Which direction should this relationship swing?

My wife and I have enjoyed swinging as a couple for years, and we decided to look into opening our marriage for solo hookups. We agreed that we’d try some encounters, she told me that she would be OK with finding a partner for a one-off hookup, where she and the guy would have their fun but he’d never need to contact her again.

Once she tried it, however, I realized I wasn’t OK with it – but not the sex part! My wife has always felt a sense of sexual freedom since she lost her virginity to her first husband at 18 years old in a conservative marriage, and sexual openness has never been a problem for us. She finally had the opportunity to sleep with a guy she always was hot for, it was no secret to me, and when the situation presented itself – with my consent – she did it.

Afterwards, I felt a sense of jealousy and insecurity that I wasn’t expecting. When they slept that night she didn’t disclose to him that I was aware and the arrangements that we had. I felt that because she liked him for so long, that she might like him more than me. Also because he is a friend of friend of a friend, I thought about all the macho pride insecurities, about his hypocrisy of telling her to say hi to me with the full intention of sleeping with her that same day behind my back. I knew that he was going to want more, and later it turned out to be true.

A couple of weeks later he contacted her to ask her for a second night together. She told him no and to please not to contact her again, and in the process she told him everything. Ironically, it bothered him that I knew and that he wasn’t consulted, but had no problem sleeping with her and wanted to continue it behind my back.

I honestly don’t think that her having sex and maybe even having another relationship besides ours, is wrong. My rational brain agrees with it, moreso I know she always had this desire for having sex in private with other partners without me. I know she believes in that freedom and I know that she considers me first and foremost as the focal point of her love and affection. I truly want to get to the level where I get rid of all my jealousy and insecurities to be able to take the next step. I asked her and have no reason not to believe her when she said that if we pull the plug on swinging and opening our relationship she will be happy just with me. I must say our relationship is solid and sex without all this is through the roof and in all honesty the hurdle is me the husband. She claims that she is not looking for or buys into the whole having another relationship, that it is strictly sexual for her, yet I believe that in order to know someone and explain to them what we have in order for sex to take place, it involves a level of intimacy I’m not quite sure I can handle yet; swinging is easy – it’s sex and that’s it.

Finally, my question: Is it wrong if after honestly trying it and working at it, I decide opening our marriage is not for me? I honestly want her to enjoy her sexual freedom – I’m the one encouraging it, since she was in a repressive marriage before. But I feel it’s hypocritical if I take a step backwards concerning open marriage, I’m fine with and enjoy swinging and one of my biggest turn-ons is seeing her have sex with other men! I’m not looking for validation, but I guess your best opinion based on your experience.  What do you think?

Swinger Worried About Poly


Dear SWAP:

You’re learning an important lesson – that despite the media lumping them together in one taboo “naughty” basket, swinging is VERY unlike polyamory. Sure, they’re both nontraditional forms of consensual nonmonogamy, but there’s a huge mental difference between having multiple sex partners without risking your heart, and having multiple emotionally-vulnerable relationships (regardless of sex). Sounds to me like you don’t consider your wife having sex a threat, but you are very concerned about losing her heart.

It’s not wrong to have second thoughts about opening your marriage, but it can be a Pandora’s Box – once you explore that path, it might not be so easy to stuff the genie back into the bottle. The most telling predictor for me would be whether you BOTH agree the experiment should be put on indefinite hold, or whether one of you wants something the other doesn’t.

My suggestion is, since you’ve gone this far, and it seems like there are a lot of potential healthy turn-ons for you both here, why not focus on communication and strengthening your underlying relationship? If you are able to identify and share the situations that trigger you, perhaps you could proceed in ways that help you both have new experiences while respecting, and possibly safely expanding, the other’s boundaries. Only if you’re hitting walls you’re not capable of handling together, should you next need to talk about shutting it down.


I don’t think it’s hypocritical to take a step back and reevaluate your feelings about exploring the boundaries of your marriage. In both polyamorous and monogamous relationships there are always challenges as the relationship grows and changes and they all require work.

However, if the step you’re trying to make seems too big to take, usually the best thing to do is to break it down to smaller steps and test your reactions. For example, I’m guessing part of the failed experiment had to do with the fact that she did not fully explain the arrangement with the other guy and obtain his consent for what he was getting into – that was probably a mistake. If you agree (and maybe even if you don’t), then future attempts should start by making the situation clear for all parties, inside and outside the marriage.

As far as taking baby steps, you could map out a series of agreements that apply to each of you in order of increasing flexibility that would lead to a fully open marriage. I’ll give you a few examples that you might adjust for your situation:

Phase 1: Sex happens with another partner only at an event where both of you are present (not necessarily in the same room)
Phase 2: Sex happens only with approved partners in specific places and there is a check-in by phone or in person within a specified time afterwards.
Phase 3: Sex happens anywhere and with anybody without prior approval and without specific timeframes for check-in.

During each phase you should try to communicate openly about how it’s working or not working and make whatever small adjustments needed that will balance freedom with connectedness/intimacy. I think you’ll find that small moves are the key to making big changes in a relationship work. 

Good luck!

Open relationship threatened by desperate wife

Hello. I have been looking for somewhere/someone to talk to and get advice/input on my situation.

I’ve been in a relationship for 3 years now; he is married and until now it has been what I consider an affair. He has been torn about leaving the 20-year marriage because of various reasons, mostly the kids. Right from the beginning our relationship was very open and I have never been jealous or bothered by his wife. We had often said it’s too bad she wasn’t open to a poly life. We both continued on and as time progressed, so did our relationship. He had decided that he was done with the marriage and we were going to have a life together; an open poly life. We enjoy sexual partners outside of ours but only together – our agreement that works. We planned on moving in together after he had lived his own a while, giving time for his kids to get to know me.

Last week his wife has out of nowhere offered him a deal of staying together in order to not hurt the kids separating. She has proposed they try an open relationship. I have told him I don’t want this. I can’t see it working as I don’t think she can understand the difference between an open relationship and a poly lifestyle. She is trying to control and give terms that cater more to simple sexual partners outside of the marriage. Example: you are only allowed 2 hours with someone. There are so many more things that factor into it, being that he and I are in a full-on relationship. Am I correct to assume this?

I don’t agree that considering an open relationship is a way to fix a troubled relationship. I feel it will create bigger issues. He has always been secretive with her, always had affairs because he has always desired the poly life and she hasn’t. I am also afraid that she will try to control and manipulate in order to do anything to save the marriage. He and I have been very open about all of this talking and expressing fears feelings and concerns. I am so torn between losing him and risking the chance of all this trying it out blowing up into a nightmare. He is unsure of what he wants to do. He wants us both but I don’t know if he wants her just to keep kids or if he is truly still in love with her. For him to decide, I know. I guess my main question is: can this work? Can a 20-year marriage that’s been troubled and an affair that’s been 3 years even possibly work turning into a poly life?

Ugh, so confused lol. Thank you in advance.

Dear So Confused,

There’s no denying that this is a very complicated and potential volatile situation. You’ve done a great job in explaining the myriad factors and forces at work.

