Is it cheating or polyamory?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I’m demisexual and I’m 23 (she/her), I’m dating a 24 yo woman, we have been together for 6 years (4 before she came out as trans girl). Months before quarantine she express she wanted to experience sex with men, but didn’t wanted to break up cause she still loved me.

Since we have never been in an open relationship before we made a deal where she could try it once and we could analyze if an open relationship could work for us or not.

Then, right before the confinement due to the virus, we had the best days and she told me she regretted the deal even before trying it, since she didn’t need anything else but me.

We haven’t been so close lately due to confinement (we don’t live together) and university projects. Lately she confessed to me that about a month ago, she started sexting one of her friends as a joke and eventually went to her house and had sex with her, and fell in love with her.

It was too much to process. She cried a lot and apologized for hurting me, she told me she thought the deal we made before the confinement was still on and she wanted to suggest a polyam relationship because she still loves me and sees me as her life partner but at the same time, she fell for this other girl (the other girl knew about me and the “deal” all the time).

I love my girlfriend with all my heart because I know she is sincere about her love for me and she made a huge mistake but I made the mistake of putting other things before her too, I don’t want this to end because we still get along perfectly and we both still feel love for each other but i’m not ready at all for a polyam relationship.

She is still thinking what to do but claims how much she loves me everyday and even talk about living together in the future. I still don’t know if she’ll stay with me as she makes me think or if she wants to date more freely, but every time we talk, we know in our hearts, we don’t want this to end, we want to grow old together.

— Confused

Dear Confused,

Oh, what a painful thing. I’m so terribly sorry that your girlfriend betrayed your trust and then gaslit you about it.

Because make no mistake: that is exactly what is happening here. Not polyamory vs. monogamy. Betrayal and gaslighting.

Plenty of people start as poly under duress (‘PUD,’ coined by my vicious rival in the relationship advice world Dan Savage) and become enthusiastically poly after experiencing it more. Plenty of people fall ass-backward into poly due to cheating but wind up making it work — and even being glad it happened.

This might even have happened for you, even though you say you aren’t ready at all for polyamory. I’m not sure we can ever be ready for it until we’re doing it (the same goes for monogamy, actually).

But your girlfriend has a lot of work to do to earn back your trust for any sort of genuine partnership to continue. You definitely will not have a successful relationship with her regardless of what rules and boundaries you set if she doesn’t do that.

I’m going to pull this apart for you, because I can tell that the gaslighting has already worked its hideous magic:

First, you had an agreement that she would try sex, ONCE, with a man, and then you would analyze whether or not an open relationship could work for both of you. Presumably this meant you would have a say in this.

Regardless of her silly monogamist speech to you about how you’re ‘all she needs,’ the above was your agreement: she would try sex, ONCE, with a man, and then you would analyze whether or not an open relationship could work for both of you.

Instead, she had sex, presumably multiple times (falling in love surely takes more than one boink), with a woman, fell in love, and isn’t analyzing a damn thing with you.

That was not anything like what you agreed upon. She broke your agreement. Broke that motherfucker right in half.

She cheated on you. She just plain old cheated on you.

Cheating happens, and it doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship if it does.

But the cheater needs to take full responsibility for what she did and earn back trust by showing herself to be honest, by putting the relationship ahead of everything else for now, and working hard to prove her trustworthiness.

Pretending that she ‘thought the deal we made before the confinement was still on’ with no acknowledgement that even if it were, bedding a woman and falling in love with her sure as fuck wasn’t the agreement — does not show you that she is trustworthy.

Crying a lot and making you deal with HER feelings about having hurt you and then immediately justifying what she did and making demands to change the relationship instead of her supporting YOUR feelings about, yanno, being hurt — does not show you that she is trustworthy.

Trying to weasel out of how things went down by claiming to have been sexting ‘as a joke’ (no one sexts ‘as a joke;’ they use that excuse to deny culpability) — does not show you that she is trustworthy.

Demanding a polyamorous relationship because she ‘fell in love’ (although wording it as if she is asking; you can bet your ass she is still fucking her) — does not show you that she is trustworthy.

You want to stay with her. You say you get along ‘perfectly.’

But at what cost?

She is lying, cheating, and prioritizing her feelings over yours. If you get along ‘perfectly,’ you are having to keep your mouth shut quite a bit, or she has done such a good job of working you down to a nub over the years that you no longer realize that your feelings and opinions matter, so you tell yourself that you don’t have them.

You say also that you ‘still feel love’ for each other.

I am here to tell you something that most of us learn through many painful experiences like this one: love is not a FEELING. Love is a VERB.

Love is not that fluttery feeling of attraction and affection. Love is action: day in and day out, lifting up your partner instead of pushing her aside, standing by your partner instead of standing on her. Love is offering your partner honesty, kindness, integrity, and respect.

And she is not loving you. She is not loving you by a long shot.

I think you need to walk away from this woman.

You need time. You need time to grow and to learn that you are worthy of love-as-a-verb and to find your footing as your brain finishes its development without all of this shitty, shitty brain-damaging (and I mean brain-damaging) manipulation getting in your way.

You need time away from her.

Please take it.

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