theoretically, of course — told him that I loved him. His answer had slowly changed as well; while he said it would bring up insecurities in his marriage, and that he and his wife would probably have to discuss it with their couples therapist, it was no longer mentioned as an absolute rule. 

I started to make attempts at explicitly stating how I felt. We would laze around in bed, and I would try to say what was on my mind: I love you — the way you treat me, how you allow me to be vulnerable in a way I’ve never had with anyone else. I’d get the first two words out, and then bail. “I love … the way you just made me come 10 times.”

I was afraid that if I vocalized my feelings, they would be misconstrued. I wasn’t trying to escalate our relationship; I didn’t want to change what we already had. I just wanted to acknowledge that our relationship meant a lot to me. That he meant a lot to me.

I finally picked a date to tell him. It would be the last time we saw each other before I moved, before we tried to transition into a long-distance relationship. It would be several months before we’d be able to see each other again, and I didn’t want to leave my feelings unsaid any longer.

Before I could share how I felt, we got into a fight, arguing over whether or not I was a threat to his marriage. He wasn’t sure if he would be allowed to continue seeing me, saying it would have to be discussed with his wife. 

I didn’t want our relationship to end. But what I wanted to say — that I thought our argument was ridiculous, so could we please just work things out because I loved him — felt too risky. Breaking up with him was the safer choice; it allowed me to stay in control, to not have to face the possibility of rejection.

Would it have made a difference had I chosen to say “I love you” rather than “I’m done”? 

It’s possible that he and his wife would have decided that he should end our relationship, that he would’ve broken up with me had I not gotten around to it first. But perhaps we would’ve gone down a different path; I don’t know. I never allowed myself — allowed us — the chance to find out. 

Rachel Musselwhite writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.