You Need Help: You’re Poly And Married And Want To Date

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Q:

I am bi, and in a polyamorous marriage. I met this new girl at work, and I’m totally into her… so I asked her to lunch after several days of flirting over lunch in the staff lounge. I know very little about her — e.g., how she’d react to my poly status. (To clear up any preconceived notions, I want a relationship for myself, not to bring another person into my primary relationship.) At what point do I disclose my status? I don’t want her to totally disregard me from the start, and I also don’t want her to feel misled. How do I approach this?

A:

The only way to approach this situation — the only way to approach many situations involving other human beings and feelings and sex and dating etc. — is with radical transparency and direct disclosure. Tell her at lunch, if not before.

I, like you and like many others, have been there. Sitting literally or metaphorically across from a girl I’m into and hoping she’ll like me or want to kiss me or at least not leave half way through the first round of drinks. It can be scary to have to disclose something that might make someone back away from the table, but it’s way worse to not disclose and to have her find out on her own, or to not disclose and then have to tell her after you’re waking up in bed together after a few months of dating when she asks who’s calling and you tell her, your spouse, or to not disclose and have her find out from someone at work.

You are poly and married and want to date. There are way worse things to have to tell someone. Tell her. You can even title-drop in a casual-not-casual way. Saying, “my spouse, with whom I have a poly relationship…” feels too obvious, and it is! You want obvious here.

It’s okay that she doesn’t know already. I don’t feel the need to disclose the fact that I’m poly to every single person in my life before they learn anything else about me, because some conversations are too exhausting to have with my grandmother or local baristas or distant co-workers. And in these situations, unless conversations about relationships naturally come up, it’s not absolutely necessary to disclose, either. People don’t need to know everything there is to know about each other.

But going after someone who doesn’t know you’re poly or who isn’t at least open to non-monogamous arrangements is like sleeping with straight girls: just a really, really bad idea.

You’re robbing both her of the opportunity to make an informed decision and yourself of the chance for that informed decision to work in your favor. Say you don’t tell her right away. When you do, if she’s not on board with non-monogamy she could be hurt because you approached her under what she might see as false pretences. If she is, she could hear alarm bells because you didn’t tell her right away. Either way, you lose.

If you do tell her right away, you of course run the risk that she might not be open to a poly situation, but there’s also a chance that she will be. If she isn’t, isn’t it better to find out now when it won’t be a big deal than later when it could be? If she is, then you know, and how great is that? The fact that she’s part of your workplace only makes immediate honesty more necessary.

You might also be tempted to just tell her you’re in an open relationship or to otherwise skirt around the nature of that relationship, how it’s structured, and what it means. Do not do that.

I have only been married for about a month, so other experiences probably vary, but I’ve already noticed that there seems to be a difference between being in a poly marriage versus being in a poly long-term relationship, and that difference revolves around how others see your relationship. Most people, even poly people, attach their own levels of significance to the institution of marriage, and so it’s essential to spell out what your relationship means to you and how it works because other people are not going to understand it on their own. For instance: I am very newly wed and also currently interested in playing in a variety of ways with kinky toppy masculine-of-centre ladies/humans of a very kinky variety, primarily but not necessarily exclusively without my kinky toppy masculine-of-centre wife present. I am open to dating/relationships, but would mostly like to start with a sexy friendship vibe, which has been the case throughout my life regardless of relationship status. My wife has different interests. We practice safer sex with people who are not each other. Our relationship and my personal interests are the two things I am currently interested in making large decisions around, but with the exception of the safer sex thing and the use of one word during play, we do not have restrictions on the way we can engage with others. Other poly marriages might be structured differently. Your poly marriage is probably structured differently. It’s important to explain what that structure is, and then everyone can make the call that feels best for them.

No one can know what your deal is until you tell them, and this girl doesn’t even know to ask. It is your responsibility to tell her before you get involved in any way. She could dismiss you. But she could not. You won’t know until you do.


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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. I was on the opposite end of this situation a few weeks ago. Went to an art museum with this really great girl, and then when we were on our way to lunch afterwards, she said she needed to tell me something. Cue panic in my head, followed by relief when she told me she was married to a man, but had an open relationship so she could date women. My response: oh, nbd. BUT I was glad she told me then. I could understand waiting to see if we even got along, but once that was established, I think I would have felt really hurt/untrusting if she’d waited much longer to have that conversation with me.

    • The oh…its Ok as long as your dating girls is really annoying. It’s the “it’s not a real relationship/real sex, if it’s with another girl” form of sexism-homophobia. This article is really bringing up the bi phobia/lesbian vs bi issues for me.

  2. I agree. When the subject of being single/relationship/marriage comes up, I use the words poly and independently dating. When speaking of poly as a bi/queer girl with a Demi-boy hubby, I usually feel the need to clarify that I don’t require my people to date my people. I am not really seeking a unicorn. I am more of a Pegasus and seeking the same. #pegasusfriends

  3. Make sure you say polyAMOROUS and that the other person knows that means nonmonogamous. I kept saying I was “poly” repeatedly to a woman I was talking to online because I could tell she wasn’t really getting it. Finally, I mentioned my partner, and she lost it. She apparently had thought “poly” meant “polysexual” and was just a synonym for bi.

  4. One question from the opposite end: how can you tell if someone is lying? Since poly marriages have become more well-known, I’ve heard of a few instances, in my friends/acquaintances, of people beginning to date someone they thought was a married poly but was actually a cheater.

    • I think the difference is at some point meeting the spouse. My girlfriend came over for movie night with my wife and I, it was a good consent check. This is something that would be weird to happen initially, but after a few dates before anything gets to serious.

