“Do you tell all the guys you see that you're dating around, or is it just assumed that everyone does it? If someone is seeing you exclusively, do you ever feel bad about not reciprocating? I'm trying to figure my own stuff out, so I'm comparing notes.”
When I received that question in my Formspring inbox, I smiled to myself. I can wax poetic about anal sex, what to do if you’ve found a lump in your breast, or what constitutes a body-friendly sex toy. But, when it comes to juggling more than one guy, I wouldn’t regard myself as an expert in that arena by any stretch of the imagination. In this regard, I have tried, but I have rarely succeeded.
I have tried to operate under a certain code of norms when I’m dating more than one person:
1. Be honest without being forthcoming. I don’t lie when asked about others I might be dating or having sex with, but I don’t offer up information about my dating life voluntarily;
2. Steer away from comparisons. If you’re dating two guys, there will always be one guy with whom you have more in common, one guy with whom there is more passion, one guy who you see more regularly, etc. I don’t compare one guy to the other, but rather, I accept each guy for what he brings to my life;
3. Respect the parameters of the relationship. If I say I’m sexually exclusive, I am. If I’m in a committed relationship, I am. If I’m not allowed to date or kiss other people, I don’t. Period; and
4. Safety first. If I’m not in a sexually monogamous relationship, I need to be using condoms. That need increases exponentially with each partner.
I do think there are a few other variables to dating more than one person:
1. If you’re not in an exclusive relationship, it is assumed that you’re dating other people. However, a double standard still exists. It is more socially acceptable for a guy to be sleeping with more than one person than a woman. I wish that wasn’t the case, but past partners have gotten upset with me when I was engaging in the exact same behavior as they were.
2. If one person wants more from the other person, then he or she should initiate that conversation sooner, rather than later. Dating more than one person can get even more complicated when one party is content with that arrangement in the long term, and the other is looking for a serious and exclusive relationship. Are you and the guys that you’re dating on the same page in terms of what you’re doing in the present and what you’re looking for in the future? If not, that could be a problem regardless of how many people you're dating.
3. Are all parties involved being honest with each other? There needs to be a certain level of trust, communication and respect here. If you decide to be sexually exclusive with one man, is he respecting that arrangement, too? If you both are dating other people, are you both equally as concerned about safe sex? If you think something feels off with your arrangement, trust your instinct.
4. Emotions can often trump rational thought. My polyamorous friends are able to be in serious relationships with a long-term partner, while dating others. They’re honest and open about their wants and needs, and they don’t get jealous when their partners go out with others. In fact, it’s encouraged and supported! I admire how they can approach their relationships in such a levelheaded manner, although I know that I wouldn't be comfortable with that type of arrangement.
So, what advice do you have for the reader who asked the question? Are there rules or norms that apply that you don’t think I covered?