When do I disclose my preference for nonmonogamy?
July 20, 2011 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I don't want to have monogamous relationships anymore. At what point should I tell this to people I'm interested in?

After a couple years of interest in non-monogamy and several relationships where I made the compromise of monogamy to be with people I deeply cared for, I'm single and I've decided to give the open/poly thing an honest try to see if it's for me.

I've done a decent amount of online dating, and in those contexts it's usually clear upfront whether someone is interested in open relationships. However, when meeting people more organically, it usually isn't. Given that I want to include people who are amenable but inexperienced in non-monogamy as well as the veterans among my potential partners, when is a good point to broach the topic?

There's a certain purity to the idea of telling someone "I will never be monogamous with you" before even the first date, but I think that's presumptive and could scare off people who could be interested in openness if it were introduced more skillfully. When it comes to things like sexual histories, it's clear that discussion should take place before sex, but not necessarily much earlier. However, this is an emotional issue, so it's murkier. These days, I don't think exclusivity is assumed from the outset of dating. Should I bring up openness before the question of exclusivity comes up naturally? Are there are relationship milestones the discussion should come before or after? I know there's not one right answer, but hearing people's preferences and experiences would be useful for me.
posted by Cogito to Human Relations (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Towards the end of the first date if it is going well. They deserve to know your position before they invest a bunch of time and effort into you.
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:11 PM on July 20, 2011 [14 favorites]

You should probably mention this on the first capital-d Date. I'm making the assumption here that you do capital-d Dates, of course. So, you can have a bit of coffee or hang out or something, but when you're on a Date -- how will you know? Well, if you're not the who initiated (preferably with "let's go on a date" or "do you want to go on a date") you ask -- the I'm-not-monogamous should come out.
posted by griphus at 2:15 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can't you just slip the whole "I'm never going to be monogamous with anybody" thing into conversation BEFORE it has to be "I'm never going to be monogamous with you (specifically)"? That's how I'd prefer to hear it, anyway (that it's you, not me.) And I'd rather know before we go on a date because that may not be what I am looking for and I might save us both time by declining to go on a date with you in the first place. Maybe that sucks, but wouldn't you rather weed people out than hurt them?

I don't know whether you should necessarily be easing people into the idea of being non-monogamous. To me that sounds more like suckering people into it by waiting until they are interested in you, but then forcing them to go along with what you want in terms of monogamy. In other words, they may be waiting for something that's never going to happen, but by the time they have figured that out they are invested so they go along with it anyway and end up getting hurt.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 2:17 PM on July 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

Ask their opinion on open relationships. It's an interesting topic of discussion regardless. If they are negative about it, don't proceed.
posted by smithsmith at 2:19 PM on July 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

These days, I don't think exclusivity is assumed from the outset of dating.

I would agree that exclusivity probably isn't expected right from the start, but I do think there's usually the expectation that both people are looking to progress to exclusivity if things are going well, unless one or the other says otherwise. With that in mind, I would agree with the previous posters who've said that you should let folks know your preferences sometime on that first date.
posted by DingoMutt at 2:20 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think that a few dates, when it looks like you might be sleeping together, or when it looks like either one of you is getting attached is the right timing. I think "I really want to explore non-monogamy, what do you think?" is a positive way to frame it.

I think people worry overly much that someone will get attached and then be taken advantage of. After a few dates, if they're not able to effectively say "no, not interested" and move on, then the problem is not with you. I don't think you necessarily need to bring it out first thing, before you even get to know them. It's a dealbreaker, sure, but so are kids, and no one brings that up on the first date lest they be thought totally whack.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:24 PM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

(I should mention that I always bring it up before the first date because I have a pre-existing partner, so perhaps take my advice with a grain of salt. Dating as a non-monogamous single person can be rough, etiquette-wise, so hang in there.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:28 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Poly and open are two different beasts. Poly assumes you want a connection with depth, and usually assumes you had a primary partner. Open entails more of a free spirit perspective on sex, usually without intimacy. If you want poly, consider taking a look at several of the big online and offline groups that bring together poly folks. Good luck!
posted by bprater at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

but I think that's presumptive and could scare off people who could be interested in openness if it were introduced more skillfully

I think you really can't control people's reaction to these things. I'd say near the end of the first date is a great idea. Early disclosure is best.

Plus you don't want to get into a situation where they start getting interested in you and then when hit with the information, decide to stick around because of a burgeoning emotional attachment. A prescription for disaster, if there ever was one, because they will be making the decision based on emotional needs, not what they are comfortable with.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:43 PM on July 20, 2011

Poly and open are two different beasts.

Other ways that people lean:

1. "I am comfortable with nonexclusive physical and emotional intimacy until I find the right person."

