I didn't realize your girlfriend was okay with us dating, too.
December 28, 2010 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Why do people go on "dates" to "get to know" other people, but not mention that they already have a significant other?

MeFi, help me and my friends understand this phenomenon that seems to crop up in the males and females we come into contact with from time to time. Recently a bunch of people in our social group have had this slew of situations in which we discovered the people we were actively hanging out with in hopes of developing a romantic relationship all have significant others already.

We were never informed of this. We've known these people for at least a month. We even checked Facebook prior to our accidental discoveries; no "In a Relationship" stuff there. We all found out accidentally through Facebook and through in-person contact when the SOs in question appeared all of a sudden and made their presence very, very known. Needless to say we're all pretty pissed, because if it were us with the SOs, we would have disclosed that information within the first hour of knowing these people because that's how we would want to be treated, too. I personally feel pretty led on because the person I was pursuing was legit pursuing me back. I mean, shoot, I wouldn't have gone on a dinner and a movie date with the guy if I'd had known he already had a girlfriend.

Why wouldn't you disclose that you have a SO if you're spending one-on-one time with another person multiple times during a week? We're not talking coffee. We're talking dinner, movie, etc, etc. What would cause you to hide that information, even if you were almost asked outright? Is this as skeevy as I think it is? How can I filter these people in the future so I don't get caught in this situation again?

Thoughts? I personally think a bunch of my friends and I just happened to get played all at once, but I could be totally wrong. Maybe we're all dense. I'm personally a recovering wallflower.
posted by patronuscharms to Human Relations (32 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of people cheat on their significant others, for various reasons. There's not much more to it than that.
posted by dfriedman at 7:10 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Did you make out? Maybe they're in an open relationship and wanted to make sure there was a romantic vibe before mentioning it.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:13 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Or sometimes people have an "arrangement" with their significant others. In these cases hopefully they'd be more artful at letting you know what that arrangement is earlier on, but sometimes people are awkward/cautious about that sort of thing and want to get to know you better to see if it's worth explaining.
posted by hermitosis at 7:13 PM on December 28, 2010

Is this as skeevy as I think it is? How can I filter these people in the future so I don't get caught in this situation again?

No, it's totally skeevy. The way to filter them out is to ask "Are you seeing anyone right now?"

What did he say when you asked him?
posted by rtha at 7:15 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my personal opinion, that's just called Being an Asshole.

Assuming absolutely none of this is due to miscommunication about the nature of these hangouts, they could be unsatisfied with their current relationship and trying to lock something down before exiting...which is still pretty much cheating.

On preview: Oh, yeah. Could be an open relationship, too. Though I think they'd disclose that if they weren't trying to hide something.
posted by sprezzy at 7:15 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've known a number of people who seemed to think it's acceptable to not be entirely happy with a relationship, but not want to end it because they don't like being single, so they actively start looking for someone new and get that relationship started before actually breaking things off with their current/former partner. I find that behavior kind of awful on a number of levels, but I've seen it enough to not be surprised at it any more.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:17 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

heh ... reminded me of this question in ask ... unhappy man in stressful relationship situation is reluctant to ruin the magic he feels with his new crush ...

+1 on rtha's advice ... asked after coffee/lunchdate/group-hangin'-in-the-bar time and before any of that dinner & a movie stuff

sucky people suck! :(
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 7:21 PM on December 28, 2010

What would cause you to hide that information, even if you were almost asked outright?

Respectfully, if I was into having fake-dates with girls while I already had a girlfriend, and a girl I was fake-dating was dancing around the question but never coming out and asking me about my relationship-status directly, I would think "Sweet, she's never, ever going to ask me if I have a girlfriend and I can keep doing this for as long as I want."

You're shooting yourself in the foot with your indirectness. Not that the guy isn't the one to blame here, but as soon as you think to ask outright, don't ALMOST do it, just ACTUALLY do it.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:29 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are any of you ladies who date ladies or dudes who date dudes? Because on a handful of occasions (seriously, it happened at least three separate times) an ex of mine was asked to "hang out with" or "see a movie with" or "get dinner/drinks with" some dude, only to find out later that the dude was actually trying to date him. (And then, on a handful of occasions, the dude would get pissed off when it came up that, "oh, I have a girlfriend.")

