Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“When Should I Disclose That I’m in an Open Relationship?”

keep-calm-i-m-in-an-open-relationship-1

This might be outside your usual area of expertise, but I hope maybe your common sense applies anyway. I’m a 25-year-old woman in an open relationship with my boyfriend of two years. My relationship with him is great, but I want to date other people as well, and I keep getting stuck on this problem: How do I disclose that I’m in a relationship without scaring people away, or making them think I’m cheating?

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?

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

23 comments… add one
  • juliecatharine

    Juliecatharine August 11, 2016, 8:19 am

    I completely agree; I love Dan Savage but 3 dates is way too late to disclose this kind of thing. LW; this is exactly the kind of thing that online dating is perfect for. You can outline what you’re looking for right in your profile. If people aren’t interested that’s great because nobody’s time is being wasted. But trust me, if all you’re looking for is casual fun, you won’t be lacking in suitors! Have fun, be safe.

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      Sketchee August 11, 2016, 11:59 am

      WWS. I’m sure Dan is great and that he has a lot of fans. Usually I find his style of dating is far less compatible with me and so I don’t read his advice.

      It’s wonderful for adults to choose the term of their relationship. I support my friends who know what’s right for them. Especially in the LGBT world, I have found it’s really important to say up front that I’m looking for a monogamous relationship.

      Even in earlier circumstances, it was important to say I’m looking for something casual or for friends. The guessing about dating isn’t really very fun for me.

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  • avatar

    blink14 August 11, 2016, 8:24 am

    I agree – having an open relationship is a lifestyle choice. Personally, I would not be interested in dating someone who is in an open relationship, I’d much rather know on the first date than the 3rd.

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  • avatar

    gigi August 11, 2016, 8:25 am

    WWS – I also am in an open relationship & the swinging lifestyle. I feel strongly about not misleading or hurting people, so I tend to pass on anyone I feel is interested in a real, normal date. My boyfriend encourages me to date if I want to, but I don’t feel right about it, so I don’t. I tend to stick to the websites to find “dates” so that everyone is on the same page as to what the date is for, & where it might lead ( nowhere longterm!)

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  • TheLadyE

    TheLadyE August 11, 2016, 8:38 am

    I can speak directly to this, and the answer is that you need to tell him right upfront, LW.

    Back in December, right before Christmas, I matched with an incredibly cute man on a dating app. He pursued me immediately and we had our first (6 hour long!) date the very next day. I was hooked.. He even came back to my house and we had a little fun – not something I usually do! He was that awesome and I was (still am a bit) completely taken with him. We had our second date a few days later and he spent the night.

    He never told me upfront that he was, in fact, poly/in an open relationship until I prodded and asked. He said he was sleeping with “several people” in the city where he lived and I, having zero experience with poly people or open relationships, took that to mean he was just dating around.

    If I had known he was in an open relationship from the get-go, I would have said wow, that’s a shame, he’s adorable and fun but I have no interest in dating someone who is in an open relationship.

    I think he knew that and that’s why he didn’t tell me right away.

    So as it stands, I am left having intense feelings for someone whose lifestyle is incompatible with mine and it has been really tough to deal with that. We do have an incredibly strong connection but I also feel very manipulated and that he is, bottom line, just very selfish.

    Moral of the story: tell him/everyone upfront. It’s only fair. No good can come from not doing so. I wish I had known. Wendy is right – it’s manipulative not to.

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      RedRoverRedRover August 11, 2016, 2:14 pm

      Yeah, I went on a date once with a guy I knew from work, who I was really interested in. We fooled around a bit, but then he stopped and told me he had a gf and they were open. I was upset, because I had wanted to date him, but I really appreciated that he told me before I got more invested. If we’d slept together and he told me after, I would’ve been really pissed.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom August 11, 2016, 9:03 am

    I think you need to tell them on the first date. As a person who has no interest in being in an open relationship or being the secondary relationship in someones poly relationship I’d feel lied to if I wasn’t told immediately. It would feel like you were hiding something because you knew it was a dealbreaker. Then I wouldn’t trust you and would feel used because you were hiding the dealbreaker knowing that I would be gone if I knew.

    Tell them up front and if they walk away you know it wouldn’t have worked anyway.