The short answer is that you are right – opening a relationship is almost never a good way to fix a relationship so your fears are not unfounded. However, the option to avoid this route does not take into account your presence in the relationship. The ideal solution for him would be for it to work out with both his wife and you, and the children. The ideal for her is for you to go away and for him to recommit to a monogamous relationship with her.

But the ideal for you is a little murkier. Even if they divorce and you begin an open relationship with him, there will still be the kids to consider, so it’s not likely the ex-wife will be out of your life completely for a while (I don’t know how old the kids are, but with a 20-year marriage they probably aren’t too young). So it behooves you to create a situation where the wife is as much a happily integrated part of everyone’s lives as she can be.

If your partner loves you, it shouldn’t matter if he also loves her (unless he decides he wants to be monogamous). So the reasons for him staying with her are irrelevant. I think the real issue is you need to insist that you have equal say in the rules that are being discussed in the relationship that now includes all three of you. Making rules that affect you without your consent or participation is disrespectful. Just because she has children with him doesn’t automatically make her more important than you – or at least it shouldn’t.

The best solution would be for the three of you to sit down and discuss your wants for agreements and come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. I know – easier said than done. Part of the process is to educate the wife on what being poly and having a poly relationship actually means, since she seems to associate it with swinging. But if this isn’t workable, you may have to insist on rules of your own, ones that respect you as a person and give you at least the minimum of what you want out of the relationship while maintaining your ability to pursue others that satisfy the difference.

Leon, whatcha got for her?

Well, there’s quite a bit to unpack. You’ve got a 20+ year marriage with kids to deal with, a relationship with the oft-cheating husband to maintain, and a potential consensual non-monogamous (CNM) relationship to negotiate with the wife. Sounds like a pretty challenging time for everyone.

The first thing I’m going to say is when I’ve seen this scenario play out, it’s USUALLY the person in the middle being dishonest with both partners. Our society trains people in relationships to always tell our partners what we think they want to hear, skewing reality as needed to present a good story to each. When someone maintains multiple relationships – especially in secret – there’s a huge incentive to tell one partner one thing, and the other something completely different. I mean, this looks exactly like the so-common-it’s-a-cliche scenario of the husband who swears his marriage is over and he’s going to leave his wife – but ultimately he never does and the “other woman” is left in the cold. The two wrinkles here are 1) it’s happening to YOU (which means, of course, that YOUR situation is somehow different), and 2) that CNM is an option going forward.

Regarding #1: while you’re in a relationship you’re subjective, and logical observations usually lose out to emotional convictions. Ever been in this situation? Your friends will tell you someone’s not good for you, and you’ll respond, “Oh, but you don’t know him; our situation might look that way but is really another. He/We/This isn’t at all like you’re saying.” And then down the line you break up, and you realize your friends were right all along! “How could I have been so blind?” Well, that’s subjectivity vs objectivity. And right now, you’re subjective. I imagine if a friend of yours described this scenario to you, you’d likely be less charitable to the husband.

But thanks to #2, all is not lost! Even if I’m right and there’s been a lot of double-dealing going on here, CNM might offer a way out – but only if all parties have a meeting of the minds. You’re correct in suggesting that entering a consensual non-monogamous relationship to save a troubled mono relationship is often a recipe for disaster. This certainly looks like it could be! Especially since his wife is presumably offering an open relationship as a last-ditch effort to keep the marriage intact (whether or not she’s using the kids as an excuse is ultimately irrelevant), and would presumably agree to anything as long as she gets to maintain whatever it is she feels is crucial enough to save. To her, it’s likely a case of using as much leverage as she can, to maintain as much control and relationship as she can.

If this is going to work at all, all three of you will need to get on the same page. If either of you on the ends of the V-shape see the other as a threat (hard not to) then any negotiated agreement would be under duress, and neither fair nor morally enforceable. Perhaps an experienced mediator could help – either a professional or someone you all know and trust as a friend? It’s a longshot idea, but if this is going to work it would likely benefit from someone external to explain how CNM works and help coordinate agreements, to avoid the appearance of you and him ganging up on his wife.

Ultimately, you might be more experienced with and open to CNM, but you’ve also been engaging in a secret affair with a married guy. You’re going to need to take responsibility for that – which takes away any moral advantage you might want to claim for your “full-on relationship.” It sounds to me like you want what you want – which is a happy CNM relationship with him, with his wife gratefully accepting any crumbs you and he feel like leaving her. I have a very strong feeling that’s NOT going to fly with her, which means you’re going to have to make some compromises, even if they’re seemingly unfair to you – like no overnights or shorter time periods or whatever, at least to start, with the expressed plan of expanding them as the wife gets more comfortable with having you around. At least on paper, she’s the only blameless one here.

The best thing you can do is be 100% open and honest with both of them, and do your damndest to make sure both he and his wife are open and honest with each of you. If you and she can get to know each other, then you can understand each other. Once that happens you can try to work together to help identify and protect the others’ most important needs via the relationship with this guy – and only THEN would this situation work well for everyone. There’s a long, long way between here and there, but it’s possible. Good luck.

Couple wants to call the “Poly Police” on friend’s cheating behavior

Dear PWA:

I have an important question and would like to ask it anonymously. 

I am in an open marriage, she and I have full disclosure. I am actually the one who brought her into this lifestyle. She asked me a question and I gave what I think is the right answer. So now I want to take it to others.

My wife has a friend in an open relationship who has been flirting with someone else without telling her partners, including receiving gifts, sexting, and telling this other person she is not and has not been with anyone, and that she is in love with them. But in fact she has been with some of her partners almost as long as she has been talking to this other person. There has been no physical activity with the new partner, but they have said they would be intimate on a visit to see each other. 

She has lied repeatedly to the other person about her poly relationships. She received gifts from the other person and intercepted them from one of her live-in partners. If she was lying to one of them could she have been lying to the others? Is that cheating or not?  Why have openness with your poly partners but hide it from another you say you love? 

We suspect her long-standing partners do not know about this new person. We also suspect that she has lied to them saying this person is just a friend, when in fact there is proof otherwise. Is this cheating and should the record be set straight? Should her other partners be told the truth of her deceitfulness?

Looking For Answers

Dear LFA:

Like Lucy Ball, your wife’s friend likely has got some ‘splainin’ to do. But I’m not sure it’s as cut-and-dried as you’re presenting it.

To address your question, what is cheating? Relationship rules may differ, but whatever they might be, cheating means breaking them.  It’s possible she’s technically not breaking any, but my instinct is there might be more to the story. The tone of your question seems to suggest you want to feel vindicated rather than educated; it reminds me of my sister trying to get me in trouble with our mom twenty years ago for hitting her, but leaving out the fact that she totally started it!  In other words, I’m curious how your wife or her friend might present other sides of the story had you not written us first.

Regardless whether she and her partners have covered this scenario via clearly established rules, dishonesty is never the best policy. The things you’re describing certainly sound like flagrant red flags, but without understanding the full situation it’s difficult for me to say you are right and she is wrong. If this bothers you and your wife as much as it appears, I suggest the two of you pull her aside privately, express your concerns for her well-being, and ask her whether this behavior you’re describing is accurately perceived or whether you’re off base? I’d give her the chance to explain her behavior before deciding whether or not to “out her” to anyone else with whom she’s in a relationship. That might not be your place to do.

