Guest Blog: Is Dating Harder for Men in Non-Monogamy?

Non-monogamy makes dating harder for men!

No.

Let me reiterate that: no, it doesn’t.

This is directed squarely at the largely cishet men so many of us have come across complaining about how non-monogamy makes dating more difficult for men. And, to a lesser extent, their well-intentioned partners trying to help (e.g. posting in ENM groups to “promote” their man <cringe>) since they’re “such a great guy!”

Stop it. Please. Non-monogamy does not make dating harder for men. At most? Non-monogamy makes dating trickier in general. Something about reducing the dating pool down to maybe 5-10% of the population has a tendency to do that. But hey . . . it must be so much harder for men! And unfairly so! Or not.

We men are what makes it harder for us. Directly or indirectly, we have been that problematic dude. We’ve stood by while our friends show up as that problematic dude. I’ve been there. It starts with us and we need to be the frontline in unfucking it.

But more than anything: non-monogamy takes dating culture and turns it on its head. It strips away the systemic elements that benefit men in a patriarchal society. It empowers the individuals in the relationship, creating a more even playing field. All this as the world itself churns along progressing in these realms as well. This means if you want to have an easier time dating, you’re going to need to become a better version of you. It’s going to take work. Uncomfortable work. Emotional maturity, vulnerability, pushing back against cultural norms, discomfort and more.

Unfortunately, the culture most of us were raised in left us ill-prepared to navigate the complexities of non-monogamous relationships. Lucky for us we all have the ability and access to tools to change that. From learning how to properly communicate and honoring the F-Word feelings to learning how to handle complex emotions such as jealousy. For instance, feeling possessiveness of sexual and/or romantic partners tends to be a common part of gender socialization for hetero-normative men. Needless to say, when your partner(s) are dating multiple people, possessiveness will go over about as well as a fart in church.

This part is going to be largely anecdotal, but I’ve heard it reiterated by enough others to lend credence to it. My experience with women has been nearly identical every time. From close friends to acquaintances to women I’ve dated. Each of them have echoed each other without a single deviation: the effort from most men is so low. And they’re not only talking about the effort many men put into their dates, but the effort they put into bettering themselves. Ask around; I bet you’ll get pretty similar responses.

So how do we begin to unfuck what’s holding us back?

Let’s use the example of one of the most common cliché questions we all get? “What do you like to do for fun?” Share openly! Big and small. Cool and nerdy. I can easily provide a list of probably two dozen things I like doing just off the top of my head, several of which I’m really into! Be enthusiastic about it. To quote my partner Rusty, “If you don’t find yourself interesting, I won’t either.” Not everyone will find you interesting, but if you engage with folks as an authentic version of yourself, you’ll be interesting to the right people.

Then we get to the toxic end of things. Below is just a short list of some of the more common problematic approaches we as men tend to take in relationships, not necessarily exclusive to ENM:

-One Penis Policies (OPPs)

-possessiveness

-lack of emotional vulnerability/awareness

-expecting our romantic partner(s) to be our sole source of emotional labor and expecting them to do much of it for us

-wanting to be involved in their partner’s relationships like it’s some kind of a spectator sport (extra common when it’s a same gender relationship)

feeling entitled to private information

I’m not saying it’s only men who do these things, but it’s far more prevalent with us. I could write a blog on each of these, but for the sake of brevity: if you find yourself doing any of these things, sit with them and figure out why. And then fix it. And if you’re unsure of how to fix it? Reach out to a non-mono community, ask your guy friends who appear to have it figured out, see a non-mono friendly therapist! Leverage the tools around you so you can do this work. And no, your partner is not one of those tools. At least they shouldn’t be your primary tool.

The issue us men seem to wrestle with the most is honoring the autonomy of our partner(s), and by extension, their agency. In a lot of ways this ties back to some of the aforementioned toxic behaviors; many of those will drive you to limit your partner’s autonomy/agency. But we also limit our own autonomy and agency out of fear. Fear of being judged, fear of losing existing partners, fear of the unknown. It takes a lot of courage to let go of this need to control others, but doing so is a critical step towards not allowing others to control you. I promise you’ll be a far more appealing prospective partner if you don’t have to run everything by an existing one.

If you do your work beforehand, the version of you showing up will be better for it.

So if you find yourself struggling with dating while non-monogamous? Look in the mirror. Seek what makes you uncomfortable and ask yourself why. Sit with it and delve deeper to see if there’s more to it. And most importantly, find ways to address your feelings of discomfort without transferring the burden of that responsibility onto your partner(s). It’s something we all need to do from time to time. We are all beautifully flawed works in progress.

