Introductions in Polyamorous Relationships

July will be Introductions month in our etiquette series.

I touched on introductions and specifically introducing poly partners and metamours to friends and family, in June. But I’d like to go in-depth on introductions. July topics will include introducing poly partners to each other, etiquette for when you are introduced to your partner’s other partner (aka your metamour), and introducing a polycule.

If you have any questions about handling introductions in polyamorous relationships, leave a comment and I’ll try to cover it!

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Polyamory: Who Pays for Dates?

This isn’t a poly thing so much as a dating thing. But it comes up enough I wanted to tackle it here.

In “traditional” American dating, the man asked the woman and the man paid for the date. As social mores have changed, the issue has become confused.

Some people “go dutch” with both people paying for their share.

Some people expect that whoever asks the other person out on a date will pay for the date.

Some people still follow the traditional (sexist, heterocentric, and gender binary) view that the man pays for the date.

People who ask “who pays for dates” in polyamory seem to expect there to be a standard. There isn’t.

The best approach is to discuss who pays ahead of time. If you can’t, then:

1) if you ask the other person out, make sure you have enough money to cover the whole night,
2) if the other person asks you, plan to pay your share.
Then, with both of you having money on hand, discuss it on the date.

Taking this approach ensures that there is no awkward moment of “I wasn’t planning to pay…” (which is far worse than the awkward moment when you both [all] pull your wallets out at the same time).

If a single date turns into a relationship, at some point you should discuss how you will handle dates in your relationship.

If you are splitting the cost, don’t be inconsiderate.
Unless you have a joint budget (in which case, why are you worrying about who pays?) anyone you go on a date with will be in a different financial situation. What you can pay for easily might be someone else’s once a month splurge and a third person’s “You’re kidding, right?”

On the last post in this series, A shared how expensive “dates” contributed to one of their relationships falling apart:

“Generally, we were fine regarding the way we handled our joint finances, but apparently the “expensive vacations with other partner” thing galled him. If he’d talked about it with me, I think we could have handled it better — his other partner made six figures, he and I were struggling financially, and she kept wanting to take extravagant trips with him, but didn’t want to pay more than 50% of the cost, even though she made twice his salary.”

As I read that comment, I wondered “what was this person thinking?”

If you want to take a partner on expensive outings and they have less money than you, think twice. What may be a reasonable trip for you could break their budget. Be considerate. Either go on dates that are within your partner’s budget or be prepared to pay for it yourself. Yes, it sucks wanting to share this awesome thing with your partner and not being able to. But if your partner can’t afford it or says they can only afford it once in a while, don’t pressure them or shame them or ask them to do the same thing again next week.

This post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Telling a Date You Are Polyamorous

One of the major hassles of being poly is finding other poly folk to date. Some of us only date through local poly groups or online, where we can be sure our date is poly friendly. Some of us can be more comfortable diving into the local dating pool. But when you are dating someone you don’t already know is poly, or poly friendly, sooner or later you’re telling a date you are polyamorous and seeing how they react.

Bringing It Up Immediately

Ideally, honesty and respect require telling a potential date immediately. If they ask you:

Them: Hey, would you like to go out for dinner tomorrow?
You: Sure, I’d love to go out with you. Um…I should let you know, I’m polyamorous, I don’t do exclusive relationships.

They’ll either be cool with that or not. I suggest always adding some explanation of what polyamorous means. At this point, you don’t want to get bogged down in long explanations.

  • I don’t do exclusive relationships.
  • I have an SO, and we have an open relationship.
  • I’m dating two other people.
  • etc.

What you don’t want is to have them asking “Polyamorous, what’s that?” You can explain the details over dinner.

If you ask them, same deal.

You: Hey, would you like to go out for dinner tomorrow?
Them: Sure I’d love to go out with you.
You: Great! I should let you know, I’m polyamorous, I don’t do exclusive relationships.

Bringing It Up on the Date

Sometimes, you don’t want to or can’t say something immediately. Maybe you are still in the closet and they asked you at a company party. Or somewhere else in public. In that case, bring it up on the first date.

