The Dating Game: The Disclose Act

The first time I dated someone who eventually said he didn't practice monogamy, it didn't seem like such a terrible idea. He wasn't someone I saw as a permanent fixture and I had been dating multiple people (none seriously, and few with any significant physical intimacy); he made a pretty solid case for the difference between emotional and physical intimacy, jealousy as an aphrodisiac and for his ability to be cognizant of everyone's feelings.

That cognizance lasted for just over a month, when he called me up from another woman's bed, excited to brag that he'd had his first weekend of fucking a different person each night. He didn't understand how that wasn't in keeping with the deal we had to be kind about disclosure; I explained that bragging by phone from another women's bed wasn't exactly respectful to any of us. It probably won't surprise too many people, then, that the first time I slept with someone else and told him in a respectful way that his comfort with non-monogamy got somewhat more uncomfortable for him. 

What didn't seem like a problem at the time, but does after more experience, was that the pronouncement of his commitment to non-monogamy came not on the first date, or just before we slept together, but rather somewhat into the relationship. It turns out that he—like many people I've known or have dated—didn't seek to date other people also seeking non-monogamy or polyamory: He wanted to be in a non-monogamous relationship with whomever, and felt that he could convince women that otherwise preferred monogamy to go along with it. And, of course, he was rather more comfortable with someone who didn't act on her ability to act on the agreement: At the end of the day, whether it was me, the other woman he was dating at the time, or the very inexperienced 19-year-old he added to the rotation, he wanted one of us there when he was wanted one of us there and, preferably, waiting when he didn't.

That, of course, is not particularly fair to any party—and it demonstrated that his interest in non-monogamy was pretty one-sided. Whether you're into monogamy or consider yourself polyamorous, it might be easier to meet people outside of the scene and start a relationship without the disclosure that you are, but it gets hard to maintain a relationship. Like with many things sexually, compatibility is key: if one person is into BDSM, getting involved with someone very vanilla might be emotionally stimulating, but it can be hard to replace a need to be flogged with the occasional fanny-slap. Getting involved in a non-monogamous or polyamorous relationship with someone who is otherwise exceedingly monogamous can often lead to hurt feelings, missed signals and a lack of healthy communication that's necessary for almost every relationship.

And the only thing more difficult than sussing out whether someone whose experiences have been exclusively monogamous is honestly interested or willing to try out a different mode of exclusivity is doing so after they already like you and want to keep the relationship going. At that point, a lot of people are willing to try something outside of their comfort zone, whether or not they really believe that they can get comfortable with it, in the hopes that your interest or feelings will lead you to sacrifice your preferences later they way they are willing to do so now. 

And, great: sometimes that works. And sometimes people get comfortable with things they thought they wouldn't be, or a polyamorous person is willing to sacrifice their relationship with others to focus on one. But when it doesn't, it sucks for almost everyone involved—and often, all that was necessary to start was an honest exploration of what each person wanted and expected, and communication as those things changed. Too often, people worry that if they expose the truth about themselves, the other person won't like them or understand... So they hold the truth back until they're convinced the other person likes them enough that the reality of whatever they were convinced was unlikeable will pass by unnoticed.

But, you know, if someone isn't interested in a polyamorous relationship and being polyamorous is important to you, it's not an issue that will magically disappear in the shadow of your love. If you tell someone up front, you might lose a crush over it, but that's less crushing than losing a relationship; and the fairest thing to do is to let someone decide for themselves if they like you as you really are, rather than the person you're pretending to be. And maybe you'll be surprised.

[Image via Anomalily on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]

Comments

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Polyamory and men

Thanks for this, you nailed in when you described the one-sided nature of this bullshit called polyamory. I once was talking to a guy I had met at a spiritual ritual and he quickly informed me that he and his wife had an open marriage - as though that would benefit me in any way possible. The first question in my mind (the man's wife was 8 mos. pregnant) was whether he was cool with his wife doing with other men what he was doing with me or wanted to do with me. How did he feel about the idea of a guy sticking his cock into his wife and possibly touching the baby with it? I seriously doubt he would have liked it. Yet another example of double standards when dealing with men and sex.

