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In Other Words: “When Should You Mention You’re in an Open Relationship?”

This letter is from a recent Savage Love column and it reminded me of our conversation last week about open relationships. I’m curious what your thoughts are on this issue and what your advice would be to the LW.

open relationships

I am wondering when the best time is to mention being in an open relationship to new girls. I’m a 27-year-old straight guy who’s been in an open relationship for six years. I often seek out extracurricular activities, but I am unsure of how to bring up my situation without doors closing. I wrote to a seduction blogger who often writes about open relationships, and his advice was to not mention it until I’ve had sex with the girl a few times and to not bring them to my apartment that I share with my girlfriend. This feels contrary to my nature, which is very straightforward, but is it perhaps the better method? Indeed, many of my “potentials” have been scared away when they learn of my relationship status. What are your thoughts on the matter? — Straightforward Honesty Offends Potentials

Dan Savage advises telling before having sex, but waiting until the third date/hang out/whatever to mention your (open) relationship status. “Let them get to know you a bit,” he writes, “then spill — before fucking but after they’ve made a small emotional investment in you. They’ll be more likely to reconsider prejudices they may have against guys in open relationships after they’ve gotten to know a semi-straightforward one and perhaps be less quick to slam the door.”

Do you agree with that? I think three dates seems a bit late, and, considering how busy most of us are, that’s a lot of time commitment when someone’s open relationship status might be an instant deal-breaker for many. Waiting until there’s a “small emotional investment” is a little manipulative, which I get is the point, but it seems unfair. I’d be pissed if I made ANY emotional investment on someone who was in a relationship and didn’t think I deserved to know until after we’d gone out three times. I say spill the beans at the end of the first date. At that point, a person hasn’t made enough of an emotional (and time) investment to feel too terribly put out by such an admission even if it’s a total deal-breaker. (At worst, you’re out a few hours and maybe the cost of a meal and transportation). And if it isn’t a total deal-breaker, then a person has SOME idea if there’s a spark or chemistry and can decide whether a second date, to continue feeling things out, is in the cards.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

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{ 65 comments… add one }

gigi gigi August 4, 2014, 3:21 pm

Not exactly the same but close….. my BF let me know he was a swinger between our 2nd & 3rd dates. And I think for me that was about right. Like you said Wendy, not so far along that you are too invested emotionally. I kept dating him, but only casually. I kept dating other people as well, because I didn’t believe that would be a lifestyle choice that I was down with. If he hadn’t told me until later, I would have felt deceived. I think honesty is the best.

avatar ktfran August 4, 2014, 3:23 pm

Ooh, I do not like Dan Savage’s advice. At all. As a single girl, this is my take:
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I would prefer to know up front. If I’m physically attracted to you and want no strings attached sex, I would prefer to know right away that it’s no strings attached sex. Seriously. I have a gentleman caller who lives in another state. No strings attached sex. It’s perfect. My needs are met, and I don’t have to worry about developing feelings. In fact, I know I wouldn’t date him. But I’m completely comfortable going out with him, having fun, and then that’s it.
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But if you wait and tell me, and I start to like you “that way,” it’s really going to suck that a long-term relationship is off the table and I would be pretty hurt.
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I do think it’s super manipulative to hook a girl, then say, oh wait…..

Jennylou Jennylou August 4, 2014, 3:49 pm

Thumbs up!
The thumbs aren’t working for me, either. :)

fast eddie fast eddie August 4, 2014, 4:26 pm

My thumbs up button is working fine.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 4, 2014, 5:04 pm

I adjusted some settings. Can you let me know if the function works for you now?

Jennylou Jennylou August 4, 2014, 5:43 pm

It works! I was logged out. Thanks!!

avatar MsMisery August 5, 2014, 12:54 pm

I can see them but not click on them :(

avatar TheGirlinME August 4, 2014, 7:50 pm

Exactly!! I totally don’t judge how people like to “get happy”. I couldn’t have said it better!

possumgirl possumgirl August 4, 2014, 3:30 pm

I’d say in between.. 2nd date. First dates are awkward enough, third date starts to smack of having some sort of meaning, but 2nd date seems to be a place where you could establish ground rules.

