3 guys, one chick.
November 26, 2009 2:44 PM   Subscribe

How does one ethically play the field? I need advice on dating and being intimate with more than one person.

I'm a early-thirties female in a large coastal city. I was a late-late-bloomer, and for various reasons really didn't have a boyfriend or sex until after college. Since then I have had a couple of 2+ year relationships, both of which started and remained exclusive, with a couple of flings in between.

Since the end of my relationship this last summer, my attitude about diving into relationships has changed...and I'm interested in taking things much slower in terms of exclusiveness. Lately I've been feeling pretty awesome, and have been missing some of the funner aspects of dating...so I put myself out there.

I've met three very nice fellows online in the short amount of time that I've had a profile up on a popular dating site. I corresponded with each of them for awhile, and eventually each of them asked me to dinner/coffee within the same week or so. So, I made plans to meet them all. Because of schedules and whatnot, I met one of them earlier than the others, but now I've met all of them and want to continue to hang out/see all three, and it seems for each of them, the feeling is mutual.

To complicate matters, I ended up hooking up with one of them a couple of times. (The first dude) It was great fun, but I'm not feeling serious about this person yet, if I ever will. I still, however, wouldn't mind continuing that aspect of our friendship.

I also want to see what develops with the other two guys, as I had a great time with both.

Seriously, I have never had to deal with this kind of situation before, and feel completely out of my element. On one hand, I want to be honest and respectful to all three. On the other, I don't want to come off as some kind of crazy maneater. I want to enjoy myself and my crazy good luck of having so many options, but I have this nagging feeling that I'm trying to have my cake and eat it too.

I plan on coming clear the next time I see dude number 1 that I'm seeing other people, but do I need to go beyond that? I don't really plan on sleeping with all of them in the same time frame or anything, but I'm worried about that aspect. I know there's a good chance that one or two of them will quickly fall to the wayside by my doing or theirs.. I just don't want to rush into any kind of relationship, as this is a mistake I've made in the past. How do I go about this in a way that is not deceptive or hurtful, but still allows me to get to know each of them?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
you may want to check out The Ethical Slut. it's something of a guidebook for navigating these kinds of situations, written by a charming pair of self-confessed aging hippies.

good luck!
posted by spindle at 3:31 PM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Ethical Slut is good, but it focuses on the more complicated situations where you want a real ongoing open relationship, with emotional commitment and all that jazz. It might strike you as overkill for a casual dating situation like this. (It's an interesting read regardless. I'm just saying there's a lot in there that may not apply to you.)

In my opinion, all you need to do here is be clear about the basic facts. "I'm not ready for this to be exclusive yet. If it goes well, maybe we can turn it into something exclusive later, but I'd have to get to know you better first." What they do with that information — stick around? ask more questions? talk about ground rules? run away screaming? — is up to them.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:50 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

"I'm not ready for this to be exclusive yet. If it goes well, maybe we can turn it into something exclusive later, but I'd have to get to know you better first."

This is a good start, but with so many STDs out there, it's ethical to tell each that you are seeing other people right off the bat.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:50 PM on November 26, 2009

Playing the field is fine - but you've got to be honest. That, IMO, is really the only important thing. Be upfront about your intentions and other activities with all the guys. It might scare some off, but that's the price you pay.

You also need to be totally honest about your sexual activity; as aforementioned, STDs is the main reason for this, but there are some guys who just won't really feel comfortable with that sort of situation.

You sound like you've got an intelligent and sensitive handle on the situation. That's all you need. Just be open and honest and things, I think, will turn out just fine.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:01 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Like Lutoslawski, I came in here to insist that honesty is the most important thing. Full, upfront disclosure will minimize the chances of anyone being hurt. Entering a situation with full information allows everyone to make informed decisions, which then become their responsibility. So full disclosure allows the people you're involved with to understand what they're getting into and you to feel confident that they won't end up being hurt by something they didn't know or understand.

Have fun!
posted by PhatLobley at 7:28 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll admit I've been in the situation where I was sleeping with someone, and felt it was a casual sort of thing but we hadn't talked about it. Not entirely sure whether this was someone I wanted to date exclusively... and there were a few other very cute contenders that I had just started going on dates with too. When I told him I was seeing other people at the same time (not sleeping with them), he thought that was incredibly sketchy. He felt that at the point of sleeping with someone, in a situation where it's clear the point is to date (i.e. possibly find a relationship), it's time to stop dating anyone else and pursue just one at a time, see how it goes. I was interested in continuing things, so I broke it off with the others.

One of the others (whom I ultimately broke it off with for the guy above) had asked up front if I was seeing anyone else at the time, and I was honest with him. He was accepting of it, but definitely tried to push things along more from that point, making a real effort to try to get me to focus on him more. If they're interested in a relationship, telling them it's only going to be a casual thing might not deter them from hoping otherwise.