The one thing I disagree with in your article is the part where you say that people don't tell the truth because they are afraid of rejection or not being liked or whatever. In most cases, I would argue that people are afraid not that you won't like them, but that they will not get what they want. This guy is a case in point. Yes, he should have been up front to begin with - of course, and not be sleeping with you and then inform you later - that's why polyamory is such bullshit. It's just a way to cheat without cheating, from what I can tell. If this person's attitude towards sex (i.e. polyamory) is so okay and he's so confident about it and believes in it, and it's all healthy and such - then why wasn't he up front about it?

Thanks again for this. Good stuff.

one could just as easily say

one could just as easily say that "monogamy is bullshit" because it doesn't seem to work because a helluva lot of people end up cheating. I'd say that those willing to attempt polyamory are merely trying to be realistic.

You're right about this guy, though - he's not into polyamory. He's into holding multiple women on the line while he does whatever he chooses. He's rather a caveman.

But, please don't disregard all of polyamory based on this (or even some other) example. You don't judge all of monogamy based on all the examples you have of failed monogamous relationships, do you? I'm assuming not, because you seem to idealize that as the preferable style.

Apples are bad everywhere

Anon, it's too bad that your opinion of a couple of people's actions had made you so judgmental of polyamory as a whole. When two people meet, there are often varying desires and interests. How many seemingly "monogamous" men and women have sex with someone without revealing that they don't see that person as a potential girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/spouse? How many people go into a sexual encounter bothering to say beforehand "we're clear that this is just for tonight, right?" Most people act in their own best interests, regardless of their relationship style. Going on a couple of dates with someone or having sex with someone doesn't indicate commitment or a necessity of full-disclosure of anything other than STI status. Yes, many poly people don't announce on the first date that they're poly, because that would include a lot of assumption on everyone's part. And, yes, many people aren't sure how the other person will take it. I see nothing wrong with going on a couple of dates with someone and seeing if the relationship has potential before disclosing your relationship philosophies. We're talking about people, not dowries, not a lifetime commitment. It's up to each person to make up their mind about what kind of relationship they want to have and if they aren't comfortable with polyamory, it is their right to not get involved in that kind of relationship.

...

polyamory isn't bullshit, and it isn't only men who practice it. if it is a mutually agreed upon term of a relationship and both parties remain honest and considerate, there's nothing wrong or unhealthy about it. i think the point of this article was to illustrate the difference between participating in a truly polyamorous relationship and dating an asshole who wants to fuck around.
the concept of compulsory monogamy, as well as the idea that men are the only ones who do, in fact, want to fuck around, are both overwhelmingly tinged with patriarchal fundamentalist bullshit and i would hope that's exactly what we are working to dismantle.

ps. touching the baby with his cock? is that how pregnant sex works? fascinating.

touching the baby w/it???

I'm sorry but I've got to call BS on just about all of your reply.
What is cheating without cheating? Cheating is promising to do one thing & then doing another, it's lying and hiding your agenda while expecting your partner to continue to uphold their commitments to you. Poly relationships by definition are open & honest. The person the author was involved seems to have been more than a bit immature- not because he was poly but presumably because he was young and/or inexperienced. He may or may not grow out of it some day but being poly didn't cause it.
Being poly shouldn't be one-sided, not to say that it isn't sometimes but it shouldn't be. Just as being in a mono relationship shouldn't be one sided, but sometimes they are. Many poly families have one or more people within them that identify as bi-sexual, this is a logical way to meet their emotional & physical (and any other) needs without cheating or denying a part of your being.
People have hang-ups about their intimate preferences, it's sad but it's just the way it is. When starting a new relationship it's difficult & embarrassing (for some) to try to work into the get to know you conversation "I think you're so cool, would you mind maybe peeing on me in the shower..."
Maybe it's because my friends are older now but I have several that are in poly families- it works for them & they're completely normal, healthy & sane individuals and families.

whoah

As someone who told her partner up front that I wouldn't date anyone demanding or expecting monogamy, I have to say that you've told it true. I also felt like you were talking about me for a moment, in that I am more comfortable with my potential adventures than with accepting the idea that my partner could have outside experiences as well. Definitely one sided, but also the reason that as of this comment, our relationship remains monogamous. It's tricky to adjust from logical acceptance of polyamory to actually DOING IT. Either way, honesty is definitely key from the very start. As you said, "If you tell someone up front, you might lose a crush over it, but that's less crushing than losing a relationship."

