Roughly one quarter of Britons admit they’ve been in love with more than one person at the same time and two thirds of Americans think it is entirely possible.
It’s an unpleasant thought for anyone in a committed relationship with a partner they love and are faithful to, but many people do end up torn between two (or more) lovers.
In the majority of cases, it’s usually about choosing between an established relationship and a new one.
There you are, quite contentedly sailing along with a partner until – Wham! – out of the blue someone appears who makes your heart thump out of your chest and liquefies your loins.
Then you’re faced with a huge dilemma: which should you go for? The tried-and-true or new and infinitely more exciting?
Here’s what two real women told me about their experiences.
Sex therapist Tracey Cox reveals if it is possible to love two people at once after speaking with two women who think it is (stock image)
Tracey (pictured) gives tips on what to do if you want to sleep with two people at once, including being clear with your intentions
Chrissie, 38, a journalist, had to choose between old and new love
‘I had to choose between my husband of four years and another man I’d started having an affair with. It crippled me for more than a year and was the most stressful period of my life.
I’d been with my husband for ten years and our relationship had become companionable friendship.
We were inseparable and mad about each other for the first four years – I used to worry I loved him a little too much. But a decade is a long time to stay intensely in love.
I wasn’t looking for an affair, but I was definitely feeling bored and up for some excitement. I met the person at a work event of my husband’s.
My husband was handsome and successful, this guy was quite ordinary in comparison. But the attraction was instant and reciprocated.
I’d sneak off to see him either at his house (where his flatmate glared at us judgementally) or in out of the way restaurants.
HOW TO CHOOSE BETWEEN TWO LOVERS
Being in love with more than one person can be simultaneously wonderful and awful. Your brain is pumping out dopamine, releasing powerful endorphins that make you feel alive and euphoric, but it’s also stressful because there’s usually guilt over some form of cheating. Invariably, it involves making a painful choice.
To make the right one, you need to apply logic to an emotional situation.
STEP ONE: Give yourself breathing space
Stop seeing the person you’ve met most recently and put everything you’ve got into trying to make it work with the person you’ve been with the longest.
Because the biggest mistake you could possibly make is to leave a good relationship – one that could have been saved with a bit of work – for someone who turns out not to be quite as fabulous as you thought.
Break up with your old lover because there’s no hope for the two of you, not because of someone else. Most relationships seem promising in the first month or two but few make it past that.
STEP TWO: Look objectively at the relationship you’ve been in the longest
On one side of the page, write down all the things you like about the relationship. On the other, write down all the things you don’t like.
Beside each don’t like point, tick those things you think you could change if you both worked hard on the relationship. Put a cross beside those you don’t think will alter, no matter what both of you do. ‘Doesn’t get on with my friends’ is something you could sort out (even if it means seeing them without your partner), so that gets a tick.
Go back up to the start of the ‘don’t like’ side and start again, this time rating each point out of ten on how important it is to you. (One is not important, ten is extremely important.)
‘Find them unattractive’ might rate a ten, ‘Not getting on with friends’ a four.
When finished, this list represents the state of your relationship and what hope there is of saving it.
If the ‘don’t like’ side also has mostly crosses and tens, it means there’s a lot you’re unhappy with, it’s all important to you and largely unfixable.
If that’s the case, it probably is time to move on. If it’s the opposite: the ‘do like’ side has lots of points and the ‘don’t like’ side lots of ticks and low numbers, stay where you are, at least temporarily.
There’s plenty left to work with, your gripes aren’t that important to you and your attraction to the new person is probably because you’re in a rut with your old lover.
STEP THREE: Trust your gut reaction
The next stage in crucial: having made your list, what’s your reaction to the decision it’s telling you to make?
Say the odds are definitely in favour of staying with your old lover: does the thought of it fill you with warmth – or dread?
It’s not going to work if, in your heart, you don’t want it to. You haven’t put your finger on the reason yet, but it’s there all right.
It’s pretty obvious you should leave your lover and give it a go with the new person but that makes you terrified? You’re probably scared to take a risk because you’re frightened you’ll end up alone.
Don’t forget there is a third option: don’t choose either of them.
Stay single for a while until you’re really sure where your heart lies.
When I wasn’t with him, I’d long for him. Physically ache with longing.
I agonised over whether to leave or stay. I knew you can’t compare a long-term relationship with a short term one, they are so different. But in the end, infatuation won and I left my marriage to be with this guy.
Within four months, I bitterly regretted it. I quickly saw him for what he was – a nice but unremarkable person who wasn’t remotely as interesting as my husband.
My husband wouldn’t have me back and I’ve still not forgiven myself five years later. My advice? The grass isn’t greener.’
Lyndsay, 46, a lawyer, truly loved her husband and his best friend at the same time
‘I can absolutely vouch that you can love two people, deeply and intimately, at one time. Trust me, I did this for nearly ten years before I did the ultimate in betrayal: I left my husband of 15 years for his best friend.
The three of us were close right from the start. I even met both of them at the same time and for years, it was wonderful.
