Traditional dating within a monogamous framework has somewhat of a script to work with . . . Do you have/want children? Are you a smoker? What’s your attitude towards therapy? Did you vote for Trump? Twice?
Most of us know ourselves well enough to know what will render a prospective partner fundamentally incompatible and asking the right questions helps determine who will and will not be making it through to the next round. However, folks dating again for the first time within an intentionally non-monogamous structure often find themselves fumbling for the right questions to ask. Even folks who have the vocabulary they need to ask well-informed questions may fall short in some areas.
I have by no means encountered every heartbreak out there waiting for me, but I do ask certain revealing questions designed to identify people I know I won’t be a good match for.
Without further ado, I present:
10 Things I’ll Hate About You
(aka: the rigmarole I put folks through before meeting them IRL)
One: Your experience level with non-monogamy
We all start somewhere! Most of us have a preference for the level of experience we want our partners to have with non-monogamy. Folks who’ve been operating in a non-monogamous framework for a long time are more likely to avoid newbies, but plenty are open to newcomers and operate under a “reasonable expectations” approach. Those newer to ENM might be more compatible with fellow newbies, though they may prefer someone with more experience for a variety of reasons. In any case, knowing what you’re comfortable with and where you are on your own journey is key when determining compatibility in this area.
I know I’m most compatible with folks who are either naturally inclined toward ENM, relationship anarchy, or those who have been operating in that capacity for a decent amount of time.
- What is your experience with non-monogamy?
- Do you feel non-monogamy is more about who you are, or a choice you’re making?
Secondly —> Hierarchy or nah?
This incendiary topic runs the gamut when it comes to potential incompatibilities. Knowing whether you’re accepting of hierarchy in your relationships or if it’s an absolute deal breaker can make quick work of evaluating some potential interests.
I’m someone who refuses to date those who subscribe to hierarchy, but for others who do it’s beneficial to find someone whose approach matches their own. For example, a couple who view each other as primary might do well to limit their dating to folks who have primary partners of their own. Likewise, folks who identify as solo-polyamorists might want to steer clear of anyone who seeks to rank them as less important than existing partners. What do you hope to achieve in terms of hierarchy? Does it appeal to you or turn your stomach? Ask the same of your potential love interests.
- Does your current partner take priority over all other partners as a condition of your relationship?
- Are you looking for a primary partner, and if so, what does that mean to you?
Three . . . Polysaturation levels
Communicating how much of someone’s time and energy you’re hoping to have access to, and how much of your own you’re able to share, is critical.
Some people seem to want a small army of partners while others feel saturated with one or two at any given time. I’m in the latter category because I prefer emotionally enmeshed relationships. I’m most compatible with folks who understand and respect their own bandwidth, and it helps me temper my expectations if someone is more geared toward an array of occasional partners vs. a smaller number of close connections.
I would never attempt to limit anyone’s connections; I prefer to focus on how available someone is for a relationship with me, and what that will look like.
- I’m looking for XYZ . . . is that something you have room for in your life?
- Have you ever felt polysaturated and how did you address that?
Quatre: How many penises? Just one then?
You down with OPP? No, nerds . . . not the song, the “one penis policy” providing a safe haven for insecure [mostly] men in the greater ENM community. You’ll find this most often in partnerships between bisexual/panexual/queer women/enbies and heterosexual cis-men. The idea is that a B/P/Q woman/enby should be free to explore her/their interest in people with VULVAS, but they should be completely content with the solitary PEEN in their lives, forever and ever, amen.
There is no prize for guessing where I stand on this issue but I’ll expound anyway – it’s what I do! On principle alone, I refuse to date anyone who engages in relationships that contain this agreement.
I could write an entire blog on how problematic this nonsense is, but if you’re a regular reader of my writing you’re also likely averse to the idea that heterosexual relationships trump all others and that d00dz should be able to bang everyone they’re attracted to while their partners need to limit themselves to a fraction of that. GROSS. NO. STOP.
** Note: OVPs exist too for similar dumbass reasons – avoid at all costs!
- If I have other sexual partners with [the same genitals/gender expression as you], is that going to be an issue for you?
- Does your existing partner have any issues with you dating folks with [genitals that are/gender expression that is not the same as mine]?
5) Your partner can’t see my nipples!
Otherwise known as: PRIVACY IS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT IN RELATIONSHIPS.