Cassie Cassie August 4, 2014, 4:43 pm

Yeah, second date gets my vote as well.

Kate Kate August 4, 2014, 3:30 pm

If we’re talking about online dating, I would like the person to put in their profile that they are *not single*, whichever option the website gives you. If I recall, at least OKC, if not Match, allowed you to choose “single” or “in a relationship” or even “married.” I wouldn’t consider dating someone who already has a partner, so I would want them to make it clear in their profile that they are in a relationship but it’s open, so that I can hit “next” and those ladies who are open to dating a guy with a partner can identify that that’s what they’re dealing with. If the “single” box is selected, I feel like that’s misleading.

Kate Kate August 4, 2014, 3:37 pm

By the way, the thumbs don’t seem to be functioning for me, either on my computer or phone. I see them but nothing happens if I click.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 4, 2014, 5:04 pm

I adjusted some settings. Can you let me know if the function works for you now?

Classic Classic August 4, 2014, 5:11 pm

For me– if I am logged in, the thumb-up works, and if I am not logged in it does not. (I think that is a good way to do it, too.)

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 4, 2014, 5:22 pm

That was the setting that I had originally set. Is it still that way for you?

Classic Classic August 4, 2014, 5:48 pm

Yes :-)

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 4, 2014, 5:52 pm

Thanks, I think I’ll keep it that way for the time being.

avatar MsMisery August 5, 2014, 12:57 pm

Nevermind, I just saw that I had to log into the site. Hadn’t done that just to comment in a long time! Now I can thumb.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 5, 2014, 1:28 pm

Good!

fast eddie fast eddie August 4, 2014, 4:24 pm

OKC-Details-Relationship status contains ‘Open Relationship’ option.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 4, 2014, 3:34 pm

Yeah I would want to know pretty much immediately. I would never be okay dating someone in an open relationship and it is possible to get pretty invested/develop strong feelings by three dates in. On my third date with my current boyfriend, I was super hooked and we had serious feelings. That said-third date is better to me than before sex-because again by the time I was ready to have sex with him, almost 2 months in to our relationship I would have been a lot more invested and hurt and it would feel really dishonest to me. Earlier is better in this instance IMO.

Kate B. Kate B. August 4, 2014, 3:35 pm

I have to agree with Wendy: by the end of the first date. I’d like to know before things go any further so I can make a fully-informed decision before going any further. Definitely before sex. If a guy told me after sex, I’d feel lied to.

Jennylou Jennylou August 4, 2014, 3:45 pm

I’m with Wendy – I also read that column and thought the 3 dates Dan advised were too much! I’d want to know during the first drink, because that is a dealbreaker I could never be flexible on. I’d be pissed if someone wasted 3 dates’ worth of my time and emotion – and waiting until after sex would be serious tire-slashing broken-windshield sugar-in-gas-tank territory.

I think that if you have any situation that could be a deal breaker for someone, you should be honest with the other person on the first date. If you go any longer, you’re setting the other person up for a letdown and wasting their time. Heck, I’m a Jewish vegetarian, which probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but sharing that info on the first date has led to several, “Yeah, you seem nice, but I’m really proud of my pulled pork / ribs recipe and I need a girl who can appreciate that” types of conversations. Yay, time not wasted and feelings not hurt on either side.

avatar csp August 4, 2014, 4:04 pm

I gotta say, I feel like the third date is right for all baggage. Like, anything, divorces, stds, criminal records, kids, sexual kinks, whatever. I feel like hammering someone with all your baggage on the first date is really heavy and people might be too quick to judge. I would say get to know someone first and only bring it up if someone makes a comment on the first or second date that makes you think they would have a strong reaction.

avatar lets_be_honest August 4, 2014, 4:21 pm

I get your point, and it does make a lot of sense, but I still can’t imagine withholding that kinda info until the 3rd date, or having that go over well. Tough call. All I’ve got out of the ones you named is a kid, and I really think I’d say that right out of the gate. Its such a deal breaker for some people, so why bother not saying it upfront, you know?

