You Need Help: How Do I Navigate Being Monogam-ish With My Bi Girlfriend?

Q:

I’m a lesbian and I’ve been dating the most amazing woman for almost two years now. We connected instantly and when we met, we were both looking for something fun and open. Very quickly though, things escalated (as they do) and we decided that we wanted to be monogamous (well, monogamISH, meaning that we have open communication and that we want to tell each other if we have feelings for other people… it’s okay to talk about but we are sexually and emotionally exclusive).

I’ve only ever been in monogamous relationships, whereas she’s pretty much only been in poly[am] ones. It’s important to note that my girlfriend is bi and we’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch because she told me she has a crush on a guy that she knows. For some reason I felt terrible and even cried when she told me. I’m not sure why I felt so sad about this. We’ve talked openly and honestly about past partners and I’ve never felt weird about her dating men, it’s a part of her sexuality!

We’ve always said that group sex is okay as long as we are both present and consenting obviously, but I don’t think I could ever be with a man sexually. It makes me feel weird and gross. I know she likes the idea of having a threesome with a man, and I want to make her happy but I don’t know that I would feel comfortable with that.

We recently had a conversation with her friend who is also bisexual, who posed the question “can bisexual people be monogamous?” Because she ends up missing sex with women when she is monogamous with men and vice versa.

Do you think this is the case? I’m feeling at a loss. My feelings are confusing me and I know I’m hurting her when I react so strongly to her attraction to men. HELP.

A:

Hi! Right off the top, it’s crucial for me to say this: being monogamous and being bisexual are not mutually exclusive. This is a really problematic stereotype that has to go, like yesterday. Bi people have enough problems being accepted in queer community without these myths.

Your friend who “misses men” when they’re with women and vice versa probably shouldn’t be monogamous. If you miss other partners when you’re monogamous with one partner, to the degree that it causes you distress or affects your relationship, then you either don’t want to be monogamous with that partner or maybe shouldn’t be monogamous with anyone. A lot of people, non-monogamous people included, have this weird idea that they’ll eventually go happily monogamous with the right person once they’re ready to “settle down” or something. That’s another patriarchal stereotype. Some people will, some people won’t. It’s OK if you never want to be monogamous!

It’s also not OK, though, to string partners along, compromising into monogamy when you aren’t happy with it, and eventually cheating or breaking someone’s heart. Some people do this, and it has way more to do with their lack of introspection about what they need in a relationship than whether or not they’re bisexual. Cheaters are going to cheat. There are plenty of people to cheat with of every gender. Bi people don’t have “twice as many opportunities” to cheat or some other nonsense. If people want to commit to someone monogamously, they will, and if they don’t or can’t, they won’t.

Now, on to your situation. Since you said “we” had a conversation with that bi friend, I’m curious how your girlfriend responded to that statement. The omission of her perspective on this is ominous. Does she agree? If so, that spells trouble for y’all. Did she say, “No, of course bi people can be monogamous, I’m doing it right now, happily?” That would be good!

You and your girlfriend decided to be monogamish… what does that actually mean to y’all? Sometimes we say things, thinking the other person understands what we’ve said the same way we do, but it turns out we have wildly different interpretations of what the thing we said meant. You’re sexually and emotionally exclusive, except for threesomes? Was it explicit that these threesomes would be women only? The way you describe it, it doesn’t seem like y’all have actually had a threesome yet, and I’d bet you were hoping it’d actually never come up. If y’all haven’t explicitly talked about exactly what y’all mean by these things, you need to get on that ASAP.

Non-monogamous people shouldn’t “settle” unhappily into a monogamous relationship — but the opposite is also true. Monogamous people shouldn’t “settle” unhappy into a non-monogamous one. Are you sure you want to be non-monogamous? Did you do it for her, hoping that it would never actually be acted on? You have to work that out in therapy and through introspection and, hopefully, through honest conversations with her. But it sounds like the potential of your partner wanting to actually act on y’all’s non-monogamy is what’s really bothering you.

I can’t tell you why this particular experience of your partner having a crush on a man bothers you so much, except that maybe you’re jumping 18 steps ahead and imagining the threesome already and it’s freaking you out. Has she ever expressed a crush on a non-man? If not, maybe it’s the fact that she even has a crush, and it’s someone she knows, and the idea of non-monogamy is finally viable, and that’s stressing you out. And not that it’s a man.

But if she has, why did this bother you more? Is it the first time in a while, like, since y’all have been really serious? If it’s really because it’s a man, is that a result of some of your internalized biphobia or homophobia? Do you feel like she’s going to leave you for a “real” relationship with a man, that your relationship is just a placeholder or a phase or something? You really need to dig into what potentially unexamined assumptions you’re bringing into this. Or is it just about the idea of the threesome?

