There’s one guy I see around a lot, and, if I were single, I’d just work up the courage and introduce myself, but in this situation I don’t know what my game plan should be. Do I say something right up-front, or wait until I actually ask him out, or wait until a hypothetical first date, or what? I absolutely want to be honest and I don’t want to mislead him, but I also want to get a fair shot at being judged for myself before bringing my unconventional circumstances into the picture. — When To Open Up?
I had a suspicion Dan Savage had probably answered a similar question at some point and I thought I’d look it up and just send you the link since he usually gives wonderful advice on these kinds of matters. And I was right — he had answered this question before… but I don’t really agree with his answer. He says the best time to disclose to someone you’re interested in that you are in an open relationship is “after the third hang/date/whatever.” He advises to let them get to know you a bit and then open up about your relationship status before sleeping together but after they’ve made a small emotional investment in you. “They’ll be more likely to reconsider prejudices they may have against [people] in open relationships after they’ve gotten to know a semi-straightforward one and perhaps be less quick to slam the door.”
I agree with Dan that people may have prejudices against open relationships or hang-ups about ever dating someone who is in one. But I disagree that the way to get someone who might otherwise prefer not to date/sleep with someone in an open relationship is to withhold the truth about being in one until an emotional investment is made. There’s a word for that and it’s called manipulation. Emotionally investing in someone takes time and energy. Going on three dates takes time and energy. How many times have we seen people in the forums get super excited about someone after one date, let alone three? Dude, I’d be pissed if I went out with someone three times, thinking maybe there was some potential there, only to find out he was in an open relationship (which I don’t judge at all, but have no interest in being part of myself). I’d feel hurt and manipulated, and I probably wouldn’t have very warm thoughts toward the person who made me feel this way.
I think the best time to disclose that you’re in an open relationship is on a first date, when you would likely reveal other things about yourself that may not be compatible for other people, like that you have kids, or you have a job that takes you on the road eight months of the year, or you chain smoke, or you voted/plan to vote for Trump. Sure, there are some topics that may not come up organically in typical getting-to-know-you conversation, but most of us have some clue what might be potentially important information about us that a potential romantic partner should know before getting emotionally invested. Top of that list is that you are in a relationship with someone else. Date one, towards the end, after you’ve discussed where you grew up and what your hobbies are and whatever Netflix show you’re binging on at the moment.
And in the interest of conversation, I think disclosing that you’re in an open relationship differs slightly from other high-important information one might have to share with “potentials,” like having an STD or being a recovering alcoholic (not that those two things are the same). Obviously, you have to tell people about an STD before you get intimate, but it needn’t be on a first date. An STD isn’t a lifestyle, and, for the most part, neither is being a recovering alcoholic. But being in an open relationship is. It’s a lifestyle that affects your emotional and physical availability both in the short term and in the long term. Similarly, parenthood is a lifestyle. If I were single, I’d want to know early on — like, by the end of the first date — if the guy I’m out with is a dad, because parenthood is pretty all-encompassing (especially when kids are young), and it will most definitely affect a relationship (for better or worse) and I’d want to have that information so I could decide whether or not to move forward before getting emotionally invested.
What other information about a potential romantic partner do you think is important to know early on? How early would you want to know and how long would you reasonably accept someone keeping the information from you?
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.