2. "I will need nonexclusive physical and emotional intimacy for the rest of my life."

Keep getting clearer and clearer on exactly what you're looking for. (Of course, this will continually evolve as you have new experiences.) That will help you speak easily and accurately when people ask you questions or you find an opening to bring it up.
posted by zeek321 at 2:45 PM on July 20, 2011

Can't you just slip the whole "I'm never going to be monogamous with anybody" thing into conversation BEFORE it has to be "I'm never going to be monogamous with you (specifically)"? That's how I'd prefer to hear it, anyway (that it's you, not me.)

I think that's key. If you let people know very early on that this is your overall approach to relationships, they'll be less likely to fall into that "Oh, (s)he would be interested in monogamy with someone else, just not me" thinking or, worse yet, "Maybe if I try harder, I'll be the kind of person (s)he would want to be monogamous with."

Either of which will make both of you feel like shit unnecessarily.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:46 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Say it on date one. Early. That way you scare off those who are 100% monogamous and it's not a problem for you. I had it said to me and I was one of those amenable noobs you'd like to meet. Didn't freak me out too much, but a lot of people will freak, so weed them out soon. I don't think you need to tell them you will NEVER be monogamous with them EVER right now if you are giving it a try for the first time, though. It's probably a little intimidating to say/hear right off the bat.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:52 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

First date, or if you don't do dates, then when it looks like you're going to get physical at all- not just when it looks like you're going to have sex. Or, in the absence of dates or physicality, if there's been sustained flirting for a matter of weeks that seems to be leading somewhere.

I like the idea above of starting the conversation just asking the person how they feel about non-monogamy. Then you can give your own views, and it won't be a non-sequitur.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:14 PM on July 20, 2011

I think that a few dates, when it looks like you might be sleeping together, or when it looks like either one of you is getting attached is the right timing.
I'd be pissed (and this has happened to me) to find this out anytime after the first date. Please don't wait.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:17 PM on July 20, 2011 [15 favorites]

I also think the young rope rider's suggestion "I really want to explore non-monogamy, what do you think?" is pretty far afield from what you said in the OP ""I will never be monogamous with you" The former comes off as something you just want to try out that may or may not be for you. The latter comes off as something you're sure and firm about. If in reality you are closer to the latter, and you are relatively sure and firm about this, I think it's really important to convey that.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:17 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Isn't dating just dating? It's not monogomous anyway. I think if stuff starts heading towards wanting it to be more serious then you should start talking about it.

On the other hand, I think talking about what the person thinks about open relationships on the first or second date is a good idea.
posted by zephyr_words at 3:34 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

What you've marked as "best answer" suggests that you don't want to reveal this on the first date, so I'll add my weight to the other side: you should definitely mention it ASAP. The vast majority of people looking for relationships are looking for monogamous relationships, and it is not fair to waste the person's time if you know that's not what you want. The idea that people "could be interested in openness if it were introduced more skillfully" strikes me as self-serving rationalization.
posted by languagehat at 3:39 PM on July 20, 2011 [32 favorites]

I'd like to draw attention to the fact that you've marked as best answer the only answer so far suggesting you should do what you seem to want to do -- wait a little while to disclose. Also notice that this answer comes from a poster who is also poly/open in some way, and therefore can be expected to have more positive feelings about the whole concept.

The reason I point this out is that you should be aware that many people you meet (like some of the other posters here) are going to have much more negative feelings about the concept of nonmonogamy. These people are not going to be happy with you when they find out you've been dating them with no intention of ever being exclusive with them. I'm not saying this makes it wrong by some objective standard. But there will be people who believe it is wrong. If you choose to wait beyond the end of the first date, you need to be ok with people (people who you were starting to like) suddenly thinking you're a total asshole, and reacting accordingly.

I dated a guy who was poly. He was very much of the "introduce it skillfully" school...where in my opinion "skillfully" could be read as "deceptively". He justified hiding the poly (including hiding current girlfriends) as a sort of necessary evil just because he believed it was too hard to get girls if he was honest upfront. And he was fine with 95% of these girls deciding he was an asshole once they found out the whole truth, so long as a certain number of them stuck around because they were starting to get attached. This is not someone I would recommend taking as a moral role model.

You say that you don't want to scare off people who are amenable but inexperienced. By definition anyone who is amenable to being nonmonogamous is not going to be scared off by you mentioning it. Rather, they should be attracted to the idea of getting to try it out. Based on my own experience, however, I would like to suggest that you should tread carefully with people who are not already poly. I was one of those girls who stuck around with my ex despite a certain level of wariness, because I figured "Hey, I'm an open-minded and progressive person, I shouldn't knock nonmonogamy till I've tried it." Well, it turned out that nonmonogamy is decidedly NOT for me. But the months-long process of figuring this out did not interfere with the simultaneous process of falling in love with him. I ended up at the point where I was desperately unhappy with the nonmonogamy and also desperately in love with him. The result was a mountain of angst and drama and heartache for both of us.

