If you hang out with a group of Polys long enough, one topic that will come up is the idea of dating people who don’t self-identify as Poly (but who, presumably, are okay with it if their partner does). There are some Poly people who have had success with this, just as there are some Poly people who have had success with just about everything, ha. But most of us will agree it’s a precarious proposition.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because it’s come up with three separate friends of mine just in the past couple of weeks. The script all three have followed has been roughly this: they start dating a monogamous person, being very open about being Poly; the Mono feels okay about this and the relationship progresses; then, once things have deepened, the Mono realizes that they actually aren’t as okay with this as they once thought and it turns into a mess.
It’s hard to blame anybody involved. There was honesty at every stage – the Poly person was open about who they were, and the Mono (presumably) genuinely thought they were okay with the idea at first. And this sort of experience is why a lot of more experienced Polys swear they won’t date other people unless they self-define as polyamorous as well. I’ve made statements to that effect myself.
The place this becomes challenging for me is that, when I became polyamorous, I didn’t want to open myself up to new relationship possibilities just within the confines of a monthly Meetup. And indeed, I’ve had success opening myself up in general; I’ve built much closer friendships with co-workers, for example, and two of my amazing non-sexual Poly partners are self-defined monogamists. Of course, neither has yet initiated a serious monogamous relationship with someone else, and yes, I’m nervous about what will happen to our relationships when they eventually do.
Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that all three of the friends I described are fairly new to the Poly realm themselves. I suspect that a more experienced Poly would be better positioned for this situation, first because they would be more likely to try and sniff out a situation that could later turn ugly, and second because they would have better communication tools to help prevent it from turning this direction once they’ve dived in. But of course, nobody is immune.
What’s a Poly to do, except play each situation by ear, use our best judgment, and hope for the best? That’s all we can do in any relationship anyway, right?
A related thought: there’s a close cousin to Non-Poly Dating (TM), which is of course New-Poly Dating (TM). This one’s been on my mind too, for a much more personal reason. I’ve had a couple of relationships now with people who were new to Poly – one of which was pretty intense – which ended with my getting burned largely due to the partner’s inexperience. In one case she and her husband decided that our relationship needed to be vetoed for the sake of theirs; in another, a partner decided she had gotten into Poly relationships too hastily and needed to retreat. In both cases it felt like the other person was so caught up in the experience of Poly and its effect on them that they didn’t stop to consider that these sorts of decisions would have an effect on me as well. Unsurprisingly, these days I’m a bit wary of dating new Polys.
But of course, we also shouldn’t necessarily eliminate an entire category of people from our consideration just because of a past bad experience. We’d quickly run out of potential partners altogether. After all, I’ve had bad experiences with legitimately Poly people, too (And if I’m not dating Polys, non-Polys, or borderline Polys, that doesn’t leave much). But it is something to be aware of. Polyamory being what it is, the experience our partners have had with it – and perhaps more importantly, their attitude towards it – is going to have a pretty big effect on our lives.