I'm Poly & So Can You: How Do I Disclose On A 1st Date?

Updated April 02, 2016 12:04pm PDT
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How do we navigate this frontier of non-exclusive fornication with compassion and grace? How do we resolve relationship conflicts in a way de-centered from heteronormativity?

For these questions and more, polyamory pundit Andre Shakti is here for you.

When do I disclose that I’m non-monogamous when going out on a date with a new person?

No doubt about it, I live a privileged life when it comes to dating. From a (fairly ignorant and conventional) outsider’s perspective, I have a multitude of potential “red flags” that may “frighten away” a potential partner. I’m queer, I’m non-monogamous, I’m kinky, I’m a sex worker. Hey, I even have a small menagerie of furry pets—that’s a deal-breaker for some people! But I’m also white, cisgender, was raised upper-middle class, and am an indoor sex worker who doesn't rely on the income from said work to survive. 

Combine my privilege with my unabashed activism, stage performance, and pornographic work, and you get someone with hardly any secrets. I have a well-regarded visibility within certain niche communities that ensures almost everyone I meet knows who I am and what I do for a living before we’ve even shaken hands. It means that I almost never have to “come out” to someone about one of my identities or proclivities when we’re getting to know each other.

Don’t believe for a second that this wasn’t strategic. In my late teens and early twenties, I was so goddamn sick of carrying the anxiety-ridden weight of “coming out”. I was never ashamed of any part of my life, but anticipating the continuous labor of disclosing and then holding their hand through the potentially emotionally-fraught aftermath while they failed to be a support for me (or worse, having to put my educator hat on and conduct a lesson every time) was, well, the opposite of a hard-on. So I decided to practice putting my “fear” first. If my “fear” was that I’d have to disclose that I was non-monogamous, for example, I’d make sure that that was literally the first thing this person knew about me. That way, if they consented to getting to know me more intimately, they were also consenting to being down with my relationship structure status. No coming-out required. 

The more forthcoming you are about your supposed “red flags”, the more confident and self-possessed you appear, and the less likely it is that someone will try to take that part of you and weaponize it (read: attempt to shame, guilt, alienate, or attack you for it). Because people are shits. 

In today’s Internet and app-dating age, it’s incredibly easy and low-stress to simply put a one-liner calling out your relationship style on your Tinder, OkCupid, or FetLife profile—it’ll help enormously in weeding out folks who wouldn’t be down with non-monogamy before you have to engage with them. Even Facebook has an “open relationship” option now! 

If you meet someone through a mutual friend or acquaintance, you can use the common denominator to your advantage. Get some history on the person’s past relationships to see if their style is compatible with yours, and/or have the mutual friend communicate to them that you’re non-monogamous and screen them for you, saving you the hassle. 

Finally, in the event that you meet and are drawn to a complete stranger in person, I will always vote to disclose as soon as possible. Assuming that you’ve introduced yourself to each other, engaged in small talk and are picking up mutual sparks of interest, pair a disclosure with a compliment or affirmation. i.e. “I’m having such a great time chatting with you! Before we continue getting to know each other, though, I just wanted to give you the heads-up that I practice ethical non-monogamy. Do you have any experience with that?” 

If they’re not into it, you get to thank them for their time and exit stage left, all before you’ve formed a pesky emotional attachment. If they have had experience and are down, hurray! And if they haven’t had experience but seem game to try, now the ball is in your court with regards to whether or not you want to do the work and be that person’s introduction to non-monogamy (something that many veteran non-monogamous folks would pass on). But hey, it’s a good problem to have! 

I’m polyamorous and currently living with my primary partner. How do I best navigate use of/sharing the space when I’m also seeing other people?

Great question! I’ve had to deal with this very situation in multiple relationships (It’s worth noting that I subsequently decided that living with a partner wasn’t ideal while I was still practicing non-monogamy, but hey: to each their own!).

Here are some tips and tricks to supporting and respecting your partner while strengthening your channels of communication—and, uh, debating over who gets to fuck their hot sidepiece in the bedroom on Tuesday night:

  1. Before entering into any negotiation about the space, I recommend sitting down and mutually acknowledging any power dynamics that may presently be in play. These could be BDSM dynamics (dom/sub, top/bottom, master/slave), financial/resource dynamics (one of you makes significantly more money than the other, or perhaps only one of you has their name on the lease or is the homeowner), or personality dynamics (perhaps your partner is very confident and communicative, but you’re more introverted and have trouble initiating negotiations). There are power dynamics present in every relationship, and they tend to inevitably rear their heads in times of conflict.
    Mutual acknowledgement and preventative discussion is key to not only identifying when one of you is making a power play, but it’s also crucial in deconstructing why that play was made and how you can resume moving forward with your negotiations as equals.
  2. Be gentle with one another. It’s relatively easy to feel attacked when there’s been a communication snafu and your partner informs you that no, the apartment is actually not available tonight. Practice patience and kindness by giving your partner the benefit of the doubt when a conflict arises and reminding yourself that they are not “out to get you”. Hold them to the same standard when roles are reversed.
  3. If financially accessible to you, I HIGHLY recommend designating two separate sleeping/personal spaces in your shared home. My first girlfriend and I had separate bedrooms in the same house, which was wonderful. We usually slept together every night, but we retained and encouraged each other’s autonomy, and that way we never had to quarrel over whether or not it was “icky” to hookup with another partner in “our” bed. In my second shared living situation, my partner and I lived in a one-bedroom condo out of necessity (Thanks, California!), so I turned the “dining room” into a personal space where I kept all my clothes, costumes, paperwork, and a futon mattress in case I wanted to get frisky.
  4. Make sure you determine not only how often each of you have access to the space with your other partner(s) and “what’s okay to do where”, but that you’re also discussing how much of that activity you want to be privy to. Are you okay walking in on your partner cuddling on the couch with a date? Are you okay coming home after your partner’s date has left and still seeing the rumpled, stained sheets piled on top of the bed? Is it alright for a partner’s date to leave a toothbrush in your toothbrush holder? Establish how much distance you want from your partner’s dating life, and vice versa. Then respect it.
  5. Finally, never underestimate the power of Google Calendars for scheduling. I’m an old-fashioned gal that doesn’t trust technology and totes around a written day planner, but creating a shared Google Calendar with your partner around house usage can often be a lot less labor-intensive than blowing their phone up with texts or scheduling nightly sit-downs to update your written calendars.

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Andre Shakti is a Bay Area educator, producer, activist, and professional slut devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their clients, and not taking herself too seriously. She can frequently be found marathoning Law & Order: SVU under a chaotic pile of partners and pitbulls.