So that's one honest reason for confusion. But if that's not your scenario, then yeah, you guys are just going out with douchebags.
posted by phunniemee at 7:31 PM on December 28, 2010

I haven't asked my person outright yet - I'm the one who discovered the pre-existing girl through FB as my experience is recent. Have only just gone on one "date" with the guy, have flirted via text for a few weeks, and was just about to ask if the guy would like to go to a NYE party with me as my real date when BAM, other girl shows up. Yay me. The majority of this question is for my friends who are bitterly reading over my shoulder looking for some sort of rationale to soothe the pain of being lied to.

RE: Open relationships. I am a firm believer in different strokes for different folks, but isn't it a little presumptuous for someone in an open relationship to go out on a date with another person and automatically assume that new person is going to be okay with being a second or third partner? That's a compatibility issue thing right there; why wouldn't you just at least reference your existing SO(s) so that their presence in your life is known and established to other people?

That's what baffles me the most, you know? People who never talk about their partners, ever, only to have them show up at a party or somesuch thing and floor everyone in the vicinity.
posted by patronuscharms at 7:33 PM on December 28, 2010

We're a mixed spectrum - everything from straight to queer and inbetween.
posted by patronuscharms at 7:34 PM on December 28, 2010

Plain. Old. Jackassery.

The one time it happened to me, the dude was looking for the Next Thing before breaking up with the Existing Thing. But the Existing Thing has no idea they were on the rocks. (I can cut a little slack for messy break-up timelines where there's some "are we/aren't we" going on, but this was not that.)

And OMG, yeah, SO AWKWARD when the Existing Thing suddenly shows up.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:48 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Could it be possible that they were dating several people at the same time and at the last minute picked someone else over you?

Or possibly, they thought of you as a friend and not a romantic interest, so much that it just wasn't on their radar at all?

But along the lines of what you're hinting at, it's possible they wanted something from you and thought they couldn't get it if they told the truth- what they wanted could be anything. Sex, flattering flirtatious attention, time, attention, friendship, anything. The point is that it's a pathetic move and a sign of cowardice and insecurity when someone thinks they have to lie to get what they want.

It's kind of like a guy who really just wants sex, but doesn't want to pay for it or go to the extra trouble to find a woman willing to honestly have a short-term sexual relationship, and he figures it's faster to just court/date any woman he can and lie.

I think this is more likely than the "planning to break up with their SO" thing, because in that case, they would be more likely to be honest with you and (maybe) not with their SO.

Some narcissists actually enjoy leading people on, just to know that they can and that they've "still got it" - it might even spice up their home sex life.

Or, it's possible that they were thinking of cheating and changed their mind at the last minute.

I find it's a waste of time to try to figure out people who pull pathetic moves like this, really.
posted by Nixy at 7:49 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I did this once, by accident. I really had no idea. I was dating someone not very seriously, met another guy through some mutual friends, he was nice, we hung out alone a couple times, and it literally never crossed my mind that he thought there was possibly something romantic going on. Regardless, we became relatively good friends, and a few years later he mentioned (to a third party) that we had dated when we first met. I was shocked, I literally had no idea. Totally oblivious. In retrospect, I absolutely should have been more aware that we basically were dating.

I'm sure that sometimes people do this for some ulterior motive or jackassery, but sometimes, people are just dumb :(.
posted by brainmouse at 8:14 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm starting to wonder what really went on with the person I was investing time into. I just asked him outright in a rather roundabout way ("Hey, what does your girlfriend think of your romance with Natalie Portman? Think she'll be glad to have you back now that Ms. P is engaged?") and he beat around the bush for a bit and then acknowledged his GF's existence. I still think that if you have a SO, it's not okay to go out to the movies and to dinner with someone you barely know and then text that person all friendly and silly-like for a week without telling them that you're taken. Dude even went out of his way to find times to hang out with me. Fuck that noise.

Sigh. I'll be more upfront about asking next time, I guess.
posted by patronuscharms at 8:20 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are these people who are in open or polyamorous relationships? Because though it would be completely inappropriate for people to expect their dates to magically intuit that without them setting it out there, it's possible that there were crossed signals somewhere and the person who's in an open or poly thing feels like they communicated it to the other person.

Or, you know, just plain ol' cheaters in theoretically monogamous relationships. That happens, too. For that matter, plain ol' cheaters in polyamorous and open relationships are out there--for some people, it's the thrill of breaking the agreement that excites them, even when the agreements are in principle more open than monogamy.