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  • avatar

    Ron August 11, 2016, 9:33 am

    This has zero to do with prejudice against open relationships and everything to do with not manipulating people. I totally agree with Wendy — if you are going on a normal date with someone, then they have a right to know up front that they can never be your primary love/sexual interest. If they are content with the equivalent of fwb going in, then more power to each of you, but it is totally unfair to get someone emotionally hooked on you and then reveal the truth that you are already in a relationship and that they never had any chance to be your primary. That is a serious lie by omission and deliberately preying upon someone’s emotions to get what you want. In other words, it is extremely selfish and risks hurting another person. There are many, many letters on this forum from people who get totally invested and in ‘love’ after one meeting, or I think in reality, after internet chats back and forth. The pain these people write about is palpable. You have no way of knowing the damage you can do to the subject of your affection by pretending for multiple dates to be more emotionally available than you are. You are totally unavailble for anything other than fwb, and the other person deserves to know this upfront. People who take many dates and sexual encounters with an individual before they fall in love with them assume others are the same, and they aren’t.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. August 11, 2016, 9:38 am

    Have to agree with everyone else. Tell the person up front. It’s the honest thing to do. Then they can make an informed decision about whether or not this relationship is right for them.

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  • avatar

    Ashley August 11, 2016, 9:51 am

    Have you considered a dating app? I’ve been on several and most people list if they are poly/open dating whatever. Also, understand that cheaters have taken advantage of the open relationship coming more into acceptance. Some people may assume you fall into that category, and some reassurance may be in order.

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  • courtney89

    courtney89 August 11, 2016, 10:02 am

    Agree. I’d want to know pretty quickly, before getting invested!!

    Now. How about if someone knows they can’t have children due to a medical condition? When to disclose something like that to a new partner?

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    • avatar

      Sketchee August 11, 2016, 12:07 pm

      I think any children discussion would probably wait until defining the relationship. How soon do you that? I think that really depends. I’d probably wait after some time of exclusive dating.

      I’d feel pretty comfortable saying something like “I know we’re not seeing other people, I’d like to make this official as a couple and see where this goes. Just want to let you know that I can’t have kids. If that’s a priority to you, I totally get it.”

      If you’re willing to adopt and really do want to, it would be pretty easy to add that here. Or if not, might be a time.

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  • Stonegypsy

    Stonegypsy August 11, 2016, 10:14 am

    I also disagree with Dan Savage about this…

    LW – online dating is going to be your best bet, because you can get the ‘open relationship’ thing right up in front of people, which means you don’t waste your time or anyone else’s (assuming they’ve read your profile) and it also allows you to find other people who are also in open relationships.

    For people you meet in person, first date is a good time. No one has a strong emotional investment at that point, so they won’t be crushed if it’s something they’re not interested in, and neither will you.

    The truth is, though, you just have to accept that being in any kind of non-monogamous setup narrows your dating pool pretty significantly. Dating requires a little more patience and persistence, because the majority of people simply aren’t going to be interested in being part of it. You also need to learn to be really comfortable with yourself as a person in an open relationship, because you will face judgement/confrontation from assholes sometimes. It’s important to be able to let it go and say “Okay, well… not for everyone. Bye” and roll on knowing that you’re not doing anything wrong.
    When you do bring it up to people, bring it up like it’s just a normal part of who you are, and not like it’s something you’re ashamed of. A lot of times people will take their queues from you. If you’re not comfortable with it, they are more likely to be uncomfortable with it.

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  • avatar

    saneinca August 11, 2016, 11:06 am

    I am surprised that a person who is in a open relationship does not know how to get involved with new a person. How did you start your other relationships ?

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    • Stonegypsy

      Stonegypsy August 11, 2016, 11:35 am

      It’s really challenging to know how to approach it when you open up a relationship. It sounds like she hasn’t really dated outside of her existing relationship, and she’s unsure how to start. I had the same issue back when my then-husband and I opened up our relationship.
      The question of when to disclose was something I struggled with a lot, because it was so discouraging to get turned down for dates over and over and over again

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    • avatar

      zombeyonce August 11, 2016, 4:21 pm

      If you’re in an open relationship, it’s decently likely that you know other people in the same situation (most cities have poly communities that people find on sites like Fetlife) or have mainly dated online in this situation where it’s really easy to say up front that you’re non-monogamous. If you’re used to those situations, it can be hard to find the right time to bring up your lifestyle to someone you didn’t meet that way since you have no idea how they’ll take it and no one likes to be judged.
      .
      I’m definitely all for telling a potential partner right away, before a date even happens. If you ask someone out or someone asks you out, before making official plans, it needs to be disclosed and the person given an easy out. As great as Dan Savage is, waiting until the third date is terrible advice and may work for a short time during the infatuation phase, but blindsiding someone will generally end up in them dumping you and then being resentful you wasted their time if they don’t want to be involved in more than a couple.

