What are the not-so-obvious red flags when dating a person who is new to polyamory?
First, a general service announcement: There’s no “right” way to do polyamory, but there are many, MANY “wrong” ways!
Second, I’m happy to hear that as someone more experienced, you’re open to dating less experienced polyamorous people. They tend to universally get a bad rap, but: two of my longest, strongest partnerships have been with folks for whom I was their first non-monogamous relationship. Some people are just naturally well-suited for it!
Third, some of the points below are more generalized “dating red flags” that apply just as much to non-monogamy as they do to monogamy!
Now, let’s kick it off:
- Overall life instability. We’ve all been there. You meet a hottie at a bar, take them home, start imagining a life together...and all of a sudden they’re spending frequent nights at your place because they have “roommate drama”. Or you find yourself constantly footing the bill because their car broke down, or their paycheck is late, or their cell phone bill this month put them in debt...again. They may be in between jobs while dealing with family dysfunction AND working to diagnose some mystery chronic pain issues...and indeed, they may be a really good person! But you don’t want a relationship to kick off when one or both parties are in a state of deep, consistent struggle. If you feel that “click” nevertheless, remember that you can always come back to that person - or they can come back to you! - in the future, when one or both of you are more stable.
- Lack of a personal social circle and/or support system. A key indicator that you may end up in a codependent polyamorous relationship with a partner new to non-monogamy is observing a lack of people for them to lean on in tough times. No matter how quickly a person takes to non-monogamy, it’s a long, challenging learning curve. You can’t carry all of the emotional weight of their doubt, distress, insecurity, etc as they round that curve, no matter how much you may want to. They need close confidants that they are comfortable being vulnerable with to go to when they’re struggling or need advice. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for codependency, and that can tank ANY relationship - not just a polyamorous one!
- How they speak about past partners. This is a HUGE red flag for me. It’s perfectly normal to discuss past partnerships while getting to know one another. But if you notice a trend of shit-talking all of their exes, well, don’t assume that you’ll be the exception.
- They lack self-control. Polyamory is a terrible replacement for self-control. While being able to date multiple people at a time gives you more freedom, you still have to control yourself and exercise reasonable caution. In fact, you arguably have to control yourself even more because there are more people involved. Which means that more people get hurt when you mess up. Credit: Poly.Land
- Lack of education about and exposure to the non-monogamy community. If people are interested in non-monogamy, they should first do as much “homework” as possible before dipping their toes in the dating scene. If you meet someone showing fervent interest in being polyamorous while also admitting that they haven’t read any books, attended any workshops, or listened to any podcasts on the subject - nor have they acquired any non-monogamous friends - there’s little to indicate that they’re taking this relationship structure transition seriously.
- Impracticality. Often we get so caught up in giddy throes of NRE (New Relationship Energy) with a beau that one or both of you ignore the base impracticality of a sustainable relationship. If you meet someone where the electricity is palpable amidst undeniable incompatibilities - strongly differing views on sexual health practices, one or both of you already possessing full “partner plates”, immediate hostility towards you from their other partner(s) - it’s better to admit that the relationship may be an illogical one (regardless of how strongly they may feel otherwise).
- Frequent, unpredictable emotional ups and downs. This could be a personality characteristic, or a symptom of an undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health issue. Either way, this kind of behavior can be particularly challenging when negotiating boundaries with a poly partner. What they felt comfortable and confident agreeing to one day is apt to radically change day to day, week to week, etc, and it can be exhausting to keep up with, particularly when it’s a new partner exhibiting this behavior from Day 1 (as opposed to a long term partner who finds themselves suddenly struggling in this way).
- They shame you. At all. About your sexual orientation, gender identity, style of non-monogamy, appearance, personality, accent, clothing, where you live, predilection for tropical birds, whatever. Tell them to fuck off and exit immediately with your head held high, all the while with the knowledge that you just saved yourself a ton of time and emotional labor!
- They want to “experiment”. Just, no.