You: While we’re getting to know each other, I should tell you that I’m polyamorous. I’m (currently in/currently not in) other relationships, but I believe in being able to have multiple relationships and won’t be exclusive.

Waiting Until You Feel Safe

Some people live in areas where just up and saying “I’m poly” is not a good idea. If this is you, wait until you feel safe saying something, but do make sure you aren’t starting the relationship with dishonesty.

You: So we’re clear, I’m not ready to have an exclusive relationship after one date.

You: I like you, and I’d like to see you again, but I’m not ready to be in a committed relationship right now. Are you cool with that?*

When you are ready to say something, start with what you said on the first day: You know how I said that I wasn’t ready to be exclusive? Well, I need to tell you that I actually don’t do exclusive relationships. I’m polyamorous.

*I know, I know. But to monogamous folks “commitment” means exclusivity. Sometimes you gotta speak the other person’s language.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Polyamory Etiquette: Informal Invitations

Last week we looked as best practices for addressing formal invitations to poly folk. This week we’re going to take a look at informal invitations.

There are lots of types of informal invites. Everything from calling someone up “Hey, you want to come over?” to sending an email to inviting someone to an event on Facebook. The big challenge of informal invitations is they tend to be vague. “Would you guys like to join us for dinner tonight?” is a very friendly invite, but it isn’t exactly specific.

For informal invites, we’re going to break this down into direct and indirect invitations.

Direct Invitations

A direct invitation is anytime you are saying to someone directly “I want you to join us.” This includes phone calls, emails, letters, and in-person invites. The most important thing to do with a direct invite is to make it clear who you are inviting.

Instead of “you guys” you can use:

  • “you and your household”
  • “you and your partners”
  • “you and [SO] and your kids”
  • “you”
  • “you three”

Which one you use will depend on who you are inviting. “You and your partners” is the most open-ended–you may not know all your friend’s partners or even how many partners they have. “You and your household” is very clearly “everyone who lives with you”. “You and [so]” is the best way if you want to define exactly who is invited. You can invite just the person you are speaking with and one other person, or “You and [so] and [so] and [so]” etc. But you are naming the specific people you want to come.

I suggest avoiding “family.” At first is sounds specific, but different people have different ideas of family. Are you inviting the nuclear family that lives together? Everyone that they consider part of their family whether they live together or not? Some other configuration? Avoid this.

Indirect Invitations

Indirect invitations are things like inviting someone to a Facebook event or saying to a group of people “Please join me/us for…” You can’t be very specific here because you aren’t talking to just one person.

In this case, you can add invitation details to the event description. Anything from “and bring all your friends!” to “children welcome” to “this is a private event–please don’t bring anyone with you unless they were specifically invited.” All of the phrasing from direct invitations can work here too: “you and your household are invited.”

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Formal Invitations for Poly Folk

The nice thing about formal invitations is you are expected to list everyone who is invited. If someone’s name isn’t on there, they aren’t invited. This solves a lot of this “who is included?” of informal invitations.

This post generally assumes you are issuing an invite to people who are out about being poly. If your guests are in the closet, respect that and address their invites to match the way they publicly present themselves.

So let’s look at some of the problems that do come up with formal invites.

How Do You Address an Invite to a Triad, Quad, etc?

If you can fit it on the paper, you could list everyone on one invite. Or you can send separate invites to each person. If you are paying to have the invites professionally printed that ups the cost, so take finances into consideration too.

I Don’t Know Everyone’s Names!

You want to invite your poly cousin to your wedding. You know they are living with tow other people, but you don’t know the names of their poly partners. The first choice would be to call up and ask. If for some reason this isn’t an option, you can do a variation on the old +1. [Name]+1 is traditionally used for single people to tell them they can bring a guest. But there is no reason you can’t address the invite to [Cousin]+2, so they know both their partners are welcome.

I Don’t Know How Big Their Family Is!

Poly families can be confusing. So you love your sister, you want her to have everyone special in her life at your big event, but you don’t really know exactly how many that is. The three people that live with her? The boyfriend that doesn’t live with her? the partners of the people that live with her? Who do you include?