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  • avatar

    Gwyneth August 11, 2016, 11:33 am

    Guessing LW is new to open relationships ? On the ettiquette side when I was dating often the first date would be a meal or dessert paid for by the guy. I think it would be Innapropeoate to accept a meal from someone on a date with you who doesn’t know you’re not totally available . I Would stick to drinks/beverages and treat any dates who don’t know your open status prior to the date.

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    • avatar

      Sam August 11, 2016, 12:35 pm

      I like that StoneGypsy. I think that’s fair. Even on regular first dates. I wasn’t a dater but when I found someone interesting I would go out and they would invest a lot in that first date and I was pretty sure I didn’t like them that much. I’d feel guilty when they excitedly asked for a second one and say no. The first time i got to know my now husband we walked home from school together and chatted about our lives and that was enough for me to want a real first date. Maybe pre-dates should be a thing.

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        Sam August 11, 2016, 12:37 pm

        I like that Gwyneth. I think that’s fair. Even on regular first dates. I wasn’t a dater but when I found someone interesting I would go out and they would invest a lot in that first date and I was pretty sure I didn’t like them that much. I’d feel guilty when they excitedly asked for a second one and say no. The first time i got to know my now husband we walked home from school together and chatted about our lives and that was enough for me to want a real first date. Maybe pre-dates should be a thing.

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      Ange August 11, 2016, 5:42 pm

      Very good point

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 11, 2016, 12:31 pm

    I agree that first date is best. Relationship status is something that needs to be disclosed immediately. By not saying anything, you imply that you’re single, so it’s somewhat dishonest to say that you’re in fact in a relationship. I get that you (and Dan Savage, it seems) feel that if a person just has time to see that open relationships aren’t scary, they’ll be into it. Maybe that’s true to an extent, but the main reason people don’t want to date someone who is already in a relationship is that that that’s not what they are looking for. Not that they just are confused. If someone told me on the second or third date, I’d not only stop seeing them simply because I only want to date someone who is single, but I’d think they were manipulative and dishonest. I’m sure it sucks that your dating pool is very narrow, but that’s just a fact of life when you live in a society where monogamy is common.

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    • avatar

      RedRoverRedRover August 11, 2016, 2:03 pm

      Totally agree with this. It’s not that I’m “against” open relationships and need to have my mind opened. Getting to know someone in an open relationship won’t change the kind of relationship I want, anymore than getting to know people in monogamous relationships changes what the LW wants. In fact I find it a little insulting that she seems to think that about non-poly people. I’m sure there are a bunch of sexually conservative people who think that way, but that doesn’t mean everyone does.

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  • Diablo

    Diablo August 11, 2016, 3:05 pm

    Hmmm… Interesting how opinions vary. The majority of commenters are with Wendy that third date is too late. There appears to be an assumption on the part of most that 1) three dates is a big investment, and 2) the investment is in seeing if a longer-than-three-dates-term non-platonic relationship is a good idea. I wonder about my thoughts on this. Is is just TOO hypothetical because I’ve been married forever? Is it intellectually dishonest to think what I’m thinking? not sure. But, I’m fairly convinced that when I dated people back in the before time, I did it to seek a friend first and foremost, and not nearly as much to get laid or start a relationship (which as you know is not the same). Of course, all three motives are interlinked somewhat. But i definitely didn’t think i was getting laid or finding the love of my life when i went out with women. Sometimes i just wanted to go to a movie with them. Literally. I think if i was ever “out there” again, i also would just be looking for a friend, but that’s also because i can’t right now think of loving anyone but my missus. So from my point of view, Savage is closer to it – be honest before you have sex, because that is when the big emotional dice are rolled with another. Is it manipulative to ask someone to dinner and a movie and mean that and just that? I’m tempted to reference stereotypical traditional gender distinctions, but Ron is with you guys and anyway, my view doesn’t quite jibe with “women nest, men bang anything that moves” either. I also think that if presented with the fact of an open relationship, i might still decide to get involved, or I might not, but that wouldn’t be an automatic dealbreaker or even the reason for the decision, even though I am clearly wired for LTRs. It would just be a factor. So, should the LWs policy be based on what the majority of you are saying, because that is what is most likely to please most people she encounters, or should it be decided case by case based on the person you are talking to, or should it be driven by the LWs basic values, not any of our opinions? I say follow your own heart and conscience, LW, whether it matches any of us or not. You might be wrong but you’ll own your decisions. How’s that for no answer at all?

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