avatar csp August 4, 2014, 5:42 pm

I see your point about “deal breaker” but honestly, why lead with all your flaws or baggage. You wouldn’t do that in an interview. I think certain things might be a deal breaker and some are just undesirable. I wouldn’t show my most controversial parts immediately. I will say it does depend on how quick the dates are and how much you are speaking in between said dates. If three dates take 6 weeks, then that is too much time. If three dates take 2 weeks, I think that is fine.

avatar TheGirlinME August 4, 2014, 8:03 pm

I see your point about timing of the dates, csp. I kinda respectfully disagree with personal “deal breakers” in terms of “flaws” or “baggage”? I guess what I’m getting at is, if something is fundamentally a part of who you are- would it not be best to “show & tell” right away? For (perhaps, silly) example- My dogs are as much a part of me as my eye and hair color. If a potential date can’t be attracted to green-eyed blondes & hates dogs.. we’re done here. How is being non-monogamous different? Isn’t it a fundamental part of who someone is?

avatar csp August 5, 2014, 9:29 am

So, I see your point but isn’t that a touch confrontational. Like, the whole point of dating is to learn about each other organically. Like, what if you were with a guy who kinda liked dogs and you jump on the first date and said “Love my dogs!” it might be off-putting. You have to lean some people in. You love someone in spite of some things about them.

avatar jlyfsh August 5, 2014, 9:37 am

I think though that keeping your love for dogs from someone isn’t the same as keeping another partner from them. For some it might be that they don’t have a primary partner, but it seems like most do. Keeping that from someone to me is basically lying, because the default for most people is monogamy at some point. But, for people in an open relationship that isn’t ever going to exist. I would be pissed if someone waited three dates, probably long enough for me to think man I kind of like this person to let out that there is someone else that is their primary partner. It’s just so not the same thing to me, and I think that’s true for a lot of people. There’s also the fact that you shouldn’t love the person in spite of the fact that they are in an open relationship. You need to be on board and ok with that. It takes a lot of communication and the fact that you will never be that person’s only love interest.
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And like many others have said being in an open relationship is a deal breaker for most people. Not something they want to love someone else in spite of like leaving their socks around or reading in bed too late with the light on.

avatar csp August 5, 2014, 11:44 am

I will say that I think it does have to do with how long those dates are and how much conversation happens between the dates. But if you have hung out 3 times in 2 weeks, I don’t think that is too big of a deal. If it is 3 dates in 6 weeks, then yes. I just think there is no expectation of exclusivity early in a relationship. What if it wasn’t an open relationship but just another girl he is also dating. Does that change things? For me, I think they are the same.

avatar jlyfsh August 5, 2014, 11:48 am

I guess that’s the difference. To me being in an open relationship with a primary partner vs. just dating multiple people at once is a different thing. When I was dating my goal was to eventually only date one person. With an open relationship that prospect doesn’t exist. I don’t expect exclusivity until we discuss that, but I think being with a primary partner and hiding that is just different, at least to me.

avatar ktfran August 4, 2014, 4:27 pm

On some of those things, I totally agree with you. BUT…. not if you’re already in a relationship. That’s misleading because you already have a primary relationship.

avatar ktfran August 4, 2014, 4:30 pm

The reason I think this is because in all instances you named, there is still a chance for a long-term, two-person, relationship. In the instance of the open relationship, that’s just a hell of a lot less likely.

avatar csp August 4, 2014, 5:38 pm

ok, I see your point about 2 person relationship versus 3. But, at what point do you expect monogamy?

avatar TheGirlinME August 4, 2014, 8:10 pm

Great question!! Because monogamy isn’t everyone’s desired relationship model. I think perhaps that fact alone makes it a good idea to say so right away?

avatar csp August 5, 2014, 9:31 am

But also, I remember about a month into my relationship with my husband, we had the exclusivity conversation. I asked him if he was seeing anyone else and he said no, then I said “Wanna keep it that way?” and he said yes. That was the whole conversation but before that, I didn’t expect to be the only woman in his life.