I’d go with [Sister]+family, and drop a quiet word that “family” means whoever she wants it to mean.

They Have a Huge Network and I’m On a Budget

Not everyone can afford to invite an unknown number of people to a big shindig. And if it’s a choice between including your cousins and your brother’s boyfriend’s wife who you’ve never met, I gotta admit I’d go with the cousin too. Here the old +1 standby can again be a great tool.

Figure out how many people you can afford to include from each family. Maybe you are including kids, and none of your guests has more than three kids, so you go for a max family size of 5. Your brother’s invite can be [Brother]+4. This allows your brother and his family to decide among themselves who is going and who isn’t. If there is someone in your brother’s family that you have a separate relationship with–say your brother’s boyfriend and you hit it off over Superman and have been getting together weekly to watch old Smallville reruns, send boyfriend a separate invitation so he knows you want him there as your friend, and not “just” as your brother’s boyfriend.

If you need to do this with a group relationship as opposed to a poly network, again drop a quiet word: you can’t afford to include everyone, and you hope they understand.

Ideally, we want all of our poly families to be welcome and included in our lives and with our families. But reality is a thing, and reality includes by budget limits and (in many places at least) fire codes dictating how many people can be in the building. As long as your poly friends and relatives don’t feel like they are being deliberately excluded or forced to “pass” as monogamous, they’ll understand.

Polyamory Etiquette: Let’s Talk Invitations

Invitations can range from, “hey, wanna come over and catch Jessica Jones?” to engraved vellum cardstock begging the “pleasure of your company” at a wedding or other major event.

That’s formality. There’s another range for invitations: who’s invited. Usually, there is a set standard. You can invite one person. You can invite one person and a guest. You can invite a couple. Or you can invite a family (kids included).

Scaling this to poly can get…interesting. Who is included in a family invite? If a friend invites me to a casual movie night and mentions the evening is kid friendly, does that invite include just me and the kids? My nesting partner? All my partners? Not exactly clear. (Yes, if you are reading this, I AM talking about you :P)

So for the next few weeks, we are going to be taking a look at invitations, formal and informal. Please join me, and friends and family welcome.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Polyamory Etiquette: Meeting Family About Town

The great thing about living in a small town or close-knit neighborhood is you are always running into people you know. The terrifying thing about being poly in a small town or close-knit neighborhood is…you are always running into people you know.

Meeting your SOs parents for the first time is always interesting. Meeting your SOs parents at the mall while you are out with your OSO takes interesting to a whole new level. Especially if you and your SO aren’t out about being poly.

When You Are Out

If everyone involved is out about being poly, or willing to be out, then just go with common courtesy and don’t worry about it.

You and SO1 are out when you run into SO2’s sister.
You: Hi, [sister]. [SO2] told us your birthday is coming up, hope it’s a good one!
sister: Uh. Yeah. Thanks.

Unless they are prepared to be an ass in public, the worst they can do is make a mumbled reply and hurry away. If they are prepared to be an ass in public, you can always turn and walk away. On the other hand, if they are cool with your relationships, or trying to be cool with them, you can have a nice conversation and add another brick to their understanding that your relationships are just a different way of doing things.

When Someone Isn’t Out

Often, one or more people in your polycule won’t be out about being poly. This can make running into friends and family awkward at best, and potentially life destroying at worst.

Take a deep breath. Repeat after me: “None of their business.”

The biggest and worst temptation when you are “caught” in public together is to give excuses and explanations. Don’t. You do not owe anyone an explanation of your relationships. Even if you weren’t polyamorous, you’d have friends, relatives, co-workers, etc, that you might be doing something around town with. So be polite, introduce the partner you’re with, but don’t give any explanation for your relationship.

You: Hi [sister]. [SO2] told me your birthday is coming up. Hope its a good one!
Sister: Hi [you]. Thanks. Who’s your friend?
You: [Sister] this is [SO1], [SO1] this is [SO2]’s sister, [sister.]
Sister & SO1: Hi. How you doing?
polite chit-chat
You: Well, nice running into you. We need to get going if I’m going to get back in time for dinner. Hope to see you gain soon, [sister].