Many couples exploring non-monogamy have agreements about being able to access each other’s phones at all times to read messages sent between their partners and anyone else. Unfortunately, most aren’t super forthcoming about these agreements. Often the phrase “there are no secrets between us” is code for “I do not consider privacy to be something you are entitled to.” You get to decide if you’re okay with that level of access to your private information. This is an absolute deal-breaker for me.
- Do your partners have access to your phone or social media accounts?
- What types of things have you agreed to share with your existing partner when it comes to other relationships?
Is there anything more terrifying than SEX?
Gosh no. Nothing scarier, to be sure, since most of us were suckled at the teat of fear-and-shame when it came to our sexual education.
The resulting indigestion is a lifelong issue for anyone not actively seeking out an alternate diet of sex-positivity and evidence-based information. Not only might they be stuck operating with a limited understanding and/or faulty vocabulary, but they also may have some amount of anxiety broaching the subject of sexual health with new potential partners.
This might seem like a topic you save for later, when things heat up a bit and you want to explore sexual intimacy with someone new, but you probably already know you’re not compatible with folks who approach sex and sexual health in certain ways. I know I’m not compatible with anyone who can’t have a matter-of-fact discussion about safer sex and sexual health.
** I often recommend the website Scarlet Teen for easy-to-digest information. Bonus: it’s suitable for actual teens!
- What is your approach to safer sex and sexual health?
- How do you maintain the privacy of others while making sure everyone involved has the information they need to make informed decisions?
- Is there anything related to sexual health or safer sex you feel you’re not well-informed about?
Lucky #7: Does your mother know what you’re doing?
I am privileged to be able to be open about who I am and the fact that I do not practice monogamy. There is no area of my life I hide this. For most people that is not the case. Sometimes they just need to keep things quiet in one small area of their life, but for others, no one can ever know and they maintain one public partner while all others must be kept a secret.
You get to decide if that works for you, but ask about it up front. I don’t know anyone out there who’s been kept a secret and didn’t eventually experience it as an increasingly painful facet of their relationship.
- Is there anyone in your life that you wouldn’t be able to introduce your other partners to?
- If yes, is this a permanent thing or is it something you’re working to change?
- What are the types of restrictions you would have for me when it comes to being “out” that would not apply to your existing partner?
Octopodes – Individual autonomy or abject codependency: pick one
If there’s one thing we love to do in the society I live in, it’s elevate problematic aspects of codependency as “true love.” If you’re considering dating someone who’s in a long term relationship with someone else, it’s a good idea to figure out how this person handles the insecurities of that partner when it comes to dating others.
I have been in situations where I was excluded from events or denied opportunities with a partner because their other partner felt some kind of way about my presence or involvement. It’s one thing to want your alone time with a partner, but it’s another entirely to want every milestone your partner experiences to belong to you and only you. I like to know up front if someone’s got a handle on their autonomy or if the insecurities of others drive their decision bus.
This is also a good time to ask some general questions about freedom. For example: many established couples have long-standing agreements to honor a set curfew or at least have a “no overnight” policy. Those arrangements work for some, but not for others.
- How do you prioritize your time when it comes to partners’ needs and wants?
- If your existing partner asked you to cancel a date with someone else because they were feeling a little down, how would you handle that?
- If we dated, would you have the ability to make decisions with me about how we spent our time without consulting your other partner?
- How much influence would you expect to have over my relationships with others?
- Do you have any rules or agreements with your current partner(s) that affect, limit, or dictate how our relationship will be?
Neun (noin)! Do the bridges you’ve burned light your way?
I tell monogamous folks to be wary of folks who are not in touch with any of their ex-partners/lovers. This goes double for non-monogamous peeps! Often, people shun their exes in the interest of preserving some aspect of toxic monogamy, but when you don’t subscribe to that ideology, there should be a few you consider friends. After all, relationships transition for myriad reasons and there’s no reason to consider all the people you’ve loved along the way enemies just because you’re no longer romantically or sexually involved with them.
In addition, most romantic and/or sexual relationships end at some point. I’m a big believer in talking through those changes while you’re still together. Feelings aren’t anyone’s fault, they just are. I am most compatible with folks who are comfortable navigating the ins and outs, ups and downs, of layered, non-traditional relationships.
- What do breakups look like for you?
- I’m friends with most of my exes, how about you?
We’ve all got them and I certainly can’t cover every possibility in a single blog post. Knowing yours and having the courage to ask others how they might manifest in their lives is an exercise in self-love; anything else is the voice of scarcity whispering in your ear that you might be able to handle less than you need or want.
And you probably could. Handle it, I mean . . . but you won’t enjoy it. And you deserve better.
What would some of your asks be?
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