Great article.

To the guy who says that

To the guy who says that polyamory is bullshit, I offer this up instead: dishonesty is bullshit. Also, being poly isn't just some easy flip of the coin type of decision in the long run. Sure, plenty of people think it would be great to fuck whomever they pleased in the context of any relationship, but the nitty gritty is that everyone needs to know at least a modicum of information in regards to what is going on.

My partner doesn't have to tell me every detail about his sex life with his girlfriend, but he is at least up front enough to let me know that she exists and that things are happening. I have a profile at a free online dating site, and in the profile I say that I'm married, poly, and if someone is looking for a monogamous life partner, then they need to turn their romantic attentions elsewhere. Lying to people about what you are is bullshit.

Polyamory isn't for everyone, but of course, those of us who make asshole comments about it stand a chance of ruining it for everyone else.

So apparently men are the only ones who lie and cheat...?

Plenty of experience tells me otherwise.

Keeping things on track...

@Anonymous, Please don't say polyamory is bullshit, especially when what you mean to say is that the dishonesty practiced by the guy Megan dated is bullshit.

As far as this thread goes, enough people have told @Anonymous why they disagree, so please keep things on track from here on out and focus your comments on Megan's article.

Thanks!

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I wonder...

A polyamory lifestyle definitely seems difficult to maintain in American culture. "The American Dream" is built upon a monogamous marriage (along with many other things, like a 9-5 job, kids, etc.). So I understand people not understanding and/or not liking this lifestyle, but I don't think it's anyone's place to judge. I think it requires a very open mind and sensitive people to work out a successful polyamory lifestyle. And it probably isn't easy.

Your comment "Too often, people worry that if they expose the truth about themselves, the other person won't like them or understand..." hit the nail on the head. Unforunately, I wonder if a lot of women, especially those with low self-esteem, go along anyway. Maybe that's part of the motivation...get someone "hooked" and then make it harder for them to get out of the relationship. Glad you were smart enough to get out of that mess!

terminology

When someone who is or wants to be polyamorous springs this fact on you after you have already started dating/slept together/whatever, you have been polyambushed.

(I am trying to make this term happen plz help thanx.)

This Applies to Just About Everything

That last paragraph applies to lots of things in relationships--marriage, kids, money, religion, politics and yet people continue to not talk thinking that "love" (ie: infatuation and lust) are enough to keep them together. Communication unlies the whole relationship. Best to have lots of it, about everything, often!

Maybe I'm just different

Maybe I'm just different from most people, but I insist on telling anyone I get physically intimate EXACTLY where they stand with me before anything happens (even a kiss, sometimes). Maybe it's because I'm a Type A personality (or so I've been told) and like to have everything spelled out and make sure the other person knows what I do and do not expect to happen. So yeah, I have told people that I prefer being single, am not sure I want a relationship, etc, before making out with them. Of course my preferences can change, but I think this honesty does not "ruin the moment" and I feel better about going ahead and indulging my hormones after having come completely clean to the other person about what I do and do not want and expect from them.
I think it's one thing to hold back a secret about oneself, like, the fact that I held back the secret from my current boyfriend that I had been kicked out of a certain graduate program for having depression that affected my attendance in class at one point- a secret that should not have affected my relationship with him in any significant and foreseeable way. I think it's quite another thing if I had held back a secret that I was polyamorous (which I'm not, but this is just an example) because that is something that DEFINITELY affects the relationship and where he stands with me. So I don't think the two can be equated...all secrets are not created equal in dating, so I think it's fair to say that one should be a lot more judgmental of someone who withholds a secret of being polyamorous until after sleeping with them, than someone who withholds a secret of having been fired from their last job or something...
Anyways that's just my opinion.