Look, you dodged a bullet here, and so did your friends. These people either don't have the gonads to do monogamy consistently or don't have the wit to do polyamorous/open relationships with clarity and respect for all parties. Think of it as a douchefilter.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:31 PM on December 28, 2010

Yeah, if they were cagy about the existence of their girlfriend, that mostly rules out the non-skeevy possibilities. DTMFA, etc.

I think there are non-skeevy reasons someone might not tell you all about their current relationships on your first date: maybe they're just looking for a fun time out and not anything romantic (รก la brainmouse; I've been in that position); maybe they have some complicated thing going on and don't want to scare you off before you get to know them. But you'd think they'd tell you by date 2 or 3.

(And I've known people who thought the find-the-next-thing-before-breaking-up-with-current-thing thing was the normal way to do stuff. I mostly associate it either with people who are too young and insecure to imagine being single, or with complete assholes. But probably there are people who just think it's normal.)
posted by hattifattener at 8:55 PM on December 28, 2010

Wait, the girlfriends have shown up out of the blue? Pop culture-wise, that's a drink in the face of the dude for sure.
posted by rhizome at 9:08 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you certain that these other people saw all your interactions as dating? Could you have possibly misunderstood people looking for friendships and activity partners for leading you on romantically?

Your language is kind of unclear, but it says you were hanging out and know each other for a month, texting, snooping on their Facebook profiles for info about them, etc. I know you said you asked semi-directly, but you have to ask 100% directly. "Are you seeing someone?" Get a yes or a no, don't wonder and look for clues online or try to interpret texts and such. Don't try to be a mind reader.

Not everyone posts their relationship status on Facebook, by the way. Keep that in mind. I have mine up but my boyfriend does not. It doesn't make us less a couple. He's just more private in that regard.

I'm just saying all this because there have been times where I've found guys interesting and thought we could be friends and thus proceeded to talk about doing things together. I suppose in some way, I'm a bit naturally flirty when I feel like I click with someone, even just in a friendly way. Strictly platonic on my end, and eventually I mentioned my boyfriend in the conversation pretty innocently and they suddenly didn't want anything else from me.

These people might be looking for friends and may not be mentioning the S.O. for fear of scaring posible good friends off.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:57 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

That's totally a good point, CMGonzalez. The thing is that the status quo for teens and 20-somethings in my region of California when it comes to dating is that if you're not interested in someone romantically/physically, but you want to get to know them, you figure out a way to go on a group outing FIRST. One-to-one stuff comes later when a foundation of trust and understanding has been established.

For each of the people in my group of friends who experienced this same snafu, we were in one-to-one situations that as far as we all know = date-type situations right off the bat. Movies, alone; dinner, alone; stargazing, alone. Alone alone alone. Right now one of my friends is reading over my shoulder and would like to add in that for her, she also had sexually charged texting as part of the package. I personally got very friendly, flirty messages from the guy I was pursuing the entire time he was away on Christmas vacation. Why would a guy I've only just met text me with photos of places he wants us to go to together if he's not interested in me? It just seems weird to have those kinds of interactions without it being related to flirting.

I guess what it comes down to is that we've all been taught to believe that it is the responsibility of the attached party to mention the existence of a SO in the first day or so of knowing someone else so as not to set up a potentially awesome friendship for failure. Assuming that at least some of the people we were pursuing romantically genuinely wanted to get to know us just as friends, our mindset is that disclosure, not secrecy, is the way to make that friendship actually develop. We don't want to split hairs; we're just trying to validate our experiences and figure out ways to avoid it all in the future without having to be awkwardly direct.
posted by patronuscharms at 11:16 PM on December 28, 2010

There are also people, teens and twenty somethings in MY area of California at any rate, who don't really notice 'flirting' or consider it necessarily a relationship-thing. That is, there may be fun flirty texts, and there may be lots of one-on-one bonding time, but if there's no smooching or at least snuggling (and even for some people if there's snuggling) then it's not "cheating" right? RIGHT? Especially for insecure people, there's a lot of validation to be had in the flirtation and in knowing that someone likes spending time with you one on one; they may be thinking of you as their "fake girlfriend" or "that girl I've been getting to know better" (subconsciously or consciously thinking that they might date you when they split with their SO).

And then of course the answer is that they're not mentioning the SO because they're afraid that'll scare you off and they want that flirtatious validation SO BADLY...
posted by Lady Li at 11:43 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe they worried that they were going to get a faux-offended response from you... "What? Why are you telling me we can't date? I would NEVER want to date you anyway, how dare you assume that I was trying to!"
posted by anaelith at 3:23 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of people cheat. Or contemplate cheating. This isn't some new trend with reasons beyond the multitude of usual suspects.

