Sunday School: On Disclosure


I’ve been struggling with how to disclose to women/men on I’m on dates with that I’ve been seeing a couple (non-exclusively) for a while. It seems like there’s a fine line between too soon (then you’re a douchebag and bragging) and too late (then you’re a douchebag and lying). Do you have any advice? –K.

General notice: if you, a polyamorous person, are seeing someone who thinks that being poly makes you a douchebag, perhaps that someone is not cut out to date you. It sucks, but it’s only partially on them–our culture is pretty highly critical of people, especially women, who date or (heaven forfend!) sleep with multiple people, and if you haven’t discussed polyamory with them before, you don’t know anything about their history with poly partners or the poly community. You may be stepping on a personal as well as a sociocultural landmine.

That said, sooner is nearly always better than later.

Personally, I think that sexual exclusivity is something that shouldn’t be assumed until you and your new partner have talked about it, but I also think that it’s something you should discuss before you have sex with that person for the first time. You don’t have to make it your lead-off conversation topic on your first date, but sometime between adjourning to the bedroom and clothes coming off is about the latest you should let them know.

It really is important in any relationship to be diligent about risk management, both emotional and physical, but it’s super important for polyamorous people. If everyone, including your married couple, practices safer sex all the time, every time, it is still important. One asymptomatic STI and one broken prophylactic is all you need to become a walking sex comedy, and it isn’t fair to your new partner to expose them to that risk without letting them decide if it’s one they want to take.

And of course, I don’t know how you’re meeting people, but if you’re using a dating site, it might be the better part of wisdom to just put a line in that says “Oh yeah, I’m poly, and I’m seeing a married couple.” One of my good friends has a similar disclaimer up, and it’s seemed to work out well for him so far. It might weed out people who you would really like to meet, true, but it also might help you find a new beau or belle who would be really into meeting your married friends. 🙂

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Featured image from Chicago Reader.

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  1. I have no issues with polyamory, but I prefer (?–is it a preference or an orientation?) monogamy (monoamory?) for myself. I'd much prefer that someone was upfront with me about it. I'd be angry to find out later because I'd feel like there was some dishonesty going on, which is not a good prospect for a relationship to me. When my partner and I were dating, we were both upfront about wanting to be monogamous (I believe I said the only two things I would never try to work through were cheating on me and hitting me, so we have an agreement on that). It was, no doubt, easier for us to be up front since monogamy is the more socially accepted relationship form.

  2. Nicely handled! On your last point, it is indeed incredibly nice to have someone new ask about and want to meet present partner(s)! It's about as reassuring as anything could be that they're informed and on the level.
    The timing does seem to come down to the opposing factors of responsibile disclosure and reasonable expectiations, i.e. people who carry the caveats (like exclusivity) are responsible for expressing them. First-time sex is an unobjectionable later bound in the case that your'e having sex with current partners, but is it suitable in the case that you're dating, even deeply emotionally involved with, other people while not having sex with them (/yet)? Then the later bound may depend more on the emotional evolution of the new relationship; a fling may be a fling and never require disclosure while an unexpectedly intense new emotional connection might bring with it a duty to light the stage long before sex enters the dialogue.
    So it helps to have guiding principles as well as rules of thumb. My favorite is this: If something feels iffy, then it's probably worth checking in about. If, for instance, we get an intuitive sense that someone new is operating under unspoken assumptions, we're not unlikely to be right.

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