Personally, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to “out” someone, unless it’s as a murderer or some actual threat to society. One thing we say at every meeting of Open Love NY is that everyone has the right to live how they want to live, and what works for some may not work for all. Even if you think you have all the facts (which I doubt) unless you are actually one of these affected (potential) partners, I would advise you to keep your comments to yourself. 

Of course, I agree with Leon that dishonesty will likely lead to trouble, but openness as it relates to relationships does not equate to total honesty. Many people distort facts to achieve their goals, even if there is a reckoning in the future. Perhaps your wife’s friend is willing to take that risk, but that is her own business.

Unless you are friends with any of the other parties, the only thing I’d advise you to do is for your wife to talk to her friend (you can join if you are also friends with her, but this may be more of a one-on-one kind of talk) and express concerns that her behavior may lead to trouble. Anything more than that comes under the heading of sticking noses where they don’t belong. 

New girlfriend rattles nervous wife


My husband and I just started our open marriage. We’ve been discussing an open relationship for awhile now. Well, husband met a girl in a show they were in together, and he fell for her. He was hiding it from me for a bit, but finally opened up to me. They scheduled a date after he and I decided to open our relationship, but she didn’t know that then. He told her last night, and they are meeting tonight.

I’m very nervous. We have had a threesome before with another woman, and I was fine. This is a little different. Maybe it’s just because it’s new.

She also wanted to add a rule, but I don’t know how I feel about it. She didn’t want sex to happen every night because she doesn’t want to feel cheap. I don’t know how I feel about limiting my sex-life with my husband, but I also want her to feel respected in our relationship. What do I do? And how do I get through the nerves??

Nervous Newbie

Dear Newbie,

First of all, let me start by apologizing that we couldn’t respond the day you wrote in time to address your nerves. I hope you managed to get through your husband’s date without any undue fuss.

It’s not unusual to be nervous about a new situation in your relationship. I think the best way to deal with nerves is to acknowledge to your partner that you are feeling apprehensive or concerned, and share the source of your concerns to give them a chance to assuage them. Probably the worst thing you can do is to keep it all bottled up inside and let that fester into resentment or worse. I find that the more you talk out an issue, the less threatening it becomes. 

Successful poly relationships require communication. You and your partner are in this together, and you both have to be equally committed to the idea of an open relationship in order for it to work. So when feelings are at risk, someone needs to speak up, check in, and talk it out. It might feel very uncomfortable at first, but given time and experience, it gets easier and better, and you’ll find out a lot about who your partner really is. And isn’t that why you’re in the relationship in the first place?

Second, about that rule. There’s a general consensus in the poly community that rules should not be enforced on people who didn’t have a say in them. So it sounds like the three of you need to discuss the proposed rule before it goes into effect. It’s important to approach this discussion with an open mind and be willing to talk about different options. 

Try to get to the heart of everyone’s wants and needs. What is the relationship between sex and her self-esteem? What other ways could she feel valued, legitimized and safe in the relationship that doesn’t involve limitations on sex? If you and your husband skip sex one night a week, how would that affect everybody? Who decides what nights?

These kind of conversations seem strange because we live in a monogamy-dominated society, but they should really be pretty straightforward if everyone can be comfortable talking about their relationship wants and needs in an egalitarian spirit. Since your husband is the point of the “V” (he’s the person with the relationship with both you and his other partner, your “metamour”) he should be taking the lead on facilitating this discussion. It sounds like you just need to get him to start that ball rolling.

Over to you, Leon!

Hi Newbie! Glad you and your partner trust each other enough to open up your relationship responsibly!  

I’m a little concerned that some of it was apparently started without your knowledge and consent, but that’s a common faux pas among newly opened partners. It can take a while to learn how to find the most mutually satisfying balance between completely open honesty, and the instinct to protect our partners from hearing what we think they’ll take as bad news. As long as you and your partner’s underlying relationship satisfaction stays a mutual priority (with your needs being met as well as his), I think new metamour relationships can create a lot of fun and compersion for all three of you. 

Nerves are usually due to suspense: not knowing how things will work out and being worried about the outcome. You’ll probably notice that nervous feeling fading, or transitioning positively into excitement or comfort, as you gain more experience with the scenario. Make sure you stay in touch with your own needs during this time, and make sure you’re communicating them in ways they’ll each understand.

Generally, when someone wants to impose a rule that NOT everyone agrees with, I suggest finding out the underlying need or desire it’s designed to protect. You suggest that the new partner doesn’t want sex to happen every date night because she doesn’t want to feel cheap – did she mean she wouldn’t want to have sex with your partner on each of their dates (my interpretation), or that she didn’t want you and your partner to? If the former, that sounds like a reasonable safety rule for herself and her own comfort levels, but I’m not quite sure how the other interpretation makes sense, and agree with Mischa that agreements should be negotiated by all parties to whom it will apply, rather than imposed as a rule. 

Regardless, my instinct is to focus less on her actual rule and more on the motivation behind it. Why would any of those scenarios trigger her to feel cheap? Very often people fight hard for “their rule” without realizing there are other ways to get what they actually want, perhaps less restrictively and/or in ways that incorporate others’ needs as well.

Good luck to all, and let us know how it turns out.

Female privilege?

Hey guys,

My boyfriend of 3 years and I recently decided to start seeing other people. I should explain that it was my idea and it took almost a year of talking, reading the same books, more talking, working with a therapist and even MORE talking before my boyfriend was comfortable enough to give it a shot. He had a lot of self-esteem and abandonment issues to work out and needs constant reassurance from me. For the longest time I found this to be annoying and exhausting. But since this is really important to me I’ve learned to put out the extra effort to keep him feeling secure which is the only way that I’m going to get the freedom that I crave. Once I slept with someone else for the first time and came back to him he realized that he can do this after all and we lived happily ever after.

Not really, or I wouldn’t be writing this. Obviously.

The only real problem that we’re having is that I’m going on dates and meeting people so much that I can’t even keep up with it while he’s only been on a couple of dates which have been disastrous. As a result, his self-esteem and confidence has taken a really big hit. We all know that it’s not that I’m so much more desirable than he is, it’s simply different for girls, but that doesn’t stop his feelings from being hurt (and understandably so). I’ve decided to take a break from meeting new people to give him the opportunity to catch up (for lack of a better term). We’re going to Poly Cocktails on Monday and we’ve scheduled a date with another couple and we’re making an effort to do more things together.

I think this is a good thing for now but it’s not a long term solution. I don’t want us only play together; having separate dating/sex lives is really important to me but it’s no fun when one of us is sitting at home feeling rejected and the other is out living it up.

I would imagine this is a common problem. Any suggestions of advice for us?

Reluctant Scorekeeper

Inequality in date frequency IS a common situation. It’s up to the people involved, however, to decide whether or not it’s a problem.