I adored my husband and loved his best friend as a friend. He was best man at our wedding!
Then my husband went away for a month for work. His friend came over like he always did, most Saturday nights.
He was single at the time and hadn’t been with anyone for years, since he split up with a long-term girlfriend. I’d often wondered why – then I found out.
After a couple of bottles of wine, he blurted out that he loved me and had always loved me.
I was shocked and asked him to leave. Then very confused. I was always very protective over him and didn’t much like his ex. I wondered if I was jealous.
I didn’t see him for three days then we met to talk it through. I suspected I also had feelings but didn’t want to admit or act on them. Nothing happened for four years.
I never, ever stopped loving my husband and hoped my feelings for his friend wouldn’t develop. But they did.
We kissed once, five years after he’d said he loved me, and that was it.
I was then in love with two men, desperately loved both of them, with nothing but unbearable choices ahead of me.
Both of us loved my husband and the thought of hurting him and taking away both his wife and best friend was unthinkable.
Eventually, of course, we got caught. I suspect it was the worst day of our lives for all three of us. I have never forgiven myself, neither has my partner.
My husband wanted nothing to do with either of us and while we are happy and still together, we live with tremendous guilt.’
TRACEY’S VERDICT: You can have feelings for more than one person, but the solution is all down to choice and commitment
Chrissie’s story is a familiar one. In my experience, people often regret leaving a long-established relationship for someone else – particularly if they do it in the first few months of meeting someone.
Why do we throw caution to the wind? Probably because we forget something rather important.
While we might love our old love, if you’ve been together a while, it’s more a comfortable sort of feeling. Like sitting in front of a fire with a nice glass of wine.
New love is like being on a rollercoaster, laughing hysterically and screaming from the top of your lungs.
It’s like comparing a pair of worn-in, comfy slippers to the new killer heels you bought last week.
How can you choose? You want both.
For many people, being truly in love means you can’t possibly fall for someone else.
The definition of true love means one person satisfies everything: love is a feeling you can only feel for one person at any time.
But the human heart is a generous organ.
If you’re a warm, open person who adores meeting new people, you could fall in love with ten people at once if you let yourself.
WHAT IF I WANT TO SLEEP WITH TWO PEOPLE AT ONCE?
Some people don’t want to settle down with one person, particularly when it comes to sex. But how do you broach having multiple lovers with the people you’re sleeping with or having a relationship with?
If you just want sex, make this clear very early on. ‘I’m not up for anything serious, just hanging out and having fun. Is that OK with you?’. Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep.
If you want to see the person but not exclusively, make this clear early in the relationship. They then have a choice of whether to continue, before anyone gets too involved and potentially hurt.
There’s no easy way to do it. You have to say, ‘I need to talk about where we’re going with this’. They will look wary. It may not be a pleasant conversation.
Be specific about what you’re offering. Think before you talk to your partner about what you really want. Do you want more than one sexual partner but only one romantic/love relationship? What ‘rules’ would you willing to stick to, if your partner agreed. Or do you want to see and have sex with lots of people, without committing to one?
Traditionally, this is something men assume women will run a mile from. Not anymore: plenty of women, as well as men, are interested in casual relationships.
Practise safe sex in all senses. It goes without saying that you use condoms and avoid high risk sexual activity (condoms don’t protect against everything). You also owe it to your partners and yourself to have Covid-safe sex. This probably means having in person sex with one person and virtual sex with everyone else.
Be respectful. Having more than one sexual partner doesn’t mean boasting or being obvious about what you’ve been up to. If they’ve said they’ll turn a blind eye but don’t want to know details, respect it.
We’ve all got the potential.
One person might appeal to the adventurous side of us, the part that wants wild sex and excitement. Another person might make us feel safe, secure and deeply loved.
We think nothing of having lots of different friends, who we like for different reasons, but don’t like to think this could apply to romantic relationships as well.
As a society, we’re a lot more open to polyamory (having a relationship with more than one person at once with full permission from everyone involved) but it’s still viewed suspiciously.
It’s a rare person who decides they can handle more than one love relationship at the same time (even if sex is quite another matter).
What stops the majority of people falling for more than one person at once, is commitment to the relationship we’re already in and time and energy.
It’s hard enough making one relationship work let alone two of them simultaneously.
Commitment is the key word here. It’s an unpopular thing to say but contrary to what romantics espouse…love is a choice.
You don’t ‘fall’ in love. There is always a point when you know your feelings for someone else are getting dangerously out of control, if you’re already committed.
You can’t stop feeling naturally attracted to someone – but you can stop it developing into something more serious by restricting the time you spend with that person and refusing to let them in.
Deep, true intimacy needs time to develop. If you don’t give infatuation what it needs to change from a crush into something real – time together to get to know each other properly – it peters out.
Being excited by someone and sexually excited by them isn’t love, it’s infatuation.
Knowing the difference will save you one hell of a lot of heartache.
Check out Tracey’s brand new website at traceycox.com.