Guest blog: When all the ‘what if’s come at once

Picture by the awesome Stuart F Taylor

I’m a firm believer in the power of writing to help you work through your feelings. I often find myself halfway through a post, suddenly realising that the emotions I have about this or that story have evolved or become clearer as I’m writing: we are our stories, and trying to capture the narratives that run through our lives is such a powerful (and valuable) thing to do. Today’s guest blogger is writing to capture a bundle of complex emotions about FOMO, relationships, and life in his 40s that are tricky to label and digest. Especially because, when you’re polyamorous, many of the scripts we have around different life stages don’t quite seem to fit. Thank you so much Northern Boy, and I hope your thoughts can help other people who might be struggling with similar things…

When all the ‘what if’s come at once

When your life doesn’t follow the path of ‘education, marriage to one person, kids, then retirement’ it’s easy to get your head in a pickle.

As a society, we don’t have well-trodden paths and norms for polyamorous relationships. We don’t have great words for ‘that amazing friend who is married but you occasionally snog and that’s OK because everybody involved is fine with it’ let alone for the complex mix of feelings and emotions that can arise in those relationships. Unless you’re talking to somebody else in that world, it feels like there’s a good chance that they are going to view you as potentially ruining somebody else’s marriage.

A pickled head can ensue.

I’m writing this from a position of privilege, of which I am well aware, but it might not land well with some, and I’ll take that risk. I’m fairly confident there will be a bunch of folks who feel the same way, and I want you to see this.

I find myself in my early forties, in a non-monogamous relationship with a long-term partner who I love deeply, with no children, and a job that I like enough to keep on doing for a good while yet, that pays me enough to not worry about how much it pays me. All in all, especially on the scale of the world today, I have nothing to complain about.

So why have the last few months felt so crappy? Because it’s not what I have in my life, maybe it’s the things I don’t have, or worse still, the things I think I could have but don’t. There’s jealousy, FOMO, heart-ache, longing, sadness, regret, yearning, keening, endless horniness, guilt, and a million other emotions boiling away inside me, and I’ve no idea if this is normal, a phase or, goddess forbid, Just What The Future Is Like, all tempered by an acute awareness that this is all, possibly Classic Male Entitlement Syndrome.

Maybe it’s something to do with my age and being child-free? My 20s were a tonne of fun. During my 30s I really solidified my career and relationship stuff. I turned 40 during COVID, which was a bit odd, no big party, no night out, no private party in a hot tub full of my naughty friends. It was a bit of an anticlimax, despite being a nice day, and my 40s have been… fine.

I guess I was hoping that my friends who I partied, orgied, and generally delighted in being around might have reappeared and reengaged now that their kids are a bit older and more self-sufficient, but it doesn’t look that way.

That crowd of young professional swingers (professional by day, swingers by night) who filled many a luxury flat or sneaky weekend rented house seem to have settled into family life and are not coming out to play, and I 100% get that their lives are different now. I love it when we hang out and watch their children whizz round on the new wooden floors on Christmas scooters, but it’s not the same.

Attempts to reignite old flirting conversations over messaging apps seem to go nowhere, yet it’s only a few scrolls back to find sneaky lingerie shots, or them sending me text vignettes written from their desks mid-afternoon hot enough to leave me breathless and hard as hell at mine. These days, it’s mostly bread-making tips and catching up on their dispute with a neighbor and I love them, this is what friends are for, but God do I miss the tease and chase. I mean, my scone tips are good, but nobody will ever again reply with “Any chance you can help stuff my wife with dicks this weekend?”

It might have something to do with a recent minor health scare. Getting some bad news (not terrible news, but not what you were hoping for) can make you suddenly so aware that Time Is Running Out and There’s So Much Still To Try, doubling down on all the other feelings swirling about in my head. What if I’ve only got a few years left? What if this weekend is the one that those dodgy blood results were warning about? Why am I staying up late rewatching sci-fi films I know the words to when I could be Out There Doing Something Exciting?

