Whether you’re in what’s known as an ethically non-monogamous (ENM) relationship or just going on a bunch of Tinder dates without nailing anything down, there are a few ways to make sure you’re being as safe as possible, without being an arsehole.
You need to communicate clearly
Tell any and all other partners what you’re up to! ENM relationships are fine, as is dating around on your own, but only if everyone knows. If you’re hiding something, ask yourself why.
On the apps, you’ll run across plenty of people with “ENM” in their bios or people who clearly state that they’re not looking for anything “serious.” You’ll also run across plenty of people who are not-so-ethically non-monogamous or not-so-clearly looking to date or sleep around. Be like the first group of people. It might seem awkward to have to admit to potential dates that you don’t actually want anything monogamous to bloom from your meetup, but it’s less awkward than having to tell them they’re actually just one relationship out of many when they hit you with a third-date “So, what are we?”
If you’re worried someone on your roster will object to there being a roster, too damn bad. They have the right to be opposed and not be deceived.
Back in 2019, you might have seen a viral tweet that said, “Dating my last boyfriend was like being on the Bachelor but not knowing I was on the Bachelor.” For this piece, we caught up with its author, Sara Morse, a 23-year-old marketing administrator who’s now in a monogamous relationship, to find out what she learned about being one of many women in a suitor’s roster.
Communication, she said, is key — even it means someone you’re talking to or dating won’t want to continue down that road with you after they hear what you have to say.
“If my shitty ex had communicated with me that he was going to be a serial cheater I would have never dated him,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m not enough.”
Of course, definitions of what a “cheater” is vary from person to person, and there certainly exist people who won’t feel like they’re “not enough” if you tell them you want to play the field. Again, you need to talk it out. See, before Morse and that ex started dating officially, they expressed to one another that they were both talking to other people. That was fine! The problems arose once they became serious and Morse stopped talking to others, but the boyfriend didn’t.
Be clear about your intentions, stick to them, and talk it all through every step of the way, lest you become the subject of a viral tweet.
Be open to change
You may think you’re only interested in a slutty summer. You may think you only want non-monogamy. You may think a lot of things that end up totally irrelevant when you meet someone who changes it all.
Don’t block your own blessings just because you have a certain vision about how things should go or what you’re capable of. Check in with yourself after dates, hookups, and conversations to make sure you’re not falling for someone without realising it. And if you are, go from there — and don’t be afraid to go off-course.
Using condoms and other forms of protection goes without saying, but we’re still going to say it: Nothing derails a slutty summer or freewheeling time like, oh, a baby or chlamydia. Don’t put yourself through that and don’t put someone you don’t even want to commit to through that; both of you could end up dealing with the problem alone, which sucks.
This tip is especially important if you are going to ignore the first one. (No shade, just saying.) If someone you’re casually seeing doesn’t realise there are other people in your inbox and your bed, it’s really unfair to them to hit it raw or keep that secret. These are just the facts.
Plus, consider this: If you’re out there being casual and dating around, so, too, might your other partners. It’s their right, right? You don’t know the other people they’re banging. Seriously, wrap it before you tap it.
Learn more about yourself
Morse learned through her experience being on a Bachelor-like lineup that she wasn’t into any kind of non-monogamy, consensual or not. Mariella Mosthof, a 33-year-old culture writer who’s been dating multiple people off and on over the last decade, learned the exact opposite about herself when she first became part of “a really wonderful, formative triad with an older married couple.”
“I feel like less of a freak when I’m dating polyamorously,” she told Lifehacker. “I’m generally a person who’s very hungry for deep engagement. When I’m monog, I just feel overly sensitive and like I’m ‘too much’ or trying too hard. I tend to focus too obsessively on the one person/relationship, which always kills it. My disposition lends itself better to polyamory, where I can pour a little of that intense energy into each vessel. It’s a mentally healthier balance for me.”
Whether you’re engaged in polyamory or dating around on your own, you’ll learn a lot about everyone you date, but you can also learn plenty about yourself. Use this opportunity to figure out who you are and what you want. You’ll then not only be the best possible partner to your many lucky companions, but to yourself, too.
“Feel your feelings all the way and as shamelessly as you can,” advised Mosthof. “You’re not special and your problems are not unique, which is to say, you’re not alone! Process everything, identify your needs, and try again. Or not!”