If sister asked how you know each other, you can probably find a “safe” way to tell her how you met: through a local meet up, at a convention, online, etc. You don’t need to say which meetup or convention. Asking how you met or how long you’ve known each other is polite chit-chat. Pushing for details is prying. “Look sis, I like you, but I don’t owe you my life story. Now if you’ll excuse us, I have to [X].”

If you need to pull this line, or one like it, SO2 will probably be getting a call later, so make sure they know about what happened.

Sister: Sis, did you know that [you] was out with [SO1] today? I tried to find what they were doing together and [you] got snarky at me.
SO2: My sis, the private eye. Did it maybe occur to you that [you] is allowed to have friends and doesn’t owe you an explanation for them? Yes, I know about SO2. Thanks for worrying, and chill.

[h3]You Can’t Afford PDAs[/h3]
When my ex got involved with a cowgirl, I thought her insistence that we could not have PDAs was one more part of her trying to get him to herself. Right along with her (literally) picking a locked door to prevent us from having any alone time.

Well, I wasn’t smart enough to cut my losses. Instead, I finally put a foot down and said: “There is no one here who knows us, I’m tired of being treated like a shameful secret, I want you to kiss me.”

Wrong thing to put my foot down about. It seems her ex was in the crowd that day, and even though we didn’t see him, he saw us. And the picture he took of me and my ex kissing was used as evidence that the cowgirl was lying to the court. She lost custody of her kids and became even more obsessed with separating my ex and me permanently.

I have no sympathy for the cowgirl, but her kids did not deserve to be caught in the middle of our feuding.

The larger point of this story, of course, is that unless you are in a private room with a closed door, you can never know who is around. If anyone in your polycule needs to be in the closet, avoid PDAs. Depending on your culture a hug or a kiss on the cheek can be passed off as a gesture between friends. More than that? Well, you may not be risking anything–or you may be risking everything.

And if, like in my case, there is feuding in your polycule, don’t use PDAs as a lever. A PDA in the wrong place can destroy the life of people who are in the closet.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Polyamory Etiquette: Bumping Into Your Metamour

I missed a few posts in April, so look for these bonus posts throughout May as I get caught up.

If you and your various poly partners and their various poly parters live in the same area, sooner or later you’re going to bump into each other at a local fair, browsing the grocery store, or at the movie theater. At base, bumping into your metamour is no different from bumping into your brother’s friends. Someone you know, to one extent or another, who is in a relationship with someone you have a relationship with. The big difference is that your brother and his friends probably aren’t hiding their friendship. Your poly partners and/or their metamours may be in the closet about being poly.

You will almost certainly know if your poly partners are in the closet or not. (If you don’t, ask them. Now.) However you may not know anything about your metamours other than the name they use in poly circles. Which may not be the name you use publicly.

On the other hand, and especially if you practice kitchen table polyamory, your metamour may be your friend as well. You may not only know whether or not they are in the closet, but exactly how much hell their mother gave them for not yet bringing home a date to meet the family.

If Your and Your Metamour Know Each other Well

Follow the same guidelines as you would for running into a poly partner in public.

If You and Your Metamour Don’t Know Each other Well

It’s probably safest to politely ignore each other. Even if you think you have a safe explanation for how you know each other (“I’m dating someone in their apartment building.”) you never know when that might just cause more trouble. (Nosy neighbor who was in the next aisle, “Oh? I’m surprised I haven’t seen you. Are you Mark’s new SO, then? I hear he’s back in the dating game.”)

Never Be Offended By Being Ignored

In most spaces, ignoring someone you know is disrespectful. However, when someone might be in the closet, ignoring them is actually respectful. Specifically, it’s respecting their right to decide who knows about a private part of their life. If someone you know through your poly network or community ignores you in public, assume they are either protecting themselves or trying to protect you. If you are comfortable with being seen in public together, wait until you see each other somewhere poly-friendly to ask them if they’d be okay with you coming up and saying hi in public.