Please be careful. I have strongly negative feelings about nonmonogamy as a result of my experiences, but one thing I continue to admire about the poly community is their emphasis on openness and honesty. Don't do this lifestyle a disservice the way my ex does.
posted by ootandaboot at 3:43 PM on July 20, 2011 [27 favorites]

Just to clarify, I am not settled on the type of non-monogamous relationship that I want, or whether I'll want non-monogamy in the long term, but I am committed to giving it serious exploration at this point. In the past, I've failed to explore this because I met people I really liked who required monogamy. I don't want to get into a monogamous relationship now unless I feel I've experienced enough to know whether non-monogamy is a better option for me long-term.

languagehat: you make a good point, and I will try not to rationalize self-servingly. However, I do think there's a lot of be said for how a topic such as this is introduced and that it may well have an impact on whether it's received well or poorly. I thought the analogy with having children was good: if I meet someone who is certain they never want X, I don't want to waste their time or mine, but if X is something their mind isn't made up about, I think bringing it up in the wrong way could scare them off. I absolutely think this is true for X=children. I'm not sure if it's true for X=non-monogamy.
posted by Cogito at 3:51 PM on July 20, 2011

Hi, I'm an amenable but inexperienced person when it comes to non-monogamy.

And just a data point, if we were to get in contact on a dating site, and you mentioned nothing on non-monogamy until, perhaps, date 2 or 3, well, by then, I'd feel more than a bit uncomfortable with the fact that you kind of left a bigass potential dealbreaker off the menu for quite some time.
posted by mornie_alantie at 3:52 PM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh, and to comment on the young rope-rider's analogy to when people disclose their feelings about having children:

I think the difference is that the children thing is a dealbreaker to making a lifetime commitment, but for most people nonmonogamy will be a dealbreaker for having any relationship at all. It's relevant earlier, therefore it should come up earlier.
posted by ootandaboot at 3:57 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

On the first date or before the second. People who are looking for monogamous relationships do not want to date someone who isn't. You're not looking for a monogamous relationship now so you shouldn't be leading them on. If you tell them and they're ok with that great and if their curious and willing to give it a try great if not you stop wasting both of your time.

Its a deal breaker, a walk away from the table right now kind of deal breaker.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:00 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

He justified hiding the poly (including hiding current girlfriends) as a sort of necessary evil just because he believed it was too hard to get girls if he was honest upfront.

I've met these people too. While I agree that dating is just dating, sort of a get-to-know-you situation, I'd want to know that a potential partner wasn't interested in monogamy from the get-go. This fits in with my general thing which is a date or two to get to know you and then hitting the "Hey this has potential" stage and being interested in some sort of attachment. I think a lot of people see this sort of thing through whatever their own lens is, and that is mine. Since I wouldn't really be dating multiple people at once, I might assume that someone else wouldn't be. Alternately, I'd assume if someone was dating other people, it would be the sort of thing they'd mention. If someone didn't mention it and I'd somehow mentioned that I wasn't dating other people I'd assume they were on the same page as me. If I later found that they just glossed over that bit, I'd be a little annoyed. This would go double if you met me on a dating site where I'd expect that sort of thing to be mentioned before we'd met.

And again, no value judgment implied, people should date however and whenever they want to. However this

I'm not sure if it's true for X=non-monogamy.

still sounds sort of self-serving to me. As in, you're thinking maybe if someone just had non-monog relationships presented to them correctly, they might be game. And honestly, not saying that this is false, just saying that it's in your best interests to feel that way and I think it involves a bit of a misreading of what people in the thread are telling you, that they'd want to know first, not meet you and then think about their approach to monogamy.
posted by jessamyn at 4:03 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

I've thought about my approach to non-monogamy, and here it is.

If you're open and up front about it, we can discuss what your particular flavor of relationship preference is. I would consider your mannerisms and word choices before, during, and after our discussions while making my decisions about how non-monogamous I want my relationship to be.

If you drag your feet* in disclosing such an important part of your sexual behavior, I will not sleep with you because I will always be wondering what else you are stalling on telling me.

Is that fair? Maybe not. Do I care if you think it's fair? Absolutely not.

