Looking Out for Newcomers to Ethical Non-Monogamy

Once upon a time I was bounced from a polyamory-focused group on social media for insisting that their tolerance of certain behaviors in the group created a safe space for abusers. Specifically, allowing couples seeking to add a “third” to their existing relationship to do so unchallenged. For folks who’ve been in the non-monogamous community for a period of time, these couples are known as Unicorn Hunters, but to the vast majority of newbies, they’re harmless pie-eyed triad seekers who are being unfairly tried for crimes they have not yet committed.

Look . . . I’m not going to make this post about Unicorn Hunters. There are far more succinct write-ups already out there that my blathering couldn’t compare to. But I am going to address the defense I see most often hurled in the direction of those who seek to mitigate the potential damage caused by others in the community: There is no one right way to be non-monogamous.

They’re not wrong.

There is no one right way.

But there are plenty of wrong ways!

In the interest of community betterment and protection, I am compelled to advocate for vulnerable newbies of all ages who, coming from a mononormative society, are prone to accepting less than they deserve in order to explore this brand-new-to-them world. This inclination makes them a popular target for those who would benefit most from their naivete. And in many cases, those predators aren’t even aware they’re being predatory because they, themselves, are new to all of this and if everyone agrees, it must be okay! 

*heavy sigh*

So on to this “as long as everyone consents to this situation, it’s okay!” nonsense. We do such an excellent job of cementing the idea of consent as a non-negotiable component of ethical that we often neglect the fact that folks consent to horrible situations all the time through no fault of their own. Without a roadmap, many of us have found ourselves impaired by feelings of scarcity and agreeing to conditions we otherwise would not. When we’re talking about relationships in which folks risk their emotional, physical, and sometimes financial well-being, the stakes are much higher.

When I was a 21-year-old independent operator, I partnered with folks who kept me a secret from others in their life. I didn’t like it. I felt unimportant and a little ashamed. But I agreed to it because the cost of not doing so was not being in those relationships. More than half a lifetime later, I can look back and see that for what it was: a scarcity mindset. These days I am not inclined to accept less than I need and want in relationships because I see the abundance available to me if I don’t waste my energy on being miserable in a state of scarcity. That’s a lot of words to say “I grew up,” but it has far less to do with my age than my experience at this point. I’ve been around long enough to know a bad deal when I’m offered one; that is not the case for most newcomers.

So to all of you who are new to all of this: trust your gut. If it feels wrong, it probably is. If it hurts to be treated a certain way, you don’t have to put up with it. If you do not feel respected, you probably aren’t. If you feel like you’re being used, you probably are. Don’t keep your experiences to yourself! 

There is no one right way to do this . . . but there are a lot of wrong ways that flourish in the shadows. Sharing your journey lets some light in. Let your community know what’s going on and listen to them when they tell you about how they experienced the same things. They’re there to help you, and they want to, I promise.

Photo by Ash from Modern Afflatus on Unsplash

5 Things Every Newbie Needs to Watch Out For

I’m in an obnoxious amount of non-monogamy focused groups on social media. So many, in fact, that the majority of activity online most days is speed-reading the same queries over and over from various newcomers. I do not attempt to answer even a quarter of them because there are plenty of folks out there with as much experience (or more!) doing the good work of sharing what they find helpful. 

In an attempt to address some very common problematic aspects of the larger non-monogamous community, I’ve created this short list of red flags, if you will.

Couples Seeking a “Third,” aka Unicorn Hunters

Oh, it sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? An established couple who wants to make you an equal part of their relationship where everyone loves everyone else and you’ll all ride off into the sunset together on three majestic horses . . . except that never happens, and really you’re just what two folks play with for a bit until their underlying issues surface, you take the blame, and end up with no partners while they of course stay together. These people are assholes, and they often have no clue that’s what they are because they are typically new to the idea of non-monogamy and think that “sharing” a partner will help them avoid doing the necessary work of growing as human beings.

Spoiler alert: the relationship structure known as a triad is essentially PhD level polyamory and no one at the preschool level is going to effectively deliver that dissertation.