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was polyamorous in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Photo by Abhigyan on Unsplash

Privacy is a Fundamental Right in Relationships

Privacy. That thing where you get to choose how much of your personal life is on display, yeah? Privacy is pretty critical to one’s emotional well-being and sense of safety. We depend on those close to us to keep our confidence, and there is a reasonable expectation of privacy when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in intimate moments with a close connection, friend, or partner.

But there’s an unfortunate approach to privacy by many in the greater non-monogamous community. I see a lot of questionable behavior being championed and supported that, to me, flies in the face of reasonable expectations of privacy.

What the heckity-heck am I talking about?

Oh, you know:

  • “My spouse and I have an agreement that we can go through each other’s phones and private messages upon request. This is how we build trust. This is our version of transparency and open communication.”
  • “Oh, I have access to my partner’s email, Facebook, dating profiles, and phone, but I’d never actually look at those things. Sometimes I see them by accident though.”
  • “My partner shares all of their sexual exploits with me because that’s my kink and it turns me on.”
  • “I have an agreement with my primary that they tell me every time they have sex with someone else.”
  • “I expect to know every milestone my partners reach in their other relationships so that I can emotionally process those.”

I don’t really need to continue, do I? Of course not. You’ve either recognized these as pretty common tropes, or you feel personally attacked. If it’s the latter, never fear – we all start somewhere; hopefully you’ll take this opportunity to examine your values as they relate to privacy. 

I won’t even knowingly date people who have these agreements with their other partners.

This privacy gray area is born of hierarchy and entitlement, and no, there isn’t a gentle way to say that. Particularly in situations where someone feels insecure, or there’s been a previous breach of trust, folks feel somewhat entitled to information that does not belong to them about folks they feel superior to. They often feel this is justified by their personal feelings of security being a priority, and this information falling into a category of “will probably make me feel more secure.” I get it; information is power. But . . . too much information will make your brain weasels go bonkers! Also: you’d be pissed if the shoe was on the other foot, you know you would, so don’t even. The meta you’ve never met having access to your sexting chats? COME ON!

But hey, most relationships do not thrive on a sparse diet of “need-to-know” information; the closer you are to someone, the more you’re naturally inclined to reveal about yourself and your life, including the roles others play. If you find yourself intentionally withholding information from someone when it’s not a privacy concern, it may be a good idea to ask yourself why. Information *is* power, but it doesn’t need to be wielded. 

What information should be off limits?

Well, basically anything that someone doesn’t enthusiastically consent to you knowing. And by enthusiastically, I mean nothing you had to talk them into sharing. It’s entirely possible to have a partner you don’t know every little thing about. Yes, even if you live with them. Yes, even if you’re been together for decades. Yes . . . you are, in fact, separate people with lives that don’t always overlap, nor should they, especially if you’re cultivating healthy relationships with other adults.

So, what information should be shared?

This is really an individual decision. Some people are naturally more private about their lives than others. I don’t keep any of the relationships in my life a secret from anyone else, but I also don’t feel a need to report on them. I have a strong preference for conversational sharing that feels natural. It would be very out of character for me to not mention a first date, or that I saw a movie with someone, or that I had dinner at a new place with so-and-so. 

But some folks have lots of reasons for wanting to know details about relationships they’re not in just because they’re in a relationship with one of those people. I mean, think about what you might expect to be made aware of in a close friend’s life . . . is it more or less than you expect to know about your partner’s? For example: sex stuff. 

How do I manage my sexual health risk profile if I don’t know if my partners are having sex with others and when, where, how? Well, what if you just assume your partners have sex with folks they spend time with and that they’ll use the same framework for sexual health decisions with those folks that they used with you? If you have no clue what that matrix looks like for your partner, now might be a good time to find out. (For tips on how to have that convo, check out Great Sexpectations.)

How do I mentally prepare myself for my partner to start a new relationship if they don’t keep me updated on their interest level in others? Is it possible to do this mental preparation across the board so you’re just ready to rumble when it comes down to it? I generally ask my partners how they’re feeling about new connections, but it’s conversational as I don’t have much investment in where they go. If you have negative experiences when your partner pursues others, that’s probably not going to be solved with a heads up.

