After a year together, my girlfriend Beth moved a few hours away to go to grad school this past September.
Knowing sex is important to Beth, I worried that with the distance she might not want to stay in our relationship, as we could only get together every two or three weekends. So I proposed that we agree that we can have sex with other people when we aren’t in the same city.
My only interest in opening our relationship was so that Beth would not want to leave. I didn’t tell her my reasoning, because I worried she’d think I am pathetic or needy. I just said I thought it was a good idea for a long-distance relationship.
I was a little worried that if Beth slept with other women, she might become attracted to someone else. But I hoped that if we saw each other every few weekends, we would maintain our strong romantic/emotional connection.
I’ve gotten together with just one other woman since September and I didn’t really like the experience at all. It made me realize that being in love with the person I am having sex with is pretty much why I like sex.
But Beth can — and does — separate love and sex. She tells me she’s having a good time with other women when we’re not together.
Now I’m unhappy with the situation I created. Jealous even though Beth says she’s devoted to me and not going anywhere. But I’m afraid that if I tell her I don’t like an open relationship, she’ll want to leave me. What, if anything, should I do?
If you don’t want Beth to see you as pathetic and needy, you will have to stop acting pathetic and needy.
You can accomplish this in large part by working to better understand yourself and what is important to you, and then basing your behavior on this understanding, rather than on what you hope your girlfriend might want.
There’s nothing wrong with being considerate of your partner. If Beth wants an open relationship while the two of you are living apart, you might consider this; but not if agreeing to do so would mean that you sell yourself out.
That said, when you proposed opening your relationship, were you proposing something that Beth particularly wanted? From your letter, it sounds like you came up with this proposal out of fear, without having spoken to Beth or having given any thought to your own feelings about an open relationship.
I am curious as to why you didn’t have a conversation about this, instead of rushing to offer a solution you thought Beth would like. Did you ask yourself what you might like, other than keeping Beth in the relationship?
Some questions for you to contemplate:
Why are you so desperate to be with Beth that you would suggest a dramatic change to your relationship in order to solve a problem she hadn’t even raised?
Is this behavior of yours one-time only, or are there other times you have striven to please another person or “make them happy” without thinking of your own wants?
Is it a pattern for you to fantasize about what another person wants and then do your best to create that situation without first checking with them as to their actual preferences?
One of my teachers often says: “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” Meaning, if you’re having a big, dramatic reaction to something, your response has its roots in your history.
I imagine that your desire to try and please someone else without considering your own contentment ties to your life story. When did you first engage in this behavior? Was it a dynamic in your family as you were growing up? What were you afraid would happen and what were the actual consequences if you disappointed another person? Starting to understand the roots of this behavior may help you separate past from present and fear from reality.
If you continue to twist yourself into a pretzel in hope of pleasing others, you certainly aren’t going to be happy or content. Nor will you be an alluring partner to anyone who values being with someone who is solid and self-confident. So I suggest you get to know your own wants, priorities and values. Then respect yourself enough to take a stand when an issue is important to you, even though you cannot know what response you will get.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.