I see two issues here. The first is the fact that – despite my distaste for reaffirming gender norms – our society almost always provides more sexual opportunity for the female in traditional relationships. As long as sex is treated like a commodity with women as the gatekeepers, I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

The second issue, and the one over which you have more power, is how that first issue affects each of you. Insecurity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to any happy relationship. It can feel warm and safe to have one partner you can count on to be there for you at all times; even if they’re not physically available you know they’ve got you and your relationship as a top priority. However, that knowledge should exist whether or not your and your primary are monogamous. In a poly context with multiple partners, there are many more opportunities to experience self-doubt, loneliness, and insecurity, which makes nonmonogamy potentially hard on people with histories of abuse or betrayal of trust.

For any relationship to be deemed successful, each person should be getting their needs met. On one hand, doing what makes you happy – exploring new connections often – will likely keep your partner unhappy and insecure, even if you’re committed to bringing your love home to him. On the other hand, going much longer without having your needs met will eventually make you frustrated and resentful.

I think you both need to sit down and have a real conversation about what you each want, and whether the other is truly open to it. Just because you love each other doesn’t mean your long-term visions are compatible, even with 3 years invested. It’s quite likely that he doesn’t want and will never be able to handle a poly relationship, while you need one. That incompatibility can’t be ignored, no matter how you feel about each other.

If you both decide this relationship is worth working on, perhaps you could work together on negotiating agreements that address both your concerns, like saving weekends for each other, or having him meet your partners, or whatever suggestions he’s able to identify and you’re truly comfortable with offering. Ask him what he needs in order to feel secure in your love for him, so that while you’re out he’s feeling neither FOMO nor panic, but happiness for you. Perhaps ask him under what circumstances he would trust you enough to let you have your private dates?

I do think you’ve got some good ideas in place; doubledates and partnered events are a great way to have new experiences together, while making sure no one gets left out. Your taking a break from new solo dates is also bound to help him feel safer while he’s in a tenuous emotional state. My question remains, for how long can you be truly happy while you’re more concerned about his needs than yours?

Hi Scorekeeper,
As you say, the only problem is that you’re dating more successfully than he is. So the key question to ask when you sit down and talk about this is: What can you do to make him feel loved, cherished and bonded to you? If you are both committed to the idea of non-monogamy, then his answer probably won’t be for you to stop going on dates. If it is, then you two need to revisit your original intentions.

No, more likely the answer would be something like spending a certain amount of time together or behaving a certain way when you are on dates (with or without him), checking in or otherwise putting some kind of priority on your relationship with him without sacrificing your freedom to date others. So the first step is to identify what those key actions are so that you can make sure you are meeting his needs.

I think this is a common pitfall in poly relationships where one person tends to get more dates than another. And personally, I’ll disagree with both of you in that it’s not about gender, but about many different factors – clothes, wealth, personality, self-confidence – that add up to how attractive each person is to the potential target audience of any gender. There’s a sense among a lot of people (especially those starting out in poly) that “fairness” means “complete equality in experience.” But that’s an impossible goal and wrongheaded to boot.

If my partner were dating four other people casually, and I found one other person with whom I felt strongly connected to, I wouldn’t see any cause to complain. When it comes to people, it should be about quality over quantity. Sure, it’s great to have 4,981 Facebook friends like Leon (as of 9/23) but really, when it comes to relationships you should invest your time carefully. So in addition to what you’re doing with dating as a couple, you might consider looking at your self-restriction as raising your dating standards and only going out with the cream of the crop.

Lastly, I offer one more way of looking at the situation. I have heard this from many different poly experts over the years, and I think it’s good advice. It’s helpful for anyone, poly or mono, to remember that even if you’re single, you are in a relationship with yourself. You are the one responsible for nurturing yourself, to make sure you get the care you need and develop into the kind of human being you aspire to be. What you do with your extra time after you’ve taken care of yourself is what you have to give to others and build friendships and loving relationships with them. So maybe part of the solution might be that he needs to work on his relationship with himself to build his self-esteem first, and then his relationship with you, before he tries dating again.

Thanks for writing and good luck to you!

The game of mono-poly

Hello lovely bloggers,

I’m in a difficult place right now with my emotionally-closest partner. We’ve been in an ethical, mutually-open relationship since the beginning of our relationship, but have been fighting extensively the past couple months. It’s quite complicated, but I think it boils down to: he does NOT identify as “poly,” while I do.

We’re working things out as best we can, but our discussions are often one-sided, with myself on the “defensive” end. (I tend to be soft spoken, scared of intense arguing, verbally “freeze up” when I’m upset.) So my question is, do you have any advice on how to respond to these types of “anti-poly” sentiments/questions?

  • Why do you need more than one partner? Why am I not enough for you?
  • Why are you making polyamory more important than our relationship? (I’ll admit that I have a lot of NRE with the poly community I’ve recently discovered in NYC, because it’s been so wonderful to find other people who think like I do).
  • Why do you talk SO MUCH about poly-everything? (I’ve been doing this out of defense of my feelings, and doing this more will just make the situation worse!)
  • Refusal to read anything I’ve suggested in the past (for example, The Ethical Slut), because it’s disrepectful towards him
  • Why would you want to build a family/support network with lovers? Why can’t you do that with non-sexual friends? (Also implying that I’m “trading sex for emotional support”)
  • You feel “compersion” when I date someone else, but I think you’re just happy it lessens your responsibility in our relationship.

We’re in therapy, but even there I have a hard time standing up for myself and my beliefs without hitting him over the head with “poly-everything.” Any thoughts on how I can guide us towards our similarities instead of focusing on our differences?

Stuck Playing Defense

Dear D-Fence,
Thank you for writing such an important and comprehensive question! This is certainly an issue that many poly people run up against, since we’re obviously in the minority (for now!) and we often find ourselves dating monogamous people and trying to make it work.

It’s difficult to give advice that keeps people from fighting when they have such divergent views on something that is so central to a relationship. Bravo to you for seeking therapy from what I hope is a poly-friendly therapist. And I certainly empathize with your differing communications styles, since I am also someone who is soft-spoken and tries to avoid conflict in relationships.

The best way I can think of to help is to offer a few options on responding to these questions in ways that I hope will stimulate discussions and not spark conflagration. Most of my suggested talking points are structured in an attempt to 1) make your partner see his position from your viewpoint and 2) reinforce your own agency in the relationship. So here goes…

– Why do you need more than one partner?
  • No one “needs” to be in a relationship. If you “need” your partner, then you have a very different kind of relationship than if you “want” them in your life.
  • We do have “wants” and “needs” in our relationships, so let’s talk about those. What do you want and need out of our relationship? What do you need from me to feel cherished and valued? What am I doing right, and how would exclusivity change that?
  • I want the kind of relationship where I can both be wholly myself AND a part of your life. Part of who I am is a person who makes emotional and sometimes sexual connections with other people and shares my love with them. Being in a relationship shouldn’t mean I have to give up that essential part of who I am.
  • Asking me to give up people I love would be like asking Mozart to give up playing the harpsichord and the violin because you only love his piano playing.

Why am I not enough for you?