But hanging out in one-on-one situations isn't necessarily dating; you and your friends could be miscommunicating here. I can understand why you'd think opposite-sex people hanging out alone = date, but it doesn't have to. Indeed, if this has happened a few times and there hasn't been any physical escalation or attempted physical escalation, that's a pretty clear sign that these other people don't think you're going on dates.

It's interesting that your question does not once mention kissing, or holding hands, or cuddling. Instead of asking about the existence of girlfriends, maybe you just need to ask, "Is this a date?"
posted by J. Wilson at 5:30 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

There is a difference between a significant other and just an other. Plenty of people date multiple people.

Have only just gone on one "date" with the guy, have flirted via text for a few weeks

There is your mistake. The text flirting should happen after the date.

The thing is that the status quo for teens and 20-somethings in my region of California when it comes to dating is that if you're not interested in someone romantically/physically, but you want to get to know them, you figure out a way to go on a group outing FIRST. One-to-one stuff comes later when a foundation of trust and understanding has been established.

You may be incorrect about this. Grown-ups just ask people out. Youths and grown up weasels try to play that date-not-a-date game because they are not confident enough to step up and state their intentions.
posted by gjc at 6:05 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bleh! If it helps any I'm poly and have run into similar situations far too frequently. Some people are just jerks. Dunno if they like the thrill of an illicit 'affair', trying out some greener pastures, or trying to be someone they aren't, but the end result is always insulting and aggravating.

I tell people immediately - usually in my opening conversation if I approach them, or in my response if they approach me and I'm interested - about my other partners, and ask about theirs.

Maybe this honest stuff will catch on :P
posted by tar0tgr1 at 7:02 AM on December 29, 2010

There are several things going on here. First, it's not ironclad that the people you and your friends were hanging out with thought they were on dates. You yourself called it "hanging out with in hopes of developing a romantic relationship," and that phrasing strongly indicates that it was not a romantic relationship. So you were spending time with someone you were not in a romantic relationship with. Nothing in that indicates that the other party was committing any violation.

Second, I'm not seeing any indication that the the other parties you were hanging out with ever characterized as committed and exclusive the relationships you eventually discovered. You call them girlfriends, but you're not giving us much reason to think that the men (do I have that right?) called them girlfriends. It seems entirely possible that he was seeing someone else, their relationship had not yet been mutually agreed as exclusive, but the other girl wants it to be exclusive and showed up to muscle out out competition. That scenario does not describe a cheating (or poly) male, it describes mismatch between the current desired relationship status of the other man and woman. The existence of that mismatch doesn't mean he's doing anything wrong if he hasn't committed to exclusivity with her. But she wants him to herself, so she squeezes out her competition. If anything, that's a bit of overreach on her part, an attempt to enforce her vision of the relationship on him.

It's a mistake to think that seeing someone means you're the only one seeing them. If that's not mutually agreed, then it can't be expected.

Between the possibility that they didn't think these were dates and the possibility that the other relationship hadn't become exclusive, there's no need to think that the man is committing a violation. If he had promised exclusivity to the other woman and was dating you, then yeah, that's a violation, but you haven't established all the necessary components of that in what you've told us.

Unsolicited other commentary: until you're seriously serious with someone, I really recommend seeing more than one person at a time. It's more fun, it lessens the stress on each budding relationship, and it softens it when things don't work out, which is what happens to most relationships whether you're dating in serial or parallel.
posted by NortonDC at 8:22 AM on December 29, 2010

The bait and switch approach is pretty common approach for cheaters. The hope here is that you will become more emotionally attached before he/she let's you know "Btw I have a significant other, but they don't get me like you do." The texts of places to go could be just another form of this seduction. It's building up your hopes so that you'll be less likely to say "No thanks" when you find out the truth.

It is also possible he's in an open relationship, but when I've been approached by people in that situation, they are generally up front. Still it's possible.

I would say, unfortunately, while someone should disclose or mention a significant other-the way the world works (especially for me in NYC) is that you need to ask directly and early on. This will help clear up a number of issues (ie if someone asks me that I know they are interested romantically and prolly not as just a friend so recalibrate appropriately).
posted by miss-lapin at 10:28 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know polyamorists who find this very difficult, actually. It's mainly people in secondary relationships or relationships that are limited in some way who are looking for a primary partner to settle down with. They'd be willing to be monogamous at that point if necessary. At the same time, they value their current non-monogamous relationship and don't want to give it up unless there's a very good reason to do so.

I've definitely had a secondary partner like that, where I was happy (psyched, even) to have him date other people, even if led to the end of our relationship. We definitely had a relationship, though, it wasn't "playing the field" or "dating around".

There are also no set scripts in place for it, which makes it weird etiquette- and ethics-wise. When do I tell her I'm dating someone else? Is it presumptuous? Can I wait until there's chemistry? Will the polyamory thing scare her away if I say it too soon, but maybe not if I wait a little bit? Is it necessary before we have the "exclusivity" talk? Before we have physical contact? Before we sleep together?

I'm 100% upfront about it, but it's easier for me because I already have a strong, everyday domestic relationship and I wouldn't break it off for the "right" person, so monogamous people really should move on ASAP.

This is assuming that everyone knows what's going on. If not, they're scoping you out for cheating.

Consider, too, the possibility that these people making things "clear" on facebook could be weird exes, people who aren't really dating the person, people "staking their claim" to someone who doesn't agree that they're in a relationship, etc.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:23 AM on December 29, 2010

People who are open and honest about being poly should tell you on the first date. If they don't, odds are they're being skeevy.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:12 PM on December 29, 2010

Alright, so it sounds like my friends and I need to reframe our understanding of dating a little. No big deal, we figured as much when we posed this question.

I think the real issue here is that the specific ways in which we identify whether or not someone is interested in us overlap with the ways certain people treat friends AND lovers. I am personally very particular about boundaries -- no lingering hugs, no flirty texts, no get together at intimate locations, etc, etc. If I'm not interested in you as a romantic partner, I don't comment on your looks, I don't tell you exactly what attracted me to you, and I most certainly keep my hands off of you.

That's what flummoxed me so much about the person I thought I was going on a date with: lots of physical contact (no kissing, just lots of touching), lots of compliments on how cute/pretty/hot I am, lots of planning of just-us-time, all in the first week of knowing each other. That, to me, is inappropriate if you already have an S.O, regardless of whether or not you're poly, and particularly inappropriate if you're only just getting to know someone.

Do I hug and kiss my friends, tell them I think they're hot, etc, etc? Hell yeah. But I've also known them for years, and it took time for us to get to a state where that level of familiarity was never to be misunderstood. That's why many of my friends and I were kind of like, well, scientifically speaking, this person is doing X, Y, and Z, and X, Y, and Z are usually only present when someone is interested in me, so logically, this person must be interested in me! SWEET!

And then we discovered we were wrong. Or maybe not so much wrong, but at least in a situation in which we had to confront the fact that none of us are poly, so the people we were interested in are off limits.

But our original question was really about getting to the nitty gritty of disclosure and the benefits and pitfalls therein. The nuances of dating and pursuit and romance escape me, because I've grown up to have very specific boundaries that I personally abide by because that's who I am, and my friends would say the same for themselves. It's just hard when you meet someone whose understanding of dating completely conflicts with your own.

I'm definitely still interested in other perspectives re: disclosure, dating nuances, boundaries, etc, so please feel free to chime in if you have something to add.
posted by patronuscharms at 1:21 PM on December 29, 2010

The vast majority of relationship stuff boils down to:

People are different
Some people have standards/behaviors that aren't compatible with you
Some people are dishonest or bad
You should seek out things that work for you and make you happy while not being an asshole
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:30 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

The one time it happened to me she told me halfway through the date that she already had a boyfriend. She looked away, embarrassed, and apologized. I laughed it off and said something along the lines of, "well, better you tell me now than later."

She missed the dating scene, meeting a fun new guy was something she'd always enjoyed doing. For a lot of people the flirting/"thrill of the chase" is a large part of what they like about relationships but can't anymore when they're exclusive with someone. I was a little annoyed, but since I got an enjoyable conversation out of it I can't say it was too bad.

The nuances of dating and pursuit and romance escape me

Join the club. Everyone feels this way. Everyone is different, you just have to roll with that, and no amount of "rules" or pickup-artistry will save you from this fundamental fact of life. There are always weird things to deal with that no amount of reading will prepare you for. A rule of thumb, though: play games if you want a game-player, be honest if you want someone honest.
posted by Ndwright at 7:38 PM on December 29, 2010

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