3 min

Poly is for grownups

Find someone who shares your values and ethics

Dear Dr Ren,

I am a polyamorous lesbian in my 50s. I’ve been relatively single for a number of years and have become pretty good at it. Still, I’d love to find a good match.

I was recently contacted by a woman some distance from me on a dating site, and I was taken aback by our level of passionate connection. We were hot together, and getting hotter. I had early on revealed my poly status, and she said she was on the fence on that issue. Before we could arrange a personal visit, she Facebook-friended me, and I discovered that she had a girlfriend.

When I asked her about “Pam,” she said they were in the process of breaking up and were unravelling their lives. I told her I wouldn’t be comfortable continuing until Pam knew about my existence. Her reply? “Never!”

So that was the end of that.

My question is whether I should inform Pam about what’s going on. I can reach her through Facebook. She’s an innocent, unsuspecting victim of this cheating, and I have information. Is it the ethical thing to do?

I’m . . .  Unsure

Dear Unsure,

What a story! How is it that people don’t realize that information they put on social media sites is available for everyone to see?

Your question is about your ethical responsibility to Pam, a woman you have never met and who does not know you. She will be strongly motivated not to believe what you have to tell her, and if the cheater is any smarter about covering up than she is about being discovered, she has likely already alerted Pam to “the crazy stalker who found me on some ancient personals site and won’t leave me alone,” or something similar. You can bet she’ll have an explanation plausible enough for Pam to believe and you’ll look like a meddling nut case.

True enough, when the house of cards tumbles, Pam would remember your warning, but by then you may well have been dragged into a melodrama not of your own making and quite uncomfortable to endure. Remember, too, that you have very little information. Perhaps Pam shares this woman’s value system and cheats as well. Maybe she’s poly and this secrecy doesn’t originate with her at all. What other possibilities could there be? You just don’t know.

What you do know is that by identifying as poly from the beginning, you gave this woman permission to tell you the truth, and she chose not to do so. Had she told you of Pam in the beginning, you probably would have allowed your own new relationship to ripen before asking to be introduced, giving her time to assess where her allegiance lay, if nothing else.

But this didn’t happen. She chose, quite willfully, and probably on several occasions during the course of your conversations, to withhold information. You can consider yourself lucky to have stumbled onto the truth so early before you had invested too much of your heart — or your air miles! After all, had you not discovered this now, you could be in Pam’s position a few years down the line!

I am often asked when it is appropriate to come out to potential romantic partners as poly/kinky/trans/whatever. I understand that with every declaration, admirers drop out. For those who identify as sex-positive, unapologetic and adventurous, the partner pool can be small indeed. That said, not declaring your sexual labels has consequences. Timing depends on judging each situation, but “The sooner, the better” is a good general rule.

This is made easier if you’re seeking partners on a dating site. If you list yourself as a “poly, kinky, top daddy seeking bottom to clean my house naked on Wednesdays,” you’ll get far fewer responses than if your ad reads that you like long walks on the beach and holding hands (yawn). But your few responses will be more appropriate matches. You have a much better chance of getting what you want if you ask for it.

It’s true that you did put out your truth (“I’m poly”) and received no answer. Perhaps in future it would be wise to follow up on this, eh? However, in this case, it wouldn’t have mattered. People who are intentionally cheating reinvent truth to suit each occasion and deny accusations until all escape routes are closed, at which point they blame the cuckolded partner. Given these guidelines, I find it a wonder that monogamy remains such a popular social more.

When I ask people directly (and I do) why they fear polyamory/non–monogamy, I get two answers. The first is that they don’t want to feel jealousy, the second being that they like the romantic illusion of soul mates/belonging/happily-ever-after. Well, you can’t have your knowledge and your innocence, too. Yes, poly is for grownups willing to manage their emotions and embrace change in their relationships.

I’m sorry you lost someone who thrilled you, but it was doomed anyway. Keep looking till you find someone who shares your values and ethics . . . and leave this whole recent mess behind you.