Poly Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts of Having Multiple Partners

by: David Chastity

1. What is okay about contact with other partners during time with one?

So, you’ve got more than one partner, congratulations! But where do you draw the line between them?  If you’re on a date with your boyfriend and your wife texts you, can you answer that text?  What if you and your wife are off on a romantic getaway weekend- can her girlfriend call her just to say hi?  There’s no easy answer to this, and really needs to be negotiated in each relationship. Some people are more inclined to jealousy and want some special time that’s just theirs, and some people (like me) don’t really care who you text when, as long you’re also paying attention to me.

In general, a good rule of thumb is to do exactly what you’d do if you were monogamous and the contact was coming from a friend- don’t spend your whole dinner date texting someone else, but if you’re just watching tv together, it’s probably okay to exchange a few messages. And if the partner you’re with (or the one trying to contact you when you’re not responding) gets offended, sit down and talk about it. Boundaries are best when explicitly stated.

2. Nicknames: How many pookies are you allowed to have?

Some poly people like to have a “special” category within relationships.  So, one partner is Sugartits and another is Babycham and your third is Sweetie.  I’m generally pretty against this kind of policy, and not just because of terrible nickname choices (it could also be something like “I will only eat sushi with you” or “We’re exchanging ceremonial toe rings and I will never do that with anyone else”).  Mostly I am against this because it gets to be a lot to keep in your head, and because it implies that your relationship needs some external trappings to make it special.

My partners are special to me because of who they are, not because we heard some song on the radio together once and now No One Else Is Ever Allowed To Listen To It. Implying that your Special Thing That You Do is what makes your relationship is kind of sad- so the moment you slip up during sex and say Sweetie instead of Sugartits, everything you and Sugartits had is ruined?  Unlikely.

3. How do you meet your partner’s partners?

Metamour etiquette could probably be its own huge topic, but one often nerve-wracking experience is meeting your new squeeze’s partner for the first time.  Different people have different expectations about this: some relationships are Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and you’ll never see your metamours, some people want everyone to be a Big Happy Family that spends all their time together, but most people like some balance, where metamours can enjoy each other’s company, but without the expectation that you’re going to be best friends just because you’re dating the same person.

It’s best to try to figure out what your expectations are ahead of time, and what your partner and metamour are expecting, and then to take things slow. Do something low-key the first time you meet, ideally with the middle of the vee also present, and see how you click.  Sometimes you’ll have all kinds of things in common beyond mutual attraction to a partner, and want to deepen the friendship, and sometimes you’ll just be cordial.  And sometimes one or both of you will be jealous and it will be hard to spend time together.  The important thing is to be open and honest and try your best, and avoid treating this like some big scary rivalry.  You’re both nice people, otherwise your partner wouldn’t be with either of you.

4. How do you invite a poly person to something? A plus-three?

So, you’re pretty sure your good friend has at least three partners, and maybe those people have partners, and you definitely want your friend at your wedding, but do you have to have everyone else? Of course not, it’s your wedding! Do whatever you want!  But seriously, this can put some relationships in a more difficult place than others.  Some poly people have clear primaries and secondaries, and there’s no need to invite more than the primary if you’ve got limited space, (Note: if your space is unlimited, go ahead and make that unlimited invitation and let your friend decide).

Some are pretty close-knit triads or quads, though, and it’s not easy for the center of the vee to decide which partner to bring. In that situation, if you can make space for a plus-two, you are a Really Great Friend. It’s definitely okay to ask, though! Just let your friend know you want to invite them and the people they are close to, but you’re concerned about your guest list. If there’s one thing poly people understand, it’s balancing limited resources. Your friend might already have some agreements with their partners about who goes to what, or might not want your grandma to know they’re poly, and so may prefer to bring no one.  Asking goes a long way.

5. So really, what is it okay to ask about?

A lot of my friends are naturally curious about my relationships, and want to know more.  Many of them feel a little sheepish asking me things, though.  They don’t want to offend me, look ignorant or delve into things that aren’t their business.

Fortunately for my friends, I’m pretty much an open book in the middle of a poly circle that doesn’t know how to keep secrets. I can’t promise everyone else is like me, but it’s probably safe to ask your poly friends about relationship dynamics and who sleeps with whom and whether they experience jealousy. Don’t push for details that would be overly personal if your friend was monogamous, but you don’t have to act like you automatically know how everything works.  We know our relationships are complex.  We’re used to drawing maps for people.  It’s kind of like grandparents showing off pictures of their grandbabies: we actually love talking about the people we love, and we’re flattered you asked.

David Chastity is some girl who lives in a city on the East Coast and likes kissing. She also really enjoys doing the Onion A.V. Club crossword puzzle, drinking good beer and finding the secret sexual meanings in popular music. She’s working on her MDiv and convincing Jesus to marry her.

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One response to “Poly Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts of Having Multiple Partners

  1. Pingback: Poly Etiquette: For Poly Folks and Their Friends « David Chastity·

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