personally

Great post with good points. I was with a guy for three years who would go back and forth on whether he wanted to be open or not, and was only comfortable with the idea because it meant he could sex up one of his fellow actors at school. When I mentioned wanting to try it because he turned into a jerk after my father died and never really helped me out at all, he shut down. I was all he wanted then, really. Until the week after that.
I would now like to try polygamy. I'm attracted to people of both sexes, though very few people from either. Though I am now in the happiest and most honest relationship I've ever been in this is still a tricky subject for my partner and I and I appreciate someone bringing up the potential problems and necessity of being honest and open from the beginning.

My experience suggests some

My experience suggests some people struggle to maintain intimacy with one partner, much less multiple. For those folks it seems poly wouldn't work. If a train doesn't stop at your station, it's not YOUR train. The train isn't bad, "bullshit" or weird.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Love this analogy, so perfect

Love this analogy, so perfect :)

Honesty Before Thinking About Dating - Wishful Thinking?

There's no doubt about it. The guy described in this post was a creep. i don't think it's all that uncommon either. In fact, given the societal exhortations for guys to "go out and sow your wild oats" or "play the field" i'm surprised it isn't endemic amongst the male population. My father actually said that those things to me privately even though he and my mother called my sister a slut and a tramp and the rest of our upbringing was puritanical - literally. On the wall hung the quote "Be true to yourself and it follows as the night follows the day, thou canst not then be false to any man". Apparently it was okay to lie to women. i still have trouble being sure of just what my own intentions are, but i sure do blab out my own problems freely enough. i guess that's at least one part of disclosing. Also, even if someone is polyamorous i don't thing guys should have sex with more than one woman in a two month period of time unless they've been sterilized first, because i don't believe in polygamy. The emotional issues raised are good ones. If you can't get what really turns you on from a potential partner that could be an serious impediment to any eventual marriage, and yet feelings could still develop. Disclosure is indeed what should happen, but if a guy is a cheating weasel then what's the best way to deal with it (in addition to leaving) if damage has been done? When, on the other hand, someone is honest and confesses everything right up front but they're a weirdo, i how many people are ready to accept that?

Poly

Megan had a hard time with her beau b/c he wanted a harem, not a 2-sided polgamous relationship. That is not what polyamorous relationships are about. In a perfect situation, both Megan and her boy could experience a full time relationship, but if they saw something else they were tempted by, they could get a taste, and if the pre-set rules allowed, maybe even bring it home as well- but they always come home. That is not, by definition, cheating, as the rule allow this, they both get to do this, they always come home, and both are allowed to do so. SOme may even claim that this relationship is more open and healthy, because there is no hiding of secret crushes, no lies and deciept, no cheating, a definitive sexual openess. Megan's boy over-stepped and immaturuly bragged about his prowess from bed. Unless there was some BDSM heavy notes to the relationship that weasn't disclosed in this article, he was in the wrong.

I cannot help but comment (briefly) on the negative comments psoted towards the alternaive sexuality put forth in Megan's article. 1- Commentators- show a little respect for the author, who is obvi sharing, whichc she doesn't have to do, epspecaily about something so personal. 2- Instead of judging so quickly, think and comment coherently. You don't like it. How about intelligently getting down to the nitty gritty whys of it, so we can all learn? 3- All alternative lifestyles deserve respect, provided they do no harm to others, as we do live in a "free" country. Show some. How is your seething sourness any different than the opposition faced by the women's sufferage, or gay rights? Variety is necessary.

I am done now. As an aside, I've oftne wanted to explore this sexual outlet, but my fiance- nuh- uh.

I suppose if you're upfront

I suppose if you're upfront about it, like it seems things were in this article - than maybe a polygamous relationship could work. I dunno though, it still seems physically not-so-clean to me even if everyone else is okay with it.