*In my case, feet dragging is getting me past the end of our coffee "date" and into a "real date" before you drop this bomb on me. If you're telling women this in your third OkCupid message and they're not picking up for a 4th, then they're not interested, and that's fine. If you get me on a 3rd date and you casually drop that you're not the monogamous type, or that you expect me to have other partners of my own, or worse, that you already have two poly girlfriends....I'm going to leave without getting my meal packed up to go.
posted by bilabial at 4:13 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone who would theoretically be amenable to non-monogamy if I were not married to a strongly monogamous partner, I have to tell you that if this came up any later than the "so tell me about yourself!" conversation I would be really turned off. It's a big deal, it drastically affects any relationship you'll have, you need to have that conversation fast.
posted by KathrynT at 4:15 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

One final thought, now that I've read your follow-up comment carefully:

You say you don't have any experience yourself with nonmonogamy, and would like to give it a solid try to see if it's the right option for you. I think that under these circumstances it will really be in your own best interests to deliberately seek out someone who is already happily nonmonogamous and has experience navigating open or poly relationships. I think that a lot of the skills involved in nonmonogamy take practice (as is true of relationships in general). Dating someone who can guide you through exploring it, rather than someone amenable-but-inexperienced who's expecting you to guide them through exploring it, will help you figure out whether this is something you want to pursue for the rest of your life. Having an experienced nonmonogamous partner will give you the best chance of having a positive outcome and will help you learn what it takes to make nonmonogamy work out for everyone involved.
posted by ootandaboot at 5:07 PM on July 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

Thank you for all the thoughtful comments. Tempting though it is to put off discussions that may snuff out a burgeoning relationship, I'll make sure make my intentions clear in the first date.
posted by Cogito at 10:51 PM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

I will add that consensual non-monogamy requires more consistently explicit conversation than "cultural default" relationship styles. Scheduling issues, relationship goals, scheduling issues, STD testing regimens, scheduling issues, and interpersonal conflicts all need to be clearly addressed at the proper time, with a minimum of wibbling. Establishing a pattern of timely directness very early in the relationship is a good idea.

The vast majority of poly-drama I've been involved in has been due to someone under-communicating. Not all of it, but seriously the vast majority. People saying what they think someone else wants to hear instead of the truth. People forgetting to communicate scheduling issues and assumptions. Stupid stuff.
posted by endless_forms at 7:33 AM on July 21, 2011

I didn't read all the responses as I need to get ready to run errands with a friend so sorry if its already been said.

Tell people up front. I'm not saying shout it from the rooftops or tell the cashier at your grocery store, but anyone that you look at dating needs to know up front. Let them know that while you may be looking for a relationship, you aren't looking for monogamy. Before things get serious, discuss what type of relationship you want to pursue. Poly/multiple loving relationships? Open "sleep with others just use protection"? Swing? If someone is going to be in a relationship with you they deserve to know right out the gate what that means, so that they can make an informed decision as to whether or not they are comfortable exploring that dynamic.

communication is required, non negotiable. Disclosure is important. Any new partners need to know where things stand... but they also need to know if there are any surprises... Have you been involved with someone who tested positive fro any kind of STI? Even if you tested clean, some things take longer to show up in test results so there is still a risk of exposure to this new partner and they deserve to know so that they can choose whether or not they are comfortable taking the risk. You cannot keep any little "oh they don't need to know that" type secrets. If you have a partner who is concerned about privacy, discuss with them how to go about disclosing sensitive information to a potential new partner. Rather than saying "Sally has herpes" you could say that you "recently had a partner who..." etc

and it should be stated. If you aren't being up front with your partners, or if you have multiple partners without them being aware of each other, you aren't poly... you're cheating. Poly relationships involve tons of communication and disclosure, and the partners generally know each other whether or not the dynamic involves a lot of contact or socialization.

For me, becoming involved with someone who is poly involves sitting down with their existing partner(s) to make sure that everything is as it should be. I need to know for myself that yes, the partner is okay with this. Also, I've learned that its important to make sure that their partner is REALLY okay with it, rather than just accepting that "he needs other people to be happy" because if they're not 100% on board I'm not getting involved. There's just too much potential drama, not to mention my being involved will become hurtful to that person, and may damage their relationship with each other.

Also be wary of those who say they're into it but show signs of wanting to keep you to themselves... it happens. A lot. Not always intentional, some really do walk in thinking they can handle it.

Keep in mind that jealousy is a natural thing, what makes it unhealthy is dealing with it poorly, not communicating those twitches and twinges to your partners, not talking it out wiht them... A lot of times when I've been jealous in poly situations it was because their other partner was getting some kind of attention or affection that I craved. Once I understood why I felt that way I didn't hesitate to tell my partner "I get a little jealous when you take her out on romantic dinner/dancing/opera dates because you and I never do that sort of thing... maybe we could try it?"
posted by myShanon at 10:23 AM on August 5, 2011

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