avatar ktfran August 5, 2014, 9:43 am

Yes, but see, that’s completely different. When the vast majority of people are dating, they’re searching for a long-term partner. Sometimes, you have to date a lot of people to find the one person you want to date. They often overlap. That’s what dating is.
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But when you’re already in a long-term, committed, open relationship and looking to add to that, the third person is already at a loss. He or she most likely won’t be your primary partner. I mean, I would 100% want to know if someone was in a serious relationship before I invested too much time.

avatar ktfran August 5, 2014, 9:45 am

And honestly, I wouldn’t be totally closed to the seeing someone who was in an open relationship. I mean, I have needs, so why not? I would want to know that was the deal right away though. Then I would know and tell myself not to get emotionally invested.

avatar csp August 5, 2014, 11:46 am

But how much is too much of an investment? Three dates is nothing. IT is enough time to get a well rounded picture of a person beyond the superficial. I think having a well rounded picture is fine.

avatar jlyfsh August 4, 2014, 4:09 pm

I think if I was to re-enter the dating world I would want to know right away. Because I don’t think I’d be interested in dating that person.

fast eddie fast eddie August 4, 2014, 4:12 pm

Two options spring to mind immediately. Option 1: Say nothing and deal with the result which is (in my mind) cowardly and manipulative. Option 2: Proclaim your status before the 1st date. This will limit your opportunities but eliminate repercussions. Your on-line profile should state it in the first paragraph. That is the act of a responsible and trustworthy human being. No matter which way you chose, eventually someone (maybe yourself) will want more commitment and then it gets sticky. I’ve had a couple open relationships in the past and they ended badly in the long run. On the other hand as long you and your regular partner are comfortable with the risk of finding someone else and leaving you/her in the dust, pleasant dreams. ;-)

gigi gigi August 4, 2014, 4:23 pm

Another thought – If I were this guy, I would not be using traditional dating sites to find potential partners, I think its too risky. Just as I will not use dating sites for hook-up partners, it feels dishonest to me. There are websites for every imaginable alternative lifestyle choices out there. Why not take advantage of them & not run the chance of hurting someone else? Look for someone who already shares your interests. If he happens to just meet someone he is interested in out in a club or coffee shop, then I think he needs to be upfront soon, not past the 2nd date & definitely before having sex.

avatar jlyfsh August 4, 2014, 4:25 pm

Yeah I think that would be less work for the person looking for a new relationship as well. Less first dates that you know might not go anywhere because of that fact alone!

Classic Classic August 4, 2014, 4:27 pm

I would want to know this in advance. The latest acceptable time to disclose this would be during the first date.

Cassie Cassie August 4, 2014, 4:41 pm

“But I am unsure of how to bring up my situation without doors closing…”
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That’s because it’s a deal breaker for many people. It would be dishonest (and manipulative) to not disclose this information and to follow that other person’s advice about sleeping with them a few times before saying, “So, by the way, I’m actually in a relationship with someone else. But it’s okay! It’s an open relationship! So, it’s all good.” Except that sometimes the other person values monogamy. And that’s their prerogative.

You’re just going to have to deal with the fact that, although being in an open relationship is okay with you and with your primary partner, it’s not going to be something that everyone is okay participating in. So, if a girl sees it as a deal breaker, then let her and go find someone who is okay with it. Yeah, it might take longer than if you were fully single. But, an open relationship doesn’t give you a free pass for bad or dishonest behavior.

avatar TheGirlinME August 4, 2014, 8:15 pm

I really, really like this!! “An open relationship doesn’t give you a free pass for bad or dishonest behavior”. Can we have quote of the week again?? I nominate Cassie!! :-D

avatar blackbird August 4, 2014, 5:30 pm

I think 3 dates is WAY too long. I love Dan Savage, but I think his advice (in this respect) is terrible. I did the online dating thing and when I was ‘poly’ I didn’t put it on my profile, but I was up front about it before I met up with anyone. Honestly, I felt like I needed to disclose the info within the first few email exchanges. Time is VALUABLE….no one wants to feel like their time was wasted by meeting up with someone who has values/beliefs that don’t line up with what you want.