Speaking of Doing All The Things Whilst You Can, the power of the Internet is Rule 34, and then sometimes you stumble on something you just can’t shift. Not a squicky horrible thing (though rule 34 will naturally throw hundreds of these up), but the fetish that you didn’t even know you had, the one that just doesn’t mesh with you as you know yourself, or the rest of your desires, kinks and frankly, social connections. That one sits in the back of your brain, an itch that wants to be scratched, but to do so you’d need to potentially break a whole load of internal barriers and maybe end up somewhere that you’re deeply uncomfortable. It’s not even that it’s uncommon, a quick noodle through Fetlife will show up quite literally thousands of people living their best lives and embracing it, but it’s a big leap and, what if…? What if.

Let’s not forget the impact of The Apps too (well, the app, Feeld, I am looking right at you). These people are into the same things you’re into and they are geographically handy but they also aren’t swiping right on me! What’s wrong with me? Even when I match with somebody and we chat a bit, and it seems like there’s something there, but they stop replying, that yearning really hurts. I have to make myself not click back to their profile, with the absolute catnip photo that had me hooked before I even read their list of desires. That’s a scab I can’t help but pick, reopening the little well of hope, filth, and ultimately, disappointment and frustration.

Another bundle of emotions, one where our lack of language really doesn’t help, is ‘seeing your poly ex happy’. I want her to be happy, I can’t rewind time and do it differently, I miss her but I know that this is for the best, but that deep aching grey yearning, coloured with bright hard, and sharp feelings of jealousy when I see photos of her adventures, that is a special kind of head fuck. And yes, I have a touch of synesthesia, I wish I could paint my feelings.

And finally, there’s the Old Flame, the One That Got Away, and the FWB who’s half a world away. Every so often they pop back up, there’s a brief flurry of flirty messages and maybe a hug in public that goes on just too long, or a sleepy cuddle on the sofa after a film that doesn’t turn into a hand around their throat and getting them off as they squirm against me and I whisper threats in their ear, as we did a decade ago. I love every one of them, and I wouldn’t want to not have them in my life, but my head and my heart are awash with so many emotions this month that I feel like they’re going to bust out of my chest like a fucking CareBear rainbow at any minute.

If you’ve got this far and are thinking “Jeez, I get it, tell me you’d benefit from therapy without telling me you’d benefit from therapy”, and I think you’re probably on to something. I am acutely aware of my emotions and their impact on my behavior. I suspect I’m being a right mopey sod at the moment, and those around me have probably picked up on it, so it’s time to do something about it.

Writing is cathartic, and whilst I’ve never got into journaling, I occasionally write things like this that don’t go anywhere other than an email to myself. I’m never going to publish them and I’d be mortified if others read them, which is why they are on my laptop, but pouring it all out and editing it around as if I’m going to publish it helps.

I’ve also got a couple of books recommended by a friend to read, or if I’m being honest with myself, skim, or pay for one of those condensed summaries that are so suited to self-help books. They’re about finding contentment.

If I could tell my younger self to relax a bit more and make the most of it, because for most people this period of their lives is limited, that’s how I’d use my once in a lifetime loan of a Delorian, but time travel isn’t real, so it’s probably time to go and book a few sessions with my counsellor again.

Over the last ten years, I’ve done a couple of short runs working with her, and they’ve been immensely helpful. If you’ve ever considered it and been too anxious to try, embarrassed, or put off because it seems “too American”, please do give it a go. What I’ve worked on in the past is how to navigate my feels whilst we’re still without the words and norms for my life.

In the meantime, I’m off to brush up my Feeld profile, hang out with those I love, and lean into a Saturday where I don’t have to take the kids to clubs. I’ll probably bake some scones.



  • Oh, i feel this so much even though my life is different. There is an extra pressure to age. I’m older and I know that I’m running out of time. I put everyone else first without thinking what that might mean for my future.
    I haven’t written my thoughts about this yet as I don’t want to be responsible for the amount eye rolling strain that I will trigger. And feeld can sprinkle hope into my life but the effort to results ratio is off and I’m always the extra who people enjoy but no-one wants something more.

    I wish you good times and that annoying feedback from a decade further on that says that you still have time. So much time.

  • northern boy says:

    Thank you

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