How do nonexclusive relationships work?
May 30, 2016 7:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the process of getting divorced and am seeing a couple different dudes. I like them both a lot but am in no place for a serious relationship. My soon to be ex is the only serious adult relationship I've ever had so I totally don't know what I'm doing.

Dude 1 is someone I met a few months ago. At the time I wasn't dating anyone else and neither was he, but we both agreed that it would be best to keep things chill, not see each other exclusively, and just see where it goes. Recently I started seeing another guy, who also knows that I'm not ready for anything serious and I'm dating around. My question is: how much is appropriate/necessary to tell these dudes about each other?
I'm especially concerned about the safe sex stuff. I'm on the pill and dude 1 and I haven't been using condoms because we both have been tested and weren't seeing anyone else. Dude 2 has also been tested and had no other recent partners. If it were just me I'd be inclined to ditch the condoms with dude 2, but the fact that I have multiple partners makes me worry about putting other people's health at risk. Also, I worry that both these guys want to hang out a lot and do stuff that I find very boyfriend-y. Like they're both so sweet and thoughtful and into me even though I've been totally clear that I don't want a boyfriend. I apologize if this comes off as a "my huge penis makes it difficult to ride a bicycle" type thing, but I just honestly have no idea how to handle this situation.
posted by Janet Snakehole to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Welcome to the modern dating world, where people lie a lot. Generally it's unwise to trust new partners to be monogamous, especially when it's a casual situation. For your own health and that of your partners and their partners, use condoms.
posted by Scram at 7:43 PM on May 30, 2016 [25 favorites]

I would be up-front about the fact that you're dating both of them, and not be squirrely with letting them each know that you may be out with "someone else" (it doesn't mean you have to give details or names or even the number of guys, but "I'm out on a date" is fine).

I would stay with condoms until I was in a committed relationship.
posted by xingcat at 7:45 PM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

If the no-condom sex with Dude #1 was an agreement predicated on neither of you seeing anyone else, well, that has changed (for you at least) and you need to be upfront and honest about it with him. Having sex without condoms, for many people, is a tacit agreement about sexual monogamy and emotional entanglement regardless of disease or pregnancy risk. I'm in my 30's and divorced and I would not dream of having unprotected sex with a partner who was having sex with someone else as well, protected or not. It is a form of intimacy that hinges upon monogamy.

Being recently divorced sometimes feels like being a kid in a candy store - there are so many opportunities and even the bad ones are still candy - but just because we may not see ourselves as being beholden to relationship rules because we're not "in a relationship" doesn't mean that it's okay to trample on other people's feelings, especially as they relate to sex.

You don't need to tell Dude #1 that Dude #2 exists, explicitly, or vice versa. But you do need to tell Dude #1 that you are seeing "other people" and ask him if he'd like to start using condoms. And you need to be honest with Dude #2 that you are seeing other people. You don't have to specify that it's just one other person or twelve or whatever, that's none of their business. But your seeing other people in the general sense is their business because you're having sex, so be upfront and honest about that.
posted by juniperesque at 7:48 PM on May 30, 2016 [13 favorites]

If you are having sex with more than one person, you have to use a condom. I'd use one in any non exclusive situation in the future, regardless of testing status. I'd tell both dudes you're seeing multiple people and leave it at that. They're free to do the same.
posted by Kalmya at 8:08 PM on May 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

I think moving to a condoms-only policy is the way to go. Having a clear test is a temporary situation when people are not exclusive. With drug resistant STIs and more permanent infections out there, it's not enough to get tested every few months and/or when you first start seeing someone new. Plus, people lie about tests all the time, especially if they're symptom free. Just let all your partners know that you're changing your habits and be consistent. Always have your own supply on-hand.
posted by quince at 8:08 PM on May 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

In terms of the boyfriend-y thing, you have this Internet stranger's permission to say, "No thanks, I have other plans" as often as you would like, even if the other plans are just staying home alone and binge watching Netflix. If it feels like a pattern, where you are always saying "no" then it is appropriate to talk about. It is really common for one person to want more contact than the other. As long as you are clear and acting with integrity, it is perfectly fine to say "thanks but not thanks, this is enough for me right now" Of course, they are also perfectly free to say "if you aren't interested in more, I'll look for someone who is" and that's not a problem - the idea is to find a relationship that works for both of you, as you are right now. If he doesn't like that, then you've found out it is not a match. Super nice guys deserve women that treat them with care, not women that pretend to want something they don't. No reason to feel guilty about it.
posted by metahawk at 9:00 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found myself in the same situation after 20 years (!) of dating/marriage to the same person. If you plan to keep seeing several people at the same time—which, personally, I'm all for—you should probably read _The Ethical Slut_ and _More Than Two_, which will probably be both helpful and eye-opening. As far as safe sex goes, you need to up your game right away. You're getting good advice, and should follow it. Condoms always, unless you have a very explicit agreement with a significant other—or others, if you're all in on it and agreed and have discussed it together, in person—and regular testing, the full battery. And note: condoms don't protect you against everything, so you need to have lots of clear communication, honesty, and STI awareness. You don't say how old you are, but if you're like me, in your 40s, it's wild world out there and not at all the one that was operative back in the stone age, when I was young and single.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 9:07 PM on May 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

People often lie about how recently they've been tested. I dated a bunch of people on summer and every single one said they'd been tested and were clear 2 weeks previous. If be surprised if they were all telling me the truth.
posted by catspajammies at 9:34 PM on May 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

So, you're dating two guys who are also dating other women. They've been tested (recently?). Imagine you are a woman also dating one of these guys. She's also been tested (recently?). She's okay with it because the other guy(s) have been tested recently. Sheesh. Use a condom.
posted by finding.perdita at 12:22 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oops! You just had a yeast infection (or whatever!) and think it's healthier to use condoms. Actually, your doctor suggested it?

You want to use these non-latex condoms so that sex is still awesome.
posted by jbenben at 2:44 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

1) Everyone's risk tolerance is different regarding safer sex. If an ongoing partner has been tested and I trust them to use condoms with other people, and they're only having sex with one or two other people whom I don't think are engaged in other risky behaviors, I'm game to ditch condoms with them. Always using condoms with everyone is safer however.

2) If you stop using condoms with a partner, you need to tell other partners whom you're not using condoms with. (No lying about yeast infections or whatever; you're not 15.) They may choose to start using condoms again.

2) I consider full disclosure to be ethically necessary. Everyone you're having sex or emotional relationships with should know that you are also doing those things with specific other people. You can discuss with them how much information they want to hear about it and how much you're willing to share. The fact that you had a vague "we're not exclusive" talk early on isn't adequate.
posted by metasarah at 5:10 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, I worry that both these guys want to hang out a lot and do stuff that I find very boyfriend-y.

My experience: The more I go "Dude, I wasn't looking for a bf. You are just sex for me. I have a life and being some man's property has no place in it." the more they are sure this is True Love and they really want to get to know me better.

For a time, that really weirded me out. But guys came and went, with relatively little drama, so I stopped feeling threatened by it. I eventually figured out it put me in the driver's seat: Oh, you really, really like me and want A Relationship with me? THIS is what I am looking for in a relationship. If you cannot hit that mark, you remain good, clean fun with no strings attached. You start acting like a kicked puppy or being a pill, you can hit the road. I ain't putting up with it.

Do be honest that they are not the only one, but do respect the privacy of the individuals involved. Guy A does not need to know what Guy B likes doing in bed. They don't need each other's names. Try to divulge anything pertinent to the partner in question without divulging details they do not need.

Use condoms every single time.
posted by Michele in California at 9:50 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

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