Honesty in Dating with Polyamory and Monogamy

“selective focus photography of woman and man about to kiss” by Ashley Schulze on Unsplash

“And I think if you’re going to be with somebody, you owe it to them to show yourself.” — Chris Crutcher

I will state, as a disclaimer, that this is a rather personal article for me. I share a lot of my own past individual experiences. I take full ownership of them, and responsibility for them, and can only speak from my own journey. I make no assumptions on how any of this works for anyone else. Can anyone really?

We were walking on a downtown street holding hands, this beautiful older woman beside me. It was our first date. We’d chit-chatted about our families, our respective careers and were just enjoying each other’s company. I turned to her and asked, “So, please tell me a little about the two guys you’re seeing?” Ten minutes later we were kissing under a streetlamp like two teenagers.

Sometimes a woman would tell me about her husband, her girlfriend or the other people she was dating. Sometimes I would share about the women I was seeing. This wasn’t a taboo subject. This was part of getting to know each other, just understand to who we were and what we were looking for potentially. A journey into a wondrous land of honesty — next stop, the Polyamory Zone!

When dating, some people are exclusive from the moment they say hello to each other. I place no judgement on this as each person’s journey to find the loving relationships they want is their own. But often people are testing their options, dating more than one person, trying to find the person, or people, that they want to focus on. Sometimes that pursuit can span many dates and a great deal of time, but playing the field has existed longer than the proverbial field has.

My above question, on my first date with that wonderful woman, would have been unheard of if we’d been both strictly monogamously minded. The first rule of Monogamy Dating Club is you don’t talk about Monogamy Dating Club. You simply don’t mention you are seeing other people as a rule, unless you wish to instill insecurity, competitiveness or disinterest in a dating partner. You don’t say you had a wonderful date on Friday night while on a Saturday night date with another person. You just say you were busy. Yes, some people are pragmatic about this reality, but others will become quickly uncomfortable about it. This level of honestly with a traditionally monogamous person can be a first class ticket to a much freer social calendar.

I found it remarkable how liberating it was dating and being involved in polyamorous relationships. We would communicate about our other involvements and offer supportive advice. I would meet a woman and see that little twinkle in her eye when she talked about the first time she danced with her husband or the first time she kissed her girlfriend. It wasn’t threatening, as the love she shared with these other people echoed a beautiful potential, and showed no sense of insecurity that even the most confident single person can inadvertently reveal.

When dating someone monogamously, we share a lot of half truths and I’ve noticed, healthy or not, the topic of exes comes up far more. It’s as if the need to reveal what didn’t work for you is somehow more constructive than sharing what will. I’ve always felt this is a disservice to relating who we are as a loving person, seeking new relationships, to dwell on the negatives of the past. Oddly, even positive recollections of past partners can even be a no go in monogamous dating. For many, just the idea that there could be anyone else pulling at the emotional wants of a prospective new partner, whether in the past, present or future, can also feel like an implied threat to staking new territory, and it sometimes feels very primal in monogamy.

During one interesting period of my life I saw the ebb and flow of relationships with four separate women change over the span of a few months, all of whom I’ll give fictitious names to. I had a long term partner, Tammy, with whom I was a secondary partner and saw infrequently, and I had a primary partner, Nancy, who was growing increasingly unstable and dishonest. I had also started to date two new woman, Angela and Carrie. I loved being able to talk to the two new women about the positive dynamics I had with my two partners. They were so supportive and all three women were giving me constructive advice to navigate the negative tumult of my relationship with Nancy. I found very incredibly helpful and grounding. In time, as these things go, Nancy and I went our separate ways. Angela and I also didn’t work out due to distance and different relationship needs. Carrie eventually became my new primary partner and was with me when Tammy and I broke up. This may seem convoluted but having this loving support network with dating partners giving me advice to bolster and strengthen my other relationships was incredibly nurturing and validating. I am no longer with Carrie, and I will always feel love for and fondly remember all four of these women, wishing things had worked out differently.

As a counterpoint, while trying to be an essentially open polyflexible person later on, going out with a new monogamous focused woman Ellen, I was taken aback at competitive and marginalizing comments that I was told when hinting of other dates. Hearing “well, I hope it doesn’t work out” was a dramatically different experience, nor something I felt comfortable about. I simply had to be discreet about the mention that I had any other potential romantic interests. Granted, this is not indicative of all who are monogamous, and many people have a much more accepting nature to the realities of dating. I personally feel a strong need to be genuine and honest with people in my life about who I am and what I want, while I still try to be very aware and attentive to the needs and fears of them as well. I was admittedly a bit burned out and negative on non-monogamy at that point, yet hearing someone else being negative kind of reverted my feelings on it.

However things for me changed with someone else new in my life who was polyamorous, and I needed to end things with Ellen. I didn’t have the same kind of support network and I made some mistakes in how I expressed things to Ellen, getting too caught up in the moment. I couldn’t be monogamous with her, and she couldn’t be polyamorous with me. It ended badly, I unintentionally hurt her by doing so and I lost not only Ellen, but a mutual friend of hers.

This was a single experience, but it made me think hard about how important honesty in dating was for me. I don’t feel that I can completely share my whole self if I have to hold back important parts of who I am. One former partner had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship with her primary partner, and I still wonder after the many months I spent with her if he ever knew that I existed. The feeling of being a dirty little secret was incredibly uncomfortable for me and contributed to the demise of that relationship. There is the concept ofkitchen table polyamory in which all dating and relationship partners could sit around a kitchen table drinking coffee together comfortably, which is immensely appealing to me. I love the idea of being able to meet and talk to the other people that are involved with the people I love and date. It can be quite intimidating for some people, but it seems so inviting to me.

I believe that this level of transparency could do much to help more monogamous minded people in their dating experiences. I am not one to say the polyamorous view of dating is more evolved in any sense, just very different and probably not for the majority of people, but I do suspect the ability to be more honest about dating, with whom you’re dating, could instill a better sense of who you are and where you are going.

Over a year later, I’m not actively dating anymore, preferring the company of emotionally intimate close friendships. I don’t know who I may date, but as Polonius said to Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “this above all: to thine own self be true.”