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The Reluctant Adventurer: Dating the Polyamorous

Friday, September 26, 2014


Photo credit: Robert Ashworth on Flickr. Creative Common License. (Image cropped)

This week’s column isn’t so much about a place you can go, as a thing you can do. But it’s not for the faint of heart.

In February, I joined OKCupid in a last-ditch effort not to die alone. I thought I knew what was in store for me when I signed on, but it turned out there was a world out there that I never thought I’d have anything to do with.

Until I did.

Over the course of seven months, I’ve dated 23 men, all of them very nice guys, but none of them long-term material, either because I didn’t see them that way or vice versa. In some cases, we decided that sleeping together was a great idea even though we knew it wasn’t going anywhere (don’t judge, Judge-y Judy. Or Jude Law…yer).

In other cases, we both agreed it wasn’t a match and we each left metaphorical skid marks upon exiting the bar. While this situation isn’t ideal, I actually prefer it to the instances where I thought there was a spark, but he didn’t see it. Those smarted like the dickens.

All in all, pretty standard stuff, dating-wise. As we all know, dating is just a series of horrifying disappointments, right up until it isn’t. 

Polyamorous relationships

As all this was happening, I started to notice more and more men sending me messages who listed themselves as “in a relationship” or “married” in their profiles. Their missives almost always begin with a disclaimer: “Once you read my profile, you may not be interested, but …,” or “A lot of women run screaming when they read my profile, but let me explain…”  

I’d had friends in polyamorous relationships in the past, but it never seemed appealing to me. If you’re not familiar with polyamory at this point, you’re about to be. All signs point to “consensual non-monogamous” relationships being on the rise among those in their 30s and 40s (about 5 percent currently), and pretty much the standard among college-age daters. 

Polyamory doesn’t just mean dating as many people at one time as you like, though it can mean that. How most “poly” couples define it is that they have a primary relationship—their husband, wife or husband-or-wifelike partner—and then secondary, tertiary or quarternary relationships based on how ambitious/exhausted/prone to STDs they decide to be. 

Protecting the heart


Photo credit: Jared Hansen on Flicrk. Creative Common License. Image cropped. 

Initially, I ignored the emails from poly people, but then I started thinking about it. The most significant relationship I’ve had in my life, I allowed myself to fall so deeply that I almost didn’t survive when it ended. I felt like my torso had been permanently ripped open and now the whole world was free to poke at my insides at will…one word from a cruel stranger on the street, one bad show review, one particularly poignant kitten video and I was emotionally floored.

That lasted way too long for my taste, so I thought maybe if I dated someone I knew was taken, my brain wouldn’t allow me to get too attached and I would therefore be protected from any re-flooring that might occur.

Yeah. Worst idea EVER.

Even so, sometimes we’re lucky, and even terrible ideas end up working out surprisingly well. 

Introducing Joe

That’s what happened with Joe. I’ll call him Joe because that seems like a totally fake name and I would never use someone’s real name in a column about polyamory. Right?

I clicked “like” on Joe’s profile and he wrote me with the standard disclaimer. “I assume you’ve read my profile, but just to be sure, I need you to know I’m in a pretty unique situation…” I knew. 

He and his wife had decided to try polyamory early in the year and it’d been going well. Exceptionally well for her, fairly well for him.

Another thing I keep hearing from poly friends is that with married couples who are equally interested in becoming poly, the women tend to get way more action than the men, which makes sense to me. Men are generally happy to get sex however it comes, whereas women would be far more likely to distrust a man who says he’s in an open marriage OR not be OK with having sex with another woman’s husband.

Because women believe in Relationship Karma.

Joe and I met for drinks at a pool hall, played a couple games, then went to the Moon and Sixpence for more cocktails. (His wife was also on a date at their house, so he needed to be out at least until that was over. Hello, Bizarro World.) 

He and I didn’t have a ton in common…he works in tech and I’m reasonably sure he golfs. But he was cute and sweet and I enjoyed spending time with him. If he hadn’t been married, he would’ve fit into the “we should totally sleep together for a while until one of us starts to get too attached and then awkwardly part” category. But since he was married he fit into the “I wonder what it would be like to sleep with a polyamorous guy and, also, you’re adorable” category.

Benefits of dating polyamorous men

I won’t reveal too much about what ensued after dates with him and a couple others, but I will say this about the benefits of dating polyamorous men:

First, if he’s married, you can be sure at least one person finds him attractive and interesting enough to agree to attempt to live with him for the rest of their lives. Additionally, if the aforementioned wife is still alive, he’s probably not a serial killer, which, in the online dating world, is really nice to know.

Secondly, they’re almost overly communicative, which is wildly appealing in the “let’s hang out later” Portland dating scene. Their decision to become polyamorous has forced them to have difficult conversations with their spouse, which makes it much more facile for them to have potentially difficult conversations with you.

“Is this awkward for you? Are you still okay with this?” are great questions to be asked. It’s not awkward and I am okay, but THANK YOU FOR ASKING.

Third and most importantly as far as I’m concerned, married polyamorous men are more likely to be comfortable with physical and emotional intimacy. They’ve agreed to a lifetime of it, in fact. (With someone else, sure, but that’s really splitting hairs.) Additionally, they’re likely to be more sexually adventurous just by nature of their relationship status. Hypothetically. Ahem.

This activity is definitely not for everyone, and in the long run, not for me. But there’s still a stigma attached to polyamory, and the more people I meet who have multiple partners, the more I realize they’re no different from me. We’re all fumbling through this as best we can, trying to figure out how to be happy with ourselves and make someone else happy instead of accidentally slathering them in our misery by mistake. (“Hold on…you have something on your face…I think it’s burrito…Oh! Nope, just my misery.”)

These men are usually trying to save their marriages, not ruin them. And I admire them for that. At least the ones I’ve met.

The other ones are still kinda creepy.

I kid.

Activity: Dating the Polyamorous
Location: All over Portland, Gresham, Beaverton and Hillsboro. Mostly Gresham.

RECOMMENDED FOR: The adventurous, nonjudgmental and non-clingy, women who have a rich life and don’t necessarily need a full relationship, but a “Relationship Light” would really hit the spot.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Catholics, Mormons, and the guilt-ridden.

Courtenay Hameister is the Head Writer and Co-Producer of Live Wire Radio, a syndicated radio variety show distributed by Public Radio International. She is currently working on a book that will be released through Audible.com in 2015. Follow Courtenay on Twitter at @wisenheimer

Banner photo credit: Robert Ashworth on Flickr. Creative Commons License. (Image cropped)


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