  • This question assumes there is a limit to how much love we can have in our lives. Love isn’t like food – our capacity to love isn’t an appetite that needs to be satiated. We all have an infinite capacity to love and be loved.
  • There is no real reason why the words “love” and “enough” need to be used together. Instead of thinking of love as a weight that you must carry, think of it as the air you breathe.
  • We love multiple parents, siblings and children throughout our lives – we never put limits on those kinds of love. Other than convention and reasonable constraints on time and resources, why should romantic love be different?
  • Do you define love by the absence of desire to love others, as in “If you love me, you shouldn’t want to love anyone else”? How does it make sense that love should be defined by the absence of desire?
  • Isn’t loving someone important enough to you that you’d want to experience it as much as possible in a lifetime? If our relationship is about supporting each other’s growth as human beings throughout life, we shouldn’t be limiting the range of human experiences we can both have, together and separately.

– Why are you making polyamory more important than our relationship?

  • Clearly, monogamy is just as important to you as polyamory is to me. The difference is that you don’t have to talk about monogamy because it’s the default (or privileged) relationship style in our society.
  • It must seem like I’m doing all the talking, but that’s because monogamy is the privileged relationship style (for a easy-to-understand explanation on privilege as it’s used here, read this article). It’s like a white person saying people of color are talking ‘so much’ about civil rights, or a straight person saying they are ‘tired of hearing’ all the queer people talk about gay marriage.
  • Polyamory is important to me because my relationships are important to me. I don’t want to just accept the default relationship style just because everyone else is doing it. I want a relationship with intention.
  • When I talk about polyamory, I’m putting the work into making this relationship work for both of us. If you’re not talking as much about monogamy, maybe it’s because you’re making assumptions about what our relationship looks like, rather than helping me custom-tailor it for us.

– Why do you talk SO MUCH about poly-everything?

  • I’m talking about it because it’s an important part of my identity and I want to share it with you because you are my partner. You are important to me and our relationship is very important to me, so I want to put as much energy into it as I can to make it successful. That’s the why.
  • Now let me ask you – why do you object to me talking about who I am and how we’re going to make this relationship work? Because all relationships, poly or mono, have a better chance at success if everyone feels safe to express themselves.

– Refusal to read anything I’ve suggested in the past (for example, The Ethical Slut), because it’s disrepectful towards him

  • How does withholding knowledge and information about an important part of my identity show respect to you? If you want me to respect your beliefs and ideals, then you should respect mine.
  • If I were Jewish and you were Muslim, would you refuse to learn about the Torah?
  • Only by fully understanding each other’s beliefs and values will we be able to find common ground and understand each other’s viewpoints.

– Why would you want to build a family/support network with lovers? Why can’t you do that with non-sexual friends? (Also implying that I’m “trading sex for emotional support”)

  • Why wouldn’t you want people around you who love you? Why exclude lovers from your support network?
  • Friends are an important part of a support network, of course. But sometimes friends become lovers; lovers often become friends. Why draw boundaries at all? Is there any logical reason to have rules on who gets to be in the clubhouse?

– You feel “compersion” when I date someone else, but I think you’re just happy it lessens your responsibility in our relationship.

  • Compersion is a real thing. The only expert on how someone is feeling is the person having those feelings. Telling someone else what they REALLY feel is insulting and denigrates their agency as a human being.
  • What “responsibility” do you feel is lessened by having multiple partners? What are you expecting from me that I can’t deliver if I’m dating others?
  • If the answer is something like, “it makes me feel special that what we’re doing together you’re only doing with me” then is there a way to create those special feelings by doing other things exclusively? or does it have to be the whole relationship enchilada?

Also, there is an excellent resource on poly/mono dating and relationships on Franklin Veaux’s More than Two website that is much more comprehensive and it will give you lots of context for future discussion.

And finally, I want to thank Puck, my frubble* of almost six years, for vis help in answering these, and leave you with vis parting thought – Remember that your partner is not your enemy. You fight your enemy but you work WITH your partner toward a common goal.

* frubble: British synonym for compersion, used by Mischa and Puck to describe their intentional family relationship, characterized by mutual support and emotional safe harbor for each other to find more love in our lives

Leon, over to you – whatcha got?

Damn, but that’s a great response. I, however, will take a different tack with mine. My current primary is also monoamorous (isn’t that a much more appropriate term than monogamous?), and I have a long history dating emotionally-significant partners who have sworn they supported my polyamorous lifestyle, but their jealous, possessive, and argumentative actions betrayed their words. So take it with whatever size grain of salt you like, but my takeaway from your situation is that you are likely incompatible as long-term partners, and no amount of discussion will fix it.

Which brings me to one of the hardest but most important lessons I’ve ever had to learn: loving someone, even passionately or wholeheartedly, does NOT mean you should be dating them.

The questions your partner asks sound sinkingly familiar to me, I’ve gotten them repeatedly in my prior mono/poly relationships. My clear impression is not that these are questions asked altruistically and out of genuine curiosity, but rather out of passive-aggression, guilt inducement, and backhanded attempts to argue you out of your polyamorous worldview. As a result, I don’t think you’ll each get much benefit out of therapy, or logically discussing these points, simply because I’d be willing to bet you and this particular partner have vastly different values, goals, and visions of what a happy long-term future looks like. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I’d wager you’d be better off as either asexual friends, or classic friends with benefits, but no long-term romance. It feels great to be wanted, and to share affection with someone with whom you share attraction – but none of that is a substitute for compatibility.

You’re fighting because with the NRE wearing off, you’re realizing you each have different expectations of where this relationship should go. I’d also be willing to bet the two of you haven’t discussed any long-term goals, or if you have then one or both of you hasn’t been honest. (It’s quite likely the dishonest person doesn’t KNOW they’ve been dishonest, as their good intentions and wishful thinking may have clouded their judgment.) It’s terribly frustrating to be completely candid and forthcoming about our polyamory, but have our partners eventually crack under the pressure of pretending to enjoy or support something they genuinely don’t believe and would never want for themselves, except for the fact they were in love with us and were willing to do almost anything to make it work.

For the record, lifelong mono/poly romantic relationships are possible, but extremely difficult to pull off successfully. It’s quite hard to balance such an obvious inequality in attention and activity, but if both parties involved GENUINELY WANT THAT SHAPE OF RELATIONSHIP (note: mutual attraction, personality, and sexual compatibility are irrelevant here, I’m only talking about one partner seeing multiple partners and the other seeing none and both parties preferring that arrangement) then it can work splendidly.

By way of contrast (and a little schadenfreude – sorry), my current primary doesn’t ask questions like the ones you’ve outlined. She and I have lots of open and honest communication, and she doesn’t give the impression of jealousy or possessiveness at all. She’ll ask daily about my other partners and our dates because she wants information and to stay in the loop, not to force herself to accept the status quo or pretend to be supportive because that’s what’s expected (while mentally gritting teeth the whole time). She’s never antagonistic or needlessly argumentative; we have our disagreements but they’re respectful and reflect her genuine interests rather than an intent to change me. And while there are obviously things I wish were different in our relationship (as I’m sure she does as well), we have enough of a long-term match in where we see this going that I feel comfortable calling her my girlfriend despite the poly/mono challenges.

I’m sorry, SPD, and I wish I had more upbeat thoughts for you. You can definitely try to reason with each other, as Mischa and Puck have suggested some very thoughtful discussion points. But my bet is that this relationship is doomed as a romance, as you can’t win an emotional argument with logic. I hope I’m wrong and wish you luck. Let us know how it turns out.

Communication with partners’ partners… how much is enough?

I’ve got a poly situation and could use your “professional” advice – thanks for writing this column! It’s been really helpful for me in the past and I hope you can be again now.

I’m in a romantic, ethically nonmonogamous relationship with my girlfriend for over a year, our main agreements are that we tell each other everything, and ask for/incorporate the other’s feelings into our activities with others.

I met a girl and her husband at a sex-positive play event earlier this month, and with her husband’s blessing, she and I hit it off. We wound up playing together one-on-one much of the night, and I traded Facebook information with them both at the end of the night. She said they were relatively new to the open relationship thing, and I promised to keep that in mind.

A few weeks later, I was invited to another play event with some of the same people on a night when my primary partner was unavailable, and I reached out to ask her whether she might be available and interested in joining as my date. She said she would check with her husband and boyfriend and get back to me, and I told my primary. Everything seemed to be fine, up until she expressed dismay that I hadn’t directly invited her husband or included him in my first request for a date. Apparently he or they assumed the proper protocol was to include all parties at all stages of planning a date, and their takeaway was that I somehow wasn’t being respectful of their relationship. My understanding is that as long as all parties are fully informed in advance and there’s no jealous or divisive intent, it’s reasonable to expect each person to share their wishes and plans with their own partners while planning dates, and if this is somehow a potential sore subject then that preference should be expressed beforehand.

I reached out immediately to the husband, who was less than friendly. Needless to say, the date wound up falling apart as a result, and we haven’t seen each other since. Which of us is right?

Trying To Do It Right in Brooklyn

Whew! That’s a tough scenario. Let’s assume for the purposes of this question none of the people involved was really being “jealous or divisive,” and it’s just a genuine face-value question of matching perceptions.

It’s great to meet new partners, and understandable to want to explore a new connection, but sometimes people’s comfort levels aren’t all on the same page. It’s not clear how that couple’s prior experiences have shaped their perceptions, maybe they had a negative history with someone who *was* divisive and they were particularly sensitive to that scenario, or maybe they simply had an expectation of communal planning that wasn’t proffered. Either way, they assumed a request for a date would be addressed to both of them, and you assumed an invitation to the wife would be well-received. You apparently both assumed incorrectly.

This situation underscores the importance of effective communication. Assumptions can be problematic, but they’re insidious and every interaction by necessity includes them – we couldn’t function in society without making some. (We assume a smile is a positive sign, we assume when someone wears a wedding ring they’re married, we assume when someone tells us their marital status or even their name, they’re being honest.) This was a situation that in many situations could have easily been resolved once recognized as unmatched expectations via an apology and/or further discussion, but for the specific people involved it seems their hackles went up pretty quickly, and it seemed your overtures weren’t able to defuse the situation in time for your date.

It might have been a nice gesture to have included both partners in an opening message, especially since this couple self-described as “new to open relationships,” but in context it doesn’t seem to me that not doing so was inappropriate. In short, I don’t see either of you being “wrong” – it merely seems what you naturally did and what they naturally expected weren’t compatible. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for your non-date, but if you all get to know each other better perhaps all parties can wind up developing mutual trust and maybe you’ll all get the chance to try again.

Mischa, what’s your take?

I agree with Leon that you didn’t do anything “wrong” – other than fail to exercise your Charles Xavier-like telepathic talent about the other couple’s relationship agreements. But there’s a simple reason why I feel your actions are blameless in this particular situation – you didn’t profess to be anything other than heterosexual in your narrative.

See, if you extrapolate the other couple’s reaction, it seems they had an agreement of some kind that any new partners would be required to date both of them as a couple. Why else would the husband take offense that he was not invited to a social function if they didn’t think of themselves as a “duo of one”, a single dating unit?

So the fact that you did not say you were bisexual or pansexual when you first asked to spend time with the wife should have clearly signaled to the husband that your primary interest is dating women. If he then had an expectation that you were going to date them as a couple, he should have asked you about your feelings about dating men. For him to remain silent until weeks later makes me think there is more going on here than a simple miscommunication.

It’s possible that in the weeks after your first meeting, a new agreement was put in place (or unilaterally adopted) and you were not informed. It’s also possible that the husband simply made up the excuse to complain in order to arrest the wife’s new relationship. Either way, there’s no way you could have prevented this outcome from happening – the wife would have had to inform you. The fact she didn’t makes the first scenario unlikely, but the second is certainly a possibility.

Even if I’m completely wrong about these possibilities, you could have done a better job in setting expectations at the outset. For example, you could have said that your primary interest is dating the wife (with everybody’s knowledge and consent) and asked them how they felt about that. This is actually a pretty common issue in the poly community. When one half of a couple gets more attention than the other, there is a high risk of resentment and destructive behavior from both partners. The courted partner may not want their partner to be left behind or feels guilty about getting more attention. The non-dating partner may feel unwanted, insecure and threatened by the new relationship.

In these situations, successful poly dating requires you to put yourself in each other person’s perspective and try to understand how actions and events might make them feel. Even being friends with couples can be a little tricky, so dating them takes a great deal of finesse. In fact, I would hesitate to even approach dating a married person before establishing a good rapport with both spouses (this is a hard-won lesson from experience speaking here).

Some of my closest friends and intentional family are monogamous couples who I enjoy spending time with each individually and in groups of three or more. We all make an effort to balance our one-on-one time and group time, and we’re not even dating! I’m not saying all couples are like that, but if you’re thinking of trying repair the situation, I would recommend reaching out to the couple with an offer of friendship (i.e. invite them to an outdoor movie screening or some other casual, public event) and build that base of trust and friendship before exploring more serious pursuits in the sexual arena. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then maybe it’s best to let it go and say lesson learned.

Poly people vs Swingers = Montagues and Capulets?

Greetings. So, the deal is that am very honest and up front about who my wife and I are when meeting others for the first time; something that I think most people can and would appreciate. I like others to know where we are coming from and where we are trying to get. I cannot stress how much honesty means to us. In any case, the background of my wife and I will include that fact that we were in the swing community before we found the poly community. At that point it seems that I might as well have said we are serial killers based on their reaction. The reply that I received on a poly-dating site started off nice until she wrote about why she can’t look at ex-swingers without “remember what you [they] did.” To be completely fair, she also acknowledges that she probably shouldn’t have those prejudges against me, but she can’t help it. Another person explained that some swingers use the cover of being poly to simply have sexual relations with others, but not really wanting the relationship part. This couldn’t be further from what we are looking for. In fact, that is why we are seeking guidance and support from those that know the poly ropes well. Our goal from the get-go was in line with the theories, as far as I understand, of the poly community. We wanted relationships to go along with everything else. What we noticed was that goal for us seemed to scare some swingers away, but brought others closer to us. These were all signs that polyamory could and would work for us.

So I have a few questions: 

What is everyone’s opinion about swingers or ex-swingers? 
Is there a way to prove to others that I am genuine when I state that I prefer this community (relationship choice) to the swing community? 
In general, what should I be considering when communicating with others of the poly mindset?
Am I just being crazy, and I just had bad luck talking to certain people?

I’d hate to think that I would have to hide my past to be able to fit in.


Greetings back, SZ!  First off, let me commend you and Mrs Z for your commitment to honesty.  Without it, relationships of all kinds simply don’t work. 

For those who don’t know what swinging is, and why it may be seen negatively, an explanation is in order. While definitions vary widely, a reasonably simple distinction is that swingers are open to casual sex, outside of and in addition to any existing romantic or emotional attachment, and polyamorists are open to romantic or emotional attachments, outside of and in addition to any existing romantic or emotional attachments. 

With clearly a ton of overlap, why is swinging such a contentious issue in the poly world?  Well, some people don’t think much of casual sex.  Many have had bad experiences which color their views.  Others believe it to be immoral.  Still others consider it a form of cheating.  In short, everyone has opinions on sex, but because it’s so commonly avoided as a topic in both conversation and education, it’s fertile breeding ground for personal baggage based on small sample sizes, gossip, media, repressed desires, lack of healthy information, and so on.  Swinging has developed somewhat of a reputation for being “all about the sex,” and since many people in the poly world consider the sex secondary to strong positive interpersonal connections, some look down on swinging and swingers, particularly those who haven’t made the effort to improve their own communication and honesty skills.

You may take some consolation in the fact that while you’re likely to find people who are have negative views of the swing community, those people aren’t likely to be a good match for you and your partner anyway, unless you’re able to address their concerns and possible misconceptions in a positive way that builds trust. Which brings us to your second question.

As written earlier, I’m a big fan of honesty.  Don’t ever hide what or who you are (or were); instead, understand your target peer group and find out better ways to help them feel comfortable with you.   In order to get in good with poly people, remember the priority poly gives to open and honest communication, and go out of your way to communicate that you both understand and prefer this system.  Have people already in the community vouch for you, if possible.  Spend time getting to know new poly people as simply new friends, and perhaps bring up sexual topics later, once everyone feels comfortable.  Regardless of your approach, no one should come down on you too hard for your swinging ways, especially since without a reliable Idiot’s Guide to Polyamory (hey, there’s a book idea) most of us have learned our way through the non-vanilla world through trial and error, including trying different ideas and experiences on to see how they fit and made us feel.  If you are able to express this to potential new partners, as well as what you and your wife are looking for now and why, I think you’ll find that those certain people you’ve encountered will prove to be in the minority.  

Mischa, what’s your take?  And kindly reference a superhero movie from a decade ago in your response.

Leon, that pretty much covers the whole issue of how people view swinging and the swinger community. Personally, I have never been in the swinger community, but have friends who are or were in it. I can’t tell anyone else what to think, but it seems silly to me for poly people to have such a low opinion of swingers. Frankly, we’re all under the same big umbrella of non-monogamy and each group should be supportive of the other. 

If you think about what polyamory is all about, at its core it is about making up your own rules. One of the things we say at the beginning of every Open Love NY meeting as a part of safe space rules is that everyone has the right to do what feels comfortable and right for themselves and should not be attacked for it. I view swingers as a subset of poly people who have very specific relationship agreements that allow sexual activity but not emotional attachment. If that’s what works for them, then who is anyone to argue?

How would I “prove” your preference for this community? That’s simple – to quote from Batman Begins (2005), it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you. If you’re spending your free time in the poly community, learning the lingo and getting to know people, no one will question your intentions on which community you want to belong to. 

But as you said, there are people with prejudices and I understand not wanting to lead with a bad first impression. My approach is a little less direct than Leon’s (being more of a woman’s point of view) because to me, talking about your sexual history is not something I would discuss until it was relevant, e.g. there is sexual interest on both sides. At that point I would certainly be open about how many partners I’ve been with and in what context (monogamous, open relationships, sex parties, etc.) 

However, what I probably wouldn’t say is that “I was a swinger.” I don’t view that omission in any way deceptive, unless you intend to remain a member of the swinger community. Basically what I’m saying is that you should define yourself by who you ARE now, and what you’ve DONE in the past, but you don’t need to disclose who you WERE in the past. We all have past lives that we deserve to let go of so we can focus on the present.

Again, I stress that I’m a big proponent of honesty when it comes to sexual partners and under what situations you’ve had sex when dealing with a new partner. We all need to be able to be open about that without guilt or shame. But just as going to Poly Cocktails doesn’t necessarily make you poly, and going to Suspension doesn’t necessarily make you a kinkster, going to a sex party doesn’t necessarily make you a swinger. If that’s in your past, then leave it in the past. Good luck!

Kinky conversations aren’t for everyone

Hello! I live in NYC and the organized poly events here always seem to be advertised to and heavily attended by people in the local kink community.  I am not into kink, and not interested in dating kinky people, so I have been really put off by the conversations that the kinksters try to engage me in at the events I’ve attended.  Seriously, it’s been gross.  They all seem to assume that everyone there is also kinky AND they don’t have a clue about what is appropriate conversation for a cocktail party.  Where can I go to meet some classy, available people who may be poly or open to it, but not into kink?  I do the online thing, too, but I much prefer going out and doing something to meet people rather than sitting in front of my computer.  Thanks for any advice you can offer!

Signed, New Life After 50
Hi NLA50!  You know, when I write it like that, you sound like a rapper.  Just saying.

OK, so here’s my take on your question.  One one hand, I can empathize with your initial observation, being myself a single male in my post-30s who self-defines as polyamorous but not kinky.  I’ve met many people at poly events with a strong interest in kink, which they are glad to share (and sometimes overshare) with people they meet at poly events.  I also prefer to meet people at events and in person, rather than online.  On the other hand, there’s a negative inference regarding your mindset I (and presumably others) can draw from your question.  Imagine the reaction you might get from others regarding your own interest in polyamory: “Seriously, that’s gross.  Don’t you have a clue as to what is appropriate conversation for a cocktail party…?”  I don’t know whether it’s because you’re first exploring nonmonogamy now after half a century of living traditionally, or whether you have some personal experiences that have colored your perception, but your characterization of kink comes across somewhat closeminded and uneducated.  Does it strike you as logical that someone such as yourself who presumably would like to meet other open, honest, and nonjudgmental people, would turn around and speak so dismissively and disrespectfully over someone else’s equally valid lifestyle preferences?  I mean, no one’s forcing you to DO any of these things, merely have it come up in conversation.  For poly, kink, and all other lifestyle choices, the following holds true: If you don’t want to X, then don’t.  But don’t put down other people for wanting/discussing/seeking it.

The responsible nonmonogamy community here in NYC has thousands of people, with just as many oft-overlapping interests, and not nearly enough social outlets for people in any particular lifestyle to be insular.  It may be nice for some people to imagine a place where they can interact only with people who think just like they do, but a Venn Diagram trying to isolate and identify all poly people by their areas of sexual and romantic interest would look like a Slinky that got run over by a thresher.  There are just too many people with too many interests to realistically narrow it down as you describe – and why would we want to?  Open Love NY is one of the largest polyamory groups in the world, with thousands of members and participants, and our events bring in people who run the gamut from polyamorous, to poly-curious, to poly-friendly, and beyond. Kink isn’t a subsection of poly, but there’s a good amount of overlap.  This isn’t even our first kink question on this blog.  In short, everyone is welcome as long as they follow our Rules of Conduct.  We don’t assume everyone who attends is poly, just as kinksters shouldn’t assume everyone who attends our events has an interest in kink, but surely you can see why kinksters have a much better chance at finding someone who does at an OLNY event than they might have at their own local bar?  In addition, not everyone is as experienced as Mischa and myself might be at interacting with others at poly events.  Many people might not be as aware of your opinions as you’d like them to be, but that’s going to be true in any group – and communication and tolerance both improve with exposure and experience.