In terms of group sex, please don’t consent to anything that you’re actually uncomfortable with. If she absolutely needs to have group sex, with you and a man as part of it, to feel sexually fulfilled, and you’re not into it, then honestly you might need to break up. But that scenario seems really unlikely — it’s not clear from your question whether she’s actively pursuing a threesome with this male crush or any other man, or whether it’s something she’s casually floated as a general interest sometime in her life, in which case this is probably not an urgent concern. If it is, there are also other ways to approach it if you wanted to get creative. What if she fucked a guy and you masturbated in the corner and y’all kept eye contact the whole time? Or she gave you head while being fucked by him from behind? Or she got head from him while giving you head? Or any of countless arrangements that don’t involve you and him touching at all. Or, could you compromise on the “I have to be there” stipulation?

Overall, the solution here is to have a really honest conversation with her about this. Maybe you didn’t make your feelings and needs clear from the beginning. It’s absolutely within your rights to say “I want to be strictly monogamous.” Or to say, “I am OK with being non-monogamous, but only in terms of a threesome and only if the other person is a woman.” Or whatever stipulations you want to put out there. And it’s her right to say, “No, that doesn’t work for me.” Or to say, “Well, can we compromise?” It’s totally possible that there’s a great compromise that works well for both of you and you can both be happy. Or, she might say, “Babe, it’s just a crush. I only want to have sex with you. And I don’t need threesomes to be fulfilled.” You won’t know unless you talk about it!

It’s also possible that you have some hang ups that you need to explore and work through and once you do, this won’t bother you as much or at all. It’s also possible that y’all have different sexual needs that won’t be met in this relationship. And that’s OK too! It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out with this particular person. You want both of you to be happy, right? Even if it isn’t together? If that’s the case, you need to really examine what’s going on here from multiple angles, and be very honest with yourself and your partner about your sexual needs, and then move from there.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

Abeni Jones is a trans woman of color artist, educator, writer, and designer living in the Bay Area, CA. Follow her art on Instagram @abeni.jones or check out her website at abenijones.net. Got a music recommendation, a positive trans woman story/news item, or wanna book me for something? e-mail me by clicking here!

Abeni has written 56 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. This is some great advice. I’m bisexual and poly, and I really love that you pushed back on the stereotype that bisexuals cannot be monogamous. Seriously, y’all, there’s no way to be seen as a “good bisexual” in this world. You’re either monogamous and and seen as “really straight” or “really gay” depending on the gender of your partner. Or you are some flavor of non-monogamy and one of those “slutty bisexuals”.

    I’ve definitely experienced miscommunication with partners where we interpreted a label differently. FWIW, I wouldn’t call being sexually and emotionally exclusive but open to talking about crushes as “monogamish”. I’d call it monogamous with open communication. To me, monogamish means you have sex with others, but there’s no emotional connection and there are limits on time, place, frequency, etc. of those sexual experiences. My assumption is the letter writer’s girlfriend interpreted that label similarly, which makes me sad because it sounds like there might be an incompatibility in their relationship. In any event, good luck and please talk it out.

  2. Yep, great advice, including calling out the stupid trope that bi people aren’t capable of monogamy. Of course, there are definitely some people who truly aren’t capable of monogamy, including bisexuals, and non-bisexuals like me.

    As someone who took a long time to come to terms with the fact I don’t do monogamy, I will say that it can definitely take a while to work out your limits, even as the one who wants to do it. Your partner may well be happy with monogamy nearly all of the time, but may want a “hall pass” type arrangement for the occasional fling.

    Or, she may think that’s what she wants at present, but it might change if she meets someone she’s really into. And I can vouch for the fact it’s a really tough one to navigate, if it happens.

    If I was talking to her, I would encourage her to be as clear as she can about what she wants in terms of the arrangements, and to not promise stuff just to make her partner happy. And if her partner can’t deal with that, to accept the consequence they may well break up with her. Also, of course, things can change over time, on both ends, which can be good or bad.

    One thing I’d highlight is that you could be mixing up the concern about “how will it work in practice” with the “dude-crush”, or, more accurately, they could have a synergistic effect on each other. I’m not proud to admit that for some reason, and I still can’t pin-point it, I get a bit more nervous if my partner gets involved with a guy, at least at first. But if it’s all entirely new – you haven’t had to navigate this situation before – it’s a lot more stressful.

    For me, once I get to know the guy – or don’t, but there’s no drama or angst – I’m pretty relaxed about everything. Same, of course, if it’s not a guy. But for some people, they may not ever be at ease with it. Unfortunately, the only way to know is to try and find out.

