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Exploring Non-Monogamy: When Your Partner is Married

Cartoon stick drawing conceptual illustration of heterosexual couple of man and woman walking together and holding each others hand. Woman is also holding hand of another man, probably love

In the spirit of dialogue and discussion, here’s some questions, comments, and concerns for your first, or fourth, foray into dating someone who is married.

You meet someone at a bar. Immediately they tick your attraction checkboxes. You start a conversation, and they are actually interesting! You dig a little deeper and find you enjoy some of the same hobbies or activities. You’re feeling them and you think they feel you too, so you move a little closer. The butterflies are there, so you make a move and you touch your hand to their shoulder, hoping they don’t freak out and flip the script on you. 

They smile (yes!) and proceed to suck away all of your enthusiasm in one little sentence.  

“I just want you to know, I’m married.”

Fuck.  

Really?

Wait for it, there’s a bigger twist.

“However, we have an arrangement and I would like to go on a date with you.”

Hmmm. Um…ok.

Safe to say you’re pretty confused. There are so many questions. Do you pretend the person isn’t married? Is their spouse coming on the date? Are they going to come after you with a knife and a screaming heart full of vengeance? More importantly, do you say yes?

As open marriages, partnerships, and relationships become more common, you may run into this situation, and you may want to pursue it. You may find it weird, awkward, and at times might (warranted or unwarranted) feel like a second rate date, but exploring a relationship with this person may be worth those uncomfortable things. Here are some questions to ask, and some to avoid, to help determine if this is a good fit for you.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

This target of your loins may be comfortable in their arrangement and things might seem very nonchalant for them, but don’t let that discourage you from asking for more information. Just keep in mind, that your new date has every right to say “I would prefer not to answer that.” And in that situation, it’s up to you to decide how important that information is to your happiness in the relationship.

What exactly are you looking for?

This question gets glossed over but it should be discussed at some point.  They might be looking for some quick sex or they might be looking for a dating/relationship situation. You don’t want to go emotionally all in with someone who’s just looking to bump uglies. At the same time, if you don’t want to go all in, they should know that too.  

Do you date other people too?

This is a very fair question to ask, for both physical and emotional health.  You should want to know if this person is active with many partners, or if it’s just you and their spouse (and perhaps one more?) Not only does this give you some framework for your physical health (you don’t want to build the whole alphabet out of STDs you’ve had) but it can be emotionally taxing to know that someone you care for a lot is giving up the goods to six other people.  

It’s important to ask the above question, but I don’t think it is appropriate, at least early on, to ask who else they are dating/kissing/fucking. That knowledge can be very personal, and if you’re cool with them sleeping with other people, then on a broad level you need to be comfortable with the idea that it could be anybody, even people you know. So feel this question out. If they openly discuss their other dates, then perhaps the question is fair game, but I would shy away from asking this until you get close to them.  

How far ahead do you need to plan a date?

Logistics are important. You aren’t only planning time with just one person, now you must also consider their spouse. They’re going to have timing worked out for their situation, so don’t try to change those parameters. It could be 12 hours, it could be 12 days. Find out and figure out if you can adapt to their rules. Understanding everyone’s needs, or at least being aware of them, is courteous and important to achieve a comfortable dynamic.

What kind of communication works best?

We have so many methods of communication. You can hit someone up via text, IM, DM, FB, email, phone (Yes, some folks still make actual calls.). This person likely has shared access to devices, email accounts, screens, etc., so knowing their preference for communication is key to smooth sailing, as is WHEN it’s ok. Texting at all hours may work for some, while others may want to only communicate at certain hours and only through the app you met on.  

Does their spouse know about your activities?

Some arrangements are very much “don’t ask, don’t tell” while some are open book situations where things can and sometimes must be all out on the table. Knowing what is shared between them can help you frame your relationship, and can certainly prevent awkward social situations, where you spill too much info in front of their partner. Oh yes, realize that you may run into their spouse at some point, so keep that in mind.

Big cities are not that big, especially when broken down into subcultures or activity groups. Your new friend may need you to pretend you don’t know each other. Not as a slight, but it may be the parameters they’re working with. If this seems like a sacrifice on your end, well, it is.  It’s up to you to decide if the sacrifice is worth it.  

What if you meet their spouse?

If their other half is aware that you guys are dating and you share social circles, then run-in’s may pop up. If you meet them, be polite, friendly, and open to their conversation, should they want to have one. They may need to feel comfortable with you as a person, in order to be comfortable with you dating their spouse. Just be you and let the chips fall as they may.   Alternatively, they may not want to talk at all.

Avoid comments like “thanks for letting us have sex,” or “I love how he/she does that thing with her thighs and the soup ladle on the rocking horse.”  First, it’s slimy and weird. Second, you’re out of high school. If they want to know what you guys are doing, they will ask your mutual partner.

Now, you may feel gratitude to them for being cool with it all, and that’s totally normal. A good avenue to express that would be to first tell your mutual partner that you are appreciative of this, and you would like to let their spouse know if possible and appropriate. Let them take the wheel and follow their lead. After a while you may all be comfortable to express this directly in a friendly, healthy, and adult way, but early on you should 100% run this by your partner.

Should you say yes?

If you’re into the person, give it a go. If the whole thing makes you wildly uncomfortable, then don’t. But, if you’re even a little open to exploring the idea, then give it a shot. Ask the right questions, be mature and courteous, and also protect yourself. If you feel unfulfilled, jealous, or second rate, then maybe it’s just not your jam. Step away with positivity and find someone who works for you. As always, get tested on the regs, even if you and their spouse are the only ones having sex with your new flame.  

This is all said in the spirit of discussion and conversation. Let us know what you think, what your advice is, and what you have found to work and not work in these situations.  Be well.

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