I was misled by my partner in the past so having them update me on each new development in their other relationships helps me feel more secure. Well, sure. And: this is still none of your business. Reparative trust cannot be built on a foundation of privacy breaches against another party. Please allow that to sink in. You don’t get to sanction injury to another party simply because you yourself have been injured. We move forward by not wishing this experience on anyone else, not by violating others.

Everyone consents to these conditions of “transparency” (privacy violation) as a condition of their relationship with me/my partner, so that makes it ethical. No, that makes it coercive. If someone has to accept trespasses against their privacy in order to be connected to someone, they’re forced to agree or walk away and that’s not a fair choice. Not when it’s so easy to not put people in that position. This is merely shifting the burden of your own issues onto others and that’s a thing you have the power to work on. 

So what if I’m the one having my privacy violated or being coerced into violating the privacy of others to preserve another relationship?

Well, then it’s time to ask yourself if you’re worth more than that. Spoiler alert: you are. Advocate for yourself with direct language. State your boundaries and your right to privacy. Advocate for your other partners’ right to privacy, and refuse to violate it. 

It is amazing what happens in all of your relationships when you refuse to accept the unacceptable.   


Photo by Franck on Unsplash

Guest Blog: The Need to Know

A common stumbling block in relationships, non-monogamy in particular, is feeling like you must know what your partner is up to in order to feel safe in your relationship. Inevitably we find this is just an illusion; a thing we tell ourselves in order to feel safe because that’s what we’ve been immersed in our entire lives. If we know our partners’ every move, then we have some sort of control. And control feels safe.

This compulsion manifests in ways you may not realize without introspection. Are you talking to someone else where there’s the remotest of possibilities that you’ll become romantically and/or sexually involved? Where are you going on your date? What are your intentions? Did you kiss them? What can I find out about your potential interest on my own by digging deeper than what’s probably healthy? OMG DID YOU TOUCH THEIR BUTT?!? True story. . . each of these happened to me and/or I’ve done them. 

The longer I practice non-monogamy, the less I need to know these things. Over time, I felt them becoming a burden and not a relief. They never brought the feeling of safety I sought. That’s not to say I don’t still feel the pull of those strings from time to time; I’m human, as much as I like to tell myself otherwise. When I struggled, I found myself asking questions of my partner that, in retrospect, were absolutely none of my business. I performed plenty of mental gymnastics trying to justify it, but every time I sat with it, it became clear to me that having the information was unnecessary. Worse yet, trying to source that information resulted in other problems. 

I’ve been there . . . Wanting a “heads up” for various things. Interested in someone. Asking someone out. Sex. Love. All of the usual things people in relationships do. Yet I NEEDED to know when they were going to happen for a partner so I could brace myself! Ultimately, I found myself obsessing over when each milestone would occur. This resulted in prolonged and more intense worrying. It fed upon itself. I’d worry about a thing happening. OK…I’ll be OK if I KNOW the thing is going to happen soon. Shit. Now I’m worrying about hearing about that. Eventually, I would realize these are normal things in normal relationships and accept that they won’t cause me harm.

Today I find myself in a place where I am comfortable not knowing as much. Not because my partners are less important to me or because they’ve done anything in particular to change my point of view, rather because I found security in myself and my relationships. 

I trust my partners want to be with me because of how they show up with me, and no longer feel fear when they show interest in others. 

How do we let go of this compulsion to know things that aren’t any of our business in the first place to ultimately be OK with it? 

Rusty’s suggestions:

  • Visualize your partner working through all your questions. Then visualize them not having to. Which version of your partner is happier? Which version do you want to facilitate?
  • Imagine yourself being asked for these details. How does it feel? Do you want others to feel that way?
  • Name the fear that exists in the absence of this information. Do you have a way to ask for reassurance that does not request this information?
  • Examine any feelings of entitlement you have and imagine how your relationship could evolve if entitlement was replaced with trust in your partner’s decisions.

How and where you enter non-monogamy can play a big role in this, as can our cultural upbringing. If you come to non-monogamy while single, you may have a fear of new partners not taking your commitment seriously. Many of us come to non-monogamy with an existing partner so losing them can be a big fear. Even those who have never practiced monogamy can struggle with similar insecurities. Regardless of which path you traveled, you might be tempted to start building obstacles to autonomy to feel safer. Or wanting to know the where, what, when and why related to a partner’s dating life. Work instead to trust that you’re special to those in your life. Find value in yourself. And understand that your partners think you’re a great person and want to be with you. Because you are. And they do.

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was polyamorous in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash