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Kit Q&A: How do you tell someone you are poly?

Posted in Kit Q&A, OKCupid, and Polyamory

On Saturdays I answer reader questions. This came in an email in response to the Guide to Polyamorous Dating with OKCupid.

How do you talk about polyamory with a potential date?

My friend wrote:

When do you tell people about polyamory after meeting on online dating sites?

Hi Kit! I have been happily following the OKCupid posts lately! What a great topic! :D Remember how we met there?

I wanted to give some feedback, you are welcome to forward it. I wanted to be discreet. You know me. ;)

The starting point [the guide makes] for the making a profile blog is the “ideal world” situation in which the person is extremely out about their alternative life choices. Or “living by the principle” as we call it (as in Big Love). What if you are not completely out? Like, I see my students and colleagues on OKcupid, so I like to have a bland profile. It sucks, but my students are everywhere and I like to be the tiniest bit private about my personal life.

Maybe one day I’ll be more free… But the issue is, what do I put as the type of availability? Usually I put available. I think that’s the best. And when do I give “the big reveal?” While messaging? In person? At the first kiss? How is that different from the real life “reveal” moment? (I know you are more in the scene than I am. I have to let people know what’s up with me if I think they are a “potential mate,” but I only do it then.) Also I have heard from men that they are not willing to declare themselves right away as “in an open relationship” or “poly” because it risks losing a huge potential mate pool who may be cool with it if they learned about it but may not return a message if they saw that right away.

I know the fully completely open from the first minute way is the best, but I don’t see myself having that public of a sex/romantic life… for awhile. If ever. :)

When should you tell a new person about polyamory? Photo by عبدالمجيد المطيويع

I’m a very ‘out’ person. In the circles I move in everyone knows what I am about — who I am and what I do. I am open about my alternative lifestyle choices on the Internet in a site (this one) associated with my real name, which is also the basis of my career. But not everyone can live this way, of course — the teacher who wrote me above is a perfect example. How do you handle this as a poly in the closet or at least one that doesn’t broadcast their status to the universe? What level of disclosure is important for online dating?

OKCupid offers a simple privacy setting which forces people to log in before seeing your profile — you can find it by going to Settings then choosing Profile options.  But since the site is so popular and anyone can sign up, this doesn’t offer much security. OKCupid does allow you to keep responses to questions private, but it still uses those questions for matching. You can answer all the questions about polyamory or kinky sex you want without letting the world know, then approach people who match well.

I think the best option is to be as honest as you can. Trying to imagine myself in a different lifestyle, even if I might have been open to the idea of non-monogamy I’d be less likely to accept it the later you brought it up. At worst, you need to tell me on our first date but it should be long before. As long as you don’t lie about it there is nothing dishonest about not mentioning it right away, but people may wonder why you don’t unless you have a good reason; you should also never raise expectations of monogamy in others when you won’t deliver.

Men are known for using a scattershot approach to online dating — they message as many people as possible and hope for the best response. I firmly believe it’s better to use a selective approach. Polyamorous people in general often worry about having a small poly dating pool to choose from. Obviously this varies from place to place, but I feel like it is better to approach selectively, and that the people I might scare off by being direct are not people I want to date or fuck anyway.

Incidentally, this question was recently addressed in Dan Savage’s podcast: first in episode 262 with listener feedback in episode 263.

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I asked my coauthor Molly Rene to give her feedback. She says:

If you truly want to be private, then don’t put anything on the internet at all. You’re best sticking to like-minded groups, because then there is Mutually Assured Destruction if you run into someone from your professional life.

That being said, I think people care much less than I originally thought. When I lived in the US, I would sometimes be less than forthcoming about my relationship situation, especially with someone who I knew would be a one night stand. When I moved to Europe, people would ask why I was here. I’m here because my partner got a job here. I’d have to either blatantly lie or be honest. I started just being honest. If I met a guy at a bar, I told him the deal. Funny enough, I just had this happen to me this weekend. He didn’t mind.

In terms of when you tell someone, I’d go with as early as possible. Otherwise it appears as though you are hiding something. If you’re using OkCupid, then I’d suggest telling people within the first few messages. If you’re planning to “date” someone, I think you owe them most of the truth. It gets fuzzier for me if it’s a purely sexual relationship where there is no expectation that the relationship might move forward.

Personally, I have really gotten lazy about trying to segregate my life between my “professional” life and my “personal” life and that includes the fact that my relationship is open. I’m not welcoming an awkward conversation with my parents, if they somehow find out on the internet. However, I’m not doing anything to be ashamed of so I’m not going to great lengths to keep it a secret.

Want to keep up with Molly? Follow Molly Rene on Twitter.

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