Polyamory Etiquette: Running into a Poly Partner in Public

Life was even crazier than usual last month, and in the craziness I completely forgot that I’d been going to get in depth on how to handle unexpected encounters with poly partners, metamours, friends and family. With that in mind, this today we’ll be looking at how to handle it when you run into one of your poly partners in public.

But first, a quick review:

Running into a poly partner when you don’t expect to can be amazing or awkward depending on the circumstance and whether or not you are both (all) out of the closet. With that in mind, be prepared–

Know if your partner(s) are out or not (about being poly AND about any other parts of the identity that may cause them problems at work/school/home)

Know how they want to be addressed in public–this includes both their public name and their public gender

And if you don’t know these things, play it safe. Assume PDAs are off the table, avoid gendered pronouns until your partner has a chance to clue you in. (Luckily, English doesn’t have gender for second person pronouns “you” can be any gender.) Generally assume that outting them can ruin their lives–because depending on person, place and circumstance, it might.

Hopefully, you and your partners all know how you prefer to be addressed in public and if you are out or not. So we are going to look at three different scenarios: if you are both (all) out, if one of you is out and one of you isn’t, and if neither (none) of you are out.

Everybody’s Out!

You and your partner are both loud and proud about being poly. You may need to avoid mentioning that kinky play party you went to last weekend, but you don’t need to worry about hiding your relationship.

Wandering down the grocery aisle, you see Partner
You: Hey, Partner!
Partner: (You)! I didn’t know you shopped here.
Hugs, kisses, handshakes, whathave you

Continue as you would meeting any friend.

Some Are Out, Some Are In

You are out about your relationship style, but your partner is keeping things on the low down. Maybe a few trusted friends know, but no one else. Let the person who is the closet set the level of interaction.

In that grocery aisle again
You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or not politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (waves back)

Or maybe
You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: Hi, (You). Nice seeing you again.
You: You too. I didn’t expect to run into you here.
(Continue as if acquaintances who know each other to talk too)

Or:
You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (Grabs you for a quick hug) Olee, olee in-free! I never shop here, so it’s safe if we’re careful. God I’ve missed you!

In the US, medical professionals need to follow the HIPAA law. According to HIPAA if a doctor sees a patient in public, in order to protect their privacy the doctor needs to act like they don’t know the patient. If, and only if, the patient approaches the doctor (thus “outting” themself) can the doctor interact with them. When you run into a closeted poly partner out and about, this is a good rule to follow.

Possible exception: if you have a non-poly related connection

Back in that grocery store
You: (See partner who is also a classmate) Hi (Partner), we missed you in class last week. How was your trip?
Partner: It was good. I’m really feeling that missed workout, though. Was it the usual routine or did the instructor start something new?

It’s A Crowded Closet

You and your partner are both in the closet. It’s probably best to be discreet. It may be a safe spot for you, but you can’t be sure that your partner’s co-worker isn’t in the next aisle over.

You: (See partner, say nothing. wave or nod politely if that’s normal for you.)
Partner: (Same)

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Etiquette for Polyamory Partners and Children

I talked about interactions between poly partners and children a couple of times in the Raising Children in a Poly Family blog series. But this apparently an issue a lot of people stress about, so I’m going to pull it all together in one place.

This article assumes that you want your children to meet your poly partners. If you don’t, that’s okay. Do what works for your family and relationships. (Should I be out to my children?)

The First Rule is KISS

Keep It Simple, Stupid. This rule will get you through large parts of life and especially large chunks of parenting. Kid’s are smart. But they are also…let’s go with focused. They don’t care about the details of your job (unless they are planning on going into the same field). They don’t care about what you and your friend do when you go Tuesday nights. And they don’t really care about the details of your relationship with your poly partners. Answer the questions they ask–the exact questions they ask–as simply as possible. Then stop. If they want to know more, they’ll ask.

Introducing Your Poly Partners to Your Children

Short version: Follow the same general guidelines as introducing anyone. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Your poly partner is another adult friend of their parents, of no immediate interest to your kids unless you make it a big deal.

The long version is here.

What Should my Children Call my Poly Partner?

