Open relationship, ethical non-monogamy, polyamory, monogamish: there are so many words for telling someone that when it comes right down to it, you’re dating someone else. Here’s how to do so in a way that is respectful of their time and energy.
There are a lot of how-to guides for opening up relationships. Managing jealousy, setting boundaries, processing your feelings. The polyamorous community is pretty good about sharing information and supporting one another, even developing their own words for things like non-hierarchical relationships and that feeling that’s the opposite of jealousy (it’s called “compersion”).
Well, good for them. What you don’t hear a lot about is what it’s like to be a single person who logs onto Tinder, matches with someone cute, sees in their bio that they’re also kind of awesome and then reads at the bottom, “Ethically non-monogamous.”
I’m sorry, but there are not enough truly ethical people in the world to account for the number of people claiming to practice ethical non-monogamy on dating apps, folks.
As a lady who has gone through the process of dating someone in an open relationship numerous times, I have some thoughts about how you tell a new date your relationship status in a way that respects their experience. They’re a person, too. Process that.
Put It In Your Bio
It's fun to dunk on the Ethically Horny, but it is best when someone says right out that they're already committed to someone. There's only so much you can communicate (or want to communicate) about your situation in a bio, but some hint is preferred. Then I, a single person, can decide if I feel like dealing with it or not.
Just last night, a man revealed to me during our date that he was in an open relationship. He said he usually tells people before meeting them, but often they'll unmatch him after he mentions it. I asked why he doesn't put it in his bio and he says that when he did, he got no matches at all.
Boo hoo. It's the same outcome either way, but if you wait, you're potentially wasting someone's time as well as your own. There are folks out there who are cool with it. Allow them to choose you with open eyes.
If you meet someone in real life, and you're getting your flirt on, just be sure to tell them before they meet you for an official date or you smooch, if things are moving fast. That's just polite.
Don't Pull A Bait-And-Switch
I date men, women and non-binary people. This makes me, in emoji parlance, a unicorn. Lots of couples on apps are looking for thirds. Again, this is fine. If I'm interested, I'm interested. But it has happened multiple times that I match with a supposedly single person and get messaged about joining a threesome.
Most often, it's a woman, but I did get so far as setting up a place and time to meet with a man before he said, "My girlfriend can't wait to meet you!" Not only is that deceitful, it's probably blowing your chances. No one captures this unicorn with a lasso of lies.
Talk About Something Else
Maybe you just started down this non-monogamy road and you want everyone to read your copy of Opening Up immediately. It's exciting to be taking on a new adventure, especially if things have been stale or you're suddenly having lots of fun sex.
Just remember, that's not what your outside-the-relationship dates are necessarily doing. If someone does agree to go out with you and all you do is talk their ear off about polyamory, using your special open-people language, they will not be feeling compersion. They'll be feeling bored.
I personally prefer it when someone lays out their situation and then allows me to ask the questions I need answered. Those questions are different for everyone. Then, treat it like a normal date, not like it's your thesis defence on how "humans aren't hard-wired for monogamy."
Be Clear About Your Limits
In the usual stages of early dating, you are feeling out how things will go. It may lead to something more committed, supportive, and long-term. Who knows? The possibility is there.
When you're dating someone in an open relationship, your expectations are a little different. There are people who have relationships outside their primary one that are given equal weight and care; but much more often, people are just free to have sex or enjoy casual dating.
However, we're human, and romantic feelings can develop outside the rules. If that's not an option in your arrangement, don't indulge in the fun new romance, playing with those boundaries and then bounce when your fling begins to demand a bit more.
You have an obligation to your partner, but that doesn't mean you have less of an obligation to be honest and clear with everyone you're seeing. Saying, "You knew I was in a relationship all along!" is not a magic panacea that excuses all crappy behaviour. No commitment doesn't equal no compassion or respect.
Dan Savage coined the concept of the Campsite Rule in reference to relationships with an age gap: the older person should leave the younger person in "better shape than they found them." This should also apply to the people you're dating outside your relationship.
After all, at the end of the night, you're going home.
Aimée Lutkin is a freelance writer who blogs a lot about dating.