What I learned is to be upfront from the get-go if I'm also seeing a few other people, so per chance things become more intimate at some point, the guy isn't in a position to be surprised and immediately hurt. If things are about to move over into intimacy, it's a good time to pause here too and make sure the other person knows what my current feelings about this person and this situation are, and get his response. Making sure there is always communication gives the opportunity to address concerns and problem situations while they're small, and keep everyone much happier/manageable.
posted by lizbunny at 10:09 PM on November 26, 2009

Pick what you like best about each of them so far and say, "Of the guys I'm seeing, you're the funniest/cutest/best chess player/whatever." There, you've told them.
posted by hazyjane at 12:47 AM on November 27, 2009

No one should assume exclusivity until it's actually mentioned by one of you, but you should definitely make sure that everyone realizes that there may be other people in the picture. As long as you let them know you are enjoying yourself with them but want to take your time seeing how things develop and you practice safe sex, you should be in the clear. You don't need to tell each guy how many other people you're dating, or if there is even another person you are currently seeing. Also, dating doesn't necessarily mean having sex with, so if one of them decides to jump to conclusions and/or get all judgmental on you, that will tell you a lot about him, and you can cross him off your list. I would also ask each one of them what they expect out of a non-exclusive relationship in terms of disclosure. Some people would want to know if there are definitely other sex partners in the equation (and in the age of STDs I think that's fair), other people will only want to know if and when it happens, you will be a responsible, safe person. Continue to be honest and respectful, enjoy these fellows for as long as you can, and have fun, you lucky duck, you!
posted by katemcd at 4:40 AM on November 27, 2009

I'm going to disagree with the advice to tell them. Why? It's early days, you're just getting to know them, you're not ready to get exclusive and that's fine.

Years ago, I had met and was dating a guy I liked and about 5 dates into it, he wanted to have "the talk," and then explained that he was dating me and someone else and wanted to know how I felt about it. Well, I felt like sh*t.

I really didn't want to know, because while previously I just assumed when we weren't hanging out he was having a life (which I appreciated), now I started thinking he was dating HER, not me, and I couldn't deal with it. Does that make sense?

So I say wait and see how it plays out. Have safe sex. Have fun. But don't tell unless they ask. You're not in exclusive relationships, nobody is being betrayed...you're just casually dating. Right?
posted by dzaz at 4:45 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't tell them unless they ask.

Yeah, there are STDs. You're in your thirties. Your sex partners should reasonably assume that you have had sex with other people before now. Why would you have some duty to disclose current sexual activity, but no duty to disclose what happened in the past? Thus, if your partners want to protect themselves, they may take appropriate measures. If your partners want to know about your sexual history or current sexual activity, they may ask (in which case I would be honest and tell them.) If they want to know if you have STDs, they may ask.

If they are not asking, they do not really want to know. This does not give them the right to assume that you are just seeing them. If the guys are not comfortable being non-exclusive with you, they need to make that clear. From what you write here you've done nothing to imply to any of these men that you are seeing them exclusively. Don't bother coddling people to protect them from their own unreasonable, unspoken expectations.
posted by massysett at 5:32 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar situation via online dating. I'm also going to disagree with advice to tell them. These are casual dating/getting-to-know-you situations. Unless they start talking about getting exclusive OR unless you're sensing that one of them WANTS to get more serious, there's no need to say anything. Assume that at least one of them is hanging out/communicating with other women as well, because it's probably the case. And there's nothing wrong with that. This is part of "playing the field" so to speak, and of course they have a life/other involvements outside of you. You're totally allowed to do the same. No one owes each other that level of honesty yet at this stage of the game, which I personally dislike sometimes (as I tend to be over-honest myself) but it's technically true. It's nice that you're so honest and considerate of others' feelings and I think more people in the big-city-dating-world should be that way, but I also think you're feeling more guilty than you need to at this point in time. Revel in the fact that you've got THREE men at your door. It's awesome! The safe sex thing is also a very good idea. The time to disclose will make itself very clear.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 6:46 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't mention it if you've only gone out a few times. You met them on a dating site, unless they are incredibly dense they are aware that you joined it to go on dates with people. It's likely that they, too, are also meeting people.

I met one of them earlier than the others

Reality TV aside, that's the usual for meeting people on dating sites, although if you had gone on a triple date with all three of them they would certainly know that you were dating other people.
posted by yohko at 11:37 AM on November 27, 2009

This is really the sort of thing that is best nipped in the bud, by mentioning it in your online dating profile before you meet anyone to begin with. I realize that it's too late for the OP in this particular case, but wanted to note it for posterity.

That being said, you can still get the info across even now without turning it into a whole confrontation. Just talking idly about how you're glad to be dating casually, after so many serious relationships in your past, will probably do the trick, depending on how perceptive your various companions are.
posted by bingo at 1:00 PM on November 27, 2009

Pick what you like best about each of them so far and say, "Of the guys I'm seeing, you're the funniest/cutest/best chess player/whatever." There, you've told them.

Oh Christ, don't do this. Other than saying how good the other guys are in bed, this has got to be the most off-putting way of letting them know.

Simply tell them you're not ready to be exclusive, and that they should feel free to see other people too. You're not in a relationship, you're under no obligation to provide details; just to not be deceptive. They probably don't want details, even if they're cool with keeping it casual.

And until you've had several dates or are having/about to have sex, you don't need to say anything.
posted by spaltavian at 3:38 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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