If you are being recruited by an established couple, or if you are an established couple looking for your missing piece, please read this gift of an op-ed and fully digest it. You deserve better; we all deserve better.

OPP/OVP aka The One Penis [or] Vagina Policy

Oh gosh, it sure would make sense that someone who has the same sex organs as you partner would be an unholy threat to your relationship, right? Dear god, how in the world could you ever compete with someone else who had a similarly shaped body part?!?! 

I HOPE THEY DON’T HAVE A NOSE!! OR A TORSO!!

Look . . . I’m going to give you 10 whole minutes to have those feelings up front as a newbie. Go ahead. You’ve got a lot of unpacking ahead of you but you can have this 10 minutes to just grieve the abrupt loss of your toxic bullshit. I’ll allow it.

Okay, now stop.

OPP/OVP policies are bad bad wrong horrible not-okay and super problematic for a number of reasons, but most importantly because they’re both homophobic and transphobic. Not all penises belong to men; not all men have penises. Same goes for ye olde vaginas. Beyond that, your assertion that two women being in a relationship together is less threatening to your heterolovefest than another swinging dick in the pic means you see same-sex relationships as less valid than het ones. (That means you’re wrong, btw – and also, I think dudes should super be worried about my ability to both take a flattering candid picture of their female partner as well as fix her car.)

Okay, I’m kidding about that last part, but seriously – how fragile are you if this is something you feel you need?

Correct response to someone attempting to tell you which genitals are acceptable for you to interact with outside of your relationship with them: NOPE

DADT aka Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell

This is a common arrangement in uncomfortably open relationships in which partners agree not to discuss any “outside” relationships they engage in. This creates a situation in which folks are unable to verify whether or not they’re enabling a dishonest member of a monogamous relationship who claims to practice DADT in order to cheat on their partner while having all the valid excuses for why they cannot interact with you at any given time. But even in situations where DADT is on the up and up, if you enter a relationship with someone who has agreed to keep all other partners a secret, you’re also signing up to *be* a secret, which can feel acceptable in the beginning, but if things grow and progress will most certainly become a pain point.

Lots of newbies come from a mononormative society that tells them they have to sacrifice their needs and wants in order to find a modicum of happiness. This is untrue. If you don’t want to be a secret, don’t be. Not even for a little while. I promise you someone else will come along who doesn’t need to keep you hidden if you want to be visible and acknowledged.

Note: DADT is sometimes (but not often) simply a boundary that is managed by the person who has it – meaning that if they don’t want to know about other partners, it’s their responsibility to not ask, not seek information, not show up at events where other partners might be, and not allow their boundary to limit their partner’s other relationships.

Relationship Libertarianism

Relationship Anarchy is a relationship ideology, but it’s become a mis-used term by folks who will attempt to convince you that they don’t need to care about you in order to have a relationship with you. A very wise person coined this type of approach “Relationship Libertarianism” and it is best explained by this essay.

Stay away from folks who are assholes, mmmkay? If it feels bad, it probably is. Guts are guts for a reason and you should probably trust yours.

Primary Partners aka Hierarchy

Ahhh yes, the answer to all our attachment issues and fears of abandonment is, of course, the promise that we will always reign supreme in the heart of our loved one and that no other person will every matter as much to them, OR DEAR GOD MORE, as we do. But feelings don’t understand fences, and in order for hierarchy to work there have to be a lot of rules in place to keep the other relationships less important.

You may think you want this for yourself, but a view from the other side (where you are the lesser being) might have you reconsidering. Or it may take an experience in which someone back burners you in favor of another person, but some folks need a heartbreak or two to figure things out. I sure did!

Why should you avoid these? Because it is a ranking system designed to keep one person at the top of the pile and everyone else below them. Comparison is the thief of joy, and hierarchy is a relationship structure based on comparison. 

* * *

We have a saying in the non-monogamous community: there is no one right way to be non-monogamous. That’s not wrong . . . but there are sure as shit a lot of wrong ways to be. They “work” for some folks, but those probably aren’t the folks you want to spend your time with. If you are those folks? Then you probably don’t like me very much, and I’m okay with that.

Photo by Seoyeon Choi on Unsplash