My advice to you is threefold.  First, if someone brings up a subject in conversation that you find distasteful, whether it’s kink or anything else, simply explain politely that you don’t find that subject appealing and would rather talk/ask about (insert your preferred topic here). 
It’s a rare lifestyle person I’ve encountered at our events who wouldn’t go out of their way to be sensitive to someone else’s politely-expressed concerns.  There are always facilitators present at our events who can help you with that conversation, if you’d like.  Alternately, if you’re up for it, I’d recommend you consider asking those oversharing kinksters for insight on their rationale for discussing kink at a poly event – and perhaps by discussing their interests and reasons for attending poly events, you might find more common ground than you’d expected.

Which brings me to my second suggestion.  One of the hallmarks of the poly community is the respect we share for others’ consensual choices.  While kink may not be your bag of tea (nor teabagging, for that matter), please do your best to overcome your own judgmental instincts in order to accept that kink is just as valid a lifestyle for those who choose to participate, as is polyamory – or religion, or book clubs, or anything that consenting adults choose to enjoy responsibly.  I’d spend a little time sitting down with yourself and figuring out what it is about kink that upsets you so drastically, and coming to terms with the Golden Rule (or the Platinum Rule, as some have coined it: treat others as THEY’D like to be treated) in your interactions with others at our and similar events.  You don’t have to be best friends, or engage in their interests, but we’re all equals and allies in a world that only recently has begun to welcome nontraditional relationships.  It would behoove you to treat them as such.

Third, perhaps if there were a “meetup specifically for poly people not into kink” you’d find what would make you happiest – however, to the best of my knowledge, that currently doesn’t exist. If you aren’t happy with poly events you’ve attended because there are viewpoints and interests expressed with which you’re not personally comfortable, feel free to start your own! It’s as easy as creating a group on meetup.com, or finding other people who share your views and agreeing to meet for a monthly meal or round of adult beverages.  Just be aware that most people in the nonmonogamy community pride ourselves on inclusivity rather than exclusivity, and creating a “kink-free” poly group clearly goes against that concept.  It’s sort of like hosting a comparative religion discussion group, but hanging a sign outside that says, “No Jews.”  Sure, you’ll get some people who don’t mind the exclusionary policy, but it would leave a lot of otherwise quality people feeling alienated or discriminated against, and it certainly wouldn’t result in the sort of experience I’d want people to take from my own cocktail parties.

Mischa, what do you think?

Leon, I think you pretty much covered the whole gamut of responses. I think the summary of the answer is that there isn’t such thing as a “non-kink poly event” in New York, to the best of our knowledge. We can be reasonably sure of that is because I can’t imagine how anyone would promote such an event. Would it be:

  1. Poly People who only have sex with the lights off
  2. Poly People into Vanilla sex between couples only
  3. People who want to love multiple partners who only believe in traditional and conservative expressions of affection
  4. And so forth and so on….

See, for many people, being Poly IS your kink. Group sex is kinky to most people. Spouse-swapping is kinky. Anything outside the traditional monogamous couple will be considered kinky to most people. So holding a poly event and saying there’s no kinky people there is like a black person saying they live in an all-white neighborhood.

For that reason, I can see that kinky poly people might assume that everyone at a poly event is also kinky, but that’s obviously not true and they are wrong to assume that. I agree with Leon’s suggestion that you simply and politely tell anyone who tries to engage you in kink conversation that you are not interested in kink and “bridge” to another topic or politely excuse yourself.

The other suggestion I can make is, instead of parties or munches, you might try coming to Open Love NY’s discussion groups, held on the fourth Tuesday of each month. In these events, we have moderated discussions or expert speakers, so you can get a sense of what the people in the room are like without actually engaging with them. Then, after the meeting, you can approach whomever you found interesting and invite them out to the post-meeting gathering we lead at a nearby diner.

Good luck to you and thank you for your question!

Kink beware

Lately I have noticed a very big influx of kink into the poly community. I’m not against kink, but I feel that people are who aren’t into kink might be turned off to becoming part of the poly community if that’s what’s presented. How does one keep it separate? What advice would you have for a vanilla person who thinks that poly people = kinky bdsm/swingers/chandelier hangers?

– Gotta Keep ’em Separated

Wow, chandelier hangers, huh? Does that mean they sparkle like the vampires in Twilight?
So here’s the thing about community – anytime you get a bunch of people together, you’re going to find that a lot of them are freaky in different ways. You could go to gathering of trial lawyers and find a fair number of kinksters. The difference is that in the poly and sex-positive communities, people feel more free to be open about their bedroom preferences, so kinky people are more visible. And, of course, kinky people have a natural affinity for poly since they might have fetishes that their primary partner isn’t into, leading them to seek out a play partner or other relationship.
My advice for vanillas who are curious about the poly scene but wary about kinky people is to do your homework about an event before you attend. Some events are billed as poly events, but they might actually be BDSM play parties or swinger events that are trying to cast a wide net by saying they are for poly people. All of Open Love NY’s events, for example, are non-play events, and we enforce a strict consent rule on touching, i.e. asking for hugs or anything more than a handshake (for the very reason to make it more comfortable for newbies).
Finally, any newbie who wants to become part of the poly community needs to have an open mind. There’s no requirement that you have to like or endorse everyone’s personal proclivities in the community, but you can hardly be judgmental about someone’s private bedroom behavior while at the same time advocating for open relationships. And frankly, once you get to know some people who turn out to be kinky, that might be an area you wind up exploring as well.
What do you think Leon?

Remember those Venn Diagrams of which I’m so fond? If you have a poly circle, a kink circle, a swing circle, and a few others, there’s a heck of a lot of overlap, ranging from people who are in all to those who are in only one. To me, the key to this question is the perception of people on the outside of all these circles, those who are “vanilla” or who simply haven’t had enough exposure to poly, kink, or any of the others to understand what the non-vanilla world entails, or to decide whether or not it’s something they’d like to explore.

I think the answer is education! Too many people don’t even KNOW there are workable alternatives to traditional monogamy, perhaps outside of the movies or third-hand gossip, and don’t know where they can learn more in a healthy way. To them, anything out of the ordinary respecting relationships or sex might trigger any of a host of feelings, both positive and negative – and it’s easy for someone who doesn’t understand the non-vanilla world to confuse poly with kink, or make assumptions that might be inaccurate. It’s therefore up to us, those within one or more of those circles, to help educate people on the outside in open and honest ways. This also applies to people who describe themselves as part of one of these communities, but don’t know that much about others, or have mis- or preconceptions.

Once everyone knows and understands what kink and poly (and any other non-vanilla lifestyle) are and aren’t, then we will have fewer misunderstandings – and we’ll likely have a lot more people who comfortably know how to include themselves in one or more of our circles. 🙂