Short version: Let the kid decide. If you are in the closet and worried about the kid outting you by calling a poly partner “Aunt” or “Mom 2,” then this is a good time to teach them about formal and informal interactions. This is a useful tool in other areas of life, such as dealing with their boss at work or teachers at school. Some situations are informal and we can call each other nicknames, some situations are formal and we use formal names or Mr. and Ms.

The long version is here.

How Should I Interact with my Poly Partner’s Children?

Keep it relaxed and casual. If you want to keep a bit of distance in your relationship, treat them like a co-workers children. Polite, but don’t interact beyond basic courtesy:

Poly partner: Jason, I’d like you to meet my friend [you.]
Jason: Hi, [you].
You: Hi Jason, nice to meet you. [Poly partner], are you ready to go?

If you want to interact with the kid directly, and maybe develop a relationship with them, act like a family friend:

Poly partner: Jason, I’d like you to meet my friend [you.]
Jason: Hi, [you].
You: Hi Jason, nice to meet you. Cool shirt.

(next time you bump into each other)

You: Hi Jason, how you doing?
Jason: I’m okay. School sucks, though.
You: Yeah, I always hated math class. (pause, let Jason respond more if he wants, if not) I’m supposed to be picking up your mom. Do you know if she’s ready?

When you see the kid, engage a bit, ask how they are doing, what’s going on. If they mention one day they are practicing guitar, the next time you see them ask if they learned to play any new songs. This shows that you paid attention and are interested in what they are doing.

Do NOT force a conversation when the kid isn’t interested. Don’t let things get awkward. If the kid doesn’t respond to something you say or seems like they want to be doing something else, give them a graceful escape and return your focus to your partner.

When Your Relationship With Your Poly Partner Changes

A lot of emotional upset gets spent on how traumatic it can be for kids when their parent’s poly partner leaves their lives. The mistake in this is that adults kids like and relate to leave their lives all the time. That teacher who changed your life in fourth grade? Were you really traumatized when you moved onto fifth grade and she wasn’t your teacher anymore? When I played softball as a kid, we had a different coach almost every year. Some of those coaches I really connected with, but when the season ended, the team split and I didn’t see the coach until next year–if I saw them again at all.

I can’t say I was particularly traumatized by most of the adults who moved in and out of my life. The only one I remember with any real hurt is a priest who had a big impact on me. He left my life (moved to a different congregation) and when I ran into him years later he didn’t remember me. His leaving didn’t hurt-his forgetting did.

If you are going to leave the lives of your partner’s kids, here are some guidelines for how to make it work:

1) Give them some warning and a timeline. Yes, it is hard to do this when a relationship with a poly partner is changing or ending. But you and your partner can still say “This isn’t working anymore. Let’s stop seeing each other gradually over the next two months.” Which gives you and the kids time to adjust.

2) Give them some way to stay in contact if they choose to.

3) Allow them to be hurt or upset.

You: Hey Vanessa. I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you and talking about your artwork. I need to let you know that my relationship with my parent is changing. After the next few months, I probably won’t be coming by anymore. Here’s my phone number. If you ever need to talk, you can give me a call okay? And I’ll still be around for a little while longer.
Vanessa: But…I’m gonna miss you.
You: I know, I’m going to miss you too. We can cry about it a bit. Change is sad. I won’t stop caring about you just because I’m not coming over a lot. And like I said, you can always call me.

If you and the child in question wants, changing your relationship with their parent doesn’t need to change your relationship with the kid. If you have taken on a large role in the kid’s life, this can be an important option.

1) Tell them about the change in your relationship with the partner

2) Reassure them that it doesn’t change your relationship with them

3) Give them a way to control how your relationship develops from there.

You: Hey Vanessa. I’ve got some tough news. Your parent and I aren’t going to be seeing each other anymore.
Vanessa: Does that mean you won’t come hang with me?
You: Of course I’ll come over if you want me to. Parent and I are changing our relationship, but you and I can still be (friends/family/what have you).
Vanessa: Good. I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t come to my art show next week.
You: I’ll be there. And you have my phone number. Anytime you want to get together, just give me a call.

(For younger kids: Parent has my phone number. Anytime you want to hang out, ask them to call me.)

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patron.