The more time a couple spends talking about the parameters of an open relationship, the more likely it is to be successful and rewarding. (File photo)
DEAR PETRA: My fiancée and I are seeking advice about opening our relationship into a polyamorous one.
Since opening up to my partner about being poly-curious a few years ago, we’ve been talking and reading resources about open relationships, and we’re thinking about opening up. Our current relationship is strong and my partner has expressed their open-mindness about this.
We recently visited a local polyamory support group to seek advice but didn’t feel that we could do so once we got there. Besides an interest in open relationships, we didn’t really have all that much in common with the other attendees.
Where should a long-term couple like us start? Neither my partner nor I have done internet dating before. And we’re not quite sure how to go from telling a prospective partner that: a) we’re in relationships with other people; and b) we’d also like to go out with them.
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We’d be dating separately, rather than as a couple, but we both want to be up front with any prospective partners that we’re in an open relationship. At what stage would we let our friends know that we’re dating other people?
PETRA SAYS: B, my bountiful butterkin. Congratulations on your decision to open up your relationship with your partner, and good on you for doing some reading and research before making the jump. The more time you and your partner spend talking about and carefully determining the parameters of your open relationship, the more likely it is to be successful and rewarding for both of you.
If you haven’t already, I implore you to read the classic open-relationship guide The Ethical S…. It’s pretty much the polyamory bible, but it’s so full of helpful advice on boundaries, compassion, and communication that it would be a worthwhile read for even a die-hard monogamist.
You ask where you and your partner should start in terms of actually dating new people. Well, dating when you’re poly is, in fact, pretty much the same as dating when single. You meet someone you’re interested in, you ask them out, they say yes (hopefully), you enjoy a date filled with delicious frisson (hopefully), and before long you’re laying sweatily in each other’s arms, struggling to comprehend the sheer intensity of the mind-altering orgasms you both just had (er, hopefully but realistically probably not on the first try).
You can find people to date in exactly the same places you’d find them if you were single: friends, friends-of-friends, parties, meeting through mutual interests, and yes, the internet. You may feel some trepidation about internet dating, but the great advantage of internet dating for poly couples is that it allows you to be completely upfront about your relationship status on your profile (OK Cupid even has a poly filter that lets you search for other poly people).
This neatly sidesteps the issue of exactly when you should tell someone you’re interested in that you’re already in a relationship. But if you do meet people IRL, you should tell them about your relationship status around the time you ask them out. Leaving it any later runs the risk of your date (quite reasonably) feeling deceived. Taking a potential flame on a consummately seductive first date, then concluding the evening with a casual reference to your upcoming wedding, is uncool to say the least. Honesty is the best, and only available policy.
As for when to tell your friends you and your partner are exploring polyamory, there’s no right or wrong time to do so: what, and if, you tell them totally depends on what you and your partner are comfortable with sharing. That’s going to be determined by how close you are with your friends, how open-minded they are, and how much you actually care about the possibility of them judging you.
But for what it’s worth, you’re in your 20s, and in my experience young people (particularly liberal types) are mostly quite accepting of/interested in non-monogamy, so I’d be surprised if you encountered any properly negative reactions.
One important tip for sharing the news, though – if you use the term “poly”, clearly explain the difference between “polyamory” and “polygamy”, or your friends may think you’re moving to Utah to join an ultra-conservative Mormon commune.
Petra Quinn is a 28-year-old professional living and working in Auckland, New Zealand. She uses a pseudonym for this column to protect her personal and career opportunities. To send Petra a question, email her with “Dear Petra” in the subject line.