Imagine a typical online dating scenario: you swipe right, swap witty repartee, and make a plan for drinks. All signs point to “go” until you notice one small detail: their profile mentions non-monogamy. Non-mono-what?
OK, so maybe you’re familiar with non-monogamy, but for those who aren’t, non-monogamy is pretty much what it sounds like—a relationship where one or both partners have romantic and/or sexual connections with people outside the relationship. It’s also an umbrella term that covers a variety of relationship models from swinging (many sex partners) to polyamory (many loves) and everything in between.
On a practical level, what this means is that while monogamy is fairly straightforward—two people who only have sex with each other—non-monogamy is much trickier to pin down. So whether you’re a non-monogamy connoisseur or a total neophyte, when you go on a date with someone who’s looking for non-monogamy, you’ll need to ask these simple yet essential questions to peel back the layers and find out what non-monogamy means for them.
Question #1: Do you have a primary partner?
A primary partner is someone you’re closely bonded to who also meets a variety of your emotional and sexual needs. Simply referencing the term “primary partner” will show your date that you know the lingo, but hearing their answer will also reveal a wealth of information about how they view and experience non-monogamy. Someone who has a primary partner, for example, is rarely looking for another, so if your date has one, you’ll know right from the start that they’re probably not dating you with the intention to get married, have kids, or even shack up together.
Question #2: What are you looking for?
Knowing if your date has a primary partner is just the tip of the iceberg. To really understand your date’s view of non-monogamy, you’ll need to ask what kind of partner they’re looking for. Do they want a boyfriend/girlfriend or more like a friends-with-benefits? Or is a one-night stand more their speed? Because every non-monogamous relationship is different and each couple (or single) has their own rules, you need to check your expectations at the door. Don’t make assumptions. Instead ask clearly and specifically what your date’s ideal connection with you will look like.
Question #3: Do you practice ethical non-monogamy?
There are a variety of ways to ask this question but the bottom line is that you want to know whether or not your date’s current sexual and romantic partners are aware that they are non-monogamous. Ethical non-monogamy should be a requirement for anyone you want to date because if they’re not ethical then that means they’re cheating. And cheating should be a hard pass. Always.
People, of course, do lie on occasion, so while it’s fine to take someone’s word for it initially, you will eventually want to confirm that everything is on the up and up. Two easy ways to verify that your date is ethically non-monogamous include meeting their other partner(s) and/or viewing their partner(s) dating profile, assuming it’s linked to from your date’s profile. (If not, then they could be showing you anyone’s profile—which doesn’t prove anything.)
On occasion your date may claim to have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) arrangement with their partner, which is a real thing but is also a thing cheaters say. With a DADT arrangement, everyone is OK with sex outside the relationship; they just don’t want any involvement or details. If your date makes this claim, your best bet is to ask for a video featuring your date and their partner. In the video their partner should describe the rules of their DADT relationship and give their blessing. This may sound like a lot to ask but considering what they are asking of you—i.e., trust that they’re not a cheater, even though you will need to hide your relationship and can never meet their partner—a two-minute iPhone video doesn’t sound like a big ask.
Question #4: Do you follow any relationship rules or guidelines?
This is a bit of a trick question because everyone has common relationship practices, even if they’re as mundane as how you split the bill or whether you’re expected to send a “good morning” text. But what you’re really trying to get at is what’s on the menu.
Many non-monogamists, for example, have strict rules about only having sex with partners who have been checked recently for STIs and who use condoms and other barriers, including for oral sex. Others may have limits on how often they go on dates so as to keep the balance in their other relationships. Whatever their guidelines are, you’ll want to know your date’s normal M.O. so you don’t inadvertently break a rule or ask for something that pushes a boundary.
Question #5: What was your journey to non-monogamy?
Finally, a fun one! Asking about someone’s journey to non-monogamy will without a doubt deepen your understanding of your date’s style of non-monogamy, but it’s also very likely to be interesting and entertaining.
To take a few liberties with a famous Tolstoy quote: “Everyone’s journey to monogamy is the same; each person’s journey to non-monogamy happens in its own way.” In other words, most monogamous couples are monogamous because they defaulted to monogamy. Often it’s not even discussed. On the other hand, people who are non-monogamous almost always have an interesting story to tell. Sometimes they read a book that opened their eyes or had a friend who introduced them to the concept. Then there’s often a period of exploration where they “try it out,” work through issues of jealousy, and make mistakes as they learn what flavor of non-monogamy is right for them. As you chat, you’ll get a sense of how comfortable your date is with non-monogamy—like whether they’re a beginner, an intermediate, or a seasoned pro—which can help you figure out whether they can be your non-monogamy guide or if they’ll need you to be theirs.
The bottom line: if non-monogamy is something that interests you, dating people who are openly non-monogamous is the perfect way to dip your toe. Today more than ever people are declaring themselves non-monogamous at a young age and seeking partners who value a non-traditional relationship model. And as long as you know the right questions to ask, you’ll be a happy—and ethical—participant, right there along with them.