    Regarding threesomes etc, I really don’t like them, no matter the gender combination, so they are not a mandatory thing, no matter how much you might be into open relationships. If you gf has a fantasy, well, if you’re cool with her fulfilling it, that’s fine. It’s also fine to say you won’t be part of that, sorry. It’s nothing to do with any of the other considerations of negotiating non-monogamy.

    It’s also fine to have other boundaries – no shagging in your bed, no PDAs in front of each other, no explicit descriptions of their sex, etc. As long as you’re operating in good faith on both sides – trying to work things out as a team – then that’s an excellent start. As others have said, communication is key.

  3. As one of those non-monogamous bisexuals I definitely have some feelins. A few years ago it felt like there was a huge swing toward the ‘monogamous bisexual’ movement with all these YouTubers coming out and telling definitive stories about their monogamy in an effort to do away with the stereotype of promiscuous bisexuality. It left me wondering if I was one of the bad ones. It took me a while to work out where my sexuality and my relationship style line up. I told a friend recently that being monogamous with one gender felt like putting a piece of myself in a box under the bed and trying not to look at it. I’m much more whole and at peace with myself when I can freely express my sexuality in as many forms as I see fit. Amazingly both of these statements are true: I am in an 8 year long committed relationship and I am non-monogamous. That’s just my particular story and I’m sure so many people have myriad stories of how things work in practice.

    Anyway. One of the things I took away from the question is that I would hope that someone who has ‘pretty much only been in poly[am]’ relationships would bring some tools and resources to the table to navigate those relationships and it doesn’t sound like they’re doing that. I’m in my 30s now and have been doing this non-monog bisexual thing for almost 7 years with my partner of 8 years. At this point I’ve been in a polyamorous triad, a long-term poly relationship with a woman who had a long-term primary partner herself, and some more casual dating situations. I didn’t always do it right. It certainly took me a while to be good at talking about non-monogamy and articulating exactly my needs and boundaries and to start asking partners explicitly for theirs. It’s not like I give new partners homework… but yeah I kind of give people homework if they’re new to non-monogamy or don’t have very well-defined ideas for themselves.

    First I would send anyone who wants to take on the ‘monogamish’ label back to its source: Dan Savage. While Savage is a queer man, I appreciate that he is also a white, cis man and lots of people are over taking advice from white cis men. But ‘monogamish’ is largely the creation of his work and his reader community and he has 30+ years of experience as a sex advice columnist so there is a lot out there to dig up if you just google ‘Dan Savage monogamish’. I always really liked his talks in conversation with Esther Perel (who also has a corpus of good resources about desire and longterm relationships). Then there’s the go-to handbook: The Ethical Slut by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton (a queer woman and a non-binary person who says they aren’t sure how they identify right this moment in the 2018 edition). The book is a bit slow going for anyone who has already been practicing non-monogamy for a while, but it gave me the language I needed at times to express myself. It also has a section on opening existing relationships and something for ‘The One Who Chose None of This’ (meaning a person who didn’t necessarily want to be non-monogamous). I would seek out the most recent edition if it’s of interest.

  4. A lot of this really resonates with me! I’m bisexual and mostly monogamous (with a partner who more or less identifies as a man). I like the idea of having sexual encounters with womxn (at sex parties, etc), but I’m forever torn about whether that’s my ‘authentic’ desire or part of a need to affirm my queerness to the world.

  5. From a fellow lesbian dating an amazing bi girl: you’ve got to work on yourself first and foremost. Abeni’s advice is all good and you should listen to it.

    I can see a lot of worries within this one question and you need to be clear if they are coming from:
    A)The universal feeling of being in a great relationship and not wanting to fuck it up or
    B)The specific dynamic of you being a lesbian in a relationship with a bisexual woman who might want a threesome

    At the moment it seems like you’re putting a lot of emphasis on the bisexual part when it really might not be relevant. I think most of this question falls into category A.

    You have to listen to your partner and trust everything they tell you about what they want. From what you say here the things they want at the moment are to talk openly to you and to be committed to you. Crushes are natural feelings that everyone has, the fact that your partner told you about this one is a good sign that she trusts you. You have to take her word that she wants to be “sexually and emotionally exclusive” with you, meaning not acting on that crush without your permission. I recently told my girlfriend I had a crush on a girl, she was a bit upset but now we’re both over it and we’re closer than ever. Crushes happen regardless of gender and sexual orientation. Welcome to long term relationships!

