He was married twice before, the first marriage ending in divorce by his ex, with whom he has five children, mostly all grown. He takes care of them all financially and is a good father. The divorce was very hard for him; however, he is in contact with his ex — she works for him — and they have a good friendship. He married again, and his second wife died from breast cancer about two years ago. They had a horrible relationship as she was controlling and was degrading to him, and he felt hopelessly trapped in the relationship until she died. Her death was a relief to him, and he gained his “freedom” at that time. He was//is a caretaker so he stuck with her throughout the illness, and he was glad to have his home and life back after an essentially miserable ten-year marriage.
Then I entered the picture. I am the polar opposite of both wives. I am independent, have an excellent career, and am non-controlling, kind, open and supportive to him and his family. We are in love with each other, deeply, and he says this is the greatest love he has experienced. Our blissful new relationship energy has sustained for nearly nine months, and I do not want to be with anyone else romantically or sexually.
The problem is that he has clearly stated that he does not want to be exclusive with me. He wants/needs to have other loves in his life, but that does not limit his feelings for me. He believes that his prior relationship unhappiness was partly because he did not like who he was when committed to only one person. He was faithful to his previous wives, but he now believes that his new-found happiness is due to his freedom to love without artificial/institutional restrictions. I think a big part of his current happiness is because he has found someone — me — to share time and love with who is actually a better fit for him.
I do not want to push him, and I have said that I do not want to know about others that he might be seeing. We have discussed safe sex practices, and I have expressed my need for emotional safety and that I require frequent reassurances about his love to me. I am still confused, though, about whether this will work for me in the long run. I was cheated on in my past two relationships, by partners who had agreed to monogamy. He is not cheating because we do not have such an agreement. He is non-jealous, and he has stated that he would be OK if I dated others, even including having sexual relations.
My friends have urged me to not compromise on my values or needs, but I feel like this relationship works on many, if not most, levels. I do not know if my “head-in-the sand” approach is advisable, whether his love for me is “real,” whether I can stomach his loving other women at the same time as me. I am in therapy trying to figure out my best strategy, but I would appreciate your input. — Looking for the Real Deal
For some people, a relationship like this could work out perfectly. I could see, especially for older couples who don’t care to marry and/or raise kids because they’ve already “been there, done that,” that a relationship that’s loving but non-monogamous could provide the companionship and intimacy they want without the burden of commitment they’ve learned doesn’t work for them. The issue is both people in the relationship, obviously, have to be on the same page and when you describe your approach to this kind of arrangement as “head-in-the-sand,” it doesn’t sound like sharing the man you love is something you embrace.
It doesn’t even sound like you need therapy to figure out whether you can stomach the idea of your boyfriend loving and dating and being intimate with other women. What you may need help deciding is whether your ability to stomach something is the best measure for whether something is good and right and the best option for you. Even if you could stomach the idea of sharing your boyfriend with other women, is that the relationship you really want? And if it isn’t, does compromising one thing you want — a monogamous relationship — for something else you want — your boyfriend — bring you happiness in the end?
If it doesn’t — if full relationship happiness is, for you, dependent on both who your partner is AND the kind of arrangement you have — don’t settle for less than what you want or you won’t be happy. It’s a pretty easy equation: Good man + monogamy = happy relationship (for you). An even easier equation is this: Good match = good relationship. If you don’t want the same things, then it isn’t a very good match, no matter how much you may like each other.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.