Kate B. Kate B. August 4, 2014, 7:08 pm

I normally like Dan Savage a lot, but this advice stinks. And whichever blogger he wrote to gave him really bad advice. The LW talks about potentials getting “scared away” by his relationship status, but I’d be more scared away by not being told up front. If the relationship is going to end because of that, it’s going to end. It seems more honest to end it at the start rather than getting some sex first and then ending it. That’s using the woman for sex, and that’s not nice.

Fabelle Fabelle August 4, 2014, 5:39 pm

Yeah, I agree with whoever above said to put it in your dating profile… I mean, yeah, you might lose out on opportunities by putting it out there immediately, but maybe also don’t join eHarmony (or any site that is likely filled with people looking for long-term, monogamous, soul mate type love). If most people are reacting negatively to your relationship status, you’re running with the wrong type of crowd and/or going for the wrong types of people (not that it’s your FAULT; the majority of people aren’t in open relationships, nor do most have experience/open-mindedness towards them, but I’m trying to encourage you to be straightforward–as is your nature anyway–AND hopefully comfort you a bit that being straightforward won’t always fail?) Good luck!

avatar Sara August 4, 2014, 5:46 pm

Waiting until during or after the first date to disclose is far too late. I personally have no interest in dating someone who is in an open relationship. I would rather find out any potential deal-breakers (open relationship, lives with parent, etc.) beforehand. Finding out after we met would be a slap in the face.

avatar Essie August 4, 2014, 6:01 pm

First date. No later. And if there’s going to be anything physical on the first date, before that. Holding it till after that is deceptive. You say you want to prevent doors closing, but honestly, if she’s not into sharing, you want that door to close, right?
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Nothing against you personally, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be interested in a guy who’s already in a relationship with someone else. It’s just not the way I’m wired. So yes, I would want to know that right away, before there’s any emotional commitment. I’d probably prefer to know it BEFORE we went on a date, so there wasn’t any awkwardness.
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Look at it this way. If you tell her on the first date, you’re giving her a chance to think about it on her own time. If she’s not ok with it, there won’t be a second date, and that’s cool, no harm done. If she likes you and she’s up for a second date, you can happily go forward knowing that she’s ok with it.
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The seduction blogger who said to tell her after the third time you have sex…he’s an idiot. I would be LIVID if someone did that to me, and I think a lot of women would be. That’s when the girl goes stomping out of your bedroom after calling you obscenities you never even heard before, and goes home and tells all her friends what an a$$hole you are. You don’t wanna go there. :)

avatar TheGirlinME August 4, 2014, 8:28 pm

What Essie said!! :-D Especially the last paragraph.

avatar Lucy August 4, 2014, 6:21 pm

Normally, I’m on board with Dan’s advice, but I felt like this was completely bizarre. If a guy I was dating didn’t tell me this on the first date, I would drop him immediately when he did tell me. I feel like this guy should stick to online dating, where he can communicate his situation up front.

avatar shakeourtree August 4, 2014, 6:32 pm

Something as fundamental as relationship status? I think not disclosing upfront that you’re not technically single is lying by omission. People will assume you’re single otherwise, and failing to correct a misapprehension is as good as lying. Like others have said, (when I was still dating) I didn’t automatically foreclose the possibility of going out with someone just because they were in an open relationship, but it was something I had to approach with a different mindset.

