In the past, when I’ve dated someone who is new to polyamory, there has been a period of helping them come to terms with the experience. Polyamory is still an exciting new thing, and often it is misunderstood, or even scary to new people. However, it is not entirely alien. When you think about it, dating a poly person is a lot like dating a single parent. Not everybody is up for the responsibility of dating a single parent, and similarly there are challenges when dating a poly person. If you were dating a single parent, you wouldn’t expect the same things as when dating a child-free person; a single parent’s responsibilities don’t disappear as soon as you enter the picture. The same is true of a poly person.
So, as a service to the next person interested in dating this Poly Momma (hint: I’m available!), I’ve assembled a list of advice, adapted from these lists of advice for dating single parents. (Warning: Although I’ve tried to make this advice general, I have a primary relationship and a young child, and my list may be biased toward that experience.)
1. Ask yourself: Am I willing to be in a relationship with someone who has other relationships? (Duh.) Am I willing to enter into a relationship with these other people (metamours)? This is important because you cannot separate the poly person from their other partners. If you are dating a poly person, their other partners will be part of the picture at some point. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, nor do you have to date them (unless that’s specifically what has been arranged), but it’s best if you can, at the very least, sit down to dinner with them (or better yet, play Scrabble with them!). If they insist you stay completely separate from their other partner, that is a huge red flag, as it really limits the relationship you can have with your partner. Make sure you know what their boundaries are, and really ask yourself whether those boundaries are fair for you.
2. Check your neediness quotient. Often, the attention, time and resources that a poly person devotes to their other partners can make one feel jealous or resentful. Are you self-assured and independent enough to accept that their other partners will need time and attention too? In other relationships, you may have been able to gauge a person’s feelings for you by how much time and energy they put into your relationship. When you’re dating a poly person, this isn’t necessarily the case. Poly people may not have the time to see you as often as they’d like, and it’s not always as simple as synchronising Google calendars (ha! simple). Instead of taking the limits on time as a slight, learn to look for other expressions of their feelings for you. That said, if your sense of specialness is dependent on being the centre of somebody’s world, then maybe you should look elsewhere for affection.
3. Stay clear of any drama with their other partners. If there’s tension with their other partners, let your partner handle it. If it makes you uncomfortable, let your partner know that you’re not going to take sides. Polyamory can be really difficult because so often, there is little support from outsiders, and it can be very easy to lean on the support of other partners. Of course you can support them and encourage them, but don’t contact their partner on their behalf or gang up on the other partner. Setting yourself up as an adversary only leads to future problems. If things get really bad, try to encourage your partner to seek help from a neutral party.
4. Be supportive and trustworthy. What can you do to be supportive when called upon? Be the kind of partner who can listen to the things they’re going through without trying to “solve” things. If something can be done, think about what you might want if the situation were reversed. Has your new relationship taken any resources away from their existing one(s)? Is there anything you could do to help things along? Showing your partner that you care about their other relationships is a great way to build trust.
Sometimes, you may need to give them the space to sort things out on their own. If things are not going well in one relationship, it’s best to let the parties involved deal with it, even if it means slowing things down or even stepping away for a bit. That said, if you’re having trouble in your relationship with your partner, sometimes it’s ok to ask your metamours for advice, often, they may be able to offer perspective on the situation that you might not have considered.
Also, if a partner completely shuts down your relationship in order to ‘focus on their primary’, that’s officially a really shitty thing to do and you have every right to be upset about it. And at any time, if you feel your good nature is being taken for granted or taken advantage of, it’s ok to express your feelings about this, and if your feelings are dismissed or ignored, it is reasonable to walk away. You deserve to be treated with respect. More Than Two has a great article going into greater depth on the topic of the ‘Primary/Secondary’ dynamic, including the Secondary’s Bill of Rights.
5. Appreciate feelings of reservation. Speaking from my own experience, it’s possible the poly person you are interested in may have been hurt before. Their current partner(s) may eve be leery of letting someone new into their lives. They may worry that there won’t be enough resources to go around or have other insecurities. Don’t take it personally. Simply understand these feelings may exist and that it is not about you.
6. Listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right for you, say something. If talking about it doesn’t make it go away, it could be that you are just not suited to an open relationship. This is nothing to be ashamed of! If you can’t find a way for your needs to be met, then there is no shame in saying it is not for you. Sure, it may be that you miss out on your new poly sweetie, but think of how many other monogamous fish there are in that sea! On the other hand, don’t let anyone tell you your relationship is wrong if it feels right to you. You may enjoy the feeling of being in an open/poly style relationship and the last thing you need are people raining on your parade.
7. Have fun! Once you have managed to thread your way through some of these obstacles that are inherent when dating a poly person, relax and enjoy the experience. Multiple loves can be as rewarding and fulfilling as monogamous relationships, and for some of us, even more so!
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