      • I agree. One of things I recommend is putting together a couples video talking about poly agreements. Then even if a spouse is busy, traveling, working, people get to see that every one is on the same page. It also works as a verification for (real) don’t ask/don’t tell arrangements where the spouse doesn’t want to meet a partner.

    • I’m not married, but my policy is to offer a new person the chance to talk to my girlfriend if they want to, or to look at the shared Google doc we wrote up to outline our relationship boundaries. I try to make it clear that whatever info someone needs to feel clear and comfortable in their understanding of my existing relationship, I’m glad to give them.

      • I LOVE TO SEE THE GOOGLE DOCS. I am not a google-doc maker, more like a spider web chart maker, but I pretty much only associate myself intimately with google doc makers, because somebody has to remember where the car is parked and yes we have a procedure for that.

  5. I would be really interested to know what % of the queer female-identified community is poly…some days it feels like everyone I meet is! So far in my life, evem wjem casually dating, monogamy is the only thing that has felt comfortable to me…but sometimes I think I’m the only one left. :-)

  6. Do monogamous people feel the need to disclose? Personally, I think that if some one wants to be exclusive, that’s equally important to mention. Even more so in the age of online dating and casual hook ups.

  7. Look. There’s nothing wrong with being poly and married, but you’re basically thinking “well, what if she won’t want to date me because I’m poly and already have a primary relationship”, and then… your answer to that is to consider hiding that you’re poly and already have a primary relationship until she’s already invested in dating you? She absolutely has the right to not want to date someone who’s poly and already has a primary relationship. That’s a perfectly acceptable dealbreaker!

    I’m gonna be really blunt here. There’s nothing wrong with being a non-primary partner, but you do understand why that isn’t something everybody would want, right? Especially if they’re not into dating multiple people themselves? You’re not going to marry this girl. You’re not going to live together with this girl, just the two of you. You’re not going to have pets or kids with this girl. You’re not going to be, like, this girl’s default social person. Relationships without those features are absolutely valid, and can be just as meaningful as any other relationship (and there are people out there who prefer those relationships, even if they don’t have other partners themselves!) but those features matter. The potential for a relationship to take on those traits is vitally important to a lot of people, and that’s okay. You being poly changes what you have to offer. It doesn’t mean you have less to offer, it just means you have something different to offer. You can offer some things that a single, monogamous person couldn’t, but there are also things a single, monogamous person has to offer that you can’t, and those things might be a fundamental part of what a prospective relationship necessarily has to be to her, and you know that, because otherwise you wouldn’t be scared to tell her you’re married. If you like this girl enough to date her, like her enough to let her feelings matter, too.

    It’s not like the “wait to disclose until she’s invested” plan would even work. If she wouldn’t enter a secondary relationship upfront but somehow became invested in you enough to give it a try, do you think she’d be happy? Do you think she’d want to stay?

    I’d say “look for other poly people on places like OKCupid or local poly meetups,” but frankly, you might want to learn some empathy before you date.

    • Thanks for saying this. There are multiple ways of doing “poly”, but the hierarchical approach with “primary” and “secondary” partners significantly changes the field vs either monogamous or non-hierarchical polyamory. I really worry about the fact that many folks don’t seem to have thought about this, given how necessarily it impacts their partners and relationships.

      When you (the OP) chose to get married, you chose to engage in certain sorts of relationships to the exclusion of others. Regardless of the terms of your marriage, whatever vows you took mean something. Not only do those vows mean something to your spouse, they also mean something to your other partners, your friends, your community, etc.

    • I agree. I don’t mind being the secondary in other people’s lives. But I also feel the need to emphasize that I value freedom, flexibility and independence. There are benefits to not having to be everything to everyone.

  8. I so appreciate this advice. In the last three months I’ve been approached by two different cute girls who were apparently ok with flirting with me and asking me out… While failing to mention the existence of their husbands. (Meanwhile, once I found each of them on Facebook I realized what was up, and had to awkwardly think through all our interactions, “Why hasn’t she mentioned it yet? Maybe they’re not poly and she’s just cheating?”)

    Radical transparency is where it’s at. The husband thing was a deal breaker for me in both cases, but I’m not sure if that would’ve been the case if each of these women had been honest and upfront with me from the beginning.

  9. I’m engaged and in a polyamorous relationship. This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me!

    I personally prefer to disclose that I’m engaged and polyamorous as soon as the person I’m interested in shows a mutual interest in me. Witholding that information and leading somebody on is unkind, dishonest, and a waste everyone’s time. Just be honest.
    If the object of my affection does not wish to pursue a relationship with me because I am already engaged, better to know that right away so that we can each find somebody who can better fulfill our respective needs! TBH, I tend to prefer dating fellow poly’s/non-monogamous folks because there’s already a shared understanding. But I am also open to dating someone who’s interested in trying it for the first time. I would never dream of pursuing a monogamous girl, though. I spent quite a few years pining for a girl I really, really liked, but I knew it would be wrong to pursue it because she’d stated that she wanted a monogamous relationship, and I respected that.

    I always make sure to clarify that polyamory =/= infidelity, and that my partner completely consents to my pursuing other relationships as long as I keep her in the know.

  10. I echo the advice in the OP. Tell, right away. I’m poly and single. I want to know right away what a person’s current relationship status is. That way, I know where I stand. I am totally open to being a secondary partner, but trust issues come into play if it’s the third or fourth date, and I’m sitting there thinking I’m totally on my way to finding a primary, only to find out she already has one…especially when what I am primarily looking for at this point in time is a primary partner. I’d likely break it off if she doesn’t tell me right away.

    Outside of that, though–some people, even lesbians, cannot wrap their heads around the idea of polyamory, and view it as cheating, unicorn hunting, etc. So, beware, always, as with any relationship, make sure all participants are on the same page.

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