You have to accept that you’ve chosen a lifestyle that is going to put some–probably a lot–of women off. It is what it is.

avatar ktfran August 5, 2014, 9:35 am

You said this perfectly.

mylaray mylaray August 4, 2014, 6:47 pm

I once went out on a date with a guy who had a dom/sub open relationship with his girlfriend. He told me the first date and I really think it’s misleading if you don’t say so right away. Sometimes I wish I had tried that out but I’m glad I knew from the start he wasn’t looking for a monogamous relationship. And I think for someone in an open relationship looking to date, they will find more people who are receptive to trying it out if everything is upfront and out in the open.

avatar SasLinna August 5, 2014, 9:03 am

To me this guy sounds like he wants to convince his potentials that they should try out the open relationship thing with him. He probably believes – consciously or not – that they are rejecting him because they are unjustly prejudiced against open relationships. But no, many people just have an authentic preference for monogamy and for being someone’s primary partner. And this is why this is something you need to disclose immediately (on the dating profile or if you meet in real life, at the end of the 1st date at the latest). Dan sort of dropped the ball on this one, I guess because he wrongly likened being in an open relationship to having a weird kink.

avatar portia August 5, 2014, 9:25 am

I personally would not want to be in an open relationship, but I don’t agree with most of you who say this is a first date or in-advance piece of information. Maybe if it was a more mainstream or accepted type of dating behavior I would agree, but most people I know would balk at the idea because it’s weird, not necessarily because it’s something they’ve deeply considered and wouldn’t want. It took many weeks of conversations and a friend who could talk from real life experience for Bassanio to come to the conclusion that it may work for other people but not for him. How many of you have real-life friends in a situation like this and it’s working? Probably very few. So, my opinion is definitely before anything physical goes down, at the end of or after the second date when a third has been agreed upon, but if the other person makes it explicit that they’re looking for a monogamous arrangement, you can’t lie or lead them on.

avatar jlyfsh August 5, 2014, 9:43 am

Are they really going to deeply consider it between the second and third date though? Compared to if they had that information up front?

avatar Portia August 5, 2014, 10:13 am

Probably not deeply consider it, but more than just filter it out before they even get to the first date. Or on the first date, when they’re learning probably only surface information, and it’d be easy to brush it off as a crazy first date.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 5, 2014, 10:22 am

I think you are maybe referencing just the idea of open relationships- like if one person potentially would want to open the relationship one day. This is different IMO though because the guy is already in a primary relationship. I would be more open to dating someone who potentially wanted to be in an open relationship and agree, that isn’t necessarily something I would need to know right away but I am 100% sure I would not want to get involved with someone who already was in a serious relationship, lived with someone, or was married and in an open relationship and I would be the secondary relationship-like that would never be okay with me-so I do really believe early disclosure for that is incredibly important.

avatar jlyfsh August 5, 2014, 10:39 am

I do get where you’re coming from, but I can’t imagine thinking any differently about what I want on the first date compared to the third. I guess in my head if that was what I was looking for, I’d be honest about it from the beginning. I haven’t had to deal with the repercussions of actually having an open relationship and trying to date. So maybe it’s so awful that people feel the need to wait. Maybe if anyone is inclined from the other thread they can talk more about how they met people to date. There wasn’t much talk of it over there!

avatar Kay August 5, 2014, 9:34 am

I’m going to pipe up and also suggest that the LW plan dates carefully in order to facilitate telling. I was once in an open relationship and began seeing another guy — but our first two dates involved minimal opportunities for conversation (concert, movie). I wanted to tell him in person, but I also didn’t want to wait, and I still feel sheepish about how I handled that. I really should have insisted the first date be coffee or drinks and been sure to put all the cards on the table at that time. If the LW is really a straightforward guy like he says, he should be creating opportunities to have the discussion early.

avatar lets_be_honest August 5, 2014, 10:29 am

I was thinking last night…isn’t the whole point of the relationship status on your profile to say things like this?

Guy Friday Guy Friday August 5, 2014, 12:21 pm

I know I’m slightly late to the conversation, but a counter-point to Wendy’s thoughts (though I understand where she’s coming from on it): if you bring up the “open relationship” concept on the first date, isn’t your date going to think you’re trying to imply you want sex right away? I don’t get from the LW’s letter that he’s trying to JUST find sex; it sounds like he’s talking about a more sincere connection than that. So wouldn’t waiting one or two more dates to bring it up — i.e., after the person knows you a bit better and doesn’t assume sinister motives immediately — be better?

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