    She might be open to a threesome with a man; you might not be. Then it’s up to you both to negotiate whether she can happily live without it (maybe she can!) or not, and if she can’t then whether you can deal with that happening without you there/without you actively participating or not at all. It’s the same as negotiating whether you want to try [insert kinky sex act here] together or not.

    I would advise you to consume as much media as you can made by bisexual people – when you do that you will realise that there is no one bisexual experience. The label bisexual does not tell you whether a person can be happily monogamous or poly, if they are horny or frigid, an introvert or extrovert. Your friend’s experience of her sexuality is not the same as your girlfriend’s, just like mine is different from yours. Just talk to your girlfriend when you know what’s going on with you and listen to her carefully.

    • a lesbian should literally never have to negotiate whether or not she’s gonna have sex with a man, threesome or no. “actively participating or not” is NOT the same here as “negotiating” whether she wants to try a new kinky thing. a sexual orientation can’t be negotiated – in the situation you’re desrcibing it would only be disrespected in a blatantly homophobic way, and very likely cause trauma.

  6. wow I had just totally taken it for granted that crushes and talking to each other about crushes were totally compatible with monogamy. I personally for myself can’t imagine committing to like, not have crushes (???), and I def want to talk about them and hear about them from my partner!

    • if you’d read the entire ask you’d see that this person’s problem went way beyond just discussing crushes. the girlfriend was actively open to coercing her into sexual situations (eg “suggesting” a threesome with a man).

    • @devney I’ve had both types of experiences when I was in monogamous relationships, with people I could talk to freely about crushes, and people who considered having any kind of feelings for someone outside of the relationship to be “emotional cheating”. It is unfortunately not that uncommon of an attitude.

  7. it is BEYOND concerning when ANYONE, especially your actual partner, would even suggest having a threesome with a man when they know full well you’re a lesbian. it’s a gigantic red flag – whoever wrote this is in a relationship with someone who right off the bat does not respect your boundaries. also fully understandable that it is more hurtful when this girlfriend talks about crushes on men seeing as society and our surroundings are constantly making us believe that lesbian relationships and lesbian sex can never be enough. to the person who wrote this ask: it’s only gonna get worse from here, you deserve so much better. it’s gonna hurt to break up but staying with someone who already has such a completely different views of what love is will hurt even more. you deserve happiness and that is not what this person can give you.

    • The questioner doesn’t say that her partner suggested having a threesome with a man. The wording to me doesn’t imply any boundaries being crossed, just that she’s aware of her partner’s interest in the idea and she is trying to work out her own feelings around it. People can share their internal thoughts/interests/fantasies with their partners without it necessarily being an invitation or a suggestion.

    • This doesn’t make sense. It’s not disrespectful of a straight man’s straightness if his woman partner (whether she’s straight or bi) wants to have a threesome with him and another gentleman (who himself may be either straight or bi).

      And ditto for a bi or straight man, partnered with a straight woman, being interested in a threesome with another woman (who might be bi or straight).

      Like, I get that there is a lot of social/cultural stuff that a) may make a lesbian woman less excited or ok with the possibility (very valid) and/or b) likely requires handling everything extra delicately.

      But someone being bi doesn’t invalidate someone else being monosexual, that’s not how it works.

      • not comparable. a straight man will not have been pressured his whole life to have sex with men. there are no conversion camps aimed at straight men. there are no religions claiming they will suffer eternal damnation for not wanting to sleep with other men. straight couples don’t get followed and constant offers of threesomes from other men. suggesting a threesome with a man to a lesbian is only disrespectful, and for you to downplay it to this degree is alarming. someone being bi doesn’t invalidate homosexuality and i never inferred that it did. what does *literally* invalidate it however is you saying that what “may make a lesbian woman less excited or ok with the possibility” of sex with a man is “social/cultural stuff” rather than you know, her being a homosexual. there is no “delicate” way to ask a lesbian if she wants to have sex with a man. frankly it’s scary that you’re suggesting there would be.

        • Again though, you’re conflating informing/making someone aware of a fantasy with suggesting it, and then further spiraling from there into this being frightening, traumatizing and coercive. People have the right to share their fantasies with their partners. Their partners then have the right to express their own boundaries around them (which might not be the same as yours or other lesbians’).

          I’m thinking that you might have some personal traumatic history around this, and if that’s the case I’m very sorry you went through whatever happened. I’d ask you to consider whether you might be projecting some of your own experiences onto someone else’s situation here.

        • Of course it would be awful to suggest to a lesbian that she have sex with a man in a threesome or otherwise!!! That is not the point I was making whatsoever, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. All I was trying to say is it’s very feasible and common for two of the three people in a threesome to have no sexual contact with one another, and instead just